“No Doubt The Actual Oranges Have Already Been Consumed By The British Public”: Palestinian Citrus Growers Sue Barclays Bank, 1956

By Sreemati Mitter
Submitted to Session P4415 (Histories of Capitalism in the Middle East, 2016 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
In October 1956, a group of former Palestinian citrus merchants, all of whom had become refugees in 1948, sued Barclays Bank in a Jordanian court in Jerusalem for £1 million. This amount represented the total value of the citrus crop exported collectively by them in the 1947 season via the Palestinian Citrus Marketing Board, which was a marketing board set up by the- then Mandatory Government of Palestine to regulate all citrus exports from Palestine.
Since the termination of the Palestine Mandate in 1948, the Palestinian citrus merchants had tried, for eight long years, to be paid for their 1947 crop. They had appealed, unsuccessfully, to the British government; the Jordanian government; the Israeli government; the United Nations Conciliation Committee for Palestine (UNCCP); and finally to Barclays Bank in London, which had received their cheques in 1948 from the former Palestinian Citrus Marketing Board. But none of the institutions or governments to which they appealed was willing to help the Palestinian citrus merchants, each claiming in turn that the problem was not its responsibility. Barclays Bank, for its part, explained that the money was no longer even in its possession, as it had been transferred over to the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property, in compliance with Israeli legislation regulating the property of what it termed “absentees.”
This paper will explore this little-known episode in Palestinian history, and use it as a lens through which to understand what happens to an economy when it is disrupted overnight not just by war and violence, but with the abrupt termination of one regime and its replacement by another. What happens to that economy’s institutions? What happens to its currency? What happens to its banks? And, most importantly, what happens to the economic lives and assets of the people who have to live through these transitions? How do they fight to defend their assets from expropriation, when they no longer have a state, or a regime, that can protect them?
The paper is drawn from material from Israeli and British archives; from the legal documents pertaining to the case; and from the oral testimonies of the families of some of the Palestinian citrus merchants involved in the 1956 lawsuit.