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Toxic waters: Ibrahim Hazboun and the struggle for a Dead Sea concession, 1913-1948

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 14:18 authored by Jacob NorrisJacob Norris
In 1930, the British Colonial Office signed a formal agreement with Moshe Novomeysky, a Jewish Russian mining engineer from Siberia and committed Zionist, creating Palestine Potash Ltd (PPL). This company was given exclusive rights over the extraction of mineral salts from the Dead Sea for a period of 50 years and was the predecessor to today’s Israeli enterprise, the Dead Sea Works (DSW). Reading through Novomeysky’s memoirs, as well as the handful of Israeli histories of the Dead Sea industry, the concession appears as a hard-fought Zionist victory in the face of stiff opposition within British parliamentary circles. From this point, the formation and subsequent success of PPL is described as an important early stage in the attempt to build up a national chemical industry in the state of Israel. Arab Palestinians are almost entirely invisible in this story, save for Novomeysky’s occasional mention of PPL’s ‘friendly relations’ with Arab communities in the area. Focusing on the story of Ibrahim Hazboun, a Catholic merchant trader from Bethlehem, this article retells the story of the Dead Sea concession from a local Arab perspective, employing a variety of sources, both written and oral, to fill in the gaps left by the colonial and Zionist archives. Contrary to the claims of British and Zionist officials, it is shown that Arab Palestinians had been intensely interested in exploiting the riches of the Dead Sea since the end of Ottoman rule, and they continued to express their interest throughout the Mandate period. Weaving Ibrahim’s personal story into the bigger picture of national opposition to the Dead Sea project, it is argued that this neglected historical episode can serve as a window onto the wider problems facing the Arab merchant classes during the transition from Ottoman to British rule in Palestine


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Jerusalem Quarterly




Institute for Palestine Studies



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