Zionism is the term used to describe those who believe that the Jewish people possess a special right to claim specifically Israel as their national homeland. Although there have been plans proposed to create Jewish states in other parts of the world, such as Theodor Herzl’s Uganda proposal, such plans have been temporary (and unsuccessful) measures meant to be means to an end, that end being the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Modern Zionists base their claim to Israel on four major premises:
1. The Jewish people settled and developed Israel. Before the time of major Jewish immigration (even though there were still many Jews who traced their lineage back to ancient times living in Palestine) Palestine was an arid third-world part of the planet for all intensive purposes. In 1867, on a trip in Palestine, Mark Twain observed, “…[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse….” (Twain) It wasn’t until Jewish immigration that the economic situation started to turn around. Sherif Hussein noted that, “The resources of the country are still virgin soil and will be developed by the Jewish immigrants.” (Katz: 128) The native Palestinians left this depressed area, but the non-native Jews fled to it.
2. The international community recognized the Jewish claim to Israel. The United Nations is responsible for the partitioning of Palestine as a Jewish State. The originator of international support was Great Britain which in 1917 released the Balfour Declaration, recognizing the “historical connections of the Jewish people with Palestine.”
3. Jewish land gains resulted from defensive wars. Whether it’s the War of 1948, The Six Day War, or War of Attrition, etc., Israel has always been provoked into a defensive position which simultaneously resulted in expanded borders (even though the international community has convinced Israel to give up much of its holdings for “peace.”)
4. Abraham’s seed was promised Israel by God. To take religion out of the equation would be a catastrophic mistake when referring to Arab-Israeli relations. The Jewish nation is the oldest surviving people group to possess a historically verifiable claim to inhabiting Palestine, and it was Jehovah who gave them their claim.
Zionism’s roots date back to the mid-late 1800s. A German socialist, Moses Hess, wrote Rome and Jerusalem in 1862 advocating Jewish socialism in the land of Israel. Leon Pinksker authored Auto-Emancipation in 1882 as a statement regarding the persecution of Jews in Russia. Pinksker’s solution to both the Czarist and international persecution was a Jewish state in Palestine. His book prompted an activist movement that started in Russia and spread. Zionist groups started forming, and the first aliya took place. The first international Zionist Congress, prompted by Theodor Herzl’s book Der Judenstaat (1896) took place in 1897. During the conference, the goals of Zionism were established. Throughout the rest of history, up to the official formation of Israel, persecutions in mainly European nations sent Jewish settlers to Palestine, joining their kindred natives, and reestablishing themselves. It may surprise some that at first, intellectual Arabs were welcoming to Zionist goals. During the First Arab Congress held in Paris in June 1913, the President of the Congress, Abd-ul-Hamid Yahrawi, stated that, “All of us, both Muslims and Christians, have the best of feelings toward the Jews. . . and we regard them as Syrians who were forced to leave the country at one time but whose hearts always beat together with ours.” (Cohen: 97) Yahrawi went on to highlight the benefits of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Therefore, it can be states that there were in fact Arab Zionists!
Zionism inspired settlement, development, and democracy in the Middle East. Contrary to popular belief, the Zionists were not concerned with driving the Syrian (Palestinians) out. Chaim Weizmann’s commissions to Palestine and Syria in 1918 and 1921 (and all subsequent efforts) were designed to foster a mutual understanding between the Arabs and Jews. Unfortunately, though the efforts seemed successful at first, Arab nations quickly opposed the plan.