The Ottoman Empire embarked on a systematic land reform program in the second half of the 19th Century. Two of the new laws were the 1858 land registration law and the 1873 emancipation act.
Prior to 1858, land in Palestine, then a part of the Ottoman Empire since 1516, was cultivated or occupied mainly by peasants. Land ownership was regulated by people living on the land according to customs and traditions. Usually, land was communally owned by village residents, though land could be owned by individuals or families.
In 1858 the Ottoman Empire introduced The Ottoman Land Code of 1858, requiring land owners to register ownership. The reasons behind the law were twofold. (1) to increase tax revenue, and (2) to exercise greater state control over the area. Peasants, however, saw no need to register claims, for several reasons:
* land owners were subject to military service in the Ottoman Army
* general opposition to official regulations from the Ottoman Empire
* evasion of taxes and registration fees to the Ottoman Empire
The registration process itself was open to misregistration and manipulation. Land collectively owned by village residents ended up registered to one villager, and merchants and local Ottoman administrators took the opportunity to register large areas of land to their own name. The result was land that became the legal property of people who had never lived on the land, while the peasants, having lived there for generations, retained possession, but became tenants of absentee owners.
The 1873 emancipation act gave Jews the right to own land in Palestine under their own name. The changing of this law (the change occurring at the same time as the freeing of the Africans in the United States and in South America and the emancipation of the serfs in Russia (held in slavery by the Russian landowning class) was a part of the worldwide 19th century movement towards emancipation and civil rights for oppressed minoritiesĂ˘â‚¬â€ťand Jews were very much oppressed legally in Palestine.
This 1873 secular land reform/civil rights law was popularly confused with a religious law and it was held as a "humiliation to Islam that Jews should own a part of the Muslim Ummah". The confusion between religious and secular law made the laws (ended in 1873) against Jewish ownership of land 'religious laws'. 
Over the course of the next decades land became increasingly concentrated on fewer hands; the peasants continued to work on the land, giving landlords a share of the harvest. This led to both an increased level of Palestinian nationalism as well as civil unrest. At the same time the area witnessed an increased flow of Jewish immigrants who did not restrict themselves to the cities where their concentration offered some protection from persecution. These new Jews came hoping to create a new future in what they regarded as the homeland of their ancestors. Organizations created to aid the Jewish migration to Palestine also bought land from absentee landowners. Jewish immigrants then settled on the land, sometimes replacing peasants already living there. A steady arrival of Jewish immigrants from 1882 led to several peasant insurgencies, recorded from as early as 1884-1886.