“Lamps Never Before Dim Are Being Extinguished from Lack of Olive Oil”: Deforestation and Famine in Palestine at War and in Peace Under the Late Ottoman Empire and Early British Empire, 1910–1920
The First World War has long been assumed to have triggered widespread famine and deforestation in Greater Syria, particularly in major urban centers. But Palestine, like much of the region, was predominantly rural and agrarian. This chapter focuses on the conditions and productivity of Palestinian olive groves and the fates of their cultivators in order to assess the impact of the war from a rural perspective. Drawing on a broad range of sources—including archives, diaries, and memoirs—this chapter seeks to make two crucial interventions in the study of the wartime period. First, the historical literature has assumed that the Ottomans sanctioned widespread deforestation in both Palestine and broader Syria. These claims need to be re-evaluated. Second, while Palestinians suffered myriad wartime deprivations, a number of crucial local factors helped prevent deadly famine conditions, as occurred elsewhere in Syria (particularly Mount Lebanon).