The first Jewish agricultural community in the country
in modern times was Motza, just outside Jerusalem.
In 1859 Shaul Yehuda, a wealthy Baghdad Jew, purchased a farm near Colonia and called it Motza. In time other
settlers joined, one of whom established a tile factory, which was among
the earliest industrial ventures in the country. The location of the
village caused it a good deal of hardship during the Arab riots and
other clashes and, for years, it was the sole Jewish rural village in
the Jerusalem area. Two other small and isolated Jewish villages, Kfar
Uriah and Hartuv, were far away in the Judean foothills.
began at the end of the last century in the Judean foothills and Sharon
Plain and continued in the valleys. Land was easier to purchase in these
areas and easier to develop for modern agriculture. In the hills, land
was highly parcellated and owners were less inclined to sell. Hilly
land was also much harder to work, making it impossible to assure settlers
a respectable livelihood.
Jerusalem, the country's capital, ranges over hills.
Jews comprised the majority of the population, numbering, at the start
of the British Mandate,
some 34,000 out of a total of 63,000. Thirty years later, by the end
of the mandatory period, they numbered 100,000 out of a total of 160,000.
Motza, at the start of the Mandate, was the only Jewish settlement nearby.
As early as 1912 a tract of land had been bought and
transferred to JNF to the north
of Jerusalem, on the road to Ramallah. In 1914 it was settled by young
people who began to prepare the rocky terrain for agriculture. One of
the settlers, a young pioneer by the name of Levi
Eshkol, was later to become Prime
Minister of Israel. That same year World War I broke out and the
site was abandoned until 1922, when a workers group started planting
and reclaiming land. Several years later the site became the cooperative
moshav of Atarot, its members living off auxiliary and dairy farming,
supplying produce to Jerusalem. In the Forties its population numbered
some 150 people.
In 1925 another village rose next to Atarot: Neveh
Yaacov, which was named after Rabbi Yaacov Reines, the founder of the
Mizrahi Movement. Like its neighbor, the settlement was surrounded by
numerous Arab villages and its residents made a living by supplying
milk to Jerusalem and from auxiliary farming. Some 120 people lived
at Neveh Yaacov. In 1933, 10 families of German Jewish refugees joined
the settlement, rented houses and established dairy farms. JNF bought
a 40-dunam parcel of land for them and, in 1940, they began to build
their own homes there, next to the mother moshava of Neveh Yaacov.
These two small villages, Atarot and Neveh Yaacov,
constituted the whole of Jewish agricultural settlement north of Jerusalem.
In the south, there was Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. In 1925 JNF had purchased
a large tract of land from the Greek Orthodox Church, overlooking Bethlehem.
Members of the Labor Battalion in Jerusalem - construction and quarry
workers - settled there, establishing Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. Over the
years it became a large agricultural settlement.