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The Political Economy of Olive Oil
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4. The Political Economy of Olive Oil

When the tax season opened, the peasants of Jaba village could not pay the taxes they owed because the olive harvest was not yet at hand.…Consequently, and as is the usual practice among people of the villages, they were forced to sell their future crop of olive oil in advance for reduced prices through a salam [advance-purchase] contract with a merchant for the amount of taxes due from their village.

The upper classes [in Nablus] depend on agriculture, trade, and industry. The agriculturalists work their lands through the peasants and play a great role in tax farming.…As to merchants, most trade in grains and textiles.…The richest people in Nablus are the mer-chants who manufacture and sell soap. Usually, the same people work in all three spheres…and in moneylending as well. Money-lending is a very painful matter in Nablus, and most peasant complaints are directed against these usurers.

In late February 1856 Mary Eliza Rogers, sister of the British vice-consul in Haifa, entered the women’s quarters of the Abd al-Hadis’ residential compound in their home village of Arraba. The females of the household, eager to learn all about the first European woman they had ever met, plied her with questions. They first inquired whether she was married. When Mary Rogers replied that she was single, the topic immediately shifted to her father. The first two questions she reported being asked about him were: “How many camels does your father have?” and “Are your father’s olive trees new and fruitful?”[1]

With these two questions, the Abd al-Hadi women inquired about what they assumed to be the two key indicators of the material base of any important family. Camels were a measure of wealth, both as livestock and as a means of transportation. The Abd al-Hadis, at that time, controlled extensive tracts of land dedicated to the commercial production of agricultural commodities, and they used herds of camels to carry olive oil and grains to Nablus and the port cities. The second question revealed the centrality of olive trees to the economic and cultural life of the hill regions of Palestine in general and of Jabal Nablus in particular. The word “new” in reference to olive trees put the accent on the expansion in agricultural production taking place at the time, a process in which powerful families, such as the Abd al-Hadis, played a key role.

As discussed in Chapter 1, the importance of olive trees to most Palestinian peasants in Jabal Nablus was akin to that of camels to bedouins, and a peasant family’s material worth was (and often still is) measured by the number of jars of olive oil their trees produced annually. Olive oil was Jabal Nablus’s number one agricultural product and cash crop: it met local needs for food and fuel and was exported to regional and international markets. It was also used to make soap, Nablus’s most important manufactured product. The social relations embedded in the production of and trade in olive oil and soap, therefore, can be seen as a microcosm for the social, economic, and political history of Jabal Nablus as a whole. What the economic organization, social basis, and political dynamics of soap production tell us about the urban sphere will be examined in the Chapter 5.

Because the key dynamic in Palestinian society until 1948 was urban-rural relations, there is perhaps no better departure point in investigating these relations than the following question: How did olive oil move from the hands of peasants to those of merchants? A lawsuit dated February 1862 points up some of the issues involved. That month, Hamad son of Mahmud Rummani, a peasant from Bayta, the seat village of the subdistrict of Mashariq Nablus (also known as Mashariq al-Baytawi), claimed that his relative, Khader Rummani, was his partner in an “= oil salam contract in which they received a sum of money from Sayyid Mahmud Hashim [a rich urban soap manufacturer]. They then subcontracted the salam loan to others [with the understanding] that they would share the profits. The defendant has illegally appropriated the plaintiff’s share of the profits, ten jars of oil, and the plaintiff wants this oil.”[2]

Hamad could not prove that his relative was withholding the oil from him, so he lost the lawsuit. But what concerns us here is, first, that this case points to the primary mechanism used by merchants to gain access to the rural surplus: moneylending. Second, it refers to the most pervasive form of moneylending: salam contracts. Third, it suggests that Palestine’s peasantry, far from being a homogeneous mass at the mercy of urban moneylenders, was a differentiated community in which a “rural middle class,” for want of a better term, played a mediating role in the circulation of merchant capital and in urban-rural relations in general.

The terms “rural middle class” and “middle peasants” are used to refer to those villagers whose land and capital resources set them apart from both the majority of fellow peasants and from the ruling rural families—such as the Hajj Muhammad clan, also based in the village of Bayta (see Chapter 1). This is not to imply that differentiation in the rural sphere was a modern phenomenon or that this group was a homogeneous one. Like peasant society in Europe and Asia, if not the world, peasant society in Palestine had long been a dynamic and complex one that generated its own rhythms of change and appropriated and redefined the larger regional and global forces that made their presence felt.[3] What is unique about the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is that the changing political economy of Palestine during this period led to further growth and consolidation of a group of well-to-do peasants who benefited from the accelerated spread of commercial relations in the hinterland. The entrepreneurial activities and expanded resources of this group allowed its members to concentrate landholdings, to purchase the labor of other peasants and/or to lease some of their lands in sharecropping arrangements, to engage in moneylending and trade in the rural sphere, to act as intermediaries for urban merchants, and to eventually establish residence in the city of Nablus in significant numbers.

Many members of the Rummani family—judging from their numerous appearances in the Nablus Islamic Court—belonged to this rural middle class, which was firmly entrenched by the mid-nineteenth century, if not earlier. For instance, at least six male members of the Rummani family—Hammad son of Mahmud, Khader and his two sons (Ahmad and Mustafa), and Ibrahim and his son (As‘ad)—were all active moneylenders who operated a wide network of salam contracts for olive oil and, to a lesser extent, sesame seeds. They then sold these products to urbansoap-factory owners and grain merchants. They also made non-interest-bearing loans (qard). These transactions were made with fellow peasants from either the same village (Bayta) or from nearby villages, such as Bayt Furik or Qabalan.[4]

The Rummanis’ business operations and their preference for settling disputes in the urban Islamic court also illustrate the fruition of a coterminous process in the history of Palestine during the Ottoman period: the absorption of the countryside into the urban economic, political, cultural, and legal spheres. This lawsuit is but one example of how this process of urban-rural integration was driven from the countryside as well as from the city; that is, peasants were active participants in the transformation of Palestine during the modern period, especially middle peasants who played a key role in reproducing urban relations on the village level.

In exploring how merchants appropriated the olive oil surplus, this chapter charts the changing material circumstances, political notions, and cultural attitudes of Jabal Nablus’s peasants, to the extent that the predominantly urban-generated sources allow. Specifically, three broad topics are addressed. The first section investigates the changing context for moneylending and taxation and their role in the spread of merchant capital into the rural areas. The second examines the impact of these developments on the peasants’ relationships to city, to the land, and to each other. The third explores the connections between the state, class, and political authority as revealed in peasant petitions precipitated by moneylending practices.

In Chapter 3 my focus was primarily on the low-lying western and northwestern plains of Jabal Nablus, for the peasants in these areas were the first to be integrated into the world economy as producers of cotton and, later on, of grains. The focus on olive oil here is intended to shift attention to the central highlands and to gauge how the peasants in the primarily olive-producing villages of this area experienced the transformations of the modern period. This is not meant to suggest that the issues addressed below apply only to the central core of Jabal Nablus: there was not a single village in all of Jabal Nablus in which olive oil was not one of the top three commodities produced.

From the Hands of the Peasants

From the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century, moneylending occupied a quickly expanding social space and became the defining factor in urban-rural relations. Of course, moneylending had been an integral element of rural-urban networks since ancient times, but over the course of the nineteenth century a number of factors propelled it to unprecedented levels in terms of frequency of contracts, degree of infiltration into the rural areas, and level of enforcement of debt obligations.

As far as the social life of olive oil is concerned, the second half of the 1820s was an important turning point. The interruptions caused by a prolonged period of intermittent internal conflict in Jabal Nablus from the late 1790s until 1823—which happened to roughly coincide with the slackening of European demand during the Napoleonic Wars—were followed by a vigorous economic expansion. Most conspicuous was the beginning of large capital investment in the soap industry (see Chapter 5). Because this industry more than tripled in size during the nineteenth century and because its growth was predicated on the availability of olive oil, moneylending to olive-based villages, especially in the form of salam contracts, became far more pervasive. Later on in the century, increased exports of olive oil from the port cities also created incentives for urban merchants to redouble their efforts to secure this precious commodity from the peasants.

Reinforcing the greater reach of merchant capital was the political coming of age of the merchant community, which gave merchants the power to enforce the collection of debts and to facilitate the appropriation of land. Merchants were the main beneficiaries of the changes brought about by the Egyptian occupation and the implementation of Ottoman reforms (Tanzimat), especially their access to political office through the Advisory Council. By the late 1830s they had managed to infiltrate the exclusive club of soap-factory owners and, to a lesser extent, the ranks of tax farmers—in the latter case not only as financial backers but also as bidders in competition with ruling urban and rural families.[5] By the 1850s a new merchant-dominated elite—or, more accurately, a fluid alliance between influential members of the merchant community, key ruling families (both urban and rural), and the top religious leaders—had emerged (see Chapter 5). Although the various elements of this elite differed, often violently, on a number of issues, they all huddled in the same political corner when it came to relations with peasants. This is because almost all of them, regardless of their background, were heavily engaged in moneylending and the manufacture of soap made from pure olive oil.

Salam Moneylending Contracts

Of the many types of credit arrangements available, salam (advance-purchase) contracts were the most widely used, especially in olive-producing hill regions. The underlying principle of a salam contract is the immediate advance of money by the first party for the future delivery by the second party of movable collateral—usually foodstuffs—at a reduced price fixed at the time of agreement. The key provision is that the agreed-upon amount of, say, oil must be delivered to the first party in kind regardless of what the market price of this commodity happens to be at the time of harvest. Depending on the power relationship between the parties, the cash advance could contain a substantial (illegal) hidden rate of interest that insured a handsome profit for the moneylender even if market prices dipped below anticipated levels.

Salam contracts were not a modern innovation. The rules governing them had been laid out clearly in Islamic law many centuries before. The Hanafi school of jurisprudence,[6] for example, requires that the capital be advanced at the time the contract is drafted and that the type, quantity, and quality of the commodity be specified, along with the date and place of delivery and whether the commodity was grown on irrigated or rain-fed land.[7]

Moneylenders did not turn to state institutions to legitimize this type of transaction. Rather, salam contracts were drafted in what actual documents refer to as majlis al-aqd (contract assembly or meeting). Majlis al-aqd did not indicate a specific location or a public space. Rather, it was anywhere two people sat down together in order to draft a contract—usually at a merchant’s shop or home. Consequently, there are, to my knowledge, no salam contracts recorded in the central Ottoman archives and certainly none in the records of the Islamic court or Advisory Council, though the latter two contain lawsuits that refer to the existence of such contracts.[8] Fortunately, the private papers of the Nimr family contain a sufficient number of salam contracts to allow for an in-depth look at how they worked and how their use changed over time.[9] These are supplemented by additional information in the lawsuits over salam arrangements, in some inheritance estates that listed outstanding loans, and in peasant petitions.

As the following example, dated early January 1828, shows, these contracts invariably conformed to guidelines set by the Hanafi school of jurisprudence:

On the date [registered] below, Husayn Abd al-Qadir, Awad son of Shehada, Abd al-Hayy son of Jabir, and Musa son of Abid—all from the village of Salim—testified that they received from the Respected Right Honorable Ahmad Agha…al-Yusufi [Nimr] a sum of 1,025 piasters…as a legal salam for 100 jars of oil [measured by] the container of the [Yusufiyya] soap factory—each jar for 10.25 piasters—for a period of ten months. [They are to] deliver one-half [of the oil jars] now, and the other half in the middle of Rabi II, 1244 (late October 1828) to the Yusufiyya soap factory.[10]

Regardless of whether the price of olive oil multiplied many times during these ten months, the three peasants from Salim had to provide the amount of oil in kind that was agreed on and not ask for a single piaster over and above what they originally received. Of course, a bumper harvest might bring the price of oil to a point lower than the amount set earlier. Moneylending arrangements, however, usually worked in favor of the owner of capital: he could spread his risk around, had a far greater knowledge of the market, and, in the case of big merchants, was able to influence the market trends on certain commodities. Peasants were often in no position to bargain for favorable prices because they usually borrowed money out of dire necessity: to pay taxes, to recover from a bad harvest, to purchase goods for a wedding, or to meet a myriad of other needs.

Most important, salam contracts usually contained a calculated rate of interest disguised as an artificially low price for the commodity in question, hence guaranteeing a profitable return when the lender sold the goods on the open market after they were delivered by the borrower. Usury (riba), of course, was officially prohibited. In practice, however, moneylenders tied the amount of interest to the length of the waiting period: the farther away the delivery date, the lower the unit cost to the merchant (see below). Thus, Ahmad Agha Nimr advanced the paltry sum of 10.25 piasters for every jar of oil to be delivered ten months later, even though the price of each jar on the open market averaged 23 piasters.[11] The frequency with which moneylenders swore in writing at the end of many contracts that no usury was involved is in itself an indication of at least the perception that usury was an integral part of this arrangement.[12]

The ease with which a rate of interest could be hidden in salam contracts was one reason for their popularity. No matter how low the price, most peasants could not legally challenge these contracts in court as long as they technically fulfilled all the conditions of Islamic law.[13] Only one of the dozens of disputes over salam contracts registered in the Nablus Islamic Court between 1850–1870 mentioned usury as an issue.[14] In all of the rest, peasants insisted that no salam contract had been drawn up, that they were willing to reimburse the moneylender in cash, not in kind, or that the goods had already been delivered.[15]

The exception involved the case of two peasants from the village of Awarta, dated January 20, 1862.[16] The plaintiff, Odeh al-Qasim, testified that he had advanced the defendant, Sulayman al-Bashir, a sum of money in return for 68 jars of olive oil and claimed that he had only received 42.5 jars and 3 uqiyyas. He then demanded that the terms of the lawful salam contract be fulfilled. Sulayman al-Bashir freely admitted to the contract and the remaining debt, but he insisted that he was not obligated to provide the rest of the oil because usury was involved. The judge asked al-Bashir to prove this charge, but he could not. The defendant’s last hope lay in demanding that the first party swear under oath that no usury was involved. Odeh al-Qasim readily did so and won the case.

Another reason for the pervasiveness of this type of moneylending was the need of merchants and artisans to secure supplies of agricultural raw materials for the purposes of local production and regional trade. This was especially important with olive oil: urban soap merchants and manufacturers needed large quantities of olive oil every year, and they could not risk wide fluctuations in availability and price.[17] In the salam contract quoted above, Ahmad Agha—scion of the Nimr family at the time and waqf superintendent of the Yusufiyya soap factory (built by his ancestors more than two hundred years earlier)—clearly entered into an advance-purchase contract for precisely this reason. The contract was drawn at the end of the olive harvest season (early January 1828), and one-half of the olive oil was to be delivered ten months later, at the beginning of the next harvest season (late October 1828). In short, Ahmad Agha Nimr used this type of contract for the purposes of production, not for speculation, investment, or trade in agricultural commodities.

Salam contracts were also desirable because most other forms of moneylending required immovable property as collateral. Aside from their lands, peasants could offer little in return except the future delivery of their harvests. Finally, salam contracts negotiated directly with peasants allowed merchants to bypass market regulations and various revenue-collection measures imposed by the government and ruling families. Salam contracts, in short, were flexible and allowed for a wide range of urban-rural moneylending arrangements. As will be seen below, this flexibility also proved to be eminently suitable for speculation and for the local organization of commercial agricultural production for export overseas. Indeed, local moneylending arrangements cleared a path for the increasing involvement of foreign and coastal merchants who wanted to extend their operations to the interior.

The same factors that caused a steep rise in moneylending transactions, especially the much more conducive political environment, also led to a diversification in the social composition of moneylenders. Previously, the enforcement of debt obligations had been fraught with uncertainties despite the influence of the merchant community and the rootedness of its networks. By the 1840s, however, moneylending had become a much easier proposition for those who lacked political influence. Indeed, it seems that almost anyone with access to capital, no matter how small, found opportunities for moneylending and trade. Although this phenomenon was neither new nor unique to Jabal Nablus[18] or Greater Syria,[19] there is little doubt that during the nineteenth century moneylending came to involve far more people and to take on an even more central and defining role in the social formation of Jabal Nablus than it had during the previous Ottoman centuries. Illustrative in this regard is a comparison of two instances of moneylending to peasants in the same village, Salim.

The first case (1828), cited above, was typical of more traditional uses of the salam contracts. The male representatives of three peasant families who borrowed money from Ahmad Agha Nimr shared with him a common memory of frequent dealings over generations. Salim was located in an area east of Nablus to which the Nimr family had had privileged access for generations in the form of timar land grants and tax farms, as sipahis and multazims, respectively.[20] The brother of Ahmad Agha Nimr’s great-grandfather, for example, collected taxes from Salim on a regular basis in the early 1700s.[21] Ahmad Agha Nimr, therefore, could rely on his family’s historic ties and political influence over this region in order to secure supplies for his soap factory. The Nimrs also took advantage of long-standing political, economic, and social connections to subcontract salam loans on behalf of oil merchants and soap manufacturers.[22]

The second case (1861), shows that even a simple merchant was able to establish an impressive foothold in Salim village, primarily through moneylending—even though he was neither rich nor politically influential. This information can be gleaned from the inheritance estate of Abd al-Rahman Qan‘ir, a retail grain merchant who dealt mostly in wheat, barley, corn, burghul (wheat that is cooked, parched, then crushed), and meadow vetch.[23] When his belongings were registered in late November 1861, he had eighteen outstanding loans, all of them owed by individual peasants from the village of Salim. Some of these loans were salam contracts for wheat and barley; others were non-interest-bearing loans (qard); and some were a combination of both. For instance, Jabir son of Yusuf al-Dabbagh owed Qan‘ir 80 piasters’ worth of wheat and barley, as specified in a salam contract. He also owed him 565.5 piasters for a non-interest-bearing loan for which he put up one-quarter of a feddan (one feddan being equal to one-quarter of an acre) as collateral (rahn).

Qan‘ir also invested heavily in factors of production in order to better control the grain surplus of Salim village. For example, he helped the Salim peasants buy draft animals, and at the time of his death a number of them owed him shares of cows and bulls. He also had the right to shares of the proceeds of a number of maris lands,[24] put up as collateral by peasants who owed him money but were not able to pay on time. Over the years, therefore, Qan‘ir managed to construct a network of dependency among eighteen peasant families. His business network illustrates how moneylending could be used not only to secure needed supplies but also to pave the way for urban investment in rural production and trade and for the commoditization of land and its appropriation by urban merchants.

In this supportive economic, political, and legal atmosphere, even poor artisans and small merchants could safely enter moneylending arrangements—though these were usually for minuscule amounts. For example, the estate of a poor artisan (1861), Abd al-Al al-Masri al-munajjid (upholsterer), showed that he had concluded a salam contract with a bedouin in order to secure his supply of wool.[25] Similarly, the estate of a small retailer (1863), Sa‘id son of Hajj Salim al-Ra‘i—who sold iron tools for peasants as well as grains and olive oil for city folk—included salam contracts for wheat, olive oil, and onions whose value amounted to almost half of the estate’s total worth.[26] Around the same time (1864), the proprietor of a cotton-ginning shop, Hajj Rajab son of Hajj Salih Abi Suwwan, had a number of salam contracts with peasants from Baqa al-Gharbiyya and Attil villages for small amounts of cotton-in-the-boll and for cotton seeds.[27] These examples all illustrate the extent to which peasants had been individually recruited and integrated into a quickly expanding and increasingly depersonalized market of exchange.

This trend is further illustrated by two important developments in the use of salam contracts. First, salam contracts were frequently turned into a tool of speculation, trade, and investment in agricultural production for overseas markets. Second, salam contracts were resorted to on a routine basis not just by individual peasants but also by the populations of entire villages, primarily in order to meet their tax obligations. Both developments created dynamics that further facilitated the circulation of merchant capital in the hinterlands. These two developments will be addressed in turn.

Moneylending and Production for Overseas Markets

The increasing pervasiveness of moneylending and the deepening of market relations in Jabal Nablus helped pave the way for coastal and foreign merchants to invest in the interior regions of Palestine. The following salam contract, drafted in early May 1851 between a Christian merchant from Jaffa and a Nabulsi peasant from the village of Aqraba, provides some clues as to how this type of moneylending practice was used in the local organization of producing cash crops for European markets:

On the date [recorded] below, Khalil Mitri son of Yusuf Khawaja Mitri arrived and paid to the sane mature man, Abd al-Rahman al-Khalil, one of the people of Aqraba village, a sum of 2,997 piasters…as salam on the amount of 81 kayla of sesame—the good unirrigated sesame free of dirt and straw, and that is measured by the kayla of Nablus city in the usual sa. [It is to be] transported from this aforementioned town to Jaffa, where the salam was contracted. The [transportation] fee is to be paid by Khawaja Khalil…not by Abd al-Rahman.…[The grace period is] five months from this date. The aforementioned Abd al-Rahman has acknowledged receiving the salam capital [ra’smal] in full…after which, Khawaja Khalil promised that as soon as the sesame arrives and is sold, and no matter how much the Supreme God might bestow in profit, he will pay a third of this profit to the aforementioned Abd al-Rahman.[28]

Khawaja Mitri was apparently a well-informed merchant, for he invested in sesame production in 1851; and, according to Alexander Schölch, French imports of Palestinian sesame increased greatly beginning in 1852.[29] Because Schölch’s conclusion is based on export statistics from Jaffa, the financing of this increase must have started the previous season, which is exactly when Khawaja Mitri signed the salam contract with Abd al-Rahman from Aqraba.

The stamp and list of witnesses on the contract tell us that Abd al-Rahman signed it in Jaffa. This might not sound striking, but considering the prevailing view of Palestinian peasants during the Ottoman period as living in isolated villages and engaged solely in subsistence agriculture, the initiative and entrepreneurial spirit of Abd al-Rahman are worthy of note. Indeed, Abd al-Rahman had come to Jaffa a few months earlier and negotiated a similar contract.[30] His actions indicate that he was free, willing, and capable of responding quickly to such offers and that he knew full well that his crops would be shipped to France. Abd al-Rahman should not be considered unique. As seen in the Chapter 3, and as Alexander Schölch and Marwan Buheiry both argued, on the basis of export statistics from the latter part of the nineteenth century, Palestinian peasants were sharply attuned to the fickle changes of international demand and acted accordingly.[31]

Abd al-Rahman, like most Palestinian peasants at that time, probably needed a quick infusion of cash in order to stay afloat in an increasingly monetarized agricultural sector. The availability of cash could make the difference between success or failure for many peasants, especially for those who were heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, where productivity fluctuated with the vagaries of the weather. His success in seeking out a faraway merchant at a time of high demand suggests that he had exerted considerable effort to negotiate the most favorable conditions for himself—in essence, bypassing the Nabulsi merchant community.

Apparently confident of the profit margin he was about to make on this deal and eager to insure the supply of sesame, Khawaja Mitri offered Abd al-Rahman two incentives not normally encountered in salam contracts. First, he agreed to cover the transportation costs, which were considerable given the distance involved. In effect, this increased the per-unit price in favor of the peasant. The second incentive was innovative and reflects the adaptability of salam contracts: a profit-sharing arrangement. Abd al-Rahman still had to provide the sesame regardless of weather conditions or price changes, but he could augment the moneys he received in advance with a percentage (one-third) of the profits made by the merchant.

It is not certain whether the incentives offered in this contract represented an isolated case or whether they were typical of the dealings between coastal merchants and the peasants of the interior. The latter was more likely, if only because non-Nabulsi merchants, as was seen in Chapter 3, had a difficult time bypassing local commercial networks and luring peasants, much less guaranteeing the enforcement of contracts.[32] In this regard, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that under certain conditions, like those that characterized this case, the use of the salam contract could encourage trade, help meet local needs for liquid capital, increase investment in agricultural production, promote economic growth, and even work to the benefit of both parties concerned.

Salam contracts took on a much more sinister character once the context was changed, however. Judging from the available evidence, the salam contracts drawn up by Nabulsi oil merchants reflected neither the urgency felt by Khawaja Mitri nor his need to sweeten loans with incentives. On the contrary, they were usually characterized by low prices, no profit sharing, and constant threat of enforcement by government officials and subdistrict chiefs. This is because most Nabulsi peasants suffered from a heavy imbalance in power relations with locally powerful moneylenders. At the same time, they were forced to turn to them in order to meet their tax obligations. The olive-based highland villages of Palestine became more vulnerable to this combination of taxes and debt over the course of the nineteenth century.

Moneylending, Taxation, and Olive-Based Villages

Elizabeth Anne Finn, wife of the British Consul of Jerusalem at midcentury, related the story of a woman from Bayt Jala—a village near Bethlehem—whose family turned to a soap merchant, Sulayman Asali, when it could not pay its taxes:

He [the woman’s father-in-law] pledged his olive trees for 500 piasters and wrote a bond upon himself to pay fifteen jars of oil to Sulaiman Assali; and if there is any deficient, he has to pay two jars of oil next year for every one. That year was also a bad one, and our olives were stolen, and we had only three jars of oil; so Sulaiman wrote a bond upon my father-in-law for twenty-four jars of oil for the next harvest, and if any were deficient, two were to be given for every one.…We now owe him eighty jars of oil.[33]

This story was probably exaggerated, both by an informant who hoped to elicit the sympathies and help of a European consular couple who earned a reputation for interference in local affairs and by the writer, who prided herself (and her husband) on being dedicated to giving “succour to the weak.”[34] It does reveal, however, the vicious circle that can be created when the forces of taxation and moneylending intertwine.

The potentially devastating consequences of these combined forces have been a recurrent theme in peasant lore all over the world for centuries. But by the first half of the nineteenth century, a confluence of circumstances posed a serious dilemma for the olive-based villages in the central highlands of Palestine, even though, historically, they have been less vulnerable to the combined impact of moneylending and taxation than have the coastal villages, where the government’s presence has always been stronger. First, a more aggressive and intrusive Ottoman state made tax collection more efficient and inflexible in the interior regions than it had been during most of the eighteenth century. Second, olive-based villages were especially hard hit because the timing of the increasingly predictable and rigorously enforced tax-collection season was based on the grain harvest, which fell months before olives matured in the late fall. To pay their taxes, peasants who depended primarily on the olive crop needed to have money saved from the previous season, or else they had to borrow money. Third, the peasants’ patron-client relationship with once-powerful rural ruling families had become progressively frayed; hence their autonomy and ability to maneuver around the tax season were undermined. Fourth, Nabulsi olive oil merchants and soap-factory owners came to wield considerable political power in the nineteenth century, a development that only accelerated the already ongoing process of urban-rural integration. Fifth, as mentioned previously, these merchants became much more aggressive in ensuring future supplies of olive oil, due to the vigorous expansion of soap manufacturing at this time and due to the increased regional and international trade in this commodity.

Unlike foreign or coastal merchants, Nabulsi oil merchants and soap manufacturers did not need to lure peasants with high prices, profit sharing, and other incentives. Rather, they used their intimate knowledge of local conditions and their growing political clout to draw up highly unfavorable salam contracts not just with individuals but also with entire villages. An oil merchant, for example, would pay the taxes of a village and consider the sum a loan in the form of a salam contract. When the olives were harvested and pressed for oil, the village was then to deliver a formerly agreed upon number of olive oil jars to the soap factory specified by the merchant.[35] The following two documents from the Jerusalem Islamic Court records show that the story told by Elizabeth Finn would not have come as a surprise to the residents of Bayt Jala. In the 1830s and 1840s, this village was battered by the political, social, and economic tensions generated by the combined forces of taxes and moneylending.

The first is a somewhat unusual salam contract negotiated between the government and the elders of Bayt Jala. On September 6, 1833, an agent of the Nabulsi Shaykh Husayn Abd al-Hadi (then the Egyptian government’s right-hand man in southern Syria) signed a contract in the Jerusalem Islamic Court with a number of peasants representing the entire population of Bayt Jala village.[36] The contract specified that in return for 30,000 piasters the peasants were to deliver four months hence (that is, at the end of the olive harvest season) a total of 1,000 jars of good-quality, unadulterated olive oil as measured by the jar of soap factories in Jerusalem.

What was unusual about the case, and probably the reason it was publicly registered in the Jerusalem Islamic Court in the first place, was that the capital advance was paid from the city’s treasury. It was also specifically stipulated that the oil was to be delivered to the local government. Most likely, Bayt Jala was chosen because it had been behind in its tax payments for some time (see below) and because Shaykh Abd al-Hadi, no stranger to salam contracts, took the opportunity to gain access to its olive oil surplus. It is also probable that the olive oil was to be used to cook batches of soap for the Egyptian military forces then in Palestine; hence the use of public moneys. Shaykh Abd al-Hadi, who was soon to become the owner of a soap factory in Nablus, was probably commissioned to produce this soap, and he used his political position and Bayt Jala’s vulnerability to secure his supplies. This arrangement brings to mind the early monopoly practices of Muhammad Ali Pasha in Egypt. Ken Cuno, for example, relates how government officials in the al-Mansura region in Egypt usurped the role of merchant-creditors by purchasing the harvest of entire villages beforehand and/or credited the future delivery of crops at fixed prices against taxes.[37]

The second case concerning Bayt Jala illustrates how this situation was further complicated by tensions arising from the growing social differentiation within the village itself. On March 15, 1835, Salama son of Issa Makhluf stood in front of the Jerusalem Islamic Court judge and testified that seven years earlier he had been imprisoned by the governor of Jerusalem because his village had not paid the 2,675 piasters it owed in taxes to the city’s treasury.[38] He continued that when he was released shortly thereafter, he went to the leaders of Bayt Jala’s clans and asked them to come up with the tax moneys (so he would not be imprisoned again). He then pointed his finger at three shaykhs from his village who had been summoned earlier to the court and accused them of having “ordered” him to write up a salam contract with the people of Bayt Jala so that the taxes could be paid. Salama went on to say that he had advanced his fellow villagers the sum of 1,500 piasters for the future delivery of 128 jars of oil, and he also paid the rest of the tax due (1,175 piasters) to the government in cash on their behalf. He further claimed that for the past seven years he had been asking the defendants to pay him back the oil in kind, according to the conditions of the salam, as well as the cash he had paid on their behalf, but to no avail.

The defendants denied that they had ordered the plaintiff to draw up a salam contract or to cover the rest of the taxes in cash. They argued, instead, that his imprisonment was a simple case of extortion. The governor, they said, “deprived him of this money as a matter of personal dispossession.” When the presiding judge asked the plaintiff to prove his allegations, Salama Makhluf left the court for Bayt Jala and brought back two witnesses who corroborated his story. The judge accepted the witnesses’ testimony as valid and ordered the shaykhs of Bayt Jala to pay back 128 jars of olive oil to the plaintiff, as well as 1,175 piasters in cash.

The fact that Salama Makhluf waited seven years to take his grievance to court provides a very important clue as to the complicated interactions among taxation, moneylending, and peasant differentiation. He was a well-to-do middle peasant whose wealth made him a target of both the government and fellow Bayt Jala villagers. No doubt the governor chose him because he had the money to pay Bayt Jala’s taxes, and it was inconsequential to the governor whether Salama chose or was forced (depending on whose testimony one believed) to translate this payment into a moneylending arrangement whereby part of the village’s olive harvest would be pledged to him in advance as reimbursement. The only difference was that the supplier of capital was not an outsider but, rather, a person who actually lived in the village itself. Salama probably waited this long because he was exposed to immense pressures from many of his fellow villagers to drop his claims, and it might have been very difficult for him to recruit two witnesses willing to testify on his behalf in the face of concerted opposition from the clan elders. Indeed, it must have taken some courage to pursue the enforcement of the salam contract in an urban court, because this involved crossing the boundaries of village solidarity and humiliating the village elders in public.

The vaunted collective ethos of this and other villages, if it ever existed in the manner described by nationalists who would romanticize the Palestinian peasantry, was certainly vulnerable to the triple blows of taxation, moneylending, and internal differentiation, all of which could not but be accompanied by painful and divisive political struggles. In this particular case, the conflict between a middle peasant and established village leaders, who based their authority on the twin pillars of kinship and seniority, can be seen as a symbol for the tensions that wracked the rural sphere during the nineteenth century.

The Bayt Jala cases were not unique. The following example from Jabal Nablus shows that by the mid-nineteenth century it became quite common for entire villages to enter into salam contracts with urban oil merchants in order to pay their taxes and that this situation combined with internal divisions to heighten tensions between villagers. Sometime during the olive harvest season in the fall of 1851, the inhabitants of Jaba village in Jabal Nablus sent a petition directly to the governor of Jerusalem, Hafiz Pasha, in which they complained bitterly against their own elders. The governor promptly passed it on to the Nablus Advisory Council, then headed by Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi, qa’immaqam of Nablus and son of Shaykh Husayn, who concluded the salam contract with the village of Bayt Jala mentioned earlier.

On December 28 of that year Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi wrote the following reply to the governor of Jerusalem:

[I] have relayed to the council your Noble order containing the petition of the people of Jaba of Jabal Nablus in which they accuse the shaykhs of their own village of forcing them to sign promissory notes for this year worth 1,200 jars [of oil] and for next year, 1,400 jars. [The people of Jaba further claim] that this constitutes treachery against them because their shaykhs’ motivation was no more than their own personal aggrandizement. In carrying out your…order that their complaint be relayed to the council and a report be written explaining the truth of the matter, and [in order] to prevent the recurrence of such unlawful behavior, the respected and wise men of the village, who are relatives of the petitioners, were called in to the council [premises]. When…this case was examined, we found that the villagers’ claim that this oil was only for the benefit of the shaykhs is untrue. Instead, what was ascertained from the report of the old and wise men of…Jaba, who were appointed by the people of the village to pursue their case, is that when the tax [miri] [season] opened, they could not pay the taxes owed by their village because the olive harvest was not yet at hand. Consequently, and as is the usual practice among people of the villages, they were forced to sell their future crop of olive oil in advance for reduced prices through a salam [contract] for the amount of taxes due from their village. It is well known that the oil season does not come until the middle or just after the middle of the [fiscal] year. They received from one of the merchants an advance sum of 34,966.3 piasters for 953 jars of oil [in order to pay] the 1266 [1849–1850] dues, and the oil was to be delivered to the aforementioned merchant from the oil harvest of 1267. Similarly, they received from the same merchant an advance sum of 30,511.3 piasters for 1,330 jars of oil. This money had already been used to pay the 1267 [1850–1851] taxes, and the aforementioned oil was to be delivered the aforementioned merchant during the 1268 [1851–1852] harvest. Yet 130 jars of oil are still owed by the villagers for the 1267 taxes, and they have yet to be paid. After clarifying this matter through receipts and vouchers presented in the council, and [after] persuading the people of the village of this, they made up and shook hands with each other. Accusations and counteraccusations were dropped, and each went his own way after they were warned not to cause such disturbance and to be loving and peaceful with each other. The shaykhs of the village were also warned that from now on they are not to draw up salam [contracts] without the knowledge of the entire village, so that such confusion and recrimination will be avoided.[39]

Before analyzing the implications of this document, it is important to point out that the same oil merchant paid the village’s taxes two years in a row in return for a set number of olive oil jars to be delivered in two consecutive seasons. In a manner reminiscent of the predicament described by the woman of Bayt Jala to Elizabeth Anne Finn, the per-unit price given to the peasants went down by one-third, while the amounts owed went up. Thus the first salam contract specified 953 jars of oil at 36.7 piasters per jar, whereas the second involved 1,330 jars of oil at approximately 23 piasters per jar. There is no doubt here that a hidden interest was calculated into the price.

The council’s statement that the village’s collective resort to salam contracts in order to pay their taxes was the “usual practice” leaves no doubt as to the pervasiveness of this combined dynamic in mid-nineteenth-century Jabal Nablus. It is possible that entire villages entered into such contracts long before the first half of the nineteenth century, but the new elements here were the involvement of urban merchants, as opposed to ruling families, the more efficient tax-collection measures, and the clear political backing for the oil merchant by a new governing institution staffed by other merchants. Also new was the fact that these peasants challenged their elders and the entire Nabulsi political structure by petitioning the governor of Jerusalem directly.

The council’s explanation that the timing of the tax season created the inexorable chain of circumstances must be qualified. As already argued, the collective resort to moneylending in order to pay taxes was not the outcome of an age-old technical problem but the result of the relatively recent political, social, and economic processes. In addition, the words “usual” and, more often, “customary” were frequently used in the council’s correspondence with their superiors in order to justify practices that might actually be recent in origin—such as the “old way” of measuring of grains in storehouses discussed in Chapter 3. The argument of “tradition” was also often used as a weapon against those innovations of Ottoman reform policies that the council members deemed not to be in their favor (they did not complain about innovations they approved of, even those that did in fact challenge established practices). Indeed, the council consciously arrogated to itself a monopoly in the meanings of tradition—hence the position of interpreter of local realities—in order to strengthen its hand in dealings with the central authorities. This is because, as explained in Chapter 3, the fluid political boundaries between central and local forces during the era of reforms were negotiated one conflict at a time.

Another qualification to the meaning of “usual practice” was the complicated political background of this specific petition. Jaba was the seat village of the Jarrar clan, which split into two factions in 1848—that is, just before the first salam contract was signed.[40] Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi, who supported one of the Jarrar factions, was appointed qa’immaqam of Nablus in place of Sulayman Beik Tuqan, who supported the second faction, just six weeks before he received the peasants’ petition from the governor of Jerusalem.[41] These events might well be related to the “misunderstanding” between the Jaba villagers and their elders—that is, the political balance was altered and the peasants seized the opportunity to go over the heads not only of their own shaykhs but also of the Nablus Council itself. By sending their petition directly to the governor of Jerusalem they, in effect, were asserting a more inclusive political identity for themselves that went beyond the borders of Jabal Nablus. The implications of this assertion for the issues of citizenship, sources of political authority, class tensions, and notions of justice will be addressed in more detail in the last section of this chapter.

The council’s quick and paternalistic dismissal of this conflict was no doubt an attempt to close the door to further interference by the central government that the peasants’ petition opened. Thus the council’s report ignored political ramifications and presented the conflict in terms of a moneylending agreement gone awry. The manner in which the clearly unfavorable terms of the salam contract were negotiated was also left intentionally vague, and the council’s letter raises many questions that cannot be easily answered: Was it possible that the Jaba shaykhs could have either forced their relatives into a salam contract or secretly negotiated this contract without the knowledge of members of their own clan and village? Who exactly were the “respected and wise men of the village” who allegedly represented the petitioners, if not the accused shaykhs themselves? Why was the oil merchant not named? Could he be one of the council members? And, finally, why were the villagers so easily persuaded, if they were at all, that this entire affair was only a simple misunderstanding?

The one person who escaped recrimination was the oil merchant/moneylender. The vagueness of the council members’ letter, therefore, was the result not only of the strategy of selective feeding of information to their superiors but also of their unwillingness to question the modes of operations of moneylenders, much less the legitimacy of moneylending itself. All of them, it will be recalled, were engaged in soap manufacturing, and they relied on a steady supply of cheap olive oil in order to maintain their rates of profit. Any fundamental challenge to moneylending by the peasantry threatened to undermine the council members’ economic interests no matter what their internal political differences were. The reasons for and consequences of the emergence of this new “notable” elite, dominated mostly by merchants, will be addressed in more detail in Chapter 5. For now, we turn to the impact of moneylending on the peasants’ relationships to the land, to the city, and to each other during the nineteenth century.

A Forced Marriage?

During the nineteenth century, urban-rural relations in Jabal Nablus displayed all the symptoms of a forced marriage. On the one hand, countryside and city became more closely intertwined than ever before, as illustrated by the growth of a rural middle class that reproduced urban relations at the village level. On the other hand, the aggressive expansion of merchant capital, spearheaded by moneylending, sped up the commoditization of land and created an ever-widening rift between city and village and between peasants themselves, in terms of both socioeconomic disparities and mutual cultural hostility.


In 1916 two young Ottoman officials, Muhammad Rafiq Tamimi and Muhammad Bahjat, were ordered to gather materials for a general “guide book” on the southern half of Beirut province.[42] Considering that the Ottoman Empire was in the middle of a war, it was more likely that they were asked to investigate the socioeconomic conditions and political attitudes of the population at large, for this is what their book is mostly about. In the first leg of their two-month-long trip they visited Jabal Nablus, beginning with Salfit, then one of the two largest olive-oil-producing villages in the district.[43]

As the first Ottoman officials to visit Salfit in some time, they were swamped with complaints, most of which were directed against the merchants of Nablus. The authors’ words neatly frame the dilemma of a forced marriage: “The Salfitis are pained by the people of Nablus and complain about them. Previously, they used to respect the Nabulsis and tried to please them; but now that they are poor, they no longer care about them…nor bother to hide their animosity. Yet, and despite their recognition of this reality, they still find themselves dragged back to Nablus in order to settle their affairs and to borrow money with interest.”[44]

The same set of complaints surfaced in every village they visited. In Dayr Istiya, for example, one peasant opined that “Nablus is the seat of corruption,” and a second advised “wash after you shake hands with a Nabulsi.” Being a Nabulsi himself, Tamimi rejoined that he saw no need to condemn all the city’s inhabitants for the oppression of a few “moneyed people.”[45] Nevertheless, the first issue the authors raised in their written report as to what the government should do to alleviate the widespread poverty, misery, and disease among the peasantry during this terrible year of war and famine was the need to eradicate the oppressive and usurious practices of Nabulsi notables over the countryside.[46] The rich of Nablus, they explained,

lend money to a peasant at an interest rate of 15 percent for six months.…And after the rich man lends a bit of money to the peasant, he becomes his master and rules him because the poor villager, who has only a small despicable yearly income, cannot pay back the debt at the appointed time. [Therefore], the rich moneylender uses his influence among the government’s men to threaten him, so the poor villager is in the end forced to renew his debt contract under even worse conditions than the first one. We have learned that most of the wealthy Nabulsis lend money at an annual interest rate ranging between 60 and 70 percent. Moneylending and borrowing have brought conditions of slavery to our constitutional lands…because [even though] the peasant keeps only despicably little of his summer and winter harvests to himself and gives the rest to the lender…he still cannot free himself from debt.[47]

To the Salfitis and to peasants from many other villages in Jabal Nablus the authors seem to be saying that Nabulsi moneylenders represented at one and the same time a lifeline they could not do without and an invisible rope that only tightened as they struggled against it. This bleak assessment was shared by most contemporary observers of Greater Syria in the early twentieth century. Muhammad Izzat Darwaza recalled in his autobiography that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries all soap-factory owners lent widely to peasants and small traders and charged 15–35 percent interest. Impoverished peasants, he added, usually borrowed twice a year against the wheat and olive harvests and received low prices if they paid in kind for previous debt or sold in advance for credit.[48] Muhammad Kurd Ali, a well-informed Damascene intellectual, wrote in 1925 that “the trade in crops—which were secured through loans and salam [contracts]—was the ruin of the wretched Syrian peasant.”[49]

Although they reflect a fundamental reality of peasant life, these observations are problematic in that they portray peasants in one-dimensional terms as passive victims of urban greed. They also imply that moneylending was somehow a new phenomenon. As we have seen, moneylending itself was not new; what was new were the political, economic, and social contexts in which it operated. All three writers, in addition, were modern nationalists who were bitterly critical of their traditional society. Typical of many other young supporters of the “modernist” Committee for Union and Progress in the early twentieth century, Tamimi and Bahjat’s blanket condemnation of wealthy Nabulsis as a selfish, oppressive, conservative, shortsighted, and close-minded local elite had, as its counterpart, their description of peasants as primitive, ignorant, dirty, and superstitious. In other words, both groups were portrayed as reactionary elements out of touch with the realities of the modern world and incapable of comprehending nationalist visions of history.[50]


The process of rural-urban integration was far more ambiguous than the above black-and-white accounts suggest. For one thing, it was also driven from within the countryside. Alongside the tensions between city and country, for instance, were intense struggles among the peasants themselves over land, resources, and moneylending, as the example of the Rummani family and the cases of Bayt Jala and Jaba demonstrate. Urban and central authorities not only penetrated the countryside, they were also dragged in, sometimes against their will and better judgement. Many peasants, especially well-to-do ones like Salama Makhluf, were anxious to make the city’s legal and political system work for them, even though it meant alienating the leaders of their own village clans.

One way of measuring the phases of urban-rural integration is to establish when peasants were absorbed into the city’s legal culture—that is, when the locus of arbitration in the countryside shifted from customary law (urf) mediated by clan leaders and subdistrict chiefs to Islamic (shari‘a) law and Ottoman decrees as interpreted by a city judge and enforced by the Ottoman government itself. Records of the Nablus Islamic Court—admittedly a biased urban perspective—shed some light on this issue.

When one reads all of the court cases from the 1798–1865 period in chronological order, the most striking impression in terms of the social composition of the participants is the virtual absence of peasants until the second half of the 1830s. Then one encounters a small wave of cases involving peasants, albeit one that quickly slowed down to a trickle over the next two decades. Commencing in the late 1850s, peasant participation turned into a flood that showed no signs of abating, hence signaling the culmination of the hinterland’s integration into the urban legal and cultural spheres.

The second wave also marked a change in the types of cases that were brought before the court. In the late 1830s almost all of the cases involving peasants traversed a narrow range and had a clear ranking. Themost frequent were land disputes. The rest—far fewer in number—were criminal cases or moneylending lawsuits.[51] There was also a smatteringof cases involving land purchases, but these were limited almost exclusively to the Abd al-Hadi family. Starting in the 1850s the Nablus court became the theater for a much broader range of cases involving peas-ants; and the ranking changed as well. The most frequent type of cases was now civil lawsuits involving moneylending, especially salam contracts. Land disputes ranked a close second, followed by land purchases and, a distant fourth, criminal and personal-status cases.[52] A much higher percentage of cases were ones in which peasants brought other peasants to court.

These observations are not meant to suggest that archival phenomena closely reflected actual historical realities, especially because most disputes involving peasants never came before the court in the first place. But these two waves do coincide with the ebb and flow of the extension of central authority and with the marked increase in moneylending and transactions in land. For instance, the first wave followed on the heels of the Egyptian occupation and reflected the political and economic dislocations it caused, especially its violent repression of most rural subdistrict chiefs for their role in leading the 1834 revolt. The Egyptians also reinforced the power of cities over their hinterlands by establishing local councils with jurisdiction over the countryside. Many peasants seized this opportunity and took their grievances directly to Nablus. Similarly, the second wave came directly after the end of the last cycle of violent internal struggle in Jabal Nablus (the 1850s) and the permanent assertion of central Ottoman authority (1860). The latter was symbolized by the government’s successful attack on the village of Arraba in 1859 and the imposition, for the first time, of a non-Nabulsi qa’immaqam who was more than just a temporary figurehead (see the Conclusion).

Three other factors distinguished the second wave from the first. First was the promulgation of the 1858 land law, which constituted an important step in the Ottoman government’s campaign to increase its revenues by streamlining land-tenure relations in its domains. The law’s most significant innovation—the legalization and registration of private ownership (milk) of what had long been considered inalienable state (miri) lands—proved to be a boon for local urban elites and greatly reinforced their already substantial economic and political power over the hinterlands. The Ottoman government, it must be remembered, depended on these elites to implement its centralizing fiscal, military, and administrative reforms. Second was the coming of age of Palestine’s rural middle class, which turned to the city’s legal apparatus in order to assert its growing power and to protect the properties and resources it was in the process of accumulating. Third were the increased pressures on land due to the expansion of cultivation and the growth of population.

The combination of these factors accelerated the already irreversible process of urban domination over the hinterland and accounted for the expanding social base of litigants appearing before the Islamic court. An example of the new type of cases encountered beginning in the 1850s concerned the issue of access of peasant women to land. Usually, village lands were passed down the generations through the male offspring even though Islamic law clearly defined the right of females to inherit, albeit one-half the share of a male heir. The only exception to this practice was if the male head of a household died without leaving an adult male heir to take his place. In this case, it was not unusual for daughters or wives to inherit the land. The same general practice held true in Egypt.[53]

By the mid-nineteenth century, however, this situation had become more complicated. On the one hand, the concentration of holdings, the rise of a rural middle class, and the spread of market relations encouraged neighbors as well as agnates to disinherit females who were the sole heirs after the death of the male head of a household. On the other hand, the same forces that precipitated these changes also pushed the countryside into the urban legal sphere and made the enforcement of Islamic rules of inheritance more likely. Peasant women were not unaware of this contradiction, and they increasingly resorted to the Nablus Islamic Court in the hope that the judge was predisposed to enforce Islamic laws concerning the right of women to inherit and control property.[54]

This is not to say that women were automatically cheated of property. Recent research has shown that Nabulsi women often voluntarily did not press or even retracted property claims if to do otherwise would mean that they would lose the protection and support of certain male relatives without whom the claim could not be made to yield a profit.[55] Much depended, therefore, on the family context, which is why most cases never reached the court in the first place. Still, for those peasant women who wanted to resist pressures to strip them of their properties, the growing availability of the urban legal system created a means for them to do so, albeit with certain risks and no guarantee of success.

For instance, the wife, daughter, and mother of Salman al-Dabbak from the village of Jamma‘in—the sole legal inheritors following his death in September 1860—claimed that Salman’s property had been appropriated by Ahmad son of Abdullah al-Akhras from the same village. They had traveled all the way to Nablus to state their case in person, for the deceased had been a rich peasant: under dispute were four cows and 23 separate pieces of land, such as olive groves, fig orchards, and flatlands used for growing grains and tobacco, as well as a house. The description of the borders of the agricultural properties reveals that twelve of the disputed pieces of land were located next to the defendant’s own lands. The defendant, for his part, did not deny that these properties belonged to the deceased or that the plaintiffs were the sole inheritors. He did not even argue that he bought these lands from them. Instead, he claimed that just the day before the case was brought to court, they testified in front of witnesses that they had no rights to these lands and that they now belonged to him as “private property.” The women vigorously denied this version of events, but they lost because the defendant was able to provide two witnesses who corroborated his story.[56]

In other cases a variety of arguments was used to disinherit women: the land had already been sold, the property had not been their male relative’s in the first place, their parents or husbands had given it away before they died, or a will in their favor had never been made.[57] In one case, three men claimed that they were related to a recently deceased peasant, whose sole survivors were a wife and a sister. This was a very unusual argument, because Palestinians at that time paid special attention to kinship connections, and one could easily determine who was related to whom. In this instance, the three men failed to prove any blood relation to the deceased.[58]

Regardless of the various arguments brought forth, a single pattern prevailed: all of the cases were precipitated by the death of a male head of household who left no adult male children, and all were brought before the court by peasant women against (mostly) male relatives. This, in itself, was probably not new. The difference is that these cases reached the Islamic Court in Nablus instead of being settled on the village level through the mediation of clan elders or subdistrict chiefs. This change, which reflected the process of urban-rural integration, was actively precipitated by village women. Judging from the available evidence, many were not disappointed in the results: the court’s final decision was as likely to favor the women as the men.

If the sociocultural and legal spaces of the rural sphere had ever been isolated, they were no longer so by the mid-nineteenth century. Fortunately for the historian, the rush of cases involving peasants also provides direct evidence of the impact of moneylending on the land regime and on the relationship of peasants to each other as peasant society became more differentiated.

Commoditization of Land

Private and state ownership of land had coexisted in the Middle East since ancient times, but their legal boundaries and the rights of the peasants as opposed to those of the state have long been contentious issues. As far as the Ottoman government and a majority of Ottoman jurists were concerned, most agricultural lands belonged to the state.[59] Fully owned private (milk) lands were, generally speaking, limited to those spaces located within the physical boundaries of population settlements—that is, inside cities, towns, or villages—plus a narrow perimeter around them that consisted mostly of terraced land.[60] The city of Nablus, for example, was surrounded by a belt of terraced olive groves, fruit orchards, vineyards, and irrigated gardens, all of which were divided into hundreds of plots, each called by a name. These plots, in turn, were subdivided into shares that were bought and sold as fully private property with the same legal status as residences, shops, and factories inside the city walls.

The wide stretches of land lying beyond the perimeters of cities, towns, and villages—that is, the “dry belt” on which mostly grains and cotton were grown—technically belonged to the state and could not be bought and sold as fully private property. Peasants did not have a legal right to full private ownership of state agricultural lands. Rather, they had usufruct rights as long as they did not allow these lands to lie fallow for more than three years.[61] This right of use had no time limit: the land could be and was passed down through inheritance for generations. In return for its use, peasants paid taxes (such as ushr, or tithe, also called miri) that were levied both in cash and kind, plus a whole range of other (sometimes illegal) exactions.

The power of the Ottoman government to enforce this legal framework ebbed and flowed, but generally speaking it managed to exercise real power over state lands. Large areas of state lands, for example, weredesignated as part of the private holdings of the sultan and his family, endowed as a revenue-producing charitable waqfs, parceled out as fiefs (timars) for cavalry officers (sipahis), auctioned off as tax-farms (iltizam) to the highest bidder, or granted as lifelong tax-farms to individuals (malikane).

As far as the peasants who actually farmed these lands were concerned, however, none of these arrangements touched the essential character of their relationship to the land: they considered it their own. Perhaps unbeknown to many peasants, their conception of land as their own private property was also supported by a minority of Muslim jurists in the Fertile Crescent. The minority school—represented by such influential figures as Khayr al-Din Ramli (1585–1671) and Ibn Abidin (1784–1836)—argued away most if not all of the legal obstacles to private ownership of such lands.[62] In any case, peasant attitudes in this regard were reinforced over the centuries as each clan and village became identified with particular lands, which they treated as their private property regardless of the changing faces of the tax collectors. At least, this was the case in the highlands of Palestine, where small landholdings prevailed and where the average male peasant could expect to inherit a piece of land, the proceeds of which could provide a living for himself and his family. Consequently, village communities were characterized by a strong bond with their place of origin, as well as by a spirit of autonomy that was impatient with interference by the state. These qualities were especially apparent in the olive-based hill villages, where horticulture was a way of life.

Court cases registered in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries show that the peasants of Jabal Nablus, like those of Egypt, did indeed dispose of nominally state lands as if they were their private property by mortgaging, renting, or selling their usufruct rights.[63] The most common practice was for peasants to mortgage their land. For example, in a lawsuit dated mid-January 1724 we learn that an urban moneylender gained control of the two pieces of timar land in the village of Askar after the peasant who had previously worked that land defaulted on a debt amounting to 25 piasters and a basket of rice worth 0.25 piaster. For the next seven years the moneylender had another peasant family plant this land. He also kept the proceeds, from which he paid the timar dues to a sipahi from the Nimr family. When the peasant attempted to take his land back, the moneylender took him to court and proved that the land was his to control because it had been put up as collateral for the loan and because the peasant had previously agreed in their private contract that the moneylender was to enjoy the right of use as long as that loan remained unpaid.[64] In theory, the peasant’s right of use was merely postponed, not negated, but in practice he lost access to his land.

One step further was selling usufruct rights outright. Peasants who sold their usufruct rights to other peasants or to urban dwellers were left with no legal recourse to regain control of their land. This is because secular Ottoman law (qanun) (also justified by Islamic law) stipulated that usufruct rights belonged to those who tilled the land for three consecutive years and that challenges to these rights would not be allowed after a period of fifteen years.[65] An example is a case recorded on May 29, 1837:

Today, Yusuf al-Asmar son of Abdullah al-Jabali from the village of Bayta appeared before the noble council. Being of sound mind and body he voluntarily testified…that he ceded, evacuated, and lifted his hand from the piece of land located in Khirbat Balata…to the pride of honorable princes, Sulayman Afandi son of…Husayn Afandi Abd al-Hadi. [The latter] compensated him 700 piasters…and the aforementioned Yusuf al-Asmar gave permission to Sulayman Afandi to take over the piece of land.[66]

The document carefully avoided words which that imply full private ownership and clearly stated that Yusuf al-Asmar sold his right to this land, not the land itself. But, as all the parties to the transaction no doubt understood, this was a sale of state-owned land in all but name. At first glance, it seems that the sale of usufruct rights was not a widespread practice: only a small number of such transactions were recorded in the Nablus Islamic Court before 1850, and this particular transaction was first concluded in the chambers of the Advisory Council, headed by none other than the buyer himself, then sent to the Islamic court to be registered. Yet there is evidence from Greater Syria and Egypt that land sales among peasants were not unusual long before the mid-nineteenth century, and the dearth of recorded cases has more to do with the nature of the sources than with actual practice.[67] As shown above, the peasants of Jabal Nablus rarely appeared in court before the 1850s, for a variety of reasons. In addition, court fees and exposure to taxes made registration of purchases an expensive and undesirable proposition.[68] Perhaps more important, peasants were aware that the judges of the Nablus Islamic Court were staunch defenders of the government’s views on land-tenure relations. Indeed, and in case after case, these judges ruled accordingly.[69]

This tension between informal practice and state law caused legal quandaries for the judges on those rare occasions when private arrangements surfaced in court. The following lawsuit is a typical example of the difficulties encountered. In April/May 1860 a peasant, also from Bayta, brought a suit against another peasant from the same village. He claimed that twelve years earlier, the defendant had “sold” four pieces of land located in the valley between Askar and Balata villages—that is, state land—and since he “owned” lands adjacent to the properties sold, he claimed the right of shuf‘a (preemption) to these lands. The judge ruled that these were sipahi lands and that the right of shuf‘a did not extend to such lands.[70] In effect, the judge vindicated the earlier sale of this land as private property even though it had taken place before the 1858 land code, yet denied the plaintiff’s request on the basis that this was state-owned land. This must have caused understandable confusion on part of the peasants, because the judge let stand the assumptions about the earlier sale but ignored its consequences.[71] In fairness to the judge, it must be noted that scribes in the court had to register testimony as it was given by the litigants. The characterization of land as “owned” and “sold” in the documents, therefore, does not imply that the judge accepted the terminology. Nor could he shift the focus of the case in order to challenge the validity of the earlier sale. All he could do was rule on whether state-owned lands could be preempted by shuf‘a, and his decision in this matter followed the correct procedure: that is, usufruct rights to state lands were not subject to preemption.

The 1858 law, which required the registration of lands, must have seemed to the peasants like yet another initiative by the Ottoman government to improve its tax-collection efforts and to acquire knowledge about individual peasants for conscription purposes. This perception was not far from the truth, and it helps explain the peasants’ lack of cooperation in implementing the law. Unfortunately for the peasants, their unwillingness to vigorously pursue the registration of their lands in their own names made it easier for urban notables to lay claim to these lands and to expand their holdings.

The Ottoman government, one must quickly add, did not design the law to encourage the formation of large private estates or to lay the foundation for a class of absentee urban landholders. On the contrary, the intent, in addition to streamlining tax collection, was to protect the peasant base of production by preserving small landownership and, in the process, give small landholding peasants the incentive to increase production.[72] The reasons why the consequences of the 1858 land law turned out so differently from the intentions are threefold. First, the material infrastructure for a commercial market in land was in place long before the 1858 land law. Second, the same conditions allowed urban notables to achieve economic dominance over the hinterland. Third, the Egyptian occupation and Ottoman reforms helped to reconfigure local politics by channeling power through a new, merchant-dominated urban elite. Without this power, this elite would not have been able to manipulate the land law to their advantage as quickly and as efficiently as they did, hence creating the impression—which, until two decades ago, was widely accepted—that private property and large landownership developed in Greater Syria as a direct result of the 1858 land law.[73]

In the case of Jabal Nablus, we have evidence that state lands had actually been converted into full private property—that is, involved more than just the sale of usufruct rights—since at least the late 1830s, or roughly two decades before the 1858 land code was promulgated, much less enforced. Most of these conversions were privately concluded and were not registered in the Islamic court. Some, however, were registered in the Islamic court, proving that the exercise of political power, given the right conditions, could bend the will of presiding judges. The latter type of cases came in two waves, both initiated by the Abd al-Hadi family and registered in the latter half of the 1830s. During this period the Abd al-Hadis were the peak of their power in Jabal Nablus and set up residences in the city itself.

The first wave of these purchases, dating from 1836–1838, was concentrated in the lands of Arraba and Ya‘bad and to a lesser extent, in Ajja and Kafr Qaddum.[74] The much larger second wave, amounting to twenty-one land purchases, took place over the following two years: that is, when it became clear to the Abd al-Hadis that the days of the Egyptian occupation were numbered and that the time was ripe to cash in on the power and wealth they had accumulated while serving as the Egyptian government’s primary political bulwark in southern Syria.[75] Simultaneously, for instance, the Abd al-Hadis endowed as waqf the most important of the urban properties they had acquired so far, such as their primary residence, soap factories, mills, warehouses in the commercial districts, and so on.[76]

The second wave of purchases involved far more extensive tracts of state lands. On May 27, 1838, for example, dozens of people gathered in the Nablus Islamic Court to participate in and witness the sale of several large properties to Muhammad Abd al-Hadi for 29,500 piasters—roughly the price of a fully equipped soap factory, the most expensive and coveted form of real estate in Nablus (see Appendix 3).[77] These were fertile flatlands, located in valleys and plains, where mostly grains and cotton were grown. In fact, the properties lay in areas so remote that their location was defined by the crossroads leading to various destinations, such as the city of Jaffa and the villages of Qaqun, Anabta, and Attil. The closest that any of the pieces of land came to a population settlement was one described as “near the lands of Tulkarem.”

Another clue to the remoteness of the lands and the immensity of the sale was the number and identities of the sellers involved: more than fifty individuals from four villages—Shwayka, Arraba, Ya‘bad, and Kafr Ra‘i—were listed. Most of them were adult men, each representing an extended family household. But there were also more than a dozen adult women, a smaller number of military recruits then absent and represented by agents, and (apparently orphaned) children represented by court-appointed guardians. The presiding judge—addressing the large crowd in a loud voice—expounded for the record that these sellers came of their own free will and that he viewed the sale of properties owned by minor children as justified, for the sale was meant to provide for their needs. The organizational effort invested in this sale—mapping out the extensive lands, determining which pieces belonged to whom, convincing all the parties to sell, including representatives of absent individuals and orphans, negotiating prices, and then gathering them all in one large sitting—must have been enormous. Only a politically powerful family deeply involved in commercial agriculture could and would invest the time and money in this and other similar purchases registered during this period.[78]

The available evidence from court records shows that merchants did not become heavily involved in such purchases before the 1850s. Unlike the Abd al-Hadis, it would have been difficult for them to directly supervise and enforce sharecropping agreements in areas that neither they nor the central Ottoman government sufficiently controlled, despite their deeply rooted trade networks. Thus, until the Ottoman government asserted direct control of the interior regions in the 1860s, most merchants were not interested in many of the lands they could have appropriated as a result of defaults on loans. Rather, their primary concern was with maintaining a village or an individual peasant perpetually in debt so that they could secure a steady and cheap supply of agricultural commodities. Besides, merchants found sufficient outlets for their investment in lands much closer to the city. Between 1830 and 1850 the overwhelming majority of agricultural properties purchased by urban merchants and registered in the court were located on the slopes of the two steep mountains that sandwiched Nablus between them or in the valley lands that widened westward. Beginning in the early 1850s the circle of purchases expanded to include villages within walking distance of Nablus, such as Rafidya, Junayd, Bayt Wazan, and Asira al-Shamaliyya.[79] Soap manufacturers and oil merchants were particularly active in this regard, and each came to own dozens of olive groves in these areas.

Aside from a jump in the number of land purchases beginning in the early 1850s, these transactions were not unusual: most of these properties, including those located inside the villages mentioned above, were considered milk to begin with. This was not to remain the case for long, however. In the late 1850s the circle of land purchases by merchants widened again, spurred by the concentration of capital and by the extension of state authority. More and more of these purchases involved former state lands in the “dry belt” far from Nablus, including flatlands used for grain and cotton production.

Many of these lands were often appropriated directly as a result of defaults on olive oil salam contracts with urban moneylenders. In early April 1864, for example, Abd al-Rahman al-Shaykh Husayn from the village of Aqraba initiated a lawsuit against two powerful soap merchants, Sayyid Sulayman Hashim Hanbali and SayyidHajj Yusuf Hashim Hanbali. Standing before the judge, he admitted to owing 3,333 piasters to the former and 30 jars of oil to the latter. But, he continued, “I have spent four months in prison, and I have nothing to pay them [the defendants] back with except for some lands in Aqraba village.” He then asked the judge to allow him to sell a portion of these properties to the defendants so that he could pay off his debts and be set free.[80]

The alienation of land as a result of unpaid debts accelerated as the enforcement of debt obligations came to involve the entire urban political and legal apparatus: the Islamic court judge, the mufti, the Advisory Council, the governor, and the subdistrict tax collectors, all of whom were mobilized and worked together to protect the interests of moneylenders. For example, one debtor, Abdullah son of Hajj Isma‘il from the village of Asira al-Qibliyya disappeared without paying his allotted amount of olive oil jars to a rich soap merchant, SayyidHajj Yusuf son of Sayyid As‘ad Bishtawi. Sometime afterward, Hajj Yusuf Bishtawi obtained a fatwa (a religious ruling, akin to a legal opinion) from the Nablus mufti allowing him to expropriate the sheep of the debtor, which were being held by a fellow peasant from the same village.

The matter did not end there. On October 16, 1862, Hajj Yusuf Bishtawi enrolled the Islamic court judge in the effort. The judge sent a letter to the Nablus governor informing him of the situation and asked that he order the chief of the subdistrict in which that village was located to collect all the debtor’s movable properties and send them to Nablus so they could be auctioned off and the proceeds could be applied to the debt.[81] This was done, but the amount raised was not sufficient. Then, in 1865, Hajj Yusuf Bishtawi initiated another lawsuit, this time against Khalil son of Khalaf from the same village, who had the misfortune of guaranteeing the runaway’s debt.[82] The defendant lost the case, but he did not have the means to pay back the 20 jars of olive oil stipulated in the salam contract or the 600 piasters originally borrowed. The judge responded by putting his seal on a sales deed that transferred the defendant’s vine-orchard to the plaintiff.[83]

The appropriation of lands by merchants as a result of defaults on loans was more frequent, penetrated deeper into the hinterland, and began earlier than the cases registered in court would suggest. An example of a private contract, culled from the Nimr family papers, involved Khawaja Mitri, the Christian merchant from Jaffa whom we met earlier. On August 1, 1852, Khawaja Mitri bought as fully private property what technically were state agricultural lands in Jabal Nablus from peasants indebted both to him and to other merchants. One of these peasants was none other than the same Abd al-Rahman with whom he had concluded the sesame salam contract in 1851 quoted above:

Khawaja Khalil Mitri son of the Christian Yusuf Mitri from the people of Jaffa Port bought…from Abd al-Rahman and his brother Mustafa, sons of the deceased al-Sa‘ada from the Sa‘ada branch of the Hajj Muhammad clan of [the subdistrict of] Mashariq Nablus…one half…of the cleared land, empty of trees, called al-Wasiyya that is part of the lands of Kafr Bayta in Mashariq Nablus—bordered on the south by the line separating the plain from the rough lands; on the east by the lands of the Abi Awad family (dar); on the north by the main road; and on the west by the land of Isma‘il al-As‘ad. [Also] one half of maris land called Maris al-Arqadat, bordered on the south by the land of the Abi Abbas family; on the east by the lands of Salim [village]; on the north by the land of the Uthman family; and on the west by the line separating the plain from the rough lands. [Also] the lands called Mi‘ani al-Najma, bordered on the south by the land of the Uthman family; on the east by the line; on the north by the lands of Abi Awad; and on the west by the line separating the plain from the rough lands. All of that, along with its roads, terraces and walls…located in the lands of Kafr Bayta…for 10,000 piasters. [Khawaja Mitri] deducted from this price 4,420 piasters that they owed him according to vouchers in his hand, in addition to 1,420 piasters that Abd al-Rahman owed to Qasim son of Yusuf al-Nabulsi.[84]

This case clearly shows, first, that as early as 1852 a coastal merchant like Khawaja Mitri faced no insurmountable difficulties in appropriating prime agricultural lands from a peasant in Nablus—even one who belonged to a powerful rural clan that controlled the subdistrict of Mashariq Nablus. Second, Khawaja Mitri’s access to this land was a direct result of a default on a salam contract he had extended just a few months earlier. There is little doubt that these lands were sold in distress, for the two brothers owed more than half of the value of the land to two merchants—one from Nablus and the other from Jaffa—who apparently were business partners. Third, this purchase involved sizable pieces of land (judging by the price paid) and included at least some state lands (judging by the description of the borders).[85] No wonder, therefore, that this purchase, made six years prior to the 1858 land code, was not registered in the Nablus Islamic Court. Undeterred by the absence of a legitimizing legal framework, the parties involved simply ignored the court altogether. Khawaja Mitri ignored it again when he sold the same land, three years later, to Abd al-Fattah Agha Nimr.[86]

The widespread traffic in transactions of this kind deeply worried the central government: it undermined its legitimacy and control of land and threatened its fiscal basis. The same, by the way, could be said of ruling families. The expansion of cultivation put pressure on land, leading many peasants to plow new territories considered by these families to be their private property. Afraid that peasants would lay claims to these lands by right of ihya al-mawat (cultivation of virgin lands), they sought to have their claims recognized by the Nablus Advisory Council. For example, on July 30, 1852, a tribal chief, amir (prince) Faris al-Harithy, requested that the council notarize his “haq al-milkiyya” (right of ownership) over large tracts of unplowed valley lands, because peasants from nearby villages were putting these lands under cultivation and claiming them as their own.[87]

Indicative of these concerns about uncontrolled developments in landholding patterns and challenges to state authority was an 1855 decree—communicated by the Advisory Council of Sidon and relayed by the governor of Jerusalem on March 15 of that year to the qa’immaqam and council members of Nablus—warning all concerned that property transactions must be legally registered in the Islamic court:

[I]t is a practice and a requirement that the selling of shops and houses [mahallat] and lands by their owners…be done under the supervision of Islamic law and according to legal and correct procedures.…[Yet], in some places, these principles are not respected, and houses and lands are being [traded] by brokers and speculators, and registered in documents and deeds that might cause trouble in the future.…Henceforth, if such documents are drawn up by brokers and speculators without informing the court, the appropriate punishment will be meted out to the sellers and buyers, and the documents [which were not approved by the court] shall be considered null and void. If they [the documents] reappear and become cause for quarrels, the local council shall carry out an investigation…and new correct and legal deeds shall be drawn up by the Islamic court, copied into its records, and given to its owners. Those who dare disobey this order shall not be allowed any excuse…[and] are to be reported to us.[88]

This warning was not heeded, and the pressures from below generated by the commercial traffic in land could not be contained by the Islamic court—or by any institution, for that matter. In this context, it could be argued that the 1858 land law was not an initiator of new land-tenure relations but, rather, a recognition by the Ottoman government of the need to contain and streamline already ongoing processes that threatened to undermine the fiscal basis and, by extension, the political effectiveness of its rule.

Redefining Identity and Political Authority

Long before the 1830s the commercialization of agriculture and the attendant expansion of merchant capital into the countryside through moneylending (especially olive-oil salam contracts) had begun to undermine the old patronage networks between long-time ruling clans and the peasants in their subdistricts. Meanwhile, the peasants of Jabal Nablus, like their counterparts elsewhere in Greater Syria, were increasingly linked to urban trade networks, attuned to shifting European demand, and no doubt informed about the new political and administrative changes introduced by the Egyptian occupation and the Tanzimat. Slowly, the leveling effect of a cash nexus in the hinterlands facilitated the spread of horizontal connections at the expense of vertical loyalties. It was only a matter of time before the peasants’ cultural, economic, and political horizons stretched beyond their own village or region. Not surprisingly, their perceptions of their own identity and place in society, as well as their notions of legitimacy, political authority, and justice, were incrementally redefined.

Islam, the Rural Middle Class, and the Subdistrict Chiefs

Hitherto, the decline of subdistrict chiefs has been attributed solely to state intervention from above; that is, to the Egyptian occupation (1831–1840), which crushed centrifugal forces, disarmed the peasantry, and imposed a centralized administrative apparatus. These actions, the argument continues, paved the way for the implementation of the Tanzimat (reforms) and the extension of centralized Ottoman rule.[89] Although the centralizing tendencies of Egyptian and Ottoman rule were indeed important, they only accelerated a number of ongoing processes on the economic, cultural, and political levels.

On the economic level, moneylending, in addition to laying some of the groundwork for the commoditization of land, helped deepen the cleavages among peasants by, among other things, widening the social space of the rural middle class. The spread of market relations encouraged many well-to-do peasants to reproduce the business practices and institutions developed by urban merchants on the village level. This, in turn, helped clear a path for urban, coastal, and foreign merchant activities in the interior of Palestine. One indication of increasing differentiation is that by the mid-nineteenth century it had become common for peasants to sue each other in court over disputed olive oil salam contracts, over the purchase of rural lands, and even over business partnerships.[90] Recall the examples in Chapter 2 of how some rural agents for textile merchants established their own commercial networks and ventured into retail trade in the countryside, as well as examples in this chapter of the moneylending activities by the Rummani family in Bayta and by Salama Makhluf in Bayt Jala.

The social space between the majority of peasants and the few rural-based ruling families first expanded in the large villages of each subdistrict: Tubas, Bayta, Burqa, Umm al-Fahm, Jaba, Dayr al-Ghusun, Arraba, Qabatya, Ya‘bad, and Salfit, to name a few. These and similar villages have long been centers of commercial activities that mediated relations between the city of Nablus (as well the town of Jenin) and the more remote and smaller villages. It is not clear when the expansion of this rural middle class began in earnest, but this process in the central highlands of Palestine probably reflected a larger, regionwide process beginning around the mid-eighteenth century. In her study of Zahleh, a village in Mount Lebanon that grew into an important market town, Alixa Naff argues that “a nebulous middle stratum” before the nineteenth century had become “an unmistakable class of entrepreneurs” by 1840.[91] Dina Khoury also shows how internal and regional dynamics in the hinterlands of Mosul (in today’s Iraq) during the 1750–1850 period precipitated the expansion of commercial agriculture and the de facto privatization of land. Both developments, she continues, led to an increase in social differentiation on the village level, including the rise of “middle” and “rich” peasants who were able to “exploit the labor power of other peasants.”[92]

In any event, not until the mid-nineteenth century did the cases registered in the Islamic Court of Nablus begin to reveal the pervasiveness and sophistication of entrepreneurial activities of this class. An example is a document, dated May 19, 1849, dividing the profits of a company set up by five villagers:

Before this date, the Pride of Honorable Scholars, Shaykh Uthman al-Labadi from the village of Kafr al-Labad and Hasan Khattab, Muhammad al-Bab, Khalil Abd al-Rahim, and the Master Yusuf Elias the Christian, all from the village of Burqa, formed a silent partnership company (sharikat mudaraba) with a capital of 4,000 piasters. All of the money belonged to Shaykh Uthman al-Labadi. Hasan Khattab received the money in order to buy and sell, take and give, loan and collect on oil, wheat, barley, and other [crops].…Whatever profit God bestowed on them, Shaykh Uthman would receive one-half because he provided the capital and the rest would equally share the other half. The aforementioned Hasan Khattab invested the…money in oil and other [crops] through salam [contracts] and, needing more money, he borrowed 243 piasters…to put more money into the oil salam that belonged to this company. On this date, they appeared [in court]…and settled the company’s accounts.…The profit was 743 piasters, from which the 243 piasters that Hasan Khattab had borrowed…were deducted.[93]

The owner of capital was a religious leader from a medium-sized village; the other partners were residents of Burqa, one of the largest villages in Jabal Nablus and the administrative headquarters for the subdistrict of Wadi al-Sh‘ir.[94] Burqa had an artisanal sector, and some of its families worked in textile production. The partners from Burqa were ideally suited for negotiating salam contracts because their village acted as a hub for smaller ones around it and therefore enjoyed a built-in network of relations. Again, the preferred business mechanism was the salam system of moneylending, and the commodities that were the object of speculation—oil, wheat, and barley—were the main cash crops of Jabal Nablus.

None of the partners belonged to ruling clans or to the majority of poor peasants. Their partnership also cut across geographical, kinship, and religious boundaries: Burqa was far from Kafr al-Labad, and the partners were not of the same clan or even the same religion. The combination of these factors—the pooling of capital for investment in commercial agriculture through moneylending and the social diversity of the moneylenders—constitutes a classic characteristic of a rural middle class united by the search for profit and capital accumulation.

Peasant involvement in trade and moneylending created new opportunities for upward mobility, as attested to by the inheritance estates of rich villagers (who were not members of ruling clans) registered in the Nablus Islamic Court.[95] Over time, the expansion of commercial activities generated from within the hinterlands crossed not only geographic and religious boundaries but also social, cultural, and political ones. Urban-rural intermarriage, adoption of city habits, alliances with urban merchants, resort to the Islamic court for settling disputes, and eventually moving into the city, were all becoming common phenomena (see below).

On the cultural level, the undercutting of patronage networks based on customary law was accomplished primarily by the reproduction in the rural sphere of urban legal, social, and business practices based on Islamic law.[96] In order to facilitate their profitable commercial activities and to consolidate their social position, members of the rural middle class turned their backs on the folk religious practices common among peasants and began to appropriate the system of meanings articulated in what one might call orthodox or urban Islam. As will be seen in greater detail below, they used Islamic law not only to construct and legally protect moneylending networks and investment companies but also to weave a new tapestry of relations with both poorer peasants and their long-time ruling clans; that is, to expand their own social space at the expense of both. This process was hastened in the second half of the nineteenth century, when mosques were built in many villages and when Islamic courts were introduced into the seat villages of the subdistricts during the 1850s.[97]

Islamic law proved ideologically and practically well suited for the capitalist transformation of the countryside. As a universal ideology it cut across social boundaries, such as those of kinship, regional identity, and other particularistic customs typical of vertical loyalties. Trade and investment, moreover, are not considered in Islamic law as undesirable activities or somehow inferior to, say, landholding. On the contrary, Islam celebrates honest profits from commercial activities and provides legitimacy to those who convey themselves as God-fearing and righteous businessmen. On a practical level, Islamic law—especially the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, which, as mentioned earlier, was officially adopted by the Ottoman government—makes available a detailed body of rules and regulations well suited for structuring moneylending contracts, business partnerships, and so on. It also provides a clear set of guidelines for the resolution of disputes. In short, Islamic law offers a common denominator or, more precisely, a set of shared reference points that made it an appealing framework at a time when market relations were carving an ever-larger space in the hinterlands of the interior.

An example that combines all the above issues is a business dispute dated April 29, 1864.[98] The plaintiff, Abdullah son of Muhammad al-Hammud, was a rich villager from Jaba village who was then temporarily living in Damascus while serving as a recruit in the Ottoman military. The defendant, Shaykh Ibrahim son of Shaykh Abdullah Jarrar, was the head of the most powerful rural-based clan in that subdistrict (Mashariq al-Jarrar) and had recently relocated to the city of Nablus. The plaintiff’s agent in the Nablus court, Hajj Abdullah Abu Ali al-Zaybaq, came from the village of Zamalka, near Damascus.

The agent testified that the plaintiff had advanced Shaykh Ibrahim the sum of 5,000 piasters a year and a half earlier in a lawful silent partnership (sharikat mudaraba) for the purpose of speculation. Their understanding was that no matter what the profits might be, they would split them evenly. The purpose of the plaintiff’s lawsuit was to make sure that Shaykh Ibrahim Jarrar would pay back the original investment of 5,000 piasters plus half of the profits. Shaykh Ibrahim admitted to the business arrangement and testified that the profit he had made over the past eighteen months (2,600 piasters) exceeded half the principal. What he contested was the status of Hajj Abdullah as a lawful agent for the plaintiff. Hajj Abdullah proved to the satisfaction of the judge that he did indeed represent the plaintiff, and Shaykh Ibrahim Jarrar had to hand over 6,300 piasters.

The most striking aspects of this lawsuit were, first, the reversal of historic roles between peasant and ruling subdistrict chief. A rich villager enrolled his subdistrict chief as an agent in a contract calculated to take advantage of the latter’s connections. In the process he subverted the chief’s traditional patronage network by turning it into a business instrument within his own modern network.[99] Second, this lawsuit also shows how the new networks of the rural middle class cut across not only social and political boundaries but also geographic ones. The plaintiff initiated this lawsuit in Damascus using a peasant from the Syrian village of Zamalka as an agent. The defendant came from the same village as the plaintiff but was now a resident of Nablus. The supporting witnesses on behalf of the plaintiff, meanwhile, came from the village of Silat al-Dhaher, in the Sha‘rawiyya al-Sharqiyya subdistrict of Jabal Nablus. In short, this villager from Jaba was, at one and the same time, a soldier who traveled widely and an investor who made business connections that integrated people from a number of areas.[100]

Third, the rich villager, by initiating this partnership while absent from his home base, assumed that his investment—which took the form of a business partnership recognized as legitimate by Islamic law—would be protected even against the possible extortion of a clan that had ruled generations of his ancestors. This case confirmed that his assumption was well founded: lawsuits that hinge on the status of an agent to one of the parties were widely used as legal mechanisms to prevent future disputes. In other words, there was no real disagreement. Rather, Shaykh Ibrahim wanted to protect himself from the possibility that the plaintiff, upon his return from Damascus, would demand the same moneys again by claiming that Hajj Abdullah was not his lawful agent.

On a political level, villagers also resorted to urban legal institutions, specifically the Islamic court, in order to challenge the authority and sometimes arbitrary practices of subdistrict chiefs. For example, on March 18, 1861, Odeh al-Bab, a well-to-do villager from Burqa, accused Shaykh Isma‘il son of Shaykh Khader al-Burqawi—a member of one of the two clans, Sayf and al-Ahfa, that ruled the subdistrict of Wadi al-Sha‘ir—of unlawfully usurping six pieces of land and an olive oil press through “force, compulsion, imprisonment, and threats.”[101] Shaykh Isma‘il al-Burqawi claimed that he had bought these lands in 1856–1857 for 7,000 piasters, but he lost the case when the plaintiff produced two credible witnesses from both of the ruling clans mentioned above. It is not known whether the court’s order that these properties be returned was ever carried out, but the fact remains that the subdistrict chief was forced to appear and defend himself in the Islamic court against a peasant from his own seat village.

As this and other cases cited throughout this chapter suggest, therefore, the internal transformation of peasant society was an important dynamic in the declining influence and status of subdistrict chiefs. This does not mean that rural shaykhs were completely marginalized: the post of subdistrict chief remained under the control, by and large, of the same families that had dominated the hinterland for generation. Many also continued to wield real power, at least as far as most peasants in their subdistricts were concerned. But during the 1700–1900 period these individuals were transformed from a virtually independent and powerful group of rural leaders into appendages of the urban merchant and political elite, as well as into servants of the state. Their networks and political autonomy were undermined to the point that the real meaning of “subdistrict chief” came to approximate more and more the official (but long unrealized) Ottoman vision of their role: tax collectors and rural administrators whose powers stemmed solely from the fountainhead of the central bureaucracy.

Gone were the days when the subdistrict chiefs were personally visited by the governor of Damascus in their seat village and dressed in a cloak that symbolized their status as equal to the mutasallim of Nablus. By the 1850s they were sent a brief letter of appointment that they had to register in the Nablus Islamic Court, and then they had to be sworn in by the Nablus Advisory Council.[102] Even their official title had changed, from the broad and respectful shaykh al-nahiya to the more narrowly defined and bureaucratic muhassil (tax collector).[103]

The subdistrict chiefs did not forgo their traditional privileges easily. The contested nature of this transformation can be seen in the following letter from the governor of Sidon province to the Nablus Advisory Council and its head, Sulayman Beik Tuqan, dated December 20, 1850:

Under the excuse that they are unsalaried, the supervisors and shaykhs of the subdistricts of Jabal Nablus are taking moneys from the people and villages under their administration above and beyond the assessed [amount] of state taxes and using these moneys for their own purposes. As a result, the people and residents are in a disturbed and weakened state. These aforementioned supervisors and shaykhs do not have salaries set aside for them, but they do enjoy the respect and admiration of their peers as a result of our utilizing them in these positions, and this is an act of great generosity and providence [on our part]. Therefore, their aggression toward the people under their care with the excuse that they have no salaries contravenes the Supreme Wishes. [This behavior] is absolutely forbidden, and it is imperative that it be stopped quickly.[104]

Just a century before, the central government would not have even considered holding subdistrict chiefs responsible for illegal taxation, much less attempted to interfere. In response to the new realties, some of the subdistrict chiefs, such as the Abd al-Hadis, quickly assimilated to the changing political economy of Palestine and used it to their advantage. Others, such as the Jarrars, became internally divided over which course the extended family should pursue in the context of an eroding economic, political, and social base. Most took the middle road. In this regard, the justification used by these chiefs for their actions is revealing. By emphasizing the lack of salary they were, at one and the same time, protesting the onerous duties and limitations imposed on them and opening the door to further integration into the government bureaucracy.[105]

The process of differentiation was also accompanied by serious dislocations and internal power struggles within each village. Tensions heightened as villagers manipulated their fellow villagers and became embroiled in disputes with their neighbors, clan members, and even their own families. By the turn of the twentieth century, the divisive impact of moneylending and the dominant role of merchant capital was a festering sore, apparent to all. During their tour through the villages of Jabal Nablus in 1916–1917, Tamimi and Bahjat quoted one peasant from Dayr Istiya as saying that “the Nabulsis have set brother against brother”[106]—clearly implying that many well-to-do villagers and merchants were allied in a single system that tore at the social fabric of each village. Some peasants from Salfit articulated the situation to Tamimi and Bahjat in these terms: “Nabulsis, for their own personal gain, have sown the seeds of discord, and now we have become like them: hurting others so we can get ahead.…The Nabulsis have profited from these conflicts: they appropriated all that we have, with the excuse that they are saving us from the pitfalls we put ourselves in. Now we are poor, powerless prisoners in the hands of the Nabulsis.”[107]

Resistance and Notions of Justice

The shifting boundaries of political and economic power in the rural sphere generated intense conflicts that threatened the stability of Jabal Nablus as a whole. In the above letter the Sidon governor’s claim that the peasants of Jabal Nablus were in a “disturbed and weakened state” contained more than a grain of truth. Most peasants did not reap the benefit of Palestine’s economic growth during this period, for this growth was predicated largely on the enhanced ability of urban merchants to gain access to and control their surplus.

The slow dissolution of patronage ties between peasants and their long-time ruling subdistrict chiefs, as well as the transformation of the latter into agents of urban interests (and eventually into urban merchants and landholders), no doubt exacerbated the peasants’ feelings of alienation, isolation, and lack of control over their lives. Peasant notions of identity, political authority, and justice, therefore, were bound to be challenged and redefined, especially as their various means of resistance were often repressed by force.[108]

Peasant petitions provide important clues as to these notions and show that peasant complaints were usually precipitated by attempts of the local government to enforce moneylending contracts, especially olive oil salam contracts. For example, in early February 1852 the peasants of Asira al-Shamiyya[109] submitted a petition to the governor of Jerusalem, Hafiz Pasha, in which they said:

[We] the destitute…of Asira village from the district (sanjaq) of Nablus have paid all the taxes (miri) required from us in cash and kind to the last penny (para)…and the account books of the treasury are cleared of all that was or could be [required of us]. A few days ago, Ahmad al-Yusuf [Jarrar]—[on the basis] of his power, influence, and lack of fear of the rule of law—demanded from us, in a criminal and corrupt manner, a sum [of money and crops] for no legitimate reason. He has crossed the line and broken the rules of [decent behavior] and just regulations. [As part of his illegal behavior] he sent cavalrymen [who] picked ten persons from among us and imprisoned them in Nablus. They have been imprisoned for more than eight days and remain there for no satisfactory reason. Because this overstepping of bounds is a matter contradictory to your [sense of] justice, we have found the courage to petition your Munificent Highness and beg that you issue an order to Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi, the qa’immaqam of Nablus, [instructing him] to go over the tax books. If a single penny or the smallest measure of crops is found to be owed by us, we will bring it over. If nothing [owed by us] is found, then our people should be released, for the disposition of your justice does not condone or allow…a person, such as the above mentioned, to imprison our people [just to satisfy] his aim for bribery. Our just government has the power to remove the above mentioned.
The Poor of Asira, Nablus District[110]

It must have been disconcerting for the governor of Jerusalem to receive this petition, because it laid the matter squarely on his shoulders and boldly challenged him to dismiss a government official. Also, by addressing the petition to him instead of going through normal hierarchy of political authority in Jabal Nablus, the peasants of Asira al-Shamiyya implicitly accused the council in general, and Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi in particular, of complicity in what they deemed to be an unjust act. After all, it was the urban ruling elite of Nablus who controlled the cavalry that made the arrests and ran the prisons in which the men were incarcerated.

A few days later, on February 12, 1852, the assistant governor of Jerusalem sent a copy of the petition to Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi, along with this terse and hardly impartial note: “Provide in a memorandum a detailed explanation of the reasons for imprisoning the aforementioned individuals and the foul misdeeds that necessitated their imprisonment.”[111] The council’s answer is worth quoting in full:

The reason for the imprisonment of some individuals from Asira village is that one of the oil merchants, Shaykh Muhammad Abu Hijli, is owed through a salam contract by the peasants of the aforementioned village an amount of oil for which they received money in advance in order to pay the taxes due from their village. When he demanded his right, the people of the village gave excuses…so he complained very persistently. Shaykh Ahmad al-Yusuf, chief of the al-Jarrar subdistrict, requested cavalrymen…and sent them with a representative of his in order to collect the merchant’s due. When his representative arrived in the village, some of its people gathered around him and pelted him with stones. His sword was broken, and the metal piece fitted on the sword sheath below the handle fell. [Also] one of the pistols tucked in his belt was broken, and his cloak [mashlah] fell, as did the tassel on his fez and his money pouch. He arrived back to these parts in this state. Your Excellency knows that such disrespect for the state’s cavalry is considered insolence toward the government. The punishment of these individuals could not be overlooked. So an investigation was made about those persons who headed this movement, and four were found. They were brought [here] and put into prison so that they can be taught a lesson [min ajl al-tarbiya]…and made an example to others. They can be released only after they promise not to display such insolence again. But now the cavalryman has been brought in [to the council’s premises] and the missing items noted. He deserves [the payment of] 120 piasters from the aforementioned imprisoned men in order to fix his sword and gun and to replace his coat, the missing money from his money pouch, the fez’s tassel, and the metal piece of his sword.…He received all…and the prisoners were released.[112]

The major elements of this story should be familiar by now. The inhabitants of an entire village had entered into a salam moneylending contract with an olive oil merchant so that they could pay their taxes. The oil merchant, Muhammad Abu Hijli, was himself a member of the rural middle class, for he had only recently relocated to the city. This illustrates once again the differentiation within the rural sphere and the reproduction, by this class, of urban commercial networks. In fact, the Abu Hijli clan—most of whose members were still in Dayr Istya, their home village—was already well-to-do in the 1830s. During that time, they were involved in moneylending to other peasants and controlled a fair amount of timar lands.[113] By the Mandate period they were large landlords. In Chapter 2, recall, we met a wealthy villager by the name of Hajj Ahmad Isma‘il Abu Hijli who, in the year 1900, still lived in Dayr Istiya. This also fits the development pattern of rural middle-class families: they usually relocated only some of their members to the city, leaving others behind to supervise agricultural workers on their lands.

Allied with the olive oil merchant was Ahmad Yusuf al-Jarrar, head of the Mashariq al-Jarrar subdistrict. As shown in Chapter 1, the Jarrars were famous as key protectors of Jabal Nablus by virtue of their military resources and control of the formidable Sanur fortress. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, their influence was much reduced, and, as far as the peasants of Asira al-Shamiyya were concerned, they had become repressive local shaykhs whose actions—extortion of peasants in their subdistrict and use of force and intimidation in the collection of debts, even those owed to an oil merchant who came from another subdistrict (Jamma‘in)—placed them outside the rule of law.

Shaykh Ahmad al-Yusuf Jarrar, in turn, was supported by the qa’immaqam of Nablus as well as by the Advisory Council. They legitimated his actions by granting his request for cavalry and by branding the peasants’ resistance to his demands as “insolence toward the government.” At least, this is the impression they sought to convey to the governor of Jerusalem in order to represent themselves as the forces of law and order in Jabal Nablus.[114] The peasants of Asira, like those in Mount Lebanon during this period, were openly challenging the authority and privileges of their long-time ruling subdistrict chiefs.[115] However, unlike the situation in Mount Lebanon, where there was a spatial division of political authority (Dayr al-Qamar) and economic life (Beirut)—the location of Nablus at the very heart of the core hill region meant that this city combined both. Hence the welding of rural shaykhs, rich merchants, and urban ruling families into a united political bloc that weighed heavily on the majority of peasants.

Both this petition and the one from the village of Jaba cited earlier show that the peasants of Jabal Nablus were very much aware of this alliance, as well as of its internal hierarchy. By communicating their grievances to the governor of Jerusalem, they made it clear that they expected no justice from the council and the qa’immaqam of Nablus, much less from the traditional rural leaders of their subdistrict. Indeed, the wording of the Asira al-Shamiyya petition clearly implied that the urban political elite was a coconspirator, if not the main culprit, in this affair.

This accusation was based on bitter experience, not posturing. During the same year, for example, the Nablus Council made excuses for not sending a member of the Jarrar family who had been accused of murdering villagers to Beirut, where he was to stand trial.[116] In yet another case, the council lamely justified the reason why witnesses against another member of the Jarrar family, also accused of murder, could not be sent to Beirut to testify.[117]

Under the suffocating weight of both the rural and the urban elites of Jabal Nablus, the peasants’ best hope of carving out a political space for themselves lay in involving the state and appealing to its sense of justice. The Asira peasants’ concepts of state justice and the rule of law are not entirely clear, because they were only expressed in exclusionary terms in the petition—that is, the unlawful behavior of their subdistrict chiefs and the Advisory Council of Nablus. What is clear is that their appeal was calculated to take advantage of the state’s own propaganda, which harped on the need to protect the peasant base of production. In written orders during the 1840s and 1850s, the government passionately called for justice and the rule of law, specifically warned city councils and subdistrict chiefs against the abuse of peasants, and tacitly recognized the social differentiation within villages, as well as the concentration of landholdings. These issues were ideologically framed as an appeal both to Islam and to the common citizenship of all Ottoman subjects and were driven by the need to reinforce the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of all of its subjects, including peasants.[118]

On June 24, 1841, for example, the central authorities warned that the flight of peasants from the land due to extortion, corvée labor, or unfair practices leading to undercultivation or loss of land would not be tolerated. In this letter to the Nablus Advisory Council, the governor of Damascus ordered, among other things, the cancellation of all illegal taxes and a stop to the practices that forced peasants to sell their crops for less than half of their worth.[119] He also forbade the confiscation of animals for free transportation and, most important, the eviction of those who were unable to pay their debts.[120] On December 2, 1850, the mutasarrif of Jerusalem reminded the Nablus Council that the harvest season was at hand, yet in every subdistrict and village there were “poor and old persons who do not possess the means to plow and plant…[and] who need either lands or threshing floors or animals or…all of these things combined.”[121] He went on to urge all Muslims to help those poor villagers because “the equitable and just will of our Sultan will not allow the existence of a single person who is deprived of earnings and enjoyment.” Significant here is that non-Muslims of means were encouraged to do the same, because “those who are not coreligionists are [still] brothers in the fatherland [ikhwan fi al-watan].”[122] He then called on people of means to help through loans, through permission to use threshing floors, and through sharing “some of the surplus lands that are in their hands.” Finally, he commanded that copies of this order be sent to all subdistrict chiefs and that a list of poor people in every village be compiled. Next to each name the council was to describe the manner in which that person had been put back in a position that would allow him to pursue his vocation as a productive peasant.

Only eighteen days later, as mentioned above, the governor of Sidon province warned the tax collectors (muhassils) of the subdistricts of Nablus and Jenin that they would be severely punished if they continued their practice of extorting moneys and crops from peasants under the pretext of being unsalaried government employees who were merely covering their expenses.[123] We know from the council’s own records that they sent copies of this order to all 13 muhassils, as well as to 213 villages in Jabal Nablus. The order was read aloud in each village square, and the inhabitants were specifically instructed that any complaints about extortion should be addressed to the Nablus Advisory Council.[124]

Within this context, it is significant that the authors of both the Asira al-Shamiyya and Jaba petitions decided to deliberately bypass the Advisory Council. More important, their arguments echoed the main thrust of Tanzimat ideology: equality before the law. In the words of the peasants of Asira, Ahmad al-Yusuf Jarrar “crossed the line and broke the rules of [decent behavior] and just regulations.” The peasants were saying, in effect, that all of the inhabitants of Jabal Nablus were members of a much larger polity (the Ottoman Empire), whose boundaries of legitimacy and rules of behavior were clearly delineated, and that all members of this polity were subject to those rules regardless of their official position, historical privileges, or personal power. The long-time rulers of Jabal Nablus, even though they were native sons, were portrayed in the petitions as public servants with a clear (and limited) mandate. The ultimate source of political authority, the peasants insisted, was the Ottoman state or, more accurately, an abstract notion of what state meant.

A key constituent element of the meanings ascribed to this abstract notion, as suggested by the wording of the petition, was the peasants’ right as tax-paying citizens to protection by the central authorities from arbitrary extortion. It was not a coincidence that the peasants of Asira al-Shamiyya began their argument with the premise that they had paid all their taxes in full. As long as they met this responsibility, the state had an obligation to protect them. Local authorities, they insisted, had no right to impose other demands on them, no right to interfere in their affairs.

The political essence of the Asira petition, therefore, was an attempt to reduce the political space of the ruling elite of Jabal Nablus and to draw the state’s protective boundaries around themselves. This is why the underlying and primary cause of the conflict, a debt incurred to an oil merchant through a salam contract, was not mentioned by the peasants. Hoping to deal with the oil merchant on their own terms, the peasants were asking, “Why should Shaykh Ahmad al-Yusuf Jarrar and the entire ruling elite of Nablus get involved in this matter? Our taxes are paid and that is all they should be concerned with!”

It must have been an embarrassing and humiliating experience, as well as politically inconvenient, for the Nablus Council and Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi to have the governor of Jerusalem dragged into a local matter by the peasants of Asira. Not only did they receive the petition via Jerusalem, but it suggested that they be “ordered” to check the tax books when they knew full well, as did the petitioners, that these taxes had indeed been paid. This is why the memorandum from the council, like the previous one concerning the Jaba petition, first presented the issue of debt as the root of the dispute then relegated it to the background and did not indicate whether and how it was resolved. Rather, the council focused the governor’s attention on the organic link between their common interests and those of the state, by portraying peasant resistance to them as a challenge to state authority. Unhappy about the prospect of further outside interference, especially in such vital issues as collection of debt and enforcement of salam contracts, the council’s aim was to short-circuit these petitions and neutralize their negative effects while maintaining a free hand in dealing with the peasantry. Consequently, the council moved quickly to defuse the situation by setting the prisoners free, with the excuse that they had been taught a lesson and that damages to the injured cavalryman—that is, a small fine of 120 piasters—had been paid.[125]

The Asira and Jaba petitions also demonstrate that local disputes between merchants and peasants, in both instances over salam contracts for olive oil, escalated to the point that the Ottoman state, through the office of the governor of Jerusalem, was dragged in and entangled. In other words, internal contradictions and pressures from below, as much as reforms from above, served to increase the role of the state in local affairs. This is key to a fuller understanding of the driving forces behind the Ottoman state’s policies of centralization and administrative and fiscal restructuring during the nineteenth century. Just as the promulgation and implementation of the 1858 land code were precipitated and guided, respectively, by concrete long-term changes in the land regime, Ottoman reforms and policies in general during the last two-thirds of the nineteenth century were just as much responses to as initiators of changes in the political economy of the regions under their control.

The changes that overtook peasant society during the Tanzimat period allowed for more than one political trajectory. Judging from the two petitions, the peasants of Jabal Nablus extended their hand to the Ottoman authorities and expressed a willingness to become active participants in a new political order—under certain conditions, of course. But the latter’s responses to the brewing crisis in urban-rural relations were often determined by pragmatic political concerns rather than by their publicly stated policy of protecting the peasant base of production. In this and similar cases in Jabal Nablus during the mid-nineteenth century the response was a conservative one, more concerned with shoring up urban notables in order to maintain the status quo than with effecting any real change.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Tamimi and Bahjat had this to say upon concluding their visit to Salfit: “Of course, the Salfitis are ignorant of the sacred patriotic [symbols] such as the flag, the nation, and sacrifice. The government in their eyes is nothing but subdistrict administrators and a number of police…and a door that does not answer the complaints of the people.”[126]


“The Olive is the physical document of history,” wrote David Urquhart during his stay in Mount Lebanon (1849–1850).[127] This assessment of the importance of the olive tree in the material and cultural life of Mount Lebanon since ancient times was even more true at that time for Palestine in general and for Jabal Nablus in particular, because of their inhabitants’ greater dependence on it.

Today the olive tree is a national icon among Palestinians. Its ubiquitous presence in the contoured hills and valleys and its stubborn longevity symbolize rootedness, belonging, and survival against all odds. Eulogized in poetry and with its image crafted into silver pendants, the olive tree evokes an idealized past, a time when most Palestinians were not refugees or an oppressed minority under colonial rule but free peasants who lived off the fruits of the land. Ironically, the significance of the olive tree in the political consciousness of Palestinians has increased in inverse proportion to its importance to material life. At the present, only a minority of Palestinians sustain themselves through agriculture, and a smaller proportion still depend solely on the olive for their livelihood. Even the famous Nablus soap is now made out of imported olive oil (mostly from Spain).

The question posed at the outset of this chapter—How did olive oil move from the hands of peasants to those of merchants?—opens for Palestinians a painful and long-closed chapter of their history during the Ottoman period. It brings to the surface the tensions, contradictions, and internal fissures that characterized their society before it was subject to European colonization. The evidence introduced in response to this question indicates that the Ottoman government’s political centralization and its administrative reforms, such as the promulgation of the 1858 land code, were both precipitated by and shaped by many of the very changes they were later credited with introducing. By the early nineteenth century, the processes of peasant differentiation, urban-rural integration, commoditization of land, and monetization of the rural economy—all increasingly driven by pervasive moneylending practices—came to dominate everyday life even in the olive-based villages of the central highlands, whose assimilation into the world economy proceeded at a slower pace than did that of the grain and cotton-based villages on the western slopes and in coastal areas.

These processes were, in part, driven from within by urban merchants and manufacturers and by peasants. The rural middle class, in particular, played a defining role in this regard. Members of this class were heavily involved in moneylending, in the purchase and concentration of landholdings, and in the formation of business partnerships for speculation and trade in agricultural products. The power of subdistrict chiefs was therefore being eroded by the expansion of this class long before these chiefs were militarily defeated by the Egyptian forces and marginalized by Ottoman reforms. It is also clear that the economic and cultural urbanization of the hinterland was partly the result of the reproduction of urban institutions on the local level by the peasants themselves, not simply an instance of hegemonic absorption by an urban merchant elite.

This question also put the focus squarely on the role of moneylending practices in general and of salam contracts in particular in the integration and subordination of the hinterland. Although moneylending had been a well-established component of urban-rural relations since ancient times, the nineteenth century witnessed a qualitative change in the pervasiveness, uses, and social bases of salam contracts. These contracts helped secure large amounts of olive oil in advance for Nabulsi merchants and manufacturers, who financed the rapidly expanding soap industry. Also, both coastal and Nabulsi merchants involved in overseas trade put these flexible contracts to use in the local organization of commercial agricultural production in the interior. Finally, moneylending combined with taxation to accelerate the expansion of merchant capital and a market economy into the farthest reaches of the countryside.

The qualitative changes in moneylending practices cannot be seen apart from the changing political and economic contexts in which they took place: the slow and uneven integration of Palestine into the European-dominated world capitalist economy, population and economic growth, the Egyptian occupation, and the gradual extension of central Ottoman control. The latter two helped provide crucial institutional support and a conducive political atmosphere. By the mid-nineteenth century the profound impact of these developments on the social fabric of Jabal Nablus could be clearly seen in the consolidation of a rural middle class and in the commoditization of land, the two most important developments on the social and economic levels. On the cultural level, the assimilation of the countryside into the urban legal sphere was also clearly expressed in the increasing resort by many peasants to the organizing concepts and practical guidelines of Islamic law. These guidelines provided a framework for the introduction of urban business practices, the resolution of social conflicts (such as the access of women to land), and for legitimating and consolidating the painful process of social differentiation.[128]

Politically, the heightened tensions acquired, dare one say, some characteristics of class struggle. A nascent class consciousness could be detected in peasant petitions and lawsuits against their own traditional leaders, not to mention against the urban merchants. Peasants clearly perceived themselves as being oppressed by a socially diverse elite of moneyed individuals, as represented by the Nablus Advisory Council. Their petitions suggest that their world view, as well as their notions of justice and of the sources of political authority, contained many modern elements—such as their representation of themselves as tax-paying citizens who had the right to equal protection under the law. They also openly adopted the government’s public interpretation of the Tanzimat and used it as a weapon against the authority and privileges of their traditional leaders. In the process, they helped precipitate greater involvement by the state on the local level, and their resistance contributed to the reconfiguration of the entire political grid of Jabal Nablus.

For a more detailed and balanced understanding of these internally generated developments in Jabal Nablus, we need to consider the transformations in the urban sphere. We have already discussed the political economy of cotton, textiles, and merchant networks, but the narrative cannot be completed without telling the story of the social life of the most important commodity produced in the city of Nablus: soap.


1. Rogers, Domestic Life, p. 225. [BACK]

2. NICR, 13A:151. Recall, from Chapter 2, that Sayyid Mahmud Hashim sold his soap factory to Hajj Isma‘il Arafat and married his granddaughter to the latter’s son, Amr. [BACK]

3. The literature on the complexity of peasant societies and their role in shaping the modern period is extensive. For example, see Eric Wolf, Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (New York, 1969); James C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia (New Haven, Conn., 1976); Sydel Silverman, “The Peasant Concept in Anthropology,” Journal of Peasant Studies, 7 (1979), pp. 49–69; Frank Perlin, “Precolonial South Asia and Western Penetration in the 17th–19th Centuries,” Review, 4 (1980), pp. 267–306; Ludden, Peasant History; Jeffrey Paige, “One, Two, or Many Vietnams? Social Theory and Peasant Revolution in Vietnam and Guatemala,” in Edmund Burke III, ed., Global Crises and Social Movements (Boulder, Colo., and London, 1988), pp. 145–179. [BACK]

4. NICR, 13A:141, 146–148, 151, 155; 13B:41, 44, 47. [BACK]

5. Tax-farming bids registered in the minutes of the Advisory Council during the 1848–1853 period show that urban merchants were making inroads into villages long considered to be within the sphere of influence of subdistrict chiefs. Many more served as financial backers of tax-farming bids by the subdistrict chiefs (NMSR, pp. 3, 30, 212–213, 226–227, 263). [BACK]

6. One of four orthodox Sunni schools. All were recognized as valid by the Ottoman state, but the Hanafi school was the one officially adopted by the Ottoman religious bureaucracy. [BACK]

7. Abdur Rahim, The Principles of Muhammadan Jurisprudence According to the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i and Hanbali Schools (London, 1911; reprint, Westport, Conn., 1981), p. 281. [BACK]

8. An exception, discussed below, is an unusual case registered in the Jerusalem Islamic court records (JICR, 318:9–10). [BACK]

9. Nimr Family Papers, 2.2.12(B); 3.1.7, 3.3.8(B)–3.3.10, 3.4.5(B). Document 3.3.9 was reproduced in NIMR, 2:280. [BACK]

10. Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.7(B). [BACK]

11. This is according to Ahmad Agha Nimr’s own soap-factory account sheets for the year 1825–1826 (Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.6). [BACK]

12. For example, Nimr Family Papers, 3.3.10, dated September 3, 1851. [BACK]

13. According to Awad Yusuf Abu Alayya (b. 1908), from the village of Dayr Ghazala, peasants sometimes made the better part of the bargain by delivering low-quality goods, particularly in the case of grain. Conflicts over these issues, he added, were not unusual. [BACK]

14. NICR, 13B:136. [BACK]

15. See, for example, ibid., 12:246; 13A:133, 136, 140, 146, 219, 257, 261; 13.:15, 25, 32, 38, 41–42, 44, 71. [BACK]

16. Ibid., 13B:136. [BACK]

17. This was a long-standing practice in Greater Syria. For example, Amnon Cohen notes that in the case of sixteenth-century Jerusalem the wish to ensure future supplies was behind advance-purchase arrangements of olive oil by Jerusalemite merchants. He does not mention the salam system, however, and his description of the terms of advance purchase does not include the key provision of fixed prices (Economic Life, pp. 75–76). [BACK]

18. Eugene Rogan describes a similar situation in the Salt region between 1885 and 1914 (“Incorporating the Periphery,” chap. 6). [BACK]

19. Masters, Origins, pp. 6, 146–185. [BACK]

20. For example, a timar grant document (bara’a) dated December 18, 1723 (Nimr Family Papers, 1.1.13), a list of timar villages controlled by the Nimrs in the early nineteenth century (ibid., 2.2.13), and a list of villages included in the Nimr tax farm in the mid-nineteenth century (ibid., 2.2.8, 2.2.11). [BACK]

21. The receipt for these taxes was reproduced in NIMR, 2:233–234. [BACK]

22. For example, Ahmad Agha Nimr’s son, Abd al-Fattah, received moneys from Shaykh Sufyan Bustami and Shaykh Sulayman Banna, to whom he promised delivery of thirty jars of olive oil—measured by the jar of the Qatqutiyya soap factory—within thirty days (Nimr Family Papers, 3.3.8(B), dated December 7, 1841). [BACK]

23. NICR, 13A:121–122. [BACK]

24. In Jabal Nablus the word maris usually refers to one thin strip of open agricultural land, devoid of trees, located in a valley, and used mainly to sow wheat and other grains. Normally, a small valley would be divided into numerous thin strips, each owned separately. For the use of this word in Gaza during the same period, see Rafeq, “Ghazza,” p. 121. [BACK]

25. NICR, 13A:114–115. [BACK]

26. Ibid., 13A:224. [BACK]

27. Ibid., 13B:83–84. [BACK]

28. Nimr Family Papers, No. 3.3.9 (emphasis added). [BACK]

29. Schölch, “European Penetration,” p. 14. [BACK]

30. The first contract, signed on September 8, 1851, had exactly the same terms and prices. The only difference was the added phrase: “this salam…is free from the vice of usury” (Nimr Family Papers, 3.3.10). [BACK]

31. Schölch, “European Penetration,” pp. 14–18; Buheiry, “Agricultural Exports,” pp. 61–81. [BACK]

32. For example, another Christian merchant from Jaffa, Khwaja Nicola Gharghur, was forced to turn to the Nablus council in order to enforce a salam contract he made with three shaykhs from Talluza village to deliver 24,375 piasters’ worth of barley to Jaffa port in 1852 (NMSR, p. 161). [BACK]

33. Elizabeth Anne Finn, Home in the Holy Land: A Tale Illustrating Customs and Incidents in Modern Jerusalem (London, 1866), pp. 350–353. [BACK]

34. This was the title of one of the chapters in Consul James Finn’s book, Stirring Times (2:266). [BACK]

35. Similar examples from the hinterland of Damascus were detailed by Abdul-Karim Rafeq: “Land Tenure Problems and Their Social Impact in Syria around the Middle of the Nineteenth Century,” in Tarif Khalidi, ed., Land Tenure and Social Transformation in the Middle East (Beirut, 1984), p. 389. (Rafeq uses the words bay mu’jjal (postponed purchase) to describe these contracts because this is how they are referred to in the Damascus Islamic Court records.) [BACK]

36. Shaykh Husayn Abd al-Hadi was represented in court by a leading Jerusalemite notable, Sayyid Ahmad Agha al-Alami (JICR, 318:9–10). I am indebted to Judith Mendelsohn Rood for kindly providing me with a copy of this document. [BACK]

37. Cuno, Pasha’s Peasants, pp. 125–129. [BACK]

38. JICR, 319:84. I am indebted to Judith Mendelsohn Rood for kindly providing me with a copy of this document. [BACK]

39. NMSR, p. 150. [BACK]

40. Finn, Stirring Times, 1:239–240. [BACK]

41. NICR, 12:65. The appointment letter was dated November 13, 1851. [BACK]

42. Tamimi, born in Nablus (1303/1885–1886) to a notable family of ulama, merchants, and soap manufacturers, was educated in Istanbul and France and worked as director of the Ottoman commercial bureau in Beirut. Bahjat, born in Aleppo (1308/1890–1891), had a law degree from Istanbul and, before World War I, worked as a teacher of Turkish and philosophy. [BACK]

43. Tamimi and Bahjat, Wilayat Bayrut, p. 89. [BACK]

44. Ibid. p. 94. [BACK]

45. Ibid., p 103. [BACK]

46. Ibid., pp. 103, 122. [BACK]

47. Ibid., p. 105. The 60–70 percent rate was probably applied for loans not secured against collateral. For similar rates in Egypt in the 1830s, see Cuno, Pasha’s Peasants, p. 145. [BACK]

48. Darwaza, Mi’at am, pp. 77–80. [BACK]

49. The author was referring to all peasants in Greater Syria during the nineteenth century (Muhammad Kurd Ali, Kitab khitat al-Sham [The Plan of Damascus] [3d ed.; 6 vols.; Damascus, 1983], p. 249). [BACK]

50. The only group that elicited unreserved praise were the Jewish European settlers they visited in Petah Tikvah. Despite ambivalent feelings toward their colonization project, Tamimi and Bahjat lauded their efficient organization, cleanliness, and sophisticated culture (Wilayat Bayrut, pp. 84–215). [BACK]

51. The first peasant inheritance estate to be registered in the nineteenth century was in 1860 (NICR, 13A:17). [BACK]

52. Land purchases involved a wide range of urban and rural groups, and for the first time, some peasants came to the court to register marriages, divorces, and inheritance estates. [BACK]

53. Cuno, Pasha’s Peasants, pp. 75–76. [BACK]

54. For instance, in a theft lawsuit between two peasant clans, dated February 14, 1843, the judge disqualified one of the witnesses because, among other things, he was considered as “one of those who disinherit women” (min al-ladhina la yuwarrithuna al-nisa) (NICR, 10:89). [BACK]

55. Moors, “Women and Property,” pp. 76–77. [BACK]

56. NICR, 12:339. [BACK]

57. Ibid., 9:120, 375; 12:86, 277, 279–280, 286–287, 301, 309. [BACK]

58. Ibid., 9:160. [BACK]

59. For a discussion of the formation of the Ottoman view on state and private lands, see Baber Johansen, The Islamic Law on Land Tax and Rent: The Peasants’ Loss of Property Rights as Interpreted in the Hanafite Legal Literature of the Mamluk and Ottoman Periods (London, 1988), especially chap. 4. [BACK]

60. For more details, see Bernard Lewis, “Land Tenure and Taxation in Syria,” Studia Islamica, 50 (1979), pp. 115–116. For the categories of landholding as outlined in Ottoman cadastral surveys of Palestine in the sixteenth century, see Cohen and Lewis, Population and Revenue, p. 42. [BACK]

61. For this point in particular, and for a discussion of the military and fiscal imperatives behind the development of Ottoman policies regarding land tenure, see Halil Iṅalcik, “Land Problems in Turkish History,” The Muslim World, 14 (1955), pp. 221–222. An example of a ruling along these lines by an Islamic court judge in Nablus can be found in NICR, 12:310. [BACK]

62. Cuno, Pasha’s Peasants, pp. 77–81. Cuno further elaborated this argument in regard to Greater Syria in his paper, “Was the Land of Ottoman Syria miri or milk? An Examination of Juridical Differences within the Hanafi School” (unpublished paper delivered to the PARSS Seminar on the Middle East, University of Pennsylvania, November 1993). [BACK]

63. Cuno, Pasha’s Peasants, pp. 81–84. [BACK]

64. NICR, 4:58. [BACK]

65. Ibid., 9:263, 326, 331–332; 12:303, 310, 353. [BACK]

66. Ibid., 9:241. [BACK]

67. Owen, Middle East, p. 34. Also see Naff, “Zahle,” pp. 162–164; Iliya Harik, Politics and Change in a Traditional Society: Lebanon, 1711–1845 (Princeton, N.J., 1968), pp. 27–28; and Cuno, Pasha’s Peasants, pp. 81–84. [BACK]

68. For similar reasons, peasant land purchases were also underrepresented in the Damascus court registers during this period, although, on the whole, they were still far more common there than in the Nablus court records (see Reilly, “Origins,” pp. 192–193). [BACK]

69. For a typical ruling on state ownership of land, rights of usufruct, and the application of Ottoman secular law, see NICR, 9:326. [BACK]

70. Ibid., 12:324. [BACK]

71. In most other cases of this sort, the status of land was simply left undefined although, judging from the description and location, they were clearly state lands. For example, the court accepted the argument of one peasant from the village of Marda that he bought several pieces of land, some clearly located far from the village, from a fellow peasant in 1835–1836 (ibid., 12:197–198). In another case, the court accepted the argument that a piece of flat land located between the villages of Bayta and Yasuf—that is, also clearly state land—was the private property of two peasants from Yutma village because they “legally” purchased it in 1800–1801 (ibid., 12:246). By leaving the status of these lands undefined, the presiding judge never put himself in a position where the contradiction between theory and practice was brought to the surface, allowing him to conveniently ignore this issue altogether when necessary. For other cases involving the sale of state-owned lands, see ibid., 12:60, 79, 284, 303. See also the sale of what may have been state lands in ibid., 7:232; 10:219; 12:92. [BACK]

72. For a summary of the debate, see Peter Sluglett and Marion Farouk-Sluglett, “The Application of the 1858 Land Code in Greater Syria: Some Preliminary Observations,” in Khalidi, ed., Land Tenure, pp. 409–421. [BACK]

73. For example, Kayyali, Tarikh Filastin, p. 38. [BACK]

74. A total of eleven purchases were registered: NICR, 9:241, 288, 349, 369; 10:20, 21, 22. [BACK]

75. Ibid., 9:350–351, 379; 10:11–17, 51. [BACK]

76. Ibid., 9:50; 10:4, 31, 48. [BACK]

77. Ibid., 9:379. [BACK]

78. Similar purchases of lands near Baqa al-Gharbiyya village were transacted during this period (Ibid., 9:349–350). [BACK]

79. These purchases, too numerous to list, are dispersed in ibid., 10–13A, 13B. For typical examples, see ibid., 11:105; 12:80, 144–146, 185–190. [BACK]

80. Ibid., 13B:64. [BACK]

81. Ibid., 13A:225. [BACK]

82. Over the course of the nineteenth century, more and more salam contracts started to list the names of one or more individuals who guaranteed, on pain of being personally liable, that the goods in question would be delivered. [BACK]

83. NICR, 13B:188, dated April 25, 1865. If flight did not release debt obligations, neither did death. In a lawsuit registered on February 27, 1862, the survivors of a rich grain and oil merchant, Mas‘ud Qaltaqji, brought the survivors of a peasant, As‘ad al-Khadir, from the village of Dayr al-Ghusun, to court in order to enforce a salam contract signed by their parents which stipulated the delivery of eighty-eight and one-half jars of olive oil. As usual, the defendants lost the case but did not have the olive oil demanded from them. The judge then ordered that the lands, house, and immovable properties of the debtors be sold in order to satisfy the debt (NICR, 13A:151). [BACK]

84. Nimr Family Papers, 5.2.43. Mi‘na refers to the flat space between terraces. Qasim was a member of a rich merchant family that dealt primarily in soap. [BACK]

85. Another document refers to these lands as “fit for planting winter and summer crops”; that is, flat valley lands (Nimr Family Papers, 5.2.44). [BACK]

86. Ibid., 5.2.44, dated late May 1855. As mentioned above, most merchants were not keen on keeping lands they appropriated through enforcement of loan obligations and preferred to be more selective in their purchases. This particular case is a good example. The Jaffa merchant lived too far away and would have been considered a stranger in Jabal Nablus. The man to whom he sold the land, in contrast, belonged to one of Nablus’s oldest ruling families and had the political influence, conveniently located infrastructure—such as shops, a soap factory, an olive press, and grain mills—and patronage relations that would allow him to capitalize on these lands much more efficiently. (The village of Aqraba had long been part of the Nimr’s timar holdings.) [BACK]

87. NMSR, p. 236. [BACK]

88. NICR, 12:122. [BACK]

89. A typical example is Ma‘oz, Ottoman Reform. [BACK]

90. For examples of salam contracts and other loan obligations between peasants, see NICR, 12:69, 103, 247, 256, 284, 303, 324, 345; 13A:92, 106, 136, 146, 149, 151, 155, 158, 162, 257; 13B:5, 15, 25, 33, 38, 41–42, 44, 47. For examples of land sales between peasants (including disputes over such sales), see ibid., 9:197–198, 331–332; 10:61, 219; 12:92, 94, 105–106, 109, 232, 237, 246, 286–287, 294, 301, 304–306, 309; 13A:28, 61–62, 141, 147–148; 13B:26–27, 29. For examples of business contracts and share-cropping agreements, see ibid., 11:152; 12:11, 345, 352; 13B:56, 73. [BACK]

91. Naff, “Zahle,” pp. 172–174. She based this observation on local sources, such as land records. [BACK]

92. Dina Rizk Khoury, “The Introduction of Commercial Agriculture in the Province of Mosul and Its Effects on the Peasantry, 1750–1850,” in Keyder and Tabak, eds., Landholding, pp. 155, 164, 171. [BACK]

93. NICR, 11:142. [BACK]

94. Kafr al-Labad is twenty kilometers northeast of Nablus on the way to Tulkarem. Burqa is sixteen kilometers north of Nablus on the way to Jenin. [BACK]

95. For examples, see NICR, 13A:17, 180–181. [BACK]

96. Ya‘kov Firestone, “Production and Trade in an Islamic Context: Sharika Trade Contracts in the Transitional Economy of Northern Samaria, 1853–1943,” IJMES, 6 (1975), pp. 185–209, 308–324. [BACK]

97. For example, Shaykh Muhammad Afandi Husayni, a Jerusalemite, was appointed as judge of the subdistricts of Jamma‘in al-Gharbiyya (NICR, 12:249, 251, 254). [BACK]

98. Ibid., 13B:73. [BACK]

99. This type of business venture between peasants was not a new development. A similar arrangement had been reached in 1842–1843 between a peasant from the village of Dayr al-Ghusun who had just moved to the city of Nablus and a fellow peasant from the village of Baqa al-Gharbiyya (ibid., 12:11). [BACK]

100. For another example of how wealthy peasants established trading networks between villages and even between regions, see ibid., 12:352. [BACK]

101. NICR, 13A:61–62. These lands were located in three different villages: Burqa, Kufr Lubbad, and Bazarya. Shaykh Burqawi headed the Sayf clan. Burqa was the seat village of the other ruling clan, al-Ahfa. For further details see Chapter 1. [BACK]

102. Ibid., 12:249–251, 254. [BACK]

103. NMSR, p. 30. The term shaykh nahiya did not disappear overnight. It was sometimes used in conjunction with muhassil,mudir, (manager), and nazir (supervisor). As a group, they and other appointed officials were most often referred to as ma’murin (employees; literally, those who are ordered) (NMSR, p. 76). The term for subdistrict also changed to muqata‘a and, if it had a judge appointed to it, qada. [BACK]

104. Ibid., p., 76. [BACK]

105. Among other things, they were responsible for counting the adult males in the villages, for reporting numbers of births and deaths to the census bureau on a monthly basis, for overseeing the disarming and conscription of the peasants, and for abiding by the decisions of judges assigned to their subdistricts. [BACK]

106. Tamimi and Bahjat, Wilayat Bayrut, p. 103. [BACK]

107. Ibid., p. 93 (emphasis added). [BACK]

108. For forms of peasant resistance in general, see James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, Conn., 1985). [BACK]

109. Now known as Asira al-Shamaliyya. Both sham and shamal mean “north.” The former has long been used to refer to Damascus or Greater Syria; hence the term Bilad al-Sham, meaning, presumably, the lands north of Egypt. [BACK]

110. NMSR, p. 174 (emphasis added). Para was the smallest denomination of money used at that time. Forty paras equaled one piaster. [BACK]

111. Ibid. [BACK]

112. NMSR, pp. 174–175 (emphasis added). A mashlah was a long, flowing cloak made of wool or camel hair and usually embroidered with gold. The verb tenses used in the last part of this memorandum, when translated, give the impression that this was a live report being transmitted to the governor from the premises of the council. [BACK]

113. NICR, 10:220. [BACK]

114. Hafiz Pasha himself prepared the grounds for such a response by relegating the matter to his assistant whose terse communiqué, in turn, assumed the guilt of the peasants in this matter. [BACK]

115. See Yehoshua Porath, “The Peasant Revolt of 1858–1861 in Kisrawan,” AAS, 2 (1966), pp. 77–157; and Marwan Buheiry, “The Peasant Revolt of 1858 in Mount Lebanon: Rising Expectations, Economic Malaise and the Incentive to Arm,” in Khalidi, ed., Land Tenure, pp. 291–301. [BACK]

116. NMSR, p. 231. [BACK]

117. Ibid., p. 242. [BACK]

118. For a general discussion in the Ottoman context of the relationship between notions of political authority and agrarian production, see Huri Iṡlamoğlu-Iṅan, “Peasants, Commercialization, and Legitimation of State Power in Sixteenth-Century Anatolia,” in Keyder and Tabak, eds., Landholding, pp. 57–64. [BACK]

119. He might have had the salam moneylending system in mind, though this was not spelled out. [BACK]

120. NICR, 10:289–290. [BACK]

121. NMSR, pp. 73–74. [BACK]

122. The word watan could mean nation, homeland, country, or fatherland. The term “fatherland” is used to emphasize that they meant the Ottoman polity as a whole, not a specific nation or an ethnic homeland. [BACK]

123. NMSR, pp. 76–77. See above for translation. [BACK]

124. Ibid., p. 77. [BACK]

125. It is not clear whether all the prisoners were freed, because the council members only referred to four prisoners in their letter, whereas the petition by Asira peasants mentioned ten. [BACK]

126. Tamimi and Bahjat, Wilayat Bayrut, p. 95. [BACK]

127. David Urquhart, The Lebanon (Mount Souria): A History and Diary (2 vols.; London, 1860), 1:5. [BACK]

128. One fruitful area for further research would be an investigation of whether and to what degree peasants, judges, merchants, and others changed their attitudes and approach to law in general and to Islamic law in particular, and, if so, the role of these changing attitudes in constructing the meanings of modernity during the nineteenth century. [BACK]

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