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The Zionist movement has maintained a striking continuity in its aims and methods over the past century. From the start, the movement sought to achieve a Jewish majority in Palestine and to establish a Jewish state on as much of the land as possible. The methods included promoting mass Jewish immigration and acquiring tracts of land that would become the inalienable property of the Jewish people. This policy inevitably prevented the indigenous Arab residents from attaining their national goals and establishing a Palestinian state. It also necessitated displacing Palestinians from their lands and jobs when their presence conflicted with Zionist interests.

"The names of the dynamic four who will go down in history in the rebuilding of Zion will be Thodore Herzl, who saw the vision; Chaim Weizmann, who grasped the occasion; Arthur Balfour, who caused the world to renew the ancient Promise in a modern Covenant; and Herbert Samuel, who turned principle into practice, word into fact."
- Ronald Storrs

  • The Founding Fathers

Theodor Herzl Theodor Herzl, 1860-1904
It was Theodor Herzl who in effect invented Zionism as a true political movement and an international force. Born to a prosperous, emancipated Budapest family, he later moved to Vienna in 1878 after the death of his sister. He was fluent in German and French but lacked Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian; he was secular, a cosmopolitan intellectual, a doctor of law, and a minor play writer. What catalysed Herzl's conversion to Zionism was the Dreyfus affair in France during which time Herzl was in Paris. In 1894--95 Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish officer, was wrongfully convicted of treason and was divested of his rank in a humiliating public ceremony and confined to devil's island. The trial triggered a wave of anti-Semitism in the cradle and bastion of Western European liberal democracy. After considering a number of possibilities, Herzl became convinced that the only solution to the Jewish problem was the mass exodus of Jews from their places of residence. This wave of French anti-Semitism was the prime motive behind Herzl authoring "The Jewish State" or Der Judenstaat, which appeared in 1896 under the subtitle of "An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question."

Chaim WeizmannChaim Weizmann, 1874-1952
Chaim Weizmann, who became Israel's first President, was born in Russia, and later spent several years in Switzerland. In 1904 he settled in England, at the age of thirty, where he lectured at the University of Manchester chemistry department. During WW I, he was credited for developing a method of producing acetone from maize; which was needed for the production of artillery shells. Soon after Theodor Herzl's death in 1904 (the father of Zionism), Weizmann became a prominent figure in the Zionist movement, having acquired a reputation as a powerful public speaker. In the course of WW I, he was credited with securing a promise from the British to build a "Jewish National Home" in Palestine, better known as the Balfour Declaration. As the Zionist movement centre of gravity shifted from Europe to Palestine in the late 1930s-early 1940s, Weizmann played a secondary role behind David Ben-Gurion, who led the movement until 1962.

Sir Herbert SamuelSir Herbert Samuel 1870-1963
Herbert Samuel was born in Liverpool in 1870 and raised in London. He studied at University College and Balliol College, Oxford. In 1902, he entered parliament and in 1906 held his first junior ministerial office at the Home Office. In 1909, Samuel became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster with a seat in the Cabinet - the first held by a professing Jew. In 1910, he was appointed Postmaster General and, in 1914, president of the local government board. It was during World War I, that Samuel began to take part in Zionist activities. He helped Chaim Weizmann in works that ultimately led to the Balfour Declaration. In 1920, Samuel was appointed the first High Commissioner of Palestine, a position he held until 1925. During his term of office, the Jewish population doubled; extensive Jewish settlement was carried out; local councils were organized and the Hebrew language was recognized as one of the three official languages of the country.

David Ben-GurionDavid Ben-Gurion, 1886-1973
Born in 1886 as David Green (Gruen) in Plonsk, Poland, Ben Gurion was one of the major factors behind Yishuv's (Palestinian Jews before 1948) military power and the founder of the State of Israel. He developed, at an early stage, a passion for socialism and Zionism, and in 1906 he immigrated to Palestine. From 1921-1935 he served as the secretary general of the Histadrut, the General Federation of Labour in Palestine. In 1935 he was elected chairman of the Jewish Agency and held his post until the State of Israel was born in 1948. From 1948 until his retirement in 1963, except for one short interval, he served as Israel's prime minister and minister of defence. Although Ben Gurion displayed a great aptitude to learn languages, in addition to his native Yiddish-Hebrew, including Turkish, English, Russian, French, German, and later in life Spanish and ancient Greek, ironically he never learned the language of the people amongst whom he lived almost his entire life.

  • Historical Background

The Zionist movement arose in late nineteenth-century Europe, influenced by the nationalist ferment sweeping the continent. In 1897 the World Zionist Organization was founded to solve Europe's "Jewish problem" through Zionism. Zionism acquired its particular focus from the ancient Jewish longing for the return to Zion and received a strong impetus from the increasingly intolerable conditions facing the large Jewish community in tsarist Russia. The movement also developed at the time of major European territorial acquisitions in Asia and Africa and benefited from the European powers' competition for influence in the shrinking Ottoman Empire. The leaders of the nascent nationalist movements in the Middle East, however, viewed Zionism as an adjunct of European colonialism. Moreover, Zionist assertions of the contemporary relevance of the Jews' historical ties to Palestine, coupled with their land purchases and immigration, alarmed the indigenous population of the Ottoman districts that Palestine comprised. The Jewish community (yishuv) amounting to 10 percent of Palestine's population by 1914 were outspoken enough to arouse the opposition of Arab leaders and induce them to exert counter pressure on the Ottoman regime to prohibit Jewish immigration and land buying. As early as 1891, a group of Muslim and Christian notables cabled Istanbul, urging the government to prohibit Jewish immigration and land purchase. The resulting edicts radically curtailed land purchases in the sanjak (district) of Jerusalem for the next decade. When a Zionist Congress resolution in 1905 called for increased colonization, the Ottoman regime suspended all land transfers to Jews in both the sanjak of Jerusalem and the wilayat (province) of Beirut. After the coup d'etat by the Young Turks in 1908, the Palestinians used their representation in the central parliament and their access to newly opened local newspapers to press their claims and express their concerns. They were particularly vociferous in opposition to discussions that took place between the financially hard-pressed Ottoman regime and Zionist leaders in 1912-13, which would have let the world Zionist Organization purchase crown land (jiftlik) in the Baysan Valley, along the Jordan River. The Zionists did not try to quell Palestinian fears, since their concern was to encourage colonization from Europe and to minimize the obstacles in their path. The only effort to meet to discuss their aspirations occurred in the spring of 1914. Its difficulties illustrated the incompatibility in their aspirations. The Palestinians wanted the Zionists to present them with a document that would state their precise political ambitions, their willingness to open their schools to Palestinians, and their intentions of learning Arabic and integrating with the local population. The Zionists rejected this proposal.

  • The Zionist Movement

"[the indigenous Palestinian population was akin to] the rocks of Judea, as obstacles that had to be cleared on a difficult path."
Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first President

The dispossession and expulsion of a majority of Palestinians were the result of Zionist policies planned over a thirty-year period. Fundamentally, Zionism focused on attaining a Jewish majority in Palestine and acquiring statehood irrespective of the wishes of the indigenous population. Non-recognition of the political and national rights of the Palestinian people was a key Zionist policy. Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, placed maximalist demands before the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919. He stated that he expected 70,000 to 80,000 Jewish immigrants to arrive each year in Palestine. When they became the majority, they would form an independent government and Palestine and would become: "as Jewish as England is English". Weizmann proposed that the boundaries should be the Mediterranean Sea on the west; Sidon, the Litani River, and Mount Hermon on the north; all of Transjordan west of the Hijaz railway on the east; and a line across Sinai from Aqaba to al-Arish on the south, arguing that: "the boundaries above outlined are what we consider essential for the economic foundation of the country. Palestine must have its natural outlet to the sea and control of its rivers and their headwaters. The boundaries are sketched with the general economic needs and historic traditions of the country in mind."

  • The Fundamental Tenets

Adherents of Zionism believed that the Jewish people had an inherent and inalienable right to Palestine. Religious Zionists stated this in biblical terms, referring to the divine promise of the land to the tribes of Israel. Secular Zionists relied more on the argument that Palestine alone could solve the problem of Jewish dispersion and virulent anti-Semitism.

Zionists generally felt that European civilization was superior to Arab culture and values. The Zionists would bring enlightenment and economic development to the backward Arabs. David Ben-Gurion, the leading labour Zionist, could not understand why Arabs rejected his offer to use Jewish finance, scientific knowledge, and technical expertise to modernize the Middle East. He attributed this rejection to backwardness rather than to the affront that Zionism posed to the Arabs' pride and to their aspirations for independence.

Zionist leaders recognized that they needed an external patron to legitimise their presence in the international arena and to provide them legal and military protection in Palestine. Great Britain played that role in the 1920s and 1930s, and the United States became the mentor in the mid-1940s. Zionist leaders realized that they needed to make tactical accommodations to that patron-such as downplaying their public statements about their political aspirations or accepting a state on a limited territory-while continuing to work toward their long-term goals. The presence and needs of the Arabs were viewed as secondary. The Zionist leadership never considered allying with the Arab world against the British and Americans. Rather, Weizmann, in particular, felt that the yishuv should bolster the British Empire and guard its strategic interests in the region. Later, the leaders of Israel perceived the Jewish state as a strategic asset to the United States in the Middle East.

Zionist politicians accepted the idea of an Arab nation but rejected the concept of a Palestinian nation. The Zionist myth considered the Arab residents of Palestine as comprising a minute fraction of the land and people of the Arab world, and as lacking any separate identity and aspirations. Weizmann and Ben-Gurion were willing to negotiate with Arab rulers in order to gain those rulers' recognition of Jewish statehood in Palestine in return for the Zionists' recognition of Arab independence elsewhere, but they would not negotiate with the Arab politicians in Palestine for a political settlement in their common homeland.

Finally, Zionist leaders argued that if the Palestinians could not reconcile themselves to Zionism, then force majeure, not a compromise of goals, was the only possible response. By the early 1920s, after violent Arab protests broke out in Jaffa and Jerusalem, leaders of the yishuv recognized that it might be impossible to bridge the gap between the aims of the two peoples. Building the national home would lead to an unavoidable clash, since the Arab majority would not agree to become a minority.

(Source:; The department for Jewish Zionist Education)




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