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Biography of Yehoshua Hankin

Biography of Yehoshua Hankin

Yehoshua Hankin (1864-1945) (also Henkin, Chenkin) was responsible for most of the major land purchases of the Zionist organization. Hankin was born in Kremenchug Ukraine, and moved to Rishon Le-Zion with his parents in 1882. In 1887 his family moved to Gedera, where he became friendly with local Arabs, helping him negotiate the purchase of land. Hankin's first purchase was the land of Rechovot, acquired in 1890. A year later he bought the land that later became the settlement and city of Hadera. He then purchased territories for the Jewish Colonial Association in the Galilee.

In 1908, when the Zionist organization sent Arthur Ruppin and set up the Palestine Land Land Development Corporation, Hankin joined. In 1909 or 1910, Hankin completed his first major purchase in the Jezreel Valley. He bought some  10,000 dunams of land in Al-Fuleh (now Afula), which became the home of Merchavia and Tel Adashim. This purchase also marked the start of bitter disputes between Arabs and Jews over the rights of tenant farmers who had been evicted, and regarding the employment of Jewish or Arab watchmen for the land.

In his article, Buying the Emek, Arthur Ruppin described the vicissitudes of this purchase.

In order to execute this plan the Jaffa office communicated with Messrs. Kalvariski and Joshua Hankin. The latter, then a young man of twenty-five had already demonstrated his skill in such negotiations in the acquisition of land for the colonies Rehoboth and Hederah. By energetic work he succeeded, in 1891, in reaching an agreement with large owners in the Emek Jezreel and the Plain of Acco for the purchase of 160,000 dunams at 15 francs per dunam....  Before the consummation of the agreement, however the Turkish Government, alarmed by the increasing inflow of Russian Jews, prohibited Jewish immigration entirely. This blow proved disastrous for the negotiations. The Russian societies formed for the purposes of purchasing land were dissolved, failed to send in the money they had promised, and the entire magnificent project fell through.
...It was only in 1910 that Hankin -- who, in the meanwhile, had purchased land in Lower Galilee for the ICA -- resumed his negotiations for land in the Emek.

Because of the reluctance of Zionist organizations to pay for land, Hankin frequently agreed to purchase lands and then convinced the Jewish agency or others to finance the "done deal." As Ruppin notes:

Authorized by a Russian Jew, Elias Blumenfeld, to arrange for the purchase of 1,000 dunams on which he, Blumenfeld, intended to establish a farm with his own means, Hankin concluded an agreement for a stretch of 9,500 dunams in Fule, later Merchavia [Al-Ful in Arabic]. He hoped that the ICA, in whose employ he was at that time, would buy the remainder of the land. When, however, the ICA refused to do so, he inquired of me, who was then the director of the Palestine Bureau of the Zionist Organization, whether the Zionists would be prepared to purchase this land. Even before that it had occurred to me, whenever, going from Haifa to Nazareth, I had viewed the broad expanse of the Emek Yizrael, that, because of its proximity to Haifa, its excellent railroad and highway connections, and the ease with which its soil could be cultivated, this land would be preeminently suited for Jewish colonization.

But it was no simple matter to obtain the money for this purchase. Only the fact that Franz Oppenheimer was just then seeking land for the co-operative colonization society he had recently organized, and the simultaneous appearance of some private purchasers. made it possible to carry through this project. 3,500 dunams were taken over by the National Fund for the co-operative colonies, and the rest by the Palestine Land Development Company.

During World War I, Hankin was exiled by the Turks to Anatolia. Returning to Palestine, he soon  resumed his work where he had left off. In 1920, he concluded a deal with the Sursuk family of Beirut for purchase of 60,000 dunams of land in the Valley of Jezreel. He negotiated for this land when he had in fact not a penny to finance the purchase. The chairman of the Jewish National Fund, Nehemiah De Lieme, refused to pay for the land, arguing that it was beyond the budget of the Fund, but he was overruled by the Zionist organization and in particular Dr. Chaim Weizmann. This tract became home to numerous new kibbutzim and other settlements, including Nahalal, Djindjar, Kfar Yeheskel, Geva, Ein 'Harod, Tel Yosef and Beth Alpha. Half of this land was unirrigated and considered of low value, but the remainder contained about 500  Arab tenant farmers. These latter, though reimbursed above and beyond the requirements of the law, continued to complain of dispossession. 

Subsequently, Hankin was involved in large scale purchases of land in and around Acco. In 1927, Hankin proposed an ambitious 20 year land purchase plan to the Jewish Agency, a plan that was never carried out in full. In 1932 he became head of the Palestine Land Development Corporation. 

Hankin understood the necessity to plan for Arab as well as Jewish settlement, and apparently intended to do so. In July of 1930 he wrote:

" . . . . Had we desired to disregard the interests of such workers of the land as are dependent, directly or indirectly, upon lands of the landlords, we could have acquired large and unlimited areas, but in the course of our conversation I have pointed out to you that this has not been our policy and that, when acquiring lands, it is our ardent wish not to prejudice or do harm to the interests of anybody. (Quoted by Sir John Hope Simpson in his report of 1930 ).

Yehoshua Hankin died in Tel Aviv and was buried in the Galilee on Mt. Gilboa.

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