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Table of Contents    


The Rise of Jewish Nationalism  


World Powers in the Middle East and their political and

Economic Interests         


The Two World Wars and their effect on the Arab-Israeli



Partitioning of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Response    


War of Independence and the Creation of Israel in 1948                                             




    Jewish nationalism is also known as the Zionist movement. Jewish nationalism is the political and cultural agitation for a homeland in the Middle East and the right of Jews to self existence.  Zionism is a world that was coined by Nathan Birnbaum.1

    Zionism was the child of the liberal and national movements of the nineteenth century Europe.2 Inspired by the French Revolution and the unification of Germany and Italy, the Jews decided to fight also, for their own political rights for the establishment of a Jewish state which would be in Palestine.  Palestine, which the Jews knew in biblical times as Canaan was renamed Palestine after the Philistines by the Roman Emperor, Hadrian.  The Jews had lived on that land for more than one thousand, six hundred years until the Roman conquest and this marked the beginning of the Jews in Diaspora.

    The earliest form of Jewish nationalism was a religious one as they believed in the messianic restoration in which the Zionists believed that peace will be achieved in the Middle East, in their homeland of Israel only with the coming of the Messiah.  Amongst these were the orthodox rabbi, Judah Alkalai and Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalicher.  These believed that the salvation of the Jews as foretold by the prophets could take place through natural means, that is, by self help and did not require the advent of the messiah and that the colonization of Palestine be launched without delay.  By this, God would harken to their prayers and speed up the day of redemption.3

    In 1881, at the ascension of Alexander III in Russia, he saw the ethnic minorities (including the Jews) in his domain as a standing challenge to his autocracy.  He then issued the anti-Jewish decree on May 3, 1882.  These May laws further excluded the Jews from the economic affairs of the country.  This led them to depend on charity for sustenance from kinsmen living abroad.  This was also the case with Jews in Rumania, Austrian Galicia and even Germany where they were subjected to the threatening anti-Semitic regime when Nazi policies denied Jews citizenship rights and expelled all Jewish immigrants by getting rid of as many Jews as possible through emigration.

    Since the Jews had been so rejected, they believed that there was no home for them in the Gentile world and the departure for Palestine was the only remaining solution.  By the late 1870s, the Chovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) had emerged, they believed that there was no salvation for the people of Israel unless they established a government of their own in the land of Israel.5  They conducted their meetings secretly because of the illegality of Zionism in the Tzarist empire.  The organization had its central office in Odessa with Pinsker as President.

    Zionism strengthened  its bonds with the orthodox religionists by adopting as its symbol a number of traditional Jewish holidays, these include heroic moments in Jewish history and the celebration of Palestinian sowing seasons or harvest.  By 1856, the Jewish population of the Holy land exceeded 17,000 as they were devoutly religious more than a third of them chose to settle in Jerusalem for many years.  These new comers remained “legally inferior” and exposed to ridicule.6

    Moses Montefiore seeing the necessity of a Jewish community in Palestine, made seven voyages to Palestine between 1827 and 1875 recognizing that the problems of the Jews would be solved by creative manual labour and self-help, he negotiated with Muhammed Ali and the rulers of Syria and Palestine for the purchase of land on which Jews might live and earn their bread without interference.  The first wave of migration into Palestine was between 1882 and 1903 when about 25,000 Jews entered Palestine.  In 1882, thirty young men and women gathered in the Kharkov lodgings of a university student, Israel Belkind, to discuss the plight of the nation and they decided that the revival of Jewish life in the Holy Land on a productive basis must begin immediately.  Nineteen of them made a commitment to abandon their studies in favour of immediate departure to the land of Israel and the others would recruit new members to establish a model agricultural colony in Palestine.

    The incident which precipitated modern Zionism was the Dreyfus Affair which involves a French Jewish army, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was falsely accused of selling military secrets to Germany.  He was imprisoned on Devil’s Island.  His trial stirred both humanitarian protest and a wave of anti-Semitism.  Although, Dreyfus was later freed and restored to rank, Herzl was disillusioned about the possibility of full and equal Jewish participation in European life.7  This converted an Austrian Jew, Theodore Herzl, (who was a correspondent of a Viennese newspaper and who attended the trial of Dreyfus in Paris) into the foremost advocate of Zionism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.      

    The Dreyfus Affair led him to write his famous Der Judenstaat (1896) in which he demanded a land for the homeless Jewish people.8 It was Herzl that projected Zionism into international statecraft.  In 1895, Herzl invited Baron Maurice de Hirsh, who was a Belgian Jew, master builder of the Trans-Balkan railroad network and one of the financial giants of his era.  He was an outstanding figure in the sphere of Jewish philanthropy.  In the early 1890s, he poured millions of francs into a scheme for the transportation of Russian Jews en masse to the Argentine.9 Baron Maurice de Hirsh, meeting with Herzl, was informed that he “breeds beggars” as long as Jews are passive recipients of charitable funds, they would remain weaklings and cowards.  What the Jews required, he insisted, was political education and ultimately, self government in a land of their own.  Herzl believed that either Argentina or Palestine will be idea, although Palestine, the historical homeland would be the first choice.  Unlike the other Zionists who believed that there is the indissoluble bond to the land that had been the cradle of Jewish heritage, Herzl had the alternative of Argentina.

    Two organs would be created: the “Society of the Jews” and the “Jewish company”, one to serve as a legal representative and the other as a joint stock company with a capital of 50 million pounds to be provided by the big financial Jews.  Once established in a state of their own, the Jews would develop their common wealth on the latest scientific, technological and social principles.

    Herzl also met with Baron Edmond de Rothschild who was against the notion of Jewish statehood.  He saw it as one that would bring 150,000 beggars to Palestine.  Herzl, however, threatened that if he refused, he would launch a great agitation that would make the masses difficult to keep in order.  In response to Herzl’s plea, the first Zionist Congress met at Basle in August 1897 and drew up a programme destined to remain the essential foundation of Zionist policy for sixty years.10  Herzl’s open remark was “We are here to lay the foundation stone of the house which is to shelter the Jewish nation.11  The aim of the conference was the acquisition of a Jewish homeland openly recognized and legally secured and to achieve this, the congress encouraged settlement in Palestine by Jewish agricultural workers, labourers and artisans.  Herzl was elected the president of the Zionist Movement.

    Herzl sought to secure support from the Kaiser and the Sultan of Turkey for the establishment of a Jewish colony in Palestine.  Meeting with no success here, he turned to Great Britain whose government rejected an appeal from the Zionist executive for portions of the Sinai Peninsula, but offered instead the territory of Uganda proposed as a temporary measure in 1903.  The continuous persecution of the Jews led Herzl to accept this proposal and during the sixth Zionist Congress, a commission was sent to investigate the area in August 1903.12

    The idea of Uganda as an alternative to Palestine met opposition especially from the practical Zionists led by Menachem Ussishkin.  After a conference he organized, a delegation was sent to Herzl asking him to abandon his method and submit all further policy resolutions to the Greater Action Committee which was set up to find a suitable location for the homeland of Israel.  Herzl refused to accept this proposal.  With the failure of Uganda as an alternative, Herzl soon assured the Greater Action Committee that Palestine alone would be the main interest of his efforts.  Theodore Herzl died in 1904 and was succeeded by David Wolfsohn.

    Labour Zionists believed that only socialism in the land of Israel will solve the Jewish problem.  Nachman Syrkin stated that “Zionism must of necessity fuse with socialism.13

    Another labour Zionist group named Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion) was surfacing in Russia and they were fixated on classical Marxism.  Amongst these was Ber Borochov who formulated the theory of Marxist Zionism.  He pointed out that the Jews as a landless nation were incapable of adapting to a foreign system of economy and that the shortcoming of the Jews would be eliminated only with the departure of the Jews to a land of their own, and only in its own territory could the Jewish working class movement develop.  The Jews needed a place where they will freely enter any branch of the economy and participate in basic industries and agriculture, and such land was Palestine.

    Between 1905 and 1914, about 30,000 Jews departed from Palestine.  Most of the immigrants that went to Palestine in the early days of Zionism met various challenges such as malnutrition and other diseases.

    Immediately they reached Palestine, the new immigrants organized Podei Zion groups declaring themselves the party of the Palestinian working class.  The second Aliyah – the second immigration wave – placed its emphasis on physical labour on the soil of Palestine.  Aaron David Gordon believed that the vital element in nationhood was creativity and labour was the bedrock of creativity.  Without labour, the Jews would remain an island in an Arab sea.

    In order to encourage Jewish settlements, help was given to the settlers first in 1903 with the establishment of a subsidiary of the Jewish colonial trust known as the Anglo-Palestine Company in Jaffa.  It was later known as the Anglo-Palestine Bank.  It granted loans at low interest to merchants and manufacturers, farmers and building societies.

    The aftermath of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 that promised a liberalized Ottoman administration encouraged the Zionist organization to open its first office in Jaffa and Arthur Ruppin became the director of the office.  In six years, nine new villages were added to the Yishuv.  Immigrants were given shelter and agricultural training.14

    From 1907, the need came for the defence of Palestine to be handled by Jews themselves instead of the Arabs and the Circassians. (The Circassian is a member of a group of tribes from the Caucasus) as the Jews saw the defence offered by the Arabs and the Circassians as endangering the Jewish nation.  For this, the Bar Giora was formed in 1909.  It was renamed Hashomer – “The Watchman”. 

    Ben-Yehuda, conscious of the role of literature in the growth of French nationalism, suggested that “in order to have our own land, and political life, it is also necessary that we have a language to hold us together.  The language is Hebrew in which we can conduct the business of life.”15  In February 1914, it was agreed by the German Jewish members of the technion’s board of governors, who had earlier proposed that all technical subjects be taught exclusively in the German language, that all technical courses be taught in Hebrew and by 1916, a consensus indicated that about 40% of the Yishuv’s population spoke Hebrew as their first language.16


1.    Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to our Time  (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), p. 17.

2.    Robert O. Freedman, “World Politics and the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” in Robert O. Freedman (ed), World Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (New York: Pergamon Press, 1979), p. 5.

3.    Sachar, A History of Israel, p. 7.

4.    Yahuda Bauer, Jews for Sale?  Nazi-Jewish Negotiations 1933 – 1945 (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 1, 5.

5.    Sachar, A History of Israel, p. 16.

6.    Ibid., p. 23.

7.    Don Peretz, The Middle East Today (Chicago: Holt, Rinhehart and Winston, 1971), p. 27.

8.    Richard Stevens, American Zionism and U.S. Foreign Policy: 1942 – 1947 (Lebanon:  The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1962), p. xv.

9.    Sachar, A History of Israel, p. 36.

10.    Stevens, American Zionism and U.S. Foreign Policy, p. xvi.

11.    Sachar, A History of Israel, p. 45.

12.    Stevens, American Zionism and U.S. Foreign Policy, p. xvii.



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