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.
Zionist settlement 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.
Sources: Shmuel Even-Or Orenstein, "A Crown for Jerusalem," JNF, 1996