The New Zion

"In Jerusalem a great Jewish university is being slowly developed, mainly on medical and scientific lines, combined with a great Jewish library; and Jewish settlements are being rapidly built in the rocky suburbs to the north and west of the ancient city."

By Henry W. Nevinson
I

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.

II

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.

The main principles for the present Zionist settlements are (1) that each family should receive not more than 25 acres (100 dunams) of land, which is on lease for 49 years; (2) that all the work should be done by the settler and his family, hired labor being forbidden (3) that the cultivation should be by mixed farming, each settlement supplying first its own provisions, the outside sale, if any, coming second; (4) that the land should be prepared beforehand by the drainage of swamps, the supply of water, and the construction of roads; (5) that the settlers should have full liberty to choose their own social system, whether individual or collective.

Those are the chief rules to be observed, and a good many training schools have been established to teach the younger settlers agriculture of various kinds, and to accustom them to country life. For, as is well known, the Jews as a whole have long ceased to be an agricultural people, chiefly owing to the legal restrictions passed against them in many countries, though none the less there are a good many Jewish settlers who have practised farming before they arrive. Another custom that is almost a rule is the universal use of Hebrew among the settlers. As they come from so many different countries—Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany, and so on,--it is essential to have a common language, and, happily, nearly all Jews have some acquaintance with Hebrew, owing to their religious services and reading. The adult settlers, of course, retain their knowledge of the language prevailing in the countries where they were born, and I found that German is generally understood. But the children are brought up on Hebrew as their mother tongue, and in towns like Tel-Aviv and Haifa it is everywhere spoken and written. In fact, the British Mandatory Government has declared English, Arabic, and Hebrew to be the official languages, and all public announcements must be posted in all three.

The Zionist expenses are heavy. The land is always purchased from the big Arab landowners, who hold about 40 per cent of the cultivatable land in Palestine; and, including improvements and drainage, it costs the Keren Kayemeth about $100 an acre. No rent is paid on agricultural land for the first five years, and then only 2 per cent on the purchase money. (Urban land pays 4 per cent, and there will be a revision every ten years, so as to check the profiteering on ‘unearned increment.’) Last autumn I was told the Fund owned about 47,000 acres, and the cost of settling each new family upon its allotment was about $3500, apart from the cost of the journey and the purchase of the land. I suppose the total cost per family would come to pretty nearly $6250. That is a large sum, though I believe it does not exceed the cost of settling a family on land in California or Australia. To maintain and extend the settlements large contributions from Jews all over the world must be collected. And the contributions are large, though not so large as was at first expected. I gather that the Keren Hayesod receives about $3,500,000 a year from donations, and the Keren Kayemeth about $1,500,000, so that the two branches of the Zionist Organization between them bring about $5,000,000 a year into the country.A large proportion of this sum may be called capital expenditure, though at a low rate of interest, and a large proportion goes to the Arab landowners, who are always ready to offer more land for sale than there is Jewish money to purchase. About one third of the contributions comes from Jews in America, and the proportion from English Jews is small. In any case it will obviously be difficult to maintain so large a subscription unless the enthusiasm for the Zionist cause can also be maintained.

The famous ‘Balfour Declaration’ of November 2, 1917, stated that ‘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. That Declaration greatly encouraged the earlier Zionist hope, and the present rapidly growing movement may almost be said to have started from the Declaration's date. Its object is simply to create a national home for Jews in Palestine, not to convert Palestine into a Jewish country, as the Arabs feared, and as certain English officials and clergy still pretend to believe. The total of the Jewish population is now about 150,000, as against some 700,000 or 800,000 Arabs, and only about one tenth of the cultivatable land is owned by the Jewish race, while it is estimated that something like 4,000,000 population could find good livelihood in Palestine if the land were properly developed. As it is, the permissible quota of Jewish immigrants is arranged twice each year between the Palestine Government and the Zionist Executive in Jerusalem. The Keren Hayesod keeps offices in the main capitals of Europe, to which intending immigrants must make application. The most suitable up to the due quota are then selected, lodged for a time at Jaffa or Haifa, and then allotted to the colonies best fitting their capacity. Young men and women accustomed to agriculture are chosen in preference, for the main purpose of Zionism is to cultivate the ancestral land. The Keren Hayesod binds itself to find work or give support to every immigrant for the first year, so that no burden may fall upon the Government.

In Jerusalem a great Jewish university is being slowly developed, mainly on medical and scientific lines, combined with a great Jewish library; and Jewish settlements are being rapidly built in the rocky suburbs to the north and west of the ancient city. But otherwise the chief urban populations of Jews are living at Haifa and at Tel-Aviv, the expanding suburb of Jaffa. Tel-Aviv has developed rapidly, perhaps too rapidly. Sixteen years ago some 600 people were living along the sand hills where now a city of some 43,000 stands—a modern and advanced city in every respect, with banks, hotels, and factories, chiefly worked by electricity under the Rutenberg scheme, which in a few years’ time will have spread electric light and power all over Palestine, generated by the small but sufficient stream of the Jordan. When I was there last autumn the town was suffering from a ‘crisis’ of unemployment, due partly to overbuilding, partly to the departure of many useful citizens to their old homes in Poland, where they had to look after their relations and property during the disturbances in that country. But they will for the most part return, and as productive work increases in the town the unemployment will diminish. For it is a city of hope, and nearly all the inhabitants are under thirty. All are Jews, a persistent race.

But I think it probable that Haifa will presently outrun Tel-Aviv as a Jewish city. Already it possesses very remarkable scientific schools and training colleges, large numbers of excellent dwelling houses, and healthy homes high up on Mount Carmel. Besides, while Jaffa or Tel-Aviv has the worst landing place in the world, Haifa has a pretty fair roadstead already, and will possess a fine harbor at the mouth of the Kishon, if the scheme of the Haifa Bay Development Company is carried through. Already a large stretch of land has been purchased, parallel with the shore between Haifa and Akka (Acre), and some hundreds of young Jews are daily engaged upon the drainage of it, with a heroism worthy of the former pioneers (Halutzim), who have drained the swamps of the Esdraelon valley and other marshy places and delivered most of the land from the terrible plague of malaria. Haifa too has its Rutenberg light-and-power electric station, worked at present by crude oil, and there is talk of running an oil pipe right through to Haifa from Mosul in Iraq, if indeed oil is found in quantities there. In a few years Haifa may rival Beirut as the main port of the eastern Mediterranean, and it will certainly be a Jewish city.

I think the only other distinctly Jewish or Zionist town is Afula, standing near the middle of the great plain of Esdraelon or Jezreel or Armageddon, generally known as the ‘Emek,’ or valley, which stretches from near Haifa right across Palestine to the desert bordering the Jordan, south of the sea of Galilee. Afula, which is little more than a collection of stores upon the railway, serves as supply depot for all the Zionist colonies in that district, which is the largest continuous stretch of land owned by the Organization. As I said, the agricultural colonies are the Zionists’ chief aim and care. I think it one of the greatest miracles of our day that over 24,000 young men and women—all Jews—should be tilling the ground. They are braving hardship, unaccustomed labor, heat, wet, dust, files, cold, fever, isolation from the civilized world, and often a hostile neighborhood. Nothing but hope, patriotism, or religion could carry them through, and some of them have all three. All have hope, for they are young, and feel the joy of escaping from the tyranny, fear, and contempt under which they and their fathers have suffered for so many generations.

Except that they may not alienate the land or employ hired labor, the colonists are free to please themselves. Some colonies are run on the usual ‘individualistic’ system (Moshav Ovdim), under which each family keeps its own profits arising from the sale of produce, if there is any sale; others are ‘communal’ (Kvutzah), all the produce of the village being placed in a common store and apportioned according to need. In these communal settlements there is no money. If anyone wants clothing, fuel, or furniture, he applies to the common storehouse and receives it. There is a common hall for meals, and a common nursery for all children by night and day, controlled not by the mothers, but by women specially adapted to look after the children, thus setting the mothers free for field work by day and sleep by night. I was told that public opinion was almost always strong enough to put any slacker to shame. But if not, the leading people of the community might want him to go. Debates and concerts of excellent music are held in the common rooms, and on the whole I think the Kvutzah villages were the happiest I saw in Palestine, though not the richest.

III

Provided the money needed for a subsidy does not fail, the Zionist Organization will certainly create a ‘national home’ in Palestine for the Jews. The provision of this subsidy depends entirely upon the Jews themselves. It. is the test of their love for a national home, and of their resolve to secure it for their own people, in Sir Herbert Samuel's words, ‘as by right and not on sufferance.’ Even if sufficient subsidy continues to come in, many other difficulties, economic and political, can easily be imagined. But, for the moment, the objections to Zionism chiefly come from three different classes of people. First, there is a Jewish body called the Agudath Israel, the centre of which is now in Frankfort. Being entirely outside Judaism myself, I cannot criticize it, but it represents the strictly orthodox followers of the rabbinical law, and the rigid students of the Talmudic commentaries upon the Pentateuch. Of such, I suppose, are the silent figures that one sees wandering the sacred streets of Zion, tightly buttoned up in long, thin coats, their pale, thin faces scarcely visible under their large black hats and between the long curls that hang down their cheeks like artificial whiskers. Their objection to modern Zionism is raised against its material side—its occupation of the sacred land with mere farms and cities, and perhaps its departure from the ancient longing for the earthly Messiah who was to redeem Israel and establish his kingdom upon the Wall of Wailing. Theirs is a religious aspect which I am not fitted to discuss.

But the objection of the Palestinian Arabs is easily understood. The meeting of European immigrant Jews with Arabs means the clash of two civilizations—or of two ages in history. It is like the clash of a motor with a camel. One’s tastes are naturally on the side of the camel. What an interesting and picturesque creature he is! How dreamlike, prehistoric, full of our childhood’s religious associations! How finely adapted to his desert life! With what aristocratic detachment he stalks through the puddle of a world, disdainful as an English lord whose land has been nationalized by a Labor Government! He serves as a frieze; he makes a memorial. On each side of the new roads let us leave him a soft, dusty strip to pad along. But down the centre here comes the motor, all Europe and America behind it!

When the Balfour Declaration was first published, the Arabs expected the Jews to come swarming into the country by hundreds of thousands, driving the Arabs out and occupying their lands. In 1920 there were serious anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem, and the next year in Jaffa. Outwardly, at all events, things are quiet now, though leaders of the Arabian policy have indignantly assured me that they would welcome a Wahabi invasion under Ibn Sa’ud rather than see Jews entering the land under British protection. The chief complaint now is of the increased cost of living, really due to the refusal of Jews to work for the wretched wages given to Arabs, and their women and children, especially for contract work upon the roads. No one likes to have the habitual standard of his life altered, even if raised, and the Jew will certainly alter the standard of life in Palestine. For the immigrants are progressive, intellectual people, making demands upon life for body and spirit that Arabs have never dreamed of.

I have heard the Arab leaders make various other complaints, largely including the British administration under our Mandate from the League of Nations. But one may ask them to remember that, though corruption is still common in some of the lower law courts, as in all the East, the judges of the higher courts are for the first time above suspicion; that excellent roads now run all over the country; that within the last twelve years motors have increased from one to a thousand; that the British have introduced a water supply and some idea of cleanliness even into Jerusalem; that the Jewish society of Haddassah, maintained by American Jewesses, teaches the laws of health and child welfare to Arab mothers as well a to Jew and Christian; that the Jewish pioneers are destroying the hideous curse of malaria in what ought to be the most fertile parts of the country; and, finally, that the British administration has delivered Arabs from the equally terrible curse of the Turkish conscription that held every mall bound for four years, and often for ten. The Arabs have not really much complaint to make against Jew or Briton, but one call understand their apprehensions.

It is more difficult for me to understand the hostility of many English people in Palestine toward Zionism. That hostility takes two forms: official and religious. Many high officials, perhaps most, acquiesce in the Balfour Declaration, and do their utmost to carry it out, seeing that it represents the will of the British Government. But there are others who object to ‘the intrusion’ of Jews into what they are inclined to regard as a British and Arab reserve. An Englishman like myself may perhaps sympathize with their feeling; for we are all brought up to dislike and despise Jews as a race, and we are particularly good at governing ‘natives,’ so long as they remain quiet and submissive, as the Palestinian Arabs usually do. We enjoy a subject people whom we can treat as good dogs, feed well, order about, and pat kindly on the head when they are quiet and obey without hesitation. We cannot treat the immigrant highly educated Jews from Germany, Poland, or Russia so, and therefore the officials complain of them as ‘aggressive,’ assertive, and troublesome. It is a natural complaint, but the cause is really laudable.

Far more difficult to explain or remove is the hostility of the religious English residents—especially, of course, the Anglican clergy. One would have expected them to love and befriend the race which, after all, has given them their main idea of the God they worship, and from among whom sprang the sacred Person whom they regard as actually Divine. The facts are far otherwise. It was among the members of the Anglican Church that I found the most marked hostility to all Jews, but especially to Zionists, who are endeavoring to return to a land which the history of the Jews has consecrated in the estimation of all Anglicans and other Christians. The hostility is rancorous and envenomed. Though I have known many Anglicans, it rather astonished me. But theological hatred swelters in hearts beyond the reach of reason. I need hardly add that the Roman Catholics are opposed alike to Zionists and to the ‘Protestant’ British administration.

There are now about a hundred Zionist settlements in Palestine, and within the last few months I have visited a large proportion of them. Before I started, my knowledge of the country and its Jewish history was rather unusually intimate, as I have explained; but, like most Englishmen, I certainly had no prejudice in favor of the Jews. Rather the reverse, though I have always admired their exceptional intelligence, their patriotic mutual aid, and their marvelous persistence in the face of the cruelest persecution. But as I surveyed the work of the Zionist cause in tangible or visible form I was filled with a sympathetic exhilaration at the sight of so many young men and young women released from the perpetual fear under which their fathers had suffered for so many centuries; able to follow their own chosen way of life without restrictions; able to enjoy the light of the sun and the beauty of the sea, as I saw one Sabbath day upon the beach of Tel-Aviv; and able, as I saw in their communal villages, to work side by side in hope, no longer trammeled by the petty regulations and obsolete observances of an oppressive past.

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