ENGLISH people who were brought up in childhood as I was are likely to know the Old and New Testaments well. Probably they know the Old Testament the better, for it is more interesting to a child, and indeed the Epistles might be cut out from the Bible alto-gether for anything a child would care. But the Old Testament we were trained to learn pretty nearly by heart, so far as the history of the Jews went. By constant repetition in church we learned the Psalms, too, for the words were not then blurred or rendered incomprehensible by being sung. The Prophets were as distasteful as the Epistles, but we knew the sound of their splendid sentences by hearing them read. Every morning and evening of a week day, and four times at least on Sundays, we heard a chapter read from ‘the Scriptures,’ and every day we had to repeat selected passages by heart. The Bible was, in fact, almost our only literature. Why should we seek after other writers when in the Bible we had a book written by the hand of God himself? Fairy-story tellers, poets, dramatists, historians, being uninspired, might be misleading, and at all events their works could not possibly rival the writings that were divine.
So an Englishman trained as I was in the Evangelical English Church may well possess such a knowledge of the Hebrew books called canonical as might surpass the knowledge of many a Jew. Perhaps the strangest part of the matter was that we took the Old Testament as being specially our own possession. We assumed that the promises, the threatenings, and the prophecies all referred to the English people, and when every Sunday evening we sang, ‘To be a light to lighten the Gentiles,’ we thought of the Chinese and Negroes as being the Gentiles, but when we added, ‘And to be the glory of thy people Israel,’ we had no doubt that we were the people referred to. As for the Jews, we never gave them a thought, except, in one of the Collects, to class them with Turks, heretics, and infidels.
The consequence is that all Englishmen who were brought up in the old-fashioned religious way are familiar with the history and geography of Palestine. They know more about the ancient Hebrews than about any other people, including their own; and though the old Athenians mean far more to me than the Jews, my knowledge of Greek history is probably less accurate than my knowledge of the Old Testament. To go to Palestine is to me like a return to a traditional home. The sight of massive Hermon reminds me of the dew that fell upon the mountain. The sight of Carmel reminds me of Elijah and the still, small voice. When I cross the hills of Gilboa, I think of the king and of his son whom the Philistines slow there: ‘Lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.’ When I see a spring of pure water (so rare in that country!) bubbling out at the foot of those hills, I remember Gideon’s queer notion of separating the men who lapped of it like dogs from those who sucked it up like horses. And who can exhaust the associations called up by actual presence beside the Jordan, or in Hebron, or in Jerusalem herself?
‘By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Zion.’ In our English country churches we sing the words with a certain pathos, vaguely identifying ourselves with the mourners, and inclined to gloat over the hideous cry for bloodthirsty vengeance with which the little Psalm terminates. Very few of our congregations give a thought to the people who for nearly nineteen centuries have wept beside so many rivers far from Babylon, remembering Zion. It is only in the last few years that their passionate yearning for their ancestral and consecrated country has been granted a fresh and steadfast hope. Throughout all those centuries, it is true, an occasional Jew would struggle to Jerusalem as a pilgrim, there to live out his remaining years in study and meditation; there to join in the lamentation at the Wall of Wailing; and there to die, awaiting the Messiah’s advent so long deferred. About fifty years ago, some enterprising Jews from Jerusalem began to establish ‘colonies’ in their old country, partly with the aid of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who poured money lavishly into the cause; and the still flourishing settlements of Petah Tikvah (‘Dawn of Hope’), famous for its Jaffa oranges, the neighboring Rishorle-Zion, famous for its wines, Rehoboth close by, Rosh Pinah, the beautiful hillside town above Lake Merom, and one or two more, prove the success of the experiment, though all are run upon the old-fashioned lines of private ownership and hired labor.
But the present Zionist movement for acquiring land in Palestine, and planting upon it towns and agricultural villages, is not yet twenty years old. My friend Israel Zangwill, whose recent loss is lamented by all who love high literature and noble enthusiasm, thinking that Palestine was already too full of Arabs and other inhabitants, sought for other lands as a Jewish national home, and consulted me upon the character of various places in Africa where I had traveled. He consulted Professor Gregory, the famous geologist of Glasgow, also, but our reports were not favorable. Nor did the Jews as a body favor any scheme for settlement outside Palestine. For it was to Palestine they were attached by all the sentiments of tradition and worship.
The early settlers were heroic, but they had a hard time of it. Being mainly ignorant of agriculture and unaccustomed to that kind of work, they sometimes despaired, leased their land to Arabs, or employed Arab labor on their farms. About the beginning of this century, the Jewish National Fund was founded for the purchase of land that should be inalienable Jewish property; but through ignorance, want of funds, or because the allotments were too large for one family's cultivation, the settlers worked without much hope, being also harassed by the Arabs and the Turkish officials, and plagued with malaria and want of drainage. A change came with the foundation of the Palestine Land Development Company in 1908, and from that time we may date the rapid growth of the present Zionist Organization. It is now directed by the Zionist General Executive, appointed by the General Council, which in its turn is appointed by the Zionist Congress, meeting every two years, as it met in 1925 at Vienna. Dr. Weizmann, well known in the United States through his recent visit, is Chairman of the Executive, and under the Executive work the two main practical branches of themovement—the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth), occupied entirely with the purchase of inalienable land, drainage, improvement, and other preparation for settlers; and the Zionist General Fund (Keren Hayesod), which collects money, organizes immigration, allots the settlers to the various colonies, controls and promotes the Jewish education, treats with the British officials in Jerusalem, and in fact carries on all the practical work with the exception of the purchase and preparation of the land. Colonel Kisch, a sapper officer of many years' servicein the British Army, is chairman.