Palestine and Transjordan: Geographical Handbook
by The Naval Intelligence Division
New York: Kegan Paul, 2006. 621 pp. $425
Reviewed by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
In 1915, the British admiralty established a geographical section within its Naval Intelligence Division to compile comprehensive handbooks to various countries and territories across the globe. Palestine and Transjordan is a facsimile reproduction of the 1942 edition.
Rich in maps and sketches, chapters cover physical geography; the coast; climate, vegetation, and fauna; history; people; population distribution; administration; public health; agriculture and industries; banking and commerce; ports and inland towns; and communication.
The manual's dispassionate narrative—written before Israel's creation—peels back layers of subsequent dispute and recrimination that have characterized Arab-Israeli history to reassert facts basic but often ignored. Sections on demography remind the reader that not only did many Jews immigrate to Palestine but that many Arabs also fled because of nineteenth-century oppression there. Ottoman misrule led many Arabs to leave Palestine for places as far away as South America. Whereas political leaders such as Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser later sought to impose a single, inflexible definition of Arab, the Naval Intelligence Division describes in society a heterogeneity no longer appreciated by many policymakers. Bedouins were "pure Arabs," but Egyptians and other North Africans enjoyed their own distinct identity. Muslims fleeing Russian advances in the Caucasus and Turks employed in Ottoman administration added to the demographic complexity.
While it is fashionable to blame Israel's creation for many Arab woes, British analysts in 1942 located the kernel of such problems elsewhere: in the difficulties of Palestinian Arabs in facing modernity. They placed blame for the disruption in Arab society not on Jewish immigration but on Arab birth rates, burgeoning since the late 1920s, which traditional agriculture methods could not accommodate. Because most Jews were urban, the two communities' conflict was limited. Indeed, the British hoped that Palestinian Jews and Arabs might strike a symbiotic relationship: "It does not appear impossible … that the development of industries by the Jews, if it would give additional employment to the Arabs, might lead the two peoples to live side by side in mutual benefit, and so settle the outstanding political problems of both." Unfortunately, though, the British analysts noted that "the Arabs object to industrialization."
The value of Palestine and Transjordan
justifies its presence in any serious library on Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian history, but the price of this public-domain reprint is patently absurd.
Related Topics: History, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Palestinians | Michael Rubin | Summer 2008 MEQ
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