UK traded Jaffa ‘sand dunes’ with Zionists for Jerusalem embassy land

UK traded Jaffa ‘sand dunes’ with Zionists for Jerusalem embassy land
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The British government acquired a plot in Jerusalem long earmarked for a future embassy in Israel by trading an area of sand dunes in Jaffa with a company acquiring Palestinian land for Jewish immigrants, newly unearthed documents show.

In October, a Middle East Eye investigation revealed that the UK government holds a 6,950 square-metre property in West Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighbourhood known as the “Orange Plot”.

Documents found by MEE in the UK’s National Archives show that as early as the 1950s, British officials were discussing potential locations for an embassy on UK-held land in Jerusalem, and considered it inevitable that a site would one day be needed.

Now, records recently found in the Israeli State Archives by Adalah, the Haifa-based advocacy group, show how the Jerusalem property came into British possession in April 1933, a decade into British rule over Palestine under the mandate conferred by the League of Nations after World War One.

Letters exchanged between Mandate officials show that the Palestinian Government, as the British administration was called, exchanged land described as sand dunes in the Jabalia area of Jaffa for a Jerusalem plot which had been purchased by the Palestine Land Development Company (PLDC).

The PLDC had been established in 1908 by the World Zionist Organization – and incorporated in the UK – to acquire land in Palestine for Jewish immigrants. The letters explain that it had bought the land in Jerusalem in 1921 “at 13 Egyptian Piastres a pic [Ottoman-era units of currency and measurement]” but do not say from whom.

“I have discussed this matter with the Palestinian [sic] Land Development Company Ltd, and have agreed, subject to your concurrence, the Government should transfer to the Company the three parcels of Government land in the Jabalia sand dunes,” wrote JN Stubbs, director of lands, to the administration’s chief secretary in March 1933.

The government’s land in Jabalia was, at 105 metric dunams (105,000 square metres), 12.5 times the size of the Jerusalem plot that the company was prepared to exchange, Stubbs noted.

“But I would observe that I propose to acquire all of the level land instead of a proportion of level and sloping land. Any value assignable to the sand dune must be dependent solely on the activities of the Company in the neighbouring area,” Stubbs said.

How the PLDC used the Jabalia land is not yet known to MEE, but a letter in the file suggests it was slated for future development.

In 1932, the acting district commissioner responsible for the Southern District wrote that the property was undeveloped and valued at 10 Palestinian pounds (LP) per dunam, adding: “As soon as development begins in that area, the price will rise and may reach LP 70 – LP 120 per dunam in a short time.”

The area then known as Jabalia is now in the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv-Yafo, about three kilometres south of the old port of Jaffa.

Documents in the same file suggest the Jerusalem plot – known even then as the “Orange Plot” – was earmarked to house married British officers at what was then called the Talavera Camp.

The file offers glimpses into a years-long process by which the British acquired dozens of plots that would eventually transform Talavera Camp into the permanent Allenby Barracks, named after General Edmund Allenby, who led the British campaign in Palestine against the Ottoman Empire during World War One.

The file, along with other documents from the same time period seen by MEE, paints a picture of an administration struggling to balance the increasing need for permanent barracks in the face of growing opposition to British rule – which culminated in an uprising known as the Great Arab Revolt in 1936 – with the knowledge that it would one day withdraw from Palestine and cede power to others.

Islam News