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Musha' Land


Musha' (Mesha' or Mesha'a) land is land that was owned in common. Numerous land owners might claim rights in a single parcel. This was one of the most common methods of ownership and because of the restrictions it placed on how land could be used, developed or bequeathed, this method of ownership was blamed for many of the ills of Palestinian agriculture. Though it was not supposed to be allowed, a great deal of village land was owned in this way.  The Hope Simpson report noted the following about Musha' land


A common feature of the proprietary right in agricultural land is the existence of the system known as Mesha'a. In villages where this system prevails, the whole of the property held in the village is held in common. Each shareholder owns a fractional share in the village, but has no separate parcel of land allotted to him in proprietary right. The village as a whole belongs to the body of the proprietors as a whole. The individual's share is usually ex-pressed in terms of various measures; a sharer may own a fedan (an area so large that a pair of cattle can plough it in one day), or a karat, that is l/24th of the whole, or a fraction of the whole, called a sehem. But none of these represent defined plots or parcels of the village; they represent an undivided share of the total.

In the Mesha'a villages there is usually a permanent distribution among the Hamulahs—the tribal divisions of the village. Within these large areas individual shares are as a rule divided every two years, with the result that no development is at all possible. No cultivator will proceed to manure or improve his holding, which he knows will pass to some other cultivator in the course of the next two years.

This Mesha'a system is a constant cause of complaint among the fellahin. Its partition.—Partition can be made in one of two ways, either by agreement among the parties and acceptance of that agreement by the Courts, or by the Courts themselves. In the former case

there has to be unanimous agreement of all the shareholders. In the latter case the Courts act on the petition of the individual shareholder, but the cost to him is exceedingly heavy, for several reasons. In the first place, it has never been the custom to register changes of title upon transfer of property or succession. Most of the titles now held by proprietors are not actually in their name. Very frequently they are in the name of a father, or a grand-father, or other relation who is long dead. Before partition can be effected it is necessary that the title should be clear.

Expense of partition.—Apart from the difficulty in establishing the title, the registration of the amended title costs 3 per cent, of the value of the property by way of registration fees. Again, before the Courts will proceed to a partition they demand a map prepared by a qualified surveyor. This map has to be furnished by the applicant for the partition. In addition, there are the Court fees for the partition, which are themselves not negligible. In sum, the applicant for partition by action of the Courts is put to very serious expense as a preliminary, and is quite uncertain how long the proceedings may last and what the ultimate result will be.

Unofficial partition.—There are a large number of villages in which de facto partition has been carried out, although no official sanction has yet been given. In the majority of cases these partitions are unsatisfactory from the agricultural point of view. As in all Oriental countries there is in Palestine a universal desire that each shareholder should have a share, however small, of each dis-tinctive class of land. The result is that the plots of individuals are scattered here and there throughout the village, and are frequently either of ridiculous shape or too small for effective exploita-tion. Cases are known of fields being so divided that a share is 2,000 metres long and 41 metres broad. There are cases of this kind even where partition has been made by Government officers, as, for instance, in the Beisan area. This is exceedingly unfortunate.

Partition by agreement.—It is desirable that partitions should be made by agreement, in which case the procedure is simple and inexpensive, and the cost of the Courts is avoided. As a preliminary a survey of the area to be partitioned is necessary. In sanctioning these partitions it is essential that the influence of the sanctioning officer should be used to correct the tendency to diffuse and uneconomic partition. It is said that this is difficult. One case has been cited in which the fellahin were persuaded to redistribute the land so as to amalgamate the holdings, thus constituting economic blocks. It was a long and tedious process, and the officer concerned was of opinion that it had taken three times as long as an ordinary partition case. The matter is of such extreme importance that it is well worth while to spend a large amount of trouble to ensure satisfactory partitions.

Its extent and effect.—A return of the year 1923 showed that of the villages in Palestine at that time 56 per cent, were Mesha'a and 44 per cent. Mafruz (i.e., divided). A return of the present year shows 46 per cent. Mesha'a and 54 per cent. Mafruz. This is an indication of the number of cases in which private partition has been carried out. The majority of these partitions are not final. They will doubtless become so by prescription, after a lapse of a considerable interval of time. This is not a satisfactory position.

Mesha'a is described by the Committee on the Economic Condition of Agriculturists as " perhaps the greatest obstacle to agricultural progress in Palestine." They record that the system misses alike the advantages of individualism and of co-operation; while it remains, they say, it is useless to expect that land will be weeded or fertilised, that trees will be planted, or, in a word, that any development will take place. These opinions are held generally by the Area Officers and District Officers of the Palestine Government and by the fellahin concerned.
Government action in regard to partition.—In the year 1923, a Commission was appointed by the Government to consider the whole question of Mesha'a. It made certain radical proposals, including the recommendation that legislation should be introduced empowering the executive authorities to enforce partition. It suggested the appointment of local committees to carry out partitions, and a reduction of taxation in respect of fees of registration and of survey in partitioned lands. It also suggested that the Werko tax should not be increased on newly partitioned lands until a general assessment of the tax is undertaken.
Nothing appears to have been done as a result of the enquiry and report of this Commission. This is to be regretted, as it is essential that every possible step should be taken to encourage the development of Arab holdings.
Partition under land settlement.—At present there is a settlement in progress, but its proceedings are complicated and difficult and many years will pass before they are completed. The Settlement Officers have power to deal with these cases. It would be advantageous to put on a special staff of selected officers to deal with Mesha'a and partitions, or to empower the Area and District Officers to deal with these cases on the spot. One of the essential pre-conditions of development is that the land shall be partitioned and that partitions shall be effected on reasonable principles.

Acceleration of partition.—The matter should form the subject of immediate and serious consideration by the Palestine Government. In passing legislation it would be well, if at all feasible, to avoid the nomination of committees. These are notoriously ineffective, both as executive or as quasi-judicial bodies. It would be preferable to grant to Area Officers, and, under their supervision and control, to District Officers, the power to enable them to deal with parti-tion cases. Some right of appeal will be necessary in case of

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parties who feel themselves aggrieved, but resort to the civil courts should be discouraged as far as possible. It is preferable, if feasible, that appeals in partition cases from decisions of Area Officers should lie to the District Commissioner, from District Officers to the Area Officers.

Hope-Simpson Report, pp 31ff

Ottoman land ownership laws and the status of land ownership in Palestine were crucially important in the history of Zionism, because of Zionist attempts to purchase land, Arab and British attempts to block them, and subsequent claims by Arabs that they had "owned" most of the land in what is now the State of Israel.

Synonymsand alternate spellings:  Mesha, Mesha'a

Further Information: See The Land Question In Palestine, 1917-1939 by Kenneth W. Stein, University of North Carolina Press, 1984; The Land Question in Palestine; Buying the Emek; Palestine's Rural Economy, 1917 - 1939;Arab Revolt  Zionism and Its Impact;  Mulk; Miri; Mahlul ; Waqf; Matruka; Mawat; Musha'; jiftlik

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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