Friday, August 12, 2011

Israel, Part II: Zionism and Migration

This is part II of a several part series on Israel, to give background to the conflict there today. For part I, see Thursday's post here.


Somewhere during the 19th Century, there began to be a worldwide desire among individual Jews to return to their homeland. Several influences caused this feeling to grow, mainly to escape the nationalism and anti-Semitism in Western Europe, and, even worse, the violent persecutions (pogroms) of Eastern Europe. 

Jericho Market *
In 1956 the first group of Jews tried to set up a Jewish-owned orange grove near Jaffa. This first wave of migration to Palestine (the Roman name for this Ottoman territory, not a Palestinian state) included about 25,000. But it didn’t work out well. These weren’t experienced farmers, and they were just about done in by malaria, the typical plague of swampland. But during this time the idea of Zionism grew around the world, thanks in large part to a mane named Theodore Herzl. 

During this period, freedom loving liberals in France (liberal in the classic sense, in favor of Republicanism instead of monarchy, with guaranteed individual rights) recognized persecution against Jews as wrong. A spy case against a man named Dreyfus was a catalyst; Dreyfus was falsely accused and twice convicted, when the actual traitor was liberated. The people recognized the wrong, replaced the leaders, and reinstated Dreyfus. It was the biggest issue of its day, and led to the end of state religion in France in 1905. 

Herzl dedicated his life to raising funds from Jews around the world to buy land in Israel to be settled by Jews. He died in 1904, but his influence had multiplied greatly to a worldwide movement, and others continued to seek an independent secular Jewish state in the area of Palestine. 

In Basel, Switzerland, August 1897, the First Zionist Congress set out the following formula: 

Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz-Israel [land of Israel] secured under public law. The Congress contemplates the following means to the attainment of this end: 

  1. The promotion by appropriate means of the settlement in Eretz-Israel of Jewish farmers, artisans, and manufacturers.
  2. The organization and uniting of the whole of Jewry by means of appropriate institutions, both local and international, in accordance with the laws of each country.
  3. The strengthening and fostering of Jewish national sentiment and national consciousness. Preparatory steps toward obtaining the consent of governments, where necessary, in order to reach the goals of Zionism.
Jewish communities all over the world lit up over this idea, including in the US. Rabbis around the country became strong leaders in the movement. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “This is a cause to which I will give my life.” He eventually stepped down from the bench and lobbied for the Jewish cause. He set up the Palestine Land and Development Company, the Palestine Economic Corporation, and the American Zion Commonwealth. He evidenced a rather new idea, ethnic American Jews, with the idea that “to be a good American meant that local Jews should be Zionists.” 


The Second aliyah—wave of immigration--was made up of several segments. The first was from Russia, escaping pogroms (bloodbaths), from about 1904 to 1914. These people were intrigued by some of the socialist ideas taking root at that time in Russia. They were interpreted in Israel as the kibbutz, a collective farm where everyone did manual labor. The people benefited from a natural willingness to be industrious. By the outbreak of WWI in 1914 there were 85,000 Jews in the Palestine region, compared to a mere 5,000 when the Ottoman Empire took control. 

Balfour Declaration

During WWI, the Zionists supported the Allied Powers, including the Jewish Legion under the British Army, and served in intelligence for the British. 

If you’ll recall, the Palestine region had been under the Ottoman Turks for 400 years or so. When there was finally hope that the British would be able to overcome the Turkish forces in Palestine, the Zionists sought reassurance that the British would commit to supporting Zionist goals. This was successfully done in the Balfour Declaration. In a letter from Lord Balfour representing the British Cabinet sent to Lord Rothschild representing the Zionists in Eretz Israel, the November 1917 declaration said this:  
“His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Following the Balfour Declaration, the aliyah (immigration waves) came in three segments: 1919-1923 mainly from Russia, about 35,000, mostly manual laborers, continuing the establishment of rural settlements. The next was from Poland between 1924-1932, adding small businesses and light industry in cities, mainly Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem.  The last segment came mainly from Germany during the 1930s, about 165,000, in response to Hitler’s rise to power. This group included professionals and academics, contributing significantly to education and intellectual culture. 

The significant cultural development in Eretz Israel is one of the main sources of conflict in the region. The native Arab peoples willingly sold land to Jewish immigrants; they were selling swamplands and worthless rocks. But then the Jewish communities drained the swamps, planted orange groves, and developed farmland—so it looked to the former owners that they were deprived unwittingly of valuable land. 

As the cities began to develop, there was the additional conflict between developing civilization and the nomadic Arabs, who preferred the simpler way things had been for millennia.  

That leads us to Part III next time, as conflict led to violence.
* The photo of the oranges in the Jericho Market comes from a beautiful photo book called, The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Images of the New Testament, text by S. Michael Wilcox, photos by Floyd Holdman and Don O. Thorpe, 2002, Covenant Communications. This photo is from p. 64, taken by Thorpe. This is merely a photograph of the page, which doesn't do it justice.

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