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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.

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