“Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word…it would be this: ‘At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today  I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in 5 years, then certainly in 50. Everyone will know it’ “. Theodor Herzl Diaries 1987.
Herzl missed his goal by only 1 year.
Zionism emerged as a national movement in Eastern Europe in the 1880’s. Its founder, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), a Hungarian Jew, dreamt of establishing a Jewish State in the land of Palestine, a dream which was to be realised through colonisation and land acquisition. According to Zionist archives, the leadership of early Zionism believed that the native population of Palestine, as a result of this colonisation, would simply “fold their tents and slip away” or, if they resisted, they would be “spirited across the borders”.
It all started in a small way as the first Zionist settlement in Palestine was founded with the financial help of Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934), a French financier who assisted a small group of the Russian Bilu Jewish Society to immigrate to Palestine in 1882. This Philanthropist sponsored a few more tiny settlements at the time such as Gai Oni, Roch Pina, Zichron-Ya’acov and Rishon Letzion with settlers from around Eastern Europe.
The single aim of all these settlements and their planners who envisioned them was to slowly and secretly transfer, drive out and ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous people.
This concept of transfer of the local population was held dear by almost every member of the Zionist leadership in Europe. At their first official Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, they called already for “the establishment of a publicly and legally secured home in Palestine for the Jewish people”.
20 years later, the Balfour Declaration threw them a lifeline.
To secure support for this project, Israel Zangwill (1864-1926), an Anglo-Jewish writer and a powerful leader of British Zionism, coined the phrase: “a land without a people for a people without land”. Little did he and all his colleagues in the Zionist leadership realise (or wished to remember) that there were almost 410,000 Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) living in Palestine around the early 1890’s.
Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) who was to become Israel’s first president, said once: “…there is a country which happens to be called Palestine, a country without a people…and there exists the Jewish people and it has no country. What is left is to fit the gem into the ring…”
The Zionist leadership did not actually mean that there were no people in Palestine. They meant that there were no people in Palestine worth considering as a people.
The Zionists truly believed that the Land of Israel belonged exclusively to the Jewish people. Theodor Herzl wrote in June 1895: “We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border…and both the process of expropriation and removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly…”
Israel Zangwill followed by saying that “if we wish to give a country to a people without a country, it is utter foolishness to allow it to be the country of two peoples…”.
Zionism’s idea of transfer was even tested within a wider Arab framework where Zionist leaders would offer Arab leaders financial incentives, expertise and international influence in exchange for acquiescence in the expansion of the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine). In January 1919, for example, Chaim Weizmann and the Hashemite Emir Faisal who was aspiring to the leadership of the Arab Nationalist Movement, concluded an agreement under British auspices whereby Faisal would support Jewish immigration into Palestine in return for economic support for the future state Faisal was hoping to create.
As Palestinian resistance to the expansion of the Yishuv was growing, so was the Zionist determination to implement the doctrine of separation between the Jewish community and the Palestinian population in preparation for the eventual establishment of a Jewish state.
Yishuv leaders such as David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), born in Poland as David Gruen and who arrived in Palestine in 1906 at the age of 20 and later became the first prime minister of Israel, strongly advanced the idea of transfer and saw the link between the separation of the Palestinians and of the Jews and the plan for the eventual transfer of the Palestinians out of Palestine.
When the Palestinian Revolt took place (1936-39), the Zionists saw a chance and a reason for the strengthening of their underground forces and the expansion of their military infrastructure. It was becoming clear to the Yishuv that the solution to the Palestinian demographic problem can only be achieved through military threats.
Ben-Gurion declared in 1936: “…What can drive the Arabs to a mutual understanding with us?…Facts, only after we manage to establish a great Jewish fact in the country will the precondition for discussion with the Arabs be met”.
Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), born in the Ukraine-USSR, was a member of the World Zionist Organisation and later founded the Zionist-Revisionist movement, which was the central ideological component of the Likud (now Ariel Sharon’s Kadima party), always believed that the creation of a Jewish state meant imposing the will of Zionism on the Palestinian population. He stated:
“…colonisation can continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through…this is our policy towards the Arabs and to formulate it in any other way would be hypocrisy…The Jewish question can be solved either completely or it cannot be solved at all. We are in need of a territory where our people will constitute the overwhelming majority…and one must not be afraid of the word ‘segregation’ ”.
Jabotinsky believed that only ‘an iron wall of bayonets and Jewish armed garrisons’ would be able to secure Jewish sovereignty on both sides of the Jordan River. Like Weizmann and Ben-Gurion before him, he had only contempt for the indigenous Arabs. He once said: “we Jews, thank God, have nothing to do with the East. The Islamic soul must be broomed out of Eretz Yisrael”. This ideology found expression in two military terrorist organizations:
The first was the Irgun formed in 1935 by Menachem Begin (1913-1992) a Polish Jew who became prime minister in 1977 (and about whom Albert Einstein in a 1948 letter to the New York Times said that he and his party were “closely akin in their organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties”).
The second was the Stern Gang led by Itzhak Shamir (born Icchak Jaziernicki in Rozana, Poland in 1915) which was responsible for many terrorist acts including the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte. Shamir, of course, became Israel’s Prime Minister not once but twice: from 1983-84 and again from 1986-1992.
This Shamir described the Arabs as “beasts of the desert, not a legitimate people”. In a memorandum to UNSCOP in 1947, his Stern Gang called for the compulsory evacuation of the entire Palestinian population from Palestine, preferably in the direction of Iraq. As the sale of land by absentee landlords increased so did the bitterness of the Palestinian farmers who worked on them and who were now forced to leave by their new land owners. For this purpose, Chaim Weizmann established the Jewish Agency Executive to promote the idea of Palestinian transfer from newly acquired land. At the same time, Jewish immigration increased and the number of Jewish immigrants jumped from 30,000 in 1933 to 61,000 in 1935 (representing 29.5% of the total population).
Thanks to our friends Lest we forget Palestine and the Nakba