Decades of loss: Century-old letters highlight the roots of Palestinian resistance

The start of the Zionist project and the establishment of the first settlements in Palestine at the end of the 19th century began a systematic and deliberate campaign to expel and displace Palestinians from their land.
The Palestinian resistance to these efforts was at times disorganised and limited by financial constraints, but Zionist writings on the subject have not conveyed the true picture of what took place. Yet, two letters sent by Palestinians in 1890 and 1913 to the grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul shed light on this reality.
Bedouins and Palestinian peasants living in the countryside were the first communities affected by Zionist settlement construction in the 19th century. Harassment and aggression by the settlers escalated in an attempt to expel the Palestinian families, who had lived on their lands for hundreds of years. Despite their simplistic lifestyle, these Palestinian communities quickly understood the dangers of settler-colonialism
Despite their simplistic lifestyle, these Palestinian communities quickly understood the dangers of settler-colonialism. It was thus unsurprising that the movement to resist Zionist occupation initially emerged from within the peasant and Bedouin communities, whose livelihoods depended on the land itself.mFrom the late 19th century through to the creation of Israel in 1948, many confrontations were documented between these communities and Zionist settlers.
The initial arrival of settlers was sudden and shocking to Palestinian residents. They could not fathom the settlers’ claims that they owned the land, and that the residents would have to leave their homes with their crops not yet harvested. They were the real and practical owners of the land, having ploughed, cultivated and inhabited it for hundreds of years.
In their letter sent in 1890, the Palestinian al-Sataria clan living in Khirbet Darwan complained to the grand vizier about the injustice, harassment and attacks that ensued after the Rehovot settlement was established on their lands.
“The supreme Ottoman state recently sold the land of the Khirbeh to rich people from the homeland. Your faithful servants did not express any objection to that, because the new owners of the land had the knowhow, that we cultivate the farm and have been taking care of it from time immemorial. They neither tried to intercept nor expel us from our places of residence or our farms,” the letter states.
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