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Zionism and Palestine before the First world War
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1. Zionism and Palestine before the First world War

In this chapter I set the stage for my study of the mandate period by exploring how pre–First World War Zionists in Europe and Palestine, and especially socialist Zionists, perceived Palestine and its Arab inhabitants. In keeping with the relational paradigm I outlined in the Introduction, I argue that from a very early stage of the Zionist project's historical trajectory, Zionist thought and practice were significantly shaped by the need to come to terms with the fact that Palestine had a substantial Arab population, whether or not Zionists explicitly acknowledged or addressed that Arab presence. I also show how early Zionist perceptions of, and attitudes toward, the land and its indigenous Arab majority were profoundly influenced not only by a radically new nationalist appropriation of Jewish history and culture but also by the specific historical conjuncture within which Zionism emerged in Europe—the heyday of colonialism.

As I noted earlier, during the four centuries of Ottoman rule the term “Filastin” referred not to a specific Ottoman province or district with clearly defined boundaries but to a vaguely defined geographic region within al-Sham, the Syrian lands broadly conceived. The term was in use among Arab geographers and not unknown in official, scholarly, and perhaps even popular discourse, but those who resided within what would after the First World War become Palestine thought of themselves not as “Palestinians” in a modern national sense but rather in terms of the confessional, ethnic, kinship, and professional groups to which they belonged, as residents of a particular town, urban neighborhood, village, or region, and as subjects of the Ottoman sultan and his local agents. Moreover, the future Palestine was divided into a number of districts which were under the jurisdiction of provincial governments based in Damascus, Sidon, or elsewhere.

From the nineteenth century onward, however, the term “Palestine” became more widely used and took on greater significance, not least because it was a term often used by Europeans (and by powerful European states) who were exerting growing economic, political, and cultural influence in the region as a whole, while displaying special interest in this particular part of the Ottoman empire. This process, together with various local transformations and later the conquest of this territory by a European colonial power and its constitution as a distinct political entity, would interact to open the way for the emergence of a new form of identity among the indigenous majority of this country's population, finally manifesting itself in Palestinian Arab nationalism.

That nationalism will obviously be central to my concerns in this study, but in this chapter I focus on another nationalism which emerged in roughly the same period and also oriented itself toward this particular part of the Ottoman empire. Among the Europeans who in the nineteenth century began to take a special interest in Palestine—an interest which, as I will argue shortly, cannot be separated from the contemporaneous establishment of European world hegemony—were a number of Jews, whose long-standing religious attachment to this territory now began to be transformed into something quite new and different. For centuries Jews had referred to this land as “the Land of Israel” (in Hebrew, Eretz Yisra’el) or “the Holy Land” (Eretz Hakodesh). This land, and especially Jerusalem, where the First and Second Temples had stood and which Jews still faced during prayer, occupied a special place in premodern Jewish culture, a place preserved and reproduced in historical memory and the imagination through ritual practices, sacred and legal texts, stories and legends, metaphors, and figures of speech. Messianic strains in Judaism even envisioned restoration of the ancient homeland, under the rule of a descendant of King David, at the end of days.

Yet before the nineteenth century, this territory was for Jews not only sacred but also largely outside of history. It was a far-off place that was often imagined, idealized, and invoked but that had little to do with the daily life of Jews in the Diaspora or any conceivable future they might have, at least until the coming of the messiah. Though small Jewish communities continued to exist in Palestine, for many centuries the great centers of Jewish cultural life, as well as the vast majority of the world's Jews, had been elsewhere. Nor was the trickle of Jews who migrated to and settled in Palestine before the late nineteenth century motivated by anything remotely resembling a state-building project. To reside in the Holy Land, to die and be buried in its soil, were in religious terms meritorious acts, but they had no political significance for the few Jews who chose to fulfill this commandment; and it was far more often ignored than fulfilled. Indeed, the idea of creating a sovereign Jewish state, in Palestine or anywhere else, was virtually unimaginable within the framework of traditional normative Judaism. For the few Jews who lived in Palestine, as for virtually all Jews before the modern era, only the end of history as manifested in the coming of the messiah could bring about the termination of “exile” and its attendant sufferings, the redemption of the Jews, and their restoration to the land which God had promised to their ancestors but from which they had—also by divine decree—been uprooted.

Despite its claims of ancient roots, unbroken continuities, and essential identities, then, Jewish nationalism—like Palestinian Arab and all other nationalisms—is a thoroughly modern phenomenon, a product of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Though it is possible to point to earlier precursors, modern Jewish nationalism, which came to be known as Zionism—a term which surfaced only in the 1890s, derived from the Hebrew Tziyon, a synonym for Jerusalem—emerged in a more or less recognizable form only in the last third of the nineteenth century. Some of its foremost early articulators and leaders were relatively assimilated Jews from central Europe. But Zionism found its chief base of support among the Jewish masses of eastern Europe, where by that time the great majority of the world's Jews lived.

The Emergence of Zionism

For Jews in the cities, towns, villages, and hamlets of eastern Europe, and especially of the Tsarist empire, Zionism was only one of several responses to deepening socioeconomic crisis and virulent antisemitism, both official and popular. The hope that Jews in the Tsarist empire might eventually attain the legal equality and opportunity for social integration and advancement which their coreligionists increasingly enjoyed in western and central Europe was frustrated by persistent, even intensified, oppression. This oppression had long been manifested in a subordinate legal status, restrictions on residence and occupation, and widespread official and popular antisemitism. But it took on a much more virulent and dramatic form in the waves of officially sponsored (or at the very least officially tolerated) anti-Jewish pogroms that erupted in 1871 and then again in 1881, after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. The poverty and relative economic backwardness of eastern Europe, exacerbated by major shifts in the global economy in the later nineteenth century and rapid population growth, also contributed to an apparent worsening of the situation of the Jewish masses there.

Jews responded to their deteriorating plight in a number of ways. Many remained loyal to what they regarded as the faith of their ancestors, rejecting the new secular forms of Jewish identity and practice which emerged in the nineteenth century while adjusting as best they could to changing conditions. Others hoped for assimilation into the societies in which they lived, to be achieved through economic success, education, and political reform, though this was not a route even potentially available to the masses. Substantial numbers of eastern European Jews turned to socialism, which promised the eradication of antisemitism and full equality through radical social transformation. Still others were attracted by the new Jewish nationalism which surfaced in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, though at first these were relatively few in number. A great many “voted with their feet” by emigrating westward in search of greater freedom and a better life.

The rise of nationalist movements among other European peoples in this same period certainly played an important role in preparing the way for, and stimulating, the emergence of a specifically Jewish nationalism. By the middle of the nineteenth century it was becoming plausible (as it had not really been even a generation earlier) to ask why Jews should not emulate the example of the Greeks, Serbs, Italians, Hungarians, Poles, and others by seeking an independent nation-state of their own. As with other peoples, cultural movements—including first a Yiddish and then a midcentury Hebrew-language cultural revival pioneered by the new secular Jewish intelligentsia in eastern Europe—also facilitated the reimagining of Jewish identity in a new national sense.

The first organized political manifestation of this new nationalism was the small and loose knit Hibbat Tziyon (“Love of Zion”) movement, which crystallized after the pogroms of 1881 and took the form of a network of local associations established to promote Jewish immigration to and settlement in Palestine, and the reconstitution there of Jewish national life. The Lovers of Zion understood migration to Palestine as ontologically different from migration to any other place. It was not just one more movement across the face of the globe in search of safety, tolerance, and opportunity. Rather, it was seen as a return through both time and space to the ancestral homeland, where the Jews had become a people and which remained the only place on earth where they could, through their commitment, their love, and their labor, achieve personal and collective regeneration by tapping into the wellsprings of the nation's eternal spirit.

But relatively few Jews responded to the call of Zion. Hibbat Tziyon's proto-Zionism (and later Herzl's political Zionism) remained minority movements in eastern Europe itself, overshadowed by the other tendencies contending for support in the Jewish communities of eastern Europe. This reality was perhaps most dramatically manifested in the fact that very few of the millions of Jews who between 1881 and the First World War sought to escape the oppression and poverty of Tsarist Russia (and of eastern Europe in general) by emigrating from the lands in which their ancestors had lived for centuries chose to go to Palestine. Of the approximately 2.4 million Jews who left eastern Europe in this period, some 85 percent went to the United States, and another 12 percent to other countries of the western hemisphere (mainly Canada and Argentina), to western Europe, or to South Africa. In so doing they helped swell the great stream of impoverished and uprooted Christian peasants and laborers who in this same period left their homelands in eastern and southern Europe and sought a new life in the west. By contrast, less than 3 percent of this vast outflow of Jews went to Palestine, and for a high proportion of those Palestine proved only a temporary way station on the road westward.[1]

Despite its slender human and material resources, the Hibbat Tziyon movement managed to establish a number of new Jewish agricultural settlements in Palestine, referred to in Hebrew as moshavot (“colonies” or “settlements”). It soon became evident, however, that Hibbat Tziyon was incapable of sustaining a settlement project on this scale, and within a few years many of the new settlements were on the verge of bankruptcy and collapse. They were rescued by the generosity of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, an assimilated French Jew who had little interest in Hibbat Tziyon's romantic nationalism but was aroused by the plight of the east European Jewish masses and favored their resettlement—though preferably not in France, where an influx of poor Jews from the east might fan the flames of antisemitism and undermine the tenuous place which the Rothschilds and other assimilated Jews had secured in French society. Rothschild, and later other European Jewish philanthropists, assumed control of many of the settlements and provided them with large-scale financial support, along with technical assistance and a large dose of paternalistic supervision.

By 1900 there were twenty-two moshavot with a total population of about 5,000. Most of these settlements had come to be organized on the Algerian colonial model preferred by Baron Rothschild and his agents, with European Jewish farmers employing local Arab peasants to cultivate their vineyards, citrus groves, and fields. Zionist historiography has tended to focus on this segment of the growing Yishuv, seeing in these struggling farmers the forerunners of Zionism's settlement and state-building project. Yet the great majority of Jews in Palestine, including most of those who arrived in what would later be dubbed the First Aliya, the 1881–1903 wave of Jewish immigration, preferred to live in towns, and much of the Yishuv was still quite distant from the vision of Jewish national-cultural rebirth in Palestine put forward by Hibbat Tziyon, much less the vision of Jewish statehood which Herzl's new and explicitly political Zionist movement would articulate.

Neither the proto-Zionism of Hibbat Tziyon nor the new Zionist Organization founded in 1897 by Theodor Herzl (1860–1904) were unitary or monolithic movements. They encompassed a variety of tendencies which shared certain broadly defined premises and goals but differed—often sharply and bitterly—about many other things. Thus Zionism, like all nationalist movements, has to be disaggregated in order to be properly understood. In general terms, Zionism as an ideology rested on the premise that the plight of the Jews was most directly and significantly attributable to their lack of political power, a consequence of their dispersion among the peoples of the earth without a land of their own in which they could be masters of their own fate. Most (though not all) Zionists agreed that only the Jews' achievement of sovereign political power in their own land could resolve “the Jewish problem” once and for all, could make the Jews a “normal” people able to take its rightful place as an equal member of the community of nations, rather than a weak, persecuted, and rootless minority. Yet beyond this Zionists could and did disagree about many things, including the means by which the future Jewish homeland or state could be secured, its social, political, and cultural character, and even (for a time, at least) its location.

Zionism, Palestine, and Colonial Discourse

As it coalesced into a coherent ideology and movement, Zionism was strongly influenced, for good and ill, by the other nationalisms which had emerged somewhat earlier in southern, central, and eastern Europe.[2] Yet despite the strong family resemblance, there was also a very important difference, one which powerfully distinguished Zionism and shaped much of its specific character and historical trajectory. Most European national groups aspiring to independence constituted the majority of the population in the territory in which they hoped to achieve national sovereignty. But the Jews of Europe were everywhere dispersed among non-Jewish majority populations, and this ineradicable reality made it impossible for Jewish nationalists to imagine emulating the Poles, Ukrainians, Hungarians, or other European peoples by seeking to establish a Jewish state in eastern Europe, where the Jewish masses actually lived. As a result, Zionism was—had to be—not simply a conventional nationalist movement but a colonizing and settlement movement as well, a project whose goals were to find some territory outside Europe suitable for Jewish settlement, organize the migration thereto of a large number of Jews, and therein establish some form of Jewish self-rule or sovereignty.

Had the Zionist movement located some completely uninhabited and isolated territory, organized the immigration of a substantial number of Jews to it, and there established a Jewish state, the troublesome question of how to relate to an existing non-Jewish population would not have arisen. But it is virtually impossible to imagine how such a scenario might have become a reality, and not merely because in the late nineteenth century completely uninhabited lands suitable for large-scale European settlement were in rather short supply, if not nonexistent. More important is the fact that, not surprisingly, the Zionist movement quickly fixed on Palestine as the site of its settlement and state-building project. Those early Zionists (including, for a time, Herzl himself) who were willing to consider some other territory, either temporarily until Palestine “became available” or permanently, were soon marginalized. Palestine, Eretz Yisra’el, had simply played too great a role in Jewish history, especially as the site of ancient Jewish statehood, and still occupied too important a place in the Jewish imagination, to allow any alternative to gain significant and durable support.

Some early Zionists may initially have believed that Palestine was an empty land, in the sense of being completely or virtually uninhabited. There is the well-known (but perhaps apocryphal) episode, dated to the last years of the nineteenth century, in which Max Nordau, friend and colleague of Theodor Herzl, is said to have one day “discovered” that Palestine was already inhabited and exclaimed to Herzl, “But then we are committing an injustice!” It quickly became obvious, however, that Palestine was not completely devoid of inhabitants, so the more interesting and important question is how Zionist leaders, ideologists, activists, and sympathizers handled the fact that Palestine already had a substantial non-Jewish population. There were in fact cultural tools readily available from both Jewish and general European sources with which a way of coming to terms with this reality could be forged, and early Zionists were quick to make use of them.

Zionism did not have to formulate its representations of the indigenous population of Palestine ex nihilo. It could and did draw on the vast repository of Jewish texts and stories about, images of, and associations with this land. Jews (or more precisely, their ancient ancestors the Hebrews) were obviously the central actors in these stories and images, not a few of which concerned the establishment and loss of Jewish hegemony in part or all of the Land of Israel. Given the rich raw materials at their disposal, it was not too difficult for Zionist thinkers, educators, and propagandists to selectively appropriate various elements of Jewish history and culture and mold them into a new nationalist vision of the Jewish past and the Jewish future. Not surprisingly, this process entailed the relegation of the non-Jews who had lived in this land, and those who happened to live there now, to marginal status.[3]

But European Jews also had at their disposal another set of representations which neatly complemented and reinforced images and attitudes developed from Jewish sources. The historical moment in which the Zionist project was launched was also the heyday of European colonial expansion and rule. In this era the global superiority of European civilization was widely taken to be self-evident, as was the right of Europeans to rule over (and settle among as a privileged caste) non-European peoples deemed to be less advanced. These assumptions formed the backdrop, the often invisible and taken-for-granted ground, not only of nineteenth-century European politics but also of much of popular and high European culture, and later of mass culture as well.[4]

The Jews who embraced the Zionist vision of Jewish redemption were also Europeans, albeit marginalized and often victimized Europeans, and very much part of European culture as both creators and consumers. Educated middle-class Jews living relatively freely in western and central Europe probably absorbed prevalent European images of, and attitudes toward, non-Europeans through the same channels as the rest of the population. Though we know little about how these images were conveyed to the Jewish masses in eastern Europe, or the specific ways in which they were adopted and adapted, we have no reason to believe that they were not absorbed.[5]

Zionism shared the propensity of all nationalisms to ignore the rights, needs, and aspirations of those excluded from the national “family.” But it also partook of an available contemporary European discourse that delineated a certain set of perceptions of, attitudes toward, and relations with the African and Asian lands and peoples subject to, or now falling under, the economic and political domination of Europeans. That broader colonial discourse also drew on, and overlapped with, older European images and representations of “the Orient.”[6] With appropriate modifications, these systems of representation could be made to fit the specific situation of the Jews and of Zionism and could be applied to Palestine, just as they were at that same moment being applied elsewhere by other projects of European colonization and settlement that altogether lacked Zionism's origin as a response to a very real (and worsening) oppression in Europe itself.

The assertion that early Zionists were profoundly influenced by the political, social, and cultural environment in which they formulated and articulated their project should be self-evident, as should my insistence that Zionist conceptions of Palestine and its indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants cannot be adequately understood except in the context of contemporary European colonial discourse and practice, including the models provided by other projects of European overseas settlement. After all, as an ideology and a movement, Zionism emerged at the very historical moment when the European imperialist powers (and the United States) were engaged in the territorial division of the globe, subjugating and imposing their rule on non-European peoples on an unprecedented scale. Zionism was, inevitably, strongly influenced by that conjuncture; it is hard to imagine how it could have been otherwise.

It is worth recalling in this connection that at the turn of the century, Zionism's similarities to other projects of colonization were not a source of embarrassment or shame for most of the movement's adherents; indeed, they often saw them as a selling point. Zionist leaders studied and sought to learn from the experience of European colonial-settlement enterprises in places like Algeria, Rhodesia, and Kenya, and many imagined their own endeavor as similar in certain ways.[7] Moreover, the Zionist movement readily used such terms as “colony,” “colonial,” and “colonization” to refer to its activities; thus, for example, the original name of its financial arm was the Jewish Colonial Trust. It was only later, after the First World War, that colonialism came to have strongly pejorative connotations for many Europeans. As a consequence the Zionist movement sought to dissociate itself from other European projects of colonization and settlement, began to stress the uniqueness and noncolonial character of its mission and methods, and stopped using such terms, at least in languages other than Hebrew.

Early Zionism, Palestine, and Its Inhabitants

This study focuses on the perceptions and practices of the left wing of the Zionist movement, to which I will turn shortly. But many of the Zionist left's most durable conceptions of, and attitudes toward, Palestine's indigenous Arab population drew on themes and images already manifested in the public and private writings and pronouncements of earlier nonsocialist Zionists, including the founder and first leader of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl. Though Herzl and many of his colleagues initially knew very little about Palestine, their ideas about that land and its inhabitants should be understood not primarily as a matter of ignorance, of a lack of adequate information, easily enough remedied, but rather as the product of a coherent discourse which rendered certain things invisible or marginal.

Until relatively recently, students of Zionism and of the history of Palestine often took it for granted that before the First World War, the proto-Zionist and Zionist movements were simply unaware that Palestine was inhabited and thus did not realize that they had an “Arab problem”—their way of denoting the fact that the land in which Jewish national rebirth was to take place was already populated by another people.[8] As illustration they have cited remarks like that of Max Nordau, quoted earlier, and the dearth of discussion about this issue at Zionist meetings and in Zionist publications. This way of posing the problem misses the point, however. There was undoubtedly a great deal of ignorance and misinformation about Palestine and its Arab inhabitants among early Zionists. But whether or not they explicitly addressed the issue of a substantial non-Jewish presence in Palestine or even acknowledged that it was an issue, that presence nonetheless constituted an important part of the context, the horizon, the background, in relation to which Zionism took shape, especially in Palestine itself. As such it certainly helped shape Zionist discourse, through the silences and exclusions it generated and through the ways in which it was represented (and acted upon). Though a great deal of research remains to be done on this question, it is nonetheless possible to isolate two persistent and interrelated themes that appear in much of Zionist discourse on the Arabs of Palestine.

Early on, Zionist discourse often simply rendered the country's indigenous Arab population invisible. From most early Zionist writing—including, for example, Herzl's The Jewish State, published in 1896—it is difficult, if not impossible, to learn that Palestine was at the time anything other than empty. The Arabs were simply not mentioned, as if they did not exist. But another, ultimately more durable and important theme emerged almost simultaneously, one which did not so much displace as supplement the representation of Palestine as empty and its inhabitants as invisible. Once it was beyond question that the country in which Zionism sought to establish a Jewish state was not empty in the literal sense, the Arabs of Palestine came to be represented as essentially, ontologically, marginal to the land and its destiny. Their physical presence in large numbers, closely settled in hundreds of villages and towns, was perhaps no longer disputable, but the character of their relationship to the country was represented as fundamentally different from, and inferior to, that of the Jews, regardless of where most of the latter had actually lived for centuries.

Palestine was represented in Zionist discourse as by definition a Jewish land, whose eternal essence was Jewish. Therefore no other people could have an equally authentic historical or contemporary presence in it, or an equally valid claim or organic link to it. At the same time, the dominant Zionist representation of Palestine's non-Jewish inhabitants asserted that they lacked the requisite characteristics which might entitle them to national rights in the country; they were not, and by their very essence could not be, a distinct or coherent people or nation. For most (though, as we will see, not all) Zionists, Palestine was inhabited not by a more or less coherent ethnos, nor even by a group in the process of becoming a distinct people or national entity, but rather by a heterogeneous and incoherent amalgam with no definite national characteristics. This motley assemblage of many different races and peoples had only shallow roots in the land and could therefore just as easily and happily be resettled somewhere else, or be reduced to a residual minority living alongside (and in subordination to) the land's new Jewish majority.

In contrast, it was taken as self-evident that despite their geographical dispersion, their cultural and social diversity, and their small numbers in Palestine itself, Jews everywhere constituted a single nation with permanent and exclusive rights in the country. Indeed, this was a core premise of Zionism. It is within this discursive context that we can make sense of the early Zionist slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” It was not so much that Palestine was deemed to be literally empty, though some Zionists may initially have imagined this to be the case; it was that the Arabs who were the majority of the population did not constitute a distinct people with a legitimate claim to the land, whereas the Jews did. The land lacked not people, in the sense of inhabitants, but a people, a nation organically linked to this particular territory, that is, the Jewish people. It was this lack which Zionism saw itself as remedying: by returning the Jews to this land, the land would be restored to its rightful owners.

As I will discuss shortly, not all Zionists shared these conceptions of the land and its inhabitants, and some would offer different representations which suggested alternative strategies for realizing the goals of Zionism. But with few exceptions these too presumed the heterogeneity of Palestine's Arab population (and thus their lack of national rights in it), represented the Arabs as newcomers to the land (and thus without any historic claim to it), recognized their rootedness but denied that Palestinian Arabs constituted a distinct and coherent national entity, or merely stressed the superiority of the Jewish connection with (and therefore claim to) the land. They were thus also rooted in a discourse, a distinct system of meaning, that took the alleged marginality of the Arabs in Palestine as their defining characteristic.[9]

It is not difficult to discern these images and attitudes embedded in the writings and pronouncements, public and private, of early Zionist thinkers and leaders. Even while visiting Palestine in 1898, Herzl could see its non-Jewish inhabitants as no more than a “mixed multitude,” a motley assortment of different ethnic and racial types which obviously lacked any of the characteristics of a nation.[10] That Palestine's Arab population was hardly visible to Herzl made it all the easier to imagine moving it elsewhere, or submerging it in a Jewish majority. In his diary Herzl could envision—without any apparent moral qualms—the dispossession of the indigenous peasant population: the land they worked would be discreetly bought by Jews and never resold to non-Jews, while the landless peasants would be “spirited” across the border through the provision of employment outside Palestine.[11]

The invisibility, or at best marginality, of Palestine's Arab population is also evident in Herzl's utopian novel Altneuland (Old-New Land), first published in 1902. Set twenty years in the future, the novel depicts Palestine as having an overwhelmingly Jewish population, while its former Arab inhabitants are virtually absent from the scene. At the same time, Herzl insists that the Arabs have actually benefited from Zionism, that their economic prosperity more than compensates for—indeed, renders utterly irrelevant, hardly worthy of mention—their transformation into a small minority living in a predominantly Jewish society. The Arabs of Altneuland are apparently content with their new marginal status, their virtual invisibility in the land where twenty years earlier—at the time Herzl was actually writing—they had been demographically and culturally dominant.

That Herzl's attitudes were less the product of ignorance or misinformation than of a certain way of grasping reality is also confirmed by an episode that took place in 1899, a year after Herzl's first visit to Palestine. The chief rabbi of France passed on to Herzl a letter he had received from Yusuf al-Khalidi (1842–1906), a prominent notable of Jerusalem who had served as the city's mayor and a member of the Ottoman parliament of 1876–78 and held various posts in the local Ottoman administration.[12] In his letter al-Khalidi expressed sympathy for the professed aim of Zionism, the relief of Jewish suffering. But, he insisted, large-scale Jewish settlement in, and ultimately Jewish sovereignty over, Palestine could only be achieved by force and violence, in the face of strong resistance by the local population, and he implored the Zionists to find some other territory in which to settle Jews and seek a Jewish state.[13]

It is significant, and characteristic, that Herzl's reply to this plea, which might have impressed upon him the existence of an “Arab question” or at least a “native problem,” focused on the economic benefits Zionism would bring to the local population. Herzl insisted that the Jews had only peaceful intentions and emphasized the wealth which would accrue to the country's Arab landowners as Jewish immigration led to rising land prices. “That is what the indigenous population must realize, that they will gain excellent brothers as the Sultan will gain faithful and good subjects who will make this province flourish—this province which is their historic homeland.”[14] For Herzl as for most Zionists, Palestine was the “historic homeland” only of the Jews, pointing up their conception of the indigenous population as lacking national characteristics or any genuine attachment to its land and culture—or at least of an attachment that was of the same order as the Jews', which brought with it political-national rights the Arabs were to be denied. The Arabs would and should be content with the prosperity which Zionism would bring to (some of) them as individuals. Of course, even as Herzl was reassuring al-Khalidi of his movement's peaceful and benevolent intentions, he was laying siege to the chancelleries of Europe, seeking the backing of a European power for Zionism if, as seemed likely, the Ottoman sultan proved reluctant to concede Palestine.

By contrast, Herzl was quite capable of understanding (and even sympathizing with) indigenous aspirations when they concerned places other than Palestine. For example, he was impressed by the educated young Egyptians he encountered while passing through Cairo in 1902, referring to them as the “coming masters” of the country and wondering why the British officials who controlled Egypt did not grasp this: “They think they are going to deal with Fellahin [peasants] forever.”[15] Palestine was for Herzl a different matter altogether: there neither the peasants nor the emerging Arab intelligentsia merited mention, much less serious attention.

For Herzl and others, the subordination, dispossession, and even displacement of Palestine's indigenous population were implicitly or explicitly made thinkable and legitimate by the fact that those inhabitants were non-European, perhaps even nonwhite according to the typology of colonial discourse (and of contemporary “scientific racism”). Herzl explicitly located his project within a powerful contemporary European conception of the world when, in The Jewish State, he assured his readers—Jews and non-Jews, but certainly Europeans—that the future Jewish state in Palestine would form “a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.”[16] For Zionists, the new Jewish nation they sought to create might not be located in Europe but it would certainly be of Europe. Indeed, the attainment of Jewish sovereignty would for the first time allow Jews to participate in the great project of Western civilization on an equal footing. Except for a few marginal romantics, Zionists rejected any form of cultural integration into the Middle East, and when after 1948 Israel's Jewish population came to consist heavily of immigrants from Arab lands and their descendants, the state's political and cultural elites would denounce “levantinization” as a grave danger to Israel's essentially European cultural character. In a sense, then, Zionists were seeking a way to ensure that non-Jewish Europeans would treat the Jews not like inferior non-Europeans but like fellow Europeans with equal status and rights. Underpinning this perspective was a shared hierarchical conception of Europe and non-Europe and of the relations between them, which Zionists found it perfectly natural to apply to Palestine and its Arab inhabitants.

None of this should be taken to suggest that Herzl and his colleagues did not think of themselves as liberal humanists, as men who adhered to universalist values of reason and progress. They most certainly did, which is precisely my point (though one that many historians of Zionism seem unable to grasp): they were, inevitably, men of their time, and as such they were able without too much difficulty to reconcile their liberal and universalist humanism with confidence in the superiority of European civilization and an ability to ignore the aspirations, concerns, and rights of the non-Europeans whom their project affected.[17] In this the early Zionists were not at all unique: the system of inclusions and exclusions, of superiority and subordination, which largely governed relations between Europeans and other peoples defined as less advanced was a powerful component of the culture in which they (and most other Europeans) were imbricated in this period. Many elements of Zionist discourse about Palestine and its Arab inhabitants—the conception of the land as empty and available for European settlement or exploitation, the depiction of the indigenous population as marginal, incoherent, backward, rootless, and therefore movable, the legitimization of coercion as a means of achieving European purposes, the denial of equal human, civil, or national rights, and so on—show up in other contemporary colonial-settler projects, and more broadly in a widespread and deeply rooted contemporary European discourse on non-European peoples and lands.[18]

As with slavery in an earlier period, it would be some time before significant numbers of western Europeans would be brought to feel that the Asians and Africans subject to European control were entitled to the purportedly universal human rights which Europeans regarded as their birthright and a mark of the genius of their civilization. Anticolonial resistance by Asians and Africans themselves played an important role in bringing about this change, as did political, social, and cultural shifts within Europe. Until that time, however, colonialism, broadly defined as not simply a system of European political domination over non-Europeans but also as a relatively coherent set of perceptions and attitudes, was a central component of much of European culture. As such, it inevitably helped shape the perceptions and attitudes of adherents of Zionism, a European nationalism which regarded an already inhabited extra-European territory as the site of its realization.

Ironically, in this period and later many Europeans applied this same system of classifying human groups to the Jews, defining them as essentially non-European and therefore as undeserving of equal rights. Some would go even further and, drawing on the same “scientific” principles used to justify racist attitudes toward nonwhite colonial subjects, and oppressive and exploitative rule over them, would define Jews as less than fully human, with horrific consequences. It is also important to remember that Zionism won support among Jews (and many non-Jews as well) largely because it could portray itself as a solution to a very real and pressing crisis: the “Jewish problem” in Europe. By contrast, the non-Jewish “poor whites” who migrated to and settled in various European colonies overseas were largely motivated by a desire to improve their lot in life, rather than (as with Jewish immigrants to Palestine) by a nationalist project or (later) by the need to escape persecution. Though one may perhaps understand why members of Palestine's indigenous Arab population might not feel it particularly important to distinguish between the objective consequences of Jewish immigration to Palestine and the immigrants' subjective motivations, that distinction is certainly crucial to understanding how the Zionist movement, under whose auspices many of those Jews came to Palestine, understood what it was doing and why.

We must of course always be careful to avoid analyzing discourses, ideologies, and movements as if they were monolithic or immutable, and this caveat applies to Zionism as well. The representation of Palestine and its Arab population that characterized Herzl and Herzlian Zionism did not go entirely unchallenged. Among Herzl's contemporaries and successors there were individuals who, for various reasons, articulated perspectives that implicitly or explicitly acknowledged the presence in Palestine of a coherent Arab community with which the Zionist movement would have to reckon. However, I argue that the ultimate marginality of such voices to mainstream Zionist thought and practice demonstrates that the representation of Palestinian Arabs prevalent within the Zionist movement had less to do with ignorance than with a particular way of knowing and a particular kind of knowledge, one that served certain needs and furthered certain goals.

Asher Ginsberg (1856–1927), far better known by his pen name Ahad Ha‘am (“One of the People”), is a case in point. He was the preeminent Hebrew essayist of his day and the leading literary light and publicist of Hibbat Tziyon. After visiting Palestine in 1891, he published a scathing article (provocatively entitled “Truth from Eretz Yisra’el”) in which he told his readers that Palestine was not empty and desolate but densely settled and cultivated by Arabs, who were not ignorant savages but a people of intellect and cunning. While some Ottoman officials were doubtless corrupt and incompetent, the empire's rulers were patriots and would never give Palestine up without a struggle. Ahad Ha‘am went on to accuse many Jewish colonists in Palestine of treating Arabs in an unjust, cruel, and hostile manner. After another visit in 1911 he warned his readers that a national consciousness was beginning to develop among many Arabs in Palestine, which would only make Jewish immigration and land acquisition even more difficult.[19]

In the 1890s Ahad Ha‘am criticized Hibbat Tziyon's model of settlement, and later he would criticize Herzl's vision of a sovereign Jewish state comprising all or most of the world's Jews, to be secured through the intervention of one or more of the European powers. Not only was Herzl's vision grandiose and unrealistic, he argued, but the Jewish state Herzl imagined (in Altneuland and elsewhere) lacked any authentic Jewish content, and Herzl also failed to take Arab opposition seriously.[20] As an alternative, Ahad Ha‘am advocated a program of small-scale and gradual Jewish immigration and settlement, leading to the firm rooting in Palestine of a relatively small but viable and vigorous Jewish community which would serve as a “spiritual center” for the regeneration of Jewish national culture in the Diaspora.[21]

Ahad Ha‘am was certainly one of the first major Zionist thinkers to acknowledge that Arabs were a collective presence in Palestine and to insist publicly that Zionism must recognize them as an important factor, even as a potential adversary. Yet few Zionists took his warnings seriously. Nor did they heed others who tried to raise the issue, and the mainstream of the Zionist movement continued to deny the existence of an “Arab problem.”[22] During Herzl's tenure as president of the Zionist Organization (1897–1904), the movement focused on a primarily “political” Zionism whose main goal was to obtain a “charter” for Jewish settlement and autonomy in Palestine from the Ottoman government or one of the European imperialist powers. But no charter was forthcoming. After Herzl's death immigration, land acquisition, and settlement work in Palestine itself—an approach known as “practical Zionism” and supported by most Zionist activists in Russia, where the movement had its mass base—again began to assume pride of place in Zionist strategy, especially during the 1903–14 wave of Jewish immigration, the Second Aliya.

Yet the search for a European big-power sponsor was never really abandoned. Nor could it be, since as Herzl and his successors understood, without a powerful patron there was little likelihood that the Zionist project could succeed in the face of Ottoman restrictions on immigration and land acquisition, and the increasingly vigorous and coherent opposition of Palestine's Arab majority. This quest would eventually be crowned with success when, during the First World War, the British government decided that support for Zionism would serve its war aims and was compatible with its plans for the postwar disposition of the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman empire.

The new synthesis of “political” and “practical” Zionism which took shape during the Second Aliya also tended to ignore or reject Ahad Ha‘am's view of the Arabs of Palestine as an authentic and significant factor. That synthesis instead absorbed and reproduced the prevailing Zionist representation of the Arabs as essentially marginal and irrelevant. But this representation was now conditioned by two new factors: on the one hand, the need to reconcile Zionism with the universalistic moral claims of socialism, which had made its appearance as an organized ideological and political force within the Zionist movement as well as in the Yishuv, and on the other the concrete circumstances and problems encountered by Jewish immigrants who arrived in Palestine in the decade or so preceding the First World War. The representations of the Palestinian Arabs produced within socialist-Zionist discourse, and the attitudes and practices in which that discourse was manifested, would play a decisive role in determining the course of Zionist-Palestinian relations during the many decades during which labor Zionism played a prominent, and for a time hegemonic, role within the broader Zionist movement and the Yishuv.

Socialist Zionism and the Arabs of Palestine

As a distinct tendency, socialist Zionism was almost contemporaneous with Herzl's liberal political Zionism, although it could lay claim to such forerunners as Moses Hess (1812–75), an associate of Karl Marx in the 1840s and later the author of the proto-Zionist essay Rome and Jerusalem (1862). The first major theoretician of socialist Zionism, Nahman Syrkin (1868–1924), published his essay “The Jewish Question and the Socialist Jewish State” only a year after the First Zionist Congress, to which he was a delegate.[23] Syrkin sought to synthesize his conception of socialism—ethical and utopian rather than Marxist—and his strong commitment to Zionism, arguing against bourgeois Zionists like Herzl that only the proletarianized Jewish masses could realize Zionism (which therefore had to be socialist in content), and against anti-Zionist Jewish socialists that there could be no solution to the Jewish problem without the creation of a Jewish state.

Syrkin was not always convinced that that state had to be located in Palestine: for a few years after the Seventh Zionist Congress (1905) Syrkin quit the Zionist Organization and headed the Russian socialist wing of the Territorialist movement, which regarded Palestine as only one of several possible sites for Jewish settlement and autonomy. By 1909, however, he had returned to the Palestine-oriented Zionist mainstream by joining Po‘alei Tziyon (“Workers of Zion”), the strongest socialist-Zionist tendency within the Zionist movement. In time, Syrkin would come to be regarded as the intellectual godfather of labor Zionism in the non-Marxist, social-democratic form embodied in MAPAI (“Party of the Workers of the Land of Israel”) from 1930 onward.[24]

It is therefore worthy of note that Syrkin apparently did not feel it necessary to justify Zionism's claims to Palestine or its likely impact on the country's indigenous population in terms of socialist principles. In fact, none of his pre–First World War theoretical or programmatic works makes any implicit or explicit mention of Arabs or of an “Arab problem.” In “The Jewish Question and the Socialist Jewish State” Syrkin proposes that Zionism acquire Palestine from the Ottoman government by purchase, by diplomacy, or by mobilizing European democratic and proletarian opinion to pressure the Ottomans into conceding the country to the Jews. The best option, Syrkin argued, was for Zionism to aid the oppressed Christian peoples of the Ottoman empire—he mentions the Macedonians, the Armenians, and the Greeks—in their struggles for independence. After victory, each people would have its own state in the former Ottoman territories in which it constituted a majority, while in territories with mixed populations partition and peaceful exchanges of population would ensue. For their role in the anti-Ottoman struggle the Jews would get Palestine: “Eretz Yisra’el, which is very sparsely populated and in which Jews are even today 10 percent of the population, should be turned over to the Jews.”[25]

Syrkin's ability to ignore the fact that Palestine had a substantial Arab population and his failure to see anything problematic in the transformation of a small Jewish minority into an exclusively Jewish (albeit socialist) state and society, apparently by the removal of the indigenous population, suggest that, despite his sharp differences with Herzl over the social character of the future Jewish state, he shared the dominant Zionist representation of Palestine's Arabs as invisible or marginal. For Syrkin as for Herzl, Palestine's indigenous population was to be the object of power politics, to be moved elsewhere to satisfy the needs and aspirations of Europeans, and it was certainly not entitled to national rights in Palestine equivalent to those which Jews were presumed to possess.

Borokhov, Borokhovism, and Palestine

The work of the other preeminent early socialist-Zionist thinker, Ber Borokhov (1881–1917), exhibits a more complex but not essentially dissimilar attitude. It was Borokhov who laid the theoretical foundations for the synthesis of Marxism and Zionism espoused by Po‘alei Tziyon, the largest of the prewar socialist-Zionist parties in eastern Europe and Palestine. In “The National Question and the Class Struggle” (1905) Borokhov sought to elaborate a Marxist theory of the nation and nationalism.[26] Borokhov supplemented the Marxian concepts of “relations of production” and “forces of production” with his own “conditions of production,” which included national territory and other factors. He sought to demonstrate that the achievement by oppressed nationalities of “normal” conditions of production—that is, their own independent nation-state—was a prerequisite for, rather than a hindrance to, the successful waging of the class struggle and, ultimately, socialist revolution.

In this theoretical project Borokhov's methods and models were steeped in the strongly positivist, economistic, and mechanistic Marxism characteristic of the parties and ideologists of the Second International, with their faith in “iron laws” and inexorable historical processes operating independently of human agency or will. The utility of Borokhov's theoretical work was immediately obvious to his disciples: it provided a seemingly rigorous Marxist rationale for dissolving the apparent—and, to many eastern European socialist-Zionists, deeply troubling—contradiction between socialism and Zionism by making the latter an essential precondition for the realization of the former, a necessary and unavoidable means to an end, rather than a dangerous diversion. Borokhov's analysis helped socialist-Zionists fend off criticism from fellow socialists who were strongly anti-Zionist, including almost all factions of the Russian social-democratic movement but also the Bund, the independent Jewish socialist party which had strong support among the impoverished Jewish masses of eastern Europe. Both the all-Russian social democrats and the Bundists denounced Zionism in all its forms as reactionary, since by calling on the Jews to emigrate to Palestine it diverted the attention of the Jewish workers from the struggle against capitalism and antisemitism in the countries where they actually lived, implicitly or explicitly accepted the antisemitic premise that Jews and non-Jews could never live together in harmony as equals, and promised what they saw as an illusory and utopian solution to the very real problems of the Jewish masses.

In 1906 Borokhov published “Our Platform,” which applied his general analysis of nationalism to the Jewish question and provided the fledgling Po‘alei Tziyon movement with a distinctive theoretical perspective and political program.[27] In Borokhov's view, the Jews were unassimilable and persecuted wherever they lived in the Diaspora because of their “abnormal” social structure: they were overwhelmingly concentrated in the interstices and on the margins of national economic life, in petty trade, small-scale service enterprises, moneylending, and the like rather than in agriculture and primary industry. Unable to compete successfully in economies dominated by non-Jews and arousing antisemitism wherever they went, the petit bourgeois Jewish masses would ultimately—inexorably—be compelled to migrate to Palestine, the only territory in which they could successfully achieve economic normalcy by becoming workers and farmers. Here this new normal Jewish proletariat would finally be able to wage the class struggle and ultimately achieve a Jewish socialist society.

But why was Palestine the territory to which the Jewish masses would inevitably make their way and in which they would ultimately achieve both socialism and statehood? Borokhov made a signal contribution to socialist Zionism by providing a purportedly objective rationale cast in Marxist terms for the choice of Palestine as the site of this project, as opposed to the emotional, religious, or historical justifications advanced by other Zionists. For Borokhov, Palestine was unique in one crucial respect: only there could the Jewish immigrants crisscrossing the globe in search of a permanent haven

not encounter organized and united resistance and displacement. In all the other lands legal restrictions and prohibitions on entry are an expression of the needs of the local population, which does not want foreign competitors. As a result no democratization of the regime or of international relations in bourgeois society can remove these restrictions. By contrast, prohibitions on the entry of Jews from Russia and Austria to Eretz Yisra’el are only a manifestation of the [Ottoman] sultan's arbitrariness, without any connection to the real needs of the population of Eretz Yisra’el itself.[28]

Borokhov thus understood that Palestine was not unpopulated. But like most early Zionists he was certain that the country's inhabitants presently did not, and for the foreseeable future would not, constitute a coherent or distinct community which might rationally oppose Jewish immigration. In fact, his analysis and prognosis were rendered plausible only by this rather dubious premise. That premise was in turn supported by Borokhov's conception of Palestine's population. Although the ignorant might call them “Arabs” or “Turks,” he wrote, “they in fact have nothing in common with Arabs or Turks, and their attitude toward both of these is cold and even hostile.”[29] He argued that

The natives of Eretz Yisra’el have no independent economic or cultural character; they are divided and disintegrated not only by the structure of the country's territory and by the diversity of its religions, but also by virtue of its character as an international hostel [i.e., a land whose inhabitants were a mixture of races and types, the remnants of numerous peoples who had passed through without striking roots, and thus lacked a common national culture or character]. The natives of Eretz Yisra’el are not a single nation, nor will they constitute a single nation for a long time. They very easily and quickly adapt themselves to every cultural model higher than theirs brought from abroad; they are unable to unite in an organized act of resistance to external influences; they are unsuited for national competition, and their competition has an individualistic and anarchic character.

In the long run, Borokhov predicted, “the inhabitants of Eretz Yisra’el will adapt themselves to the economic and cultural type that seizes a dominant economic position in the country. The natives of Eretz Yisra’el will assimilate economically and culturally with whoever brings order to the country, whoever undertakes the development of the forces of production of Eretz Yisra’el.” His conclusion: “It is the Jewish immigrants who will undertake the development of the forces of production of Eretz Yisra’el, and the local population of Eretz Yisra’el will soon assimilate economically and culturally to the Jews.”[30]

To bolster his argument Borokhov could also draw on contemporary European racial typologies. “The local population in Eretz Yisra’el,” he asserted, “is closer to the Jews in racial composition even than any other of the ‘Semitic’ peoples.…In any event, all the travellers-tourists confirm that except for their use of Arabic it is impossible to distinguish in any respect between a Sefardi porter and a simple [Arab] worker or peasant.” Borokhov had to rely on travelers' accounts to support this assertion because he himself never actually set foot in Palestine.[31]

Curiously, despite a poor grasp of the region's geography, culture, and history, Borokhov did have some notion that an Arab nationalist movement had appeared. In a footnote to “Our Platform,” he acknowledged that Arab nationalists included Palestine in their future patrimony and that “our haters of Zion [i.e., outright anti-Zionists but also the ‘Territorialists’ who were willing to consider lands other than Palestine for Jewish settlement and self-rule] see the Arab movement as a terrible threat to Zionism.” But he dismissed Arab nationalism as irrelevant because he was certain that despite a shared language and religion, the peasants of Palestine had nothing in common with the Arabs.[32]

The precondition for the massive influx of Jewish immigrants into Palestine and their eventual absorption of the indigenous population was, of course, the removal of the Ottoman government's restrictions on the free entry of Jews. But how was this to be achieved? Like Syrkin, Borokhov believed that the antisemitic governments of the European countries in which the Jewish masses presently lived would pressure the Ottoman government to allow the Jews free entry, in order to facilitate their emigration and thereby get rid of this unwanted element. In the longer run, the class struggle of the Jewish proletariat in eastern Europe would contribute to the overthrow of those reactionary regimes, and the new democratic governments which the Jewish workers would help install would reward them by forcing the Ottoman sultan to allow the Jews into Palestine without restriction.[33]

The wishes of the indigenous population of Palestine did not enter into Borokhov's vision of the present or the future. In fact, his whole theoretical edifice rested on the nonexistence of anything resembling a coherent Arab society in Palestine, on an image of the indigenous population as no more than a heterogeneous and rootless mass of backward peasants. In this sense, the socialist-Zionist theoretician was very much a man of his times. There was certainly much debate within the contemporary European social-democratic movement about the relationship between proletarian internationalism and the national rights of, and nationalist movements among, the oppressed peoples (including the Jews) within the multiethnic empires of Europe, especially Tsarist Russia and Hapsburg-ruled Austria-Hungary. European social democrats were also generally committed to mitigating the harsher aspects of European colonial rule and rendering it more benign, while opposing the militarism and chauvinism which they well knew imperialism bred and which were exploited by reactionary forces in Europe itself to weaken the social-democratic movement. Yet before the First World War, relatively few socialists opposed colonialism in principle or rejected its underlying premises, and most shared with their avowed class enemies a firm belief in the superiority of European civilization and the consequent right (if not duty) of Europeans to rule over less advanced peoples. The principle of national self-determination which many European socialists were prepared to accept with respect to European peoples was not deemed to apply to most if not all non-European peoples, who were seen as more or less childlike tutelaries of more or less beneficent Europeans. They imagined that future socialist governments in Europe would certainly exercise a more benign form of tutelage than did the present-day bourgeois regimes, and they would not exploit colonial rivalries to fan the flames of national hatred at home. But the right of Europeans to dominate non-Europeans and share or impose their superior ways, including socialism itself, was largely taken for granted.

This was as true of socialist Zionists as it was of anti-Zionist socialists, with few exceptions. Both Syrkin and Borokhov believed that eventually Palestine would be given to the Jews by the European powers, whether their governments were reactionary and antisemitic or democratic, even socialist. The wishes of the country's indigenous population were simply not something that even socialist Zionists had to take into account. Where Syrkin envisioned that population's emigration so as to make room for Jewish immigrants, Borokhov imagined that the Arab inhabitants of Palestine would simply disappear through assimilation with the economically and culturally more advanced Jews. In Borokhov's prognosis we can discern the intersection of conceptions of non-European peoples that were central to contemporary colonial discourse with a version of Marxism that was little more than crude economic determinism.

In the years that followed the publication of his most important theoretical and programmatic statements, Borokhov would make only passing reference in his published essays and articles to the indigenous population of Palestine. In his later writings he did occasionally use the term “Arabs,” but he never abandoned his belief that they did not constitute a distinct national entity, much less possess any legitimate rights in Palestine. Despite some expressions of respect for Ottoman resistance to foreign encroachment in the years leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, he and the movement he helped lead could attribute Arab and Ottoman opposition to Zionism only to antisemitism. Thus the third congress of the World Union of Po‘alei Tziyon, which grouped the socialist-Zionist parties in various countries, noted in the summer of 1911 that “there have recently been manifestations of antisemitism among certain segments of the Arab community in Eretz Yisra’el and also among some elements of Turkish society, manifestations which cause conflicts and clashes and create political-legal obstacles to Jewish immigration and settlement in Eretz Yisra’el.”[34]

This resolution also contains several other elements which would be central to labor-Zionist discourse about Palestine and its indigenous population. First, while it proclaimed Po‘alei Tziyon's support for the territorial integrity of the Ottoman empire and its solidarity with the empire's progressive and democratic forces, it also declared that “our [Zionist] aspirations run parallel to the course of development of the productive forces in Eretz Yisra’el and to the interests of Ottoman democracy.” This formulation reflects Borokhovism's image of itself as simply implementing the stern decrees of historical necessity, an image rooted in its rigidly mechanistic understanding of Marxism. Though Borokhov sometimes wavered on this issue, allowing greater importance to human agency, he generally insisted that inexorable “stychic” processes would inevitably channel Jewish capital and then Jewish immigrants into Palestine, leading to the development of capitalism there. As the productive forces developed the Jewish proletariat would grow in size and strength, waging its own class struggle which would also contribute to the broader struggle for Ottoman democracy. Hence the beneficial and necessary character of Zionism, as grasped from within Borokhovist discourse. There was little room in that discourse for the wishes or aspirations of Palestine's Arab population, who as we have seen had been more or less defined out of existence.

This formulation also resonated with what was to be a central justification deployed by defenders of labor Zionism in response to criticism that the national rights of the indigenous majority were being violated. This was the argument that, in effect, the land belonged to those who made it productive. Jewish immigrants had settled in what had been a barren land, had through their loving labors made the land fertile and productive, and this almost sacred act of redemption gave the Jews superior rights to the land. Implicit in this representation was an indictment of the Arab population, who were depicted as having abandoned, neglected, and abused the land, and therefore not to really deserve it or be entitled to it.

Another segment of this resolution foreshadows yet another theme that would play a key role in labor Zionism's thinking about relations with Palestinian Arabs in general and Palestinian Arab workers in particular. On the one hand it depicted Arab opposition to Zionism as antisemitism pure and simple, implicitly likening the peasants of Palestine to the vodka-besotted Russian or Ukrainian pogromists with whom eastern European Jews were all too familiar. On the other hand the resolution called for rapprochement and mutual understanding with “the popular elements among the Arab inhabitants dwelling in Eretz Yisra’el.” As we will see, the distinction which this formulation drew between potentially friendly “popular elements” within the Arab population of Palestine and other, presumably hostile, elite elements would later be developed along lines that would serve important discursive and political purposes. Labor Zionism's distinction between the good (if backward) Arab working masses and the pernicious (because nationalist and anti-Zionist) Arab elite would buttress not only a certain conviction about the objectively pro-Zionist interests of Arab workers but also a long-standing rejection of the authenticity, legitimacy, and mass base of Palestinian Arab nationalism.

The Encounter in Palestine

That Zionist leaders, ideologists, and activists based in Europe who (like Borokhov) had never set foot in Palestine, or who (like Herzl) had paid only hurried visits, should develop such images of the land and its Arab inhabitants may perhaps not seem so surprising. These people were often preoccupied with matters directly concerning the Jews of Europe and had little time for the situation in Palestine itself. However, the record of the nascent Jewish workers' movement in Palestine makes it impossible to sustain the argument that these distorted perceptions were simply or primarily a result of distance and ignorance. Members of that movement actually in Palestine generally continued to accept and propagate the prevailing Zionist discourse which represented Palestine's Arabs as a motley amalgam with only a marginal presence in the country and no legitimate national claim to it. This is not to suggest that socialist-Zionist views did not change over time; they certainly did, especially as it became evident that what these self-proclaimed “pioneers” (halutzim) actually experienced in Palestine did not coincide with what their ideology had led them to expect. As we will see, however, there was a great deal of continuity as well, especially when it came to attitudes toward the Arabs of Palestine.

For a time, Borokhov's comrades and disciples who actually left their homes in the Tsarist and Hapsburg empires and went to Palestine during the Second Aliya remained loyal to his vision and to the conception of Palestine's indigenous Arab population which it entailed. In 1906 a handful of activists of the new Po‘alei Tziyon branch in Palestine itself, officially dubbed the “Jewish Social-Democratic Workers' Party in the Land of Israel,” met in the Arab town of Ramla to draw up a program for their party. That program opened with a Borokhovist paraphrase of the first lines of The Communist Manifesto: “All human history is a history of national and class struggles.” The only reference to the indigenous population appeared in the context of a reiteration of Borokhovist orthodoxy: since the capitalism developing in Palestine required “educated, energetic workers, and since the local worker is still in a lowly state (natun beshefel madrega), capitalist development in Palestine depends on the immigration of more developed workers from abroad”—that is, Jews. Here the Palestinian Arab worker makes an early appearance, though not explicitly denoted as such and only as a figure whose backwardness requires another more advanced kind of worker, the immigrating Jewish proletarian, to take center stage. Neither this document, nor a second program drafted a few months later at a party meeting in the coastal city of Jaffa, also overwhelmingly Arab, made any specific reference to Arabs or to a Zionist policy toward them. The second draft program did have something to say about Palestine's future, however: it declared the party's goal to be “political autonomy for the Jewish people in this country.”[35]

This is not to say, however, that the issue did not surface at all. As early as 1906, at a Po‘alei Tziyon meeting in Jaffa, some party members called on their leaders to begin organizing Arab workers. One participant recalled that the discussion was “heated to the point of a split, which was avoided only by the majority's proposal to postpone a party effort to organize Arab workers but to permit individuals to take action in this area.” A few months later, at the party's second congress, some delegates demanded that a Jewish-Arab workers' organization be established, but nothing came of the idea.[36]

In the aftermath of the Ottoman constitutional (“Young Turk”) revolution of 1908, the intensification of Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine and the appearance of a movement for Arab autonomy within (and later independence from) the Ottoman empire compelled the Yishuv and the Zionist movement to pay greater attention to the question of political relations with the Arabs of Palestine. Arab protests against Jewish immigration and land purchases, and explicitly anti-Zionist sentiments, were now voiced more frequently and vigorously, indicating that Arab opposition might pose a serious threat to the Zionist project; hence, for example, Ahad Ha‘am's warnings after his 1911 visit.[37] However, though some Zionists now began to perceive relations with Palestine's Arab majority as an actual or potential problem, the issue did not at this stage attain a significant place on the agenda of the Zionist movement, and no explicit or coherent policy was formulated to address it.

These early debates do, however, provide support for the argument which scholars attempting to rethink the history of Zionism and the Yishuv have advanced and which I set forth in the Introduction: to understand the development of the Yishuv, and especially of labor Zionism, which by the 1930s would be the dominant sociopolitical force in the Yishuv and the world Zionist movement, one must focus not so much on the socialist ideology which the generation of “founders,” the self-proclaimed pioneers of Zionist settlement, brought with them from Europe in the decade before the First World War, but rather on the environment in Palestine itself and Arab-Jewish interaction there. The utility of a relational approach which situates the Zionist project in relation to its Arab context can be demonstrated by analysis of one aspect of the “Arab problem” which was now already of serious concern to socialist Zionists in particular and had become the subject of extensive discussion within the fledgling Jewish labor movement in Palestine.

The “Conquest of Labor”

This issue was not explicitly political, nor did it at this stage directly impinge upon the prevailing Zionist discourse about Arabs and their relationship to Palestine. Rather, it reflected the circumstances surrounding the encounter of Jews and Arabs in Palestine itself, and specifically their encounter in the labor market. For socialist Zionism, this issue was encapsulated in the related concepts of the “conquest of labor” (kibbush ha‘avoda) and “Hebrew labor” (‘avoda ‘ivrit). These concepts would come to occupy a central place in labor-Zionist discourse and practice, and would play an important role in shaping relations between Arab and Jewish workers in Palestine throughout the period explored in this book.[38]

The syntheses of Zionism and socialism elaborated by Syrkin, Borokhov, and others in the early years of the twentieth century were soon put to the test in Palestine itself. A majority of the Jews who came to Palestine during the Second Aliya settled in towns and cities (including the new exclusively Jewish town of Tel Aviv, founded in 1909 on the outskirts of Jaffa), but this wave of immigration also included several thousand young men and women, mostly of eastern European middle-class origin, who saw themselves as the vanguard of the social transformation of the Jewish people. Some, adherents or sympathizers of Po‘alei Tziyon, wanted to implement the Borokhovian synthesis of class struggle and Zionist settlement by transforming themselves into agricultural or industrial wage workers, thereby constituting a Jewish proletariat in Palestine which could then wage its class struggle in the country's developing capitalist economy. Others belonged to or inclined toward another left-Zionist party, Hapo‘el Hatza‘ir (“The Young Worker”), which rejected both Marxian socialism and class struggle and instead, influenced by Tolstoyan principles, expounded a commitment to physical labor, self-sacrifice, and settlement on the land as the means by which Zion would be “redeemed.” All of them shared the belief that only the establishment in Palestine of a large and solidly rooted class of Jewish agricultural workers subsisting by the sweat of their brow, and as capitalism developed of industrial workers as well, would allow the Zionist project to succeed and avoid the reproduction in the Yishuv of the Diaspora “abnormalities” denounced by Syrkin, Borokhov, and others.

Even before they arrived in Palestine, these socialist Zionists had already begun to conceive of themselves as workers charged with a unique mission. They thus discursively transformed themselves into the nucleus of a Jewish working class in Palestine long before they actually managed to find jobs as wage workers. Once in Palestine they naturally placed great emphasis on “productivizing” themselves by means of what they called the “conquest of labor.” This term could be used in a personal sense to denote an individual's struggle to overcome his or her bourgeois or petit bourgeois class background and lack of experience with manual labor by transforming oneself, through physical labor in Palestine, into an authentic Jewish proletarian. It was also used in a more general and collective sense to denote socialist Zionism's vision that in Palestine Jews would master the kinds of work (especially heavy physical labor in agriculture) which relatively few performed in the Diaspora. They would thereby prove that the Jews as a people were capable of escaping their past and returning to their authentic national selves, of becoming once again a working people tilling the soil of their ancestral homeland. As we will see, “conquest of labor” would increasingly come to be used in a third sense, one which much more directly involved Arabs.

However, these new arrivals soon encountered obstacles which had not been foreseen by the theoreticians of labor Zionism. In particular, Borokhov's prognosis for capitalist development in Palestine was quickly proven inaccurate. Borokhov had predicted that both Jewish capital and Jewish wage labor would inexorably be channeled into Palestine by what he called (in the manner of Second International Marxism) “stychic” processes, resulting in the creation of a growing capitalist economy which would provide Jewish immigrants with jobs and make class struggle both possible and necessary. It soon became obvious, however, that the process would be neither rapid nor automatic. Neither Jewish nor non-Jewish private capital rushed to invest in Palestine, a poor and underdeveloped land with apparently limited economic prospects. Nor did “national capital”—the funds collected worldwide by the financial, land-purchasing, and settlement institutions of the Zionist Organization—even begin to suffice for the large-scale settlement of new immigrants, at least along the lines followed up to that point in the moshavot.

At the same time, agricultural employment in the moshavot—precisely the kind of jobs to which these would-be workers aspired—was largely monopolized by Arab peasants working as wage laborers. The Jewish newcomers, with no capital of their own, thus found themselves competing with an abundant supply of cheaper Arab labor, which was naturally preferred even by Jewish employers, especially the citrus plantation owners and other farmers. The new Jewish immigrants could not subsist on the wages paid to Arabs, and were in addition unaccustomed to heavy physical labor, resentful of their employers' efforts to discipline and control them, and prone to vociferating loudly about class struggle and socialist revolution—traits which did not endear them to prospective Jewish employers. They thus found themselves with few prospects either for settlement on land acquired by the Zionist movement or for employment on land owned by private Jewish farmers. In this bleak situation, exacerbated by disease and Arab hostility, many (perhaps most) of these Second Aliya immigrants soon left Palestine, either returning to Europe or (more often) continuing on to a wealthier and more attractive “promised land”—the United States.

The Struggle for “Hebrew Labor”

It was in this specific context—the inability of these immigrants to compete effectively in Palestine's labor market and the resulting prospect that the Zionist project would founder because neither jobs nor resources for settlement were available to maintain those who had come or attract others to follow—that the struggle for the “conquest of labor” was transformed from a struggle for individual and collective proletarianization into an active campaign to replace Arab workers employed in the Jewish sector of Palestine's economy with Jewish workers. Hence the doctrine of “Hebrew labor,” which in the decade preceding the First World War came to occupy a central place in labor-Zionist discourse and practice. The fate of the Zionist project in Palestine came to be seen as depending on the success of this campaign of “conquest,” on the achievement of “Hebrew labor”—that is, exclusively Jewish employment—in every enterprise of the Jewish sector of the Palestinian economy.[39]

For adherents of Hapo‘el Hatza‘ir, adoption of the Hebrew labor strategy—I will henceforth dispense with quotation marks to distinguish this term, and conquest of labor as well—was relatively easy, given their lack of interest in, if not outright rejection of, the principle of proletarian internationalism and their insistence that priority always be given to the needs of Jews and of Zionism. If the implantation of a Jewish working class in Palestine, seen as an essential prerequisite for the success of Zionism, required a struggle to force Jewish farmers to dismiss their Arab workers and hire Jews in their place, so be it. Their conception of Zionism had little room for, indeed explicitly rejected, too much concern for the needs and rights of others. In fact, a lack of anxiety about what the goyim (non-Jews) thought and the unabashed prioritization of Jewish national needs was regarded as a sign of labor Zionism's decisive break with what they depicted as a cringing and subservient “galut [exile] mentality.”

Members and sympathizers of Po‘alei Tziyon, who took their Marxism rather seriously, found this a much more difficult and anxiety-provoking issue. How could socialists endorse a struggle to deprive fellow workers of their livelihoods simply because they were Arabs rather than Jews? Was this not precisely the kind of discrimination of which Jews themselves had been victims in the Diaspora? How could the principle of proletarian solidarity across ethnic and national lines be reconciled with the Jewish workers' urgent need to find work?

It was Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi (1884–1963) who most carefully and fully formulated the ideological rationale which helped Po‘alei Tziyon embrace a policy it had initially denounced as unprincipled. A childhood friend and early disciple of Ber Borokhov, Ben-Tzvi had arrived in Palestine in 1907 with several years of both legal and underground work in the service of Po‘alei Tziyon in Russia already behind him. He soon became one of the leaders of the fledgling Jewish labor movement in Palestine. As we will see, after the First World War he would be a leading figure in the labor-Zionist movement and in the broader Yishuv and would play a significant role in labor Zionism's early interactions with Arab workers. His career of public service would culminate in his election in 1952 to the presidency of the State of Israel, a largely ceremonial post he would hold until his death in 1963.

In a two-part essay published in 1912, Ben-Tzvi sought to ease his comrades' consciences by demonstrating that in certain historical circumstances, national interests must take precedence over class solidarity. At the present time, he argued, the organized and class-conscious Jewish workers in Palestine had the right to demand that cheap and unorganized Arab labor be excluded from jobs in the moshavot and elsewhere in the Jewish sector. Indeed, this was a question of life or death for the Jewish working class in Palestine. Only later, when capitalist development had proceeded further and employment opportunities became abundant for all, would a material basis be created for solidarity between Jewish and Arab workers.[40]

Not a few Po‘alei Tziyon members were initially dismayed at the prospect of their avowedly socialist party giving priority to depriving fellow workers of their livelihoods simply because they were Arabs rather than Jews. At the party's second congress, one delegate proposed that “instead of the slogan of the conquest of labor by displacing Arab workers—the task of the Jewish worker is to organize the Arab worker and reduce the [Arab landowners'] influence over him.” No explicit policy was adopted, but party members acting on their own are said to have organized a strike of Arab workers employed in the citrus groves of the moshava of Petah Tikva in 1907. The strike was broken by the Ottoman police, who arrested and beat the strikers, while the Jewish employers threatened to import workers from Egypt.[41] As time passed and the unemployment crisis grew ever more desperate, however, doubts and qualms subsided and the emphasis on Hebrew labor won widespread acceptance. Gradually, opposition within the party to this doctrine was silenced, though as we will see it remained a live question because other segments of the Jewish labor movement in Palestine would continue to take issue with it.

In theory, the Jewish workers' movement in Palestine might have sought another way out of its dilemma. Instead of trying to exclude Arab workers from jobs with Jewish employers so as to secure those jobs for Jewish immigrants, it might have sought to reduce the wage differential between Jews and Arabs by encouraging and assisting Arab workers to organize and win higher wages. As the wages of Arab workers rose toward Jewish levels, Jews would have found it easier to compete with Arabs for the available jobs. This strategy had its supporters within the Zionist labor movement, though they were always in the minority. To the extent that it later gained significant support among Jewish workers and union activists, it was mainly in workplaces where Arab-Jewish solidarity and joint organization seemed the only way to improve the desperate situation of the Jewish employees and preserve a foothold for Jews.

By contrast, the great majority of labor Zionists dismissed the idea that Jewish-Arab class solidarity could ease the plight of Jewish workers as a delusion, at least for the foreseeable future. In this they were probably quite right: the abundance of low-wage Arab labor, from within Palestine and from neighboring lands, made it unlikely that even determined efforts by Jews to organize Arab workers could have raised general wage levels enough to open a significant number of unskilled or low-skill jobs to Jewish immigrants. More importantly, such a strategy was generally perceived as incompatible with the goals of Zionism, which included the establishment of a more or less homogeneous Jewish society and state in Palestine. Devoting a significant proportion of the very slender resources which the Zionist labor movement had at its disposal to the improvement of Arab wages and living standards seemed absurd as well as futile.

The exclusion of Arab workers from employment in the Jewish sector of Palestine's economy would come to be seen by the labor-Zionist movement as absolutely crucial to the formation of a Jewish working class in Palestine, at least for the short and medium terms. However, this exclusionary strategy was not depicted or understood as such by those who engaged in it, or as constituting the kind of discrimination from which many of these Jewish immigrants had themselves suffered in their countries of origin. Nor was the conflict this practice entailed seen as ethnic or national in essence. Rather, the Jewish workers saw themselves (or more precisely, were encouraged to see themselves) as the innocent victims of a vicious “boycott” of Jewish labor on the part of Jewish employers. Rather than taking the offensive in an effort to displace Arab workers, they were engaged in an essentially defensive battle to protect the rights and gains of “organized” (Jewish) labor against the threat posed by “unorganized” (Arab) labor.

Economic Separatism and Working-Class Formation

The labor-Zionist movement would wage a long-term struggle to secure jobs for Jews by excluding Arab workers from privately owned Jewish enterprises. Various means were used to induce Jewish employers, especially farmers but also urban construction contractors and others, to put the “national” (i.e., Zionist) interest ahead of their class interest by excluding cheaper Arab labor and instead hiring more expensive Jewish labor. As we will see, after the establishment of the British mandate in Palestine efforts were also made to induce the mandatory government and its agencies, and private employers who were neither Jewish nor Arab, to hire more Jews.[42]

However, the Zionist labor movement's efforts to achieve Hebrew labor enjoyed only limited success. Before the First World War that movement was much too weak to enforce its demands on private employers, and in the interwar period it would be only sporadically successful, for reasons to be discussed in subsequent chapters. Moreover, the strategy of replacing Arab with Jewish workers was in and of itself unlikely to resolve Zionism's problems on the ground in Palestine. For it was clear that given the weakness of the Yishuv's economy and the low level of investment by private capital, even the achievement of a relatively high level of Hebrew labor in the Jewish private sector could not possibly provide enough jobs for the large numbers of immigrants needed to make the Zionist project feasible. Nor was private capital likely to invest in ways that efficiently facilitated the absorption of immigrants or enhanced the infrastructural development and self-sufficiency of the Yishuv. The struggle for Hebrew labor had therefore to be supplemented by job creation, through the development of an exclusively Jewish, high-wage enclave within the Palestinian economy. This in turn required the labor-Zionist movement to establish its own industrial, financial, construction, transport, and service enterprises. Some of the capital which that movement used to launch these enterprises and enable them to pay relatively high wages was mobilized from within the movement. But much of it was “national capital,” funds donated by the wealthier nonworker elements which at that time still dominated the Zionist movement and channeled through the institutions of the Zionist Organization.

Much of the Zionist leadership was initially unsympathetic or even hostile to socialist Zionism and to the labor movement's vision of itself as the vanguard of the Zionist movement. But along with substantial segments of the Yishuv, it eventually came around to the view that it was the labor-Zionist movement which was most effective at actually getting immigrants to Palestine, settling them, and mobilizing their energies in ways that enhanced the development of the Yishuv. The initiatives and enterprises of the labor movement therefore merited financial and ultimately political support, since without the labor movement's numbers, energies, and capacity for commitment and self-sacrifice, it seemed unlikely that the Zionist project would make much headway. For its part, the labor-Zionist movement, though initially intent on waging class warfare and building a socialist Jewish Palestine by its own forces, was driven by circumstances to seek the support of bourgeois Zionists so as to realize its goal of creating a Jewish working class in Palestine. It needed the funds controlled by the Zionist Organization and its institutions, and by private capital as well, to create jobs, subsidize meager wages, and strengthen the labor movement. Israeli sociologist Michael Shalev has aptly characterized the resulting relationship, which developed gradually over a period of several decades and was never free of tensions and conflicts, as a “practical alliance between a settlement movement without settlers and a workers' movement without work.”[43]

It was really only after the First World War that the labor-Zionist movement—unified from 1920 within the framework of the “General Organization of Hebrew Workers in the Land of Israel” (known as the Histadrut, the Hebrew word for “organization”)—was able to embark on the creation of its own economic sector, with support and subsidies from the Zionist movement. This new sector expanded slowly at first, and with many failures and setbacks, but eventually the Histadrut would become one of the Yishuv's (and Israel's) largest employers, monopolizing or dominating whole sectors of the economy while providing a broad range of social and cultural services as well as many new jobs. New sources of Histadrut-controlled urban employment were complemented by new forms of agricultural settlement, also heavily subsidized in many ways by the institutions of the Zionist movement. These were the kibbutz, a collective farm whose first prototypes were established a few years before the First World War, and the cooperative smallholders' village (moshav), the first of which was established in 1920. These new types of settlement seemed to overcome the problems inherent in the moshava model of Zionist agricultural settlement which had characterized the First Aliya by allowing for more cost-effective absorption of immigrants and more efficient use of their labor.[44]

The drive to create a separate high-wage economic sector dominated by the labor movement, coupled with that movement's emphasis on the struggle for Hebrew labor, amounted to an abandonment of orthodox Borokhovism, though this was fully acknowledged only in the 1920s, when the old schema was supplanted by a new doctrine sometimes referred to as “constructivism.” This further development of socialist-Zionist ideology cast the organized Jewish working class in Palestine—and not Borokhov's “stychic” processes—as the historic agent which would realize the Zionist project. Since “normal” capitalist development seemed unlikely to create a substantial Jewish working class in Palestine, as Borokhov had predicted, this task would have to be accomplished by the fledgling labor movement itself, through direct involvement in the development of the Yishuv's economy and through the conquest of labor in other sectors. The emphasis thus shifted from waging the class struggle within the framework of an economy dominated by Jewish capitalists to the task of constructing a self-sufficient and largely labor-controlled Jewish economy in Palestine, with the support of nonworker elements in the Zionist movement and even private capitalists, whether Zionist or not. This task required the mobilization of the energies of the working class through the creation of a highly centralized (and bureaucratized) apparatus, incessant appeals for self-sacrifice, hard work, and discipline, and a steady focus on the tasks of national construction. Human agency, the voluntary commitment of the Jewish workers to self-sacrifice for the sake of the nation, was now depicted as the central factor in the struggle for the realization of Zionism.

Backed by the resources of the world Zionist movement (and thereby entailing an alliance with the bourgeois forces within that movement), the labor-Zionist movement in Palestine would create relatively high-wage employment for its members and for the immigrants to come, both by securing as many existing jobs as possible for Jews and by creating an economic sector which, though subsidized by others, would remain largely under its control. This sector would become the dynamic motor propelling the development of a self-sufficient Yishuv, and would also strengthen the Zionist labor movement's political influence, in the Yishuv and beyond. In ideological and political but also material terms, this strategy put the Jewish working class in Palestine, the Histadrut into which it was largely organized after 1920 and the labor-Zionist parties which led it, at the very center of the Zionist project rather than constituting just one of many sociopolitical forces within a diverse movement.

It was on the basis of this strategy, which seemed to offer a way out of the problems which the Zionist project had encountered in Palestine, that the labor-Zionist movement would enhance its economic, political, and cultural power to the point where it could effectively assert its leadership of the Yishuv and the Zionist movement. Building on its control of a large and increasingly powerful network of political, economic, social, and cultural institutions which encompassed a large proportion of the Yishuv's population, labor Zionism (from 1930 dominated by a single party, MAPAI) would ultimately achieve a position of hegemony within the Zionist movement, signaled by the elevation in 1935 of party and Histadrut leader David Ben-Gurion to the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency executive—that is, to the effective political leadership of the Yishuv. On its own, MAPAI never attained an absolute majority in the deliberative bodies of the Zionist Organization or the Yishuv (or, later, in Israel's parliament), but in alliance with its bourgeois-Zionist and religious-Zionist junior partners it could exercise a large measure of control, dominate policy making, and largely shape the ethos of the Yishuv and the Zionist movement.

Adoption of this model of settlement and development helped make Zionism significantly different from other initially similar projects of European overseas settlement. A Jewish society developed in Palestine that, though never hermetically sealed off from the surrounding Arab society, did not crucially depend on the exploitation of Arab wage labor. Instead, a substantial class of Jewish industrial, construction, and transport workers was successfully created and implanted, and agricultural settlement took forms that excluded or displaced rather than exploited Arab labor. This specific path of development, largely shaped by local conditions and especially by the specific form and consequences of Zionism's encounter in Palestine itself with the country's Arab majority, helped shape many of the social, economic, political, and cultural institutions and patterns that would later come to be seen as unique to Yishuv and later Israeli society. This is why I argue that interpretations which explain the Yishuv's (and later Israel's) distinctive course mainly in terms of the values and ideology which the “pioneers” of the Second Aliya brought with them to Palestine are inadequate. They simply fail to take proper account of the ways in which Zionism's interactions with the existing Arab society in Palestine played a crucial part in shaping the Yishuv as a society.

Nonetheless, though it is essential to remain focused on the ways in which Arab and Jewish societies in Palestine were mutually formative, we must also remember that the Zionist project's specific pattern of development was ultimately made possible by world-historical events over which the Zionist movement had little influence. In November 1917, even as its armed forces were conquering Palestine from the Ottoman empire, the British government proclaimed its commitment to the creation in Palestine of a “national home” for the Jewish people (the “Balfour Declaration”). That decision certainly owed something to Zionist lobbying, but other factors were at least as important, among them the British government's desire to garner Jewish support for the Allied cause in Russia and the United States, and imperial planning for the postwar Middle East. Zionism had finally secured the big-power sponsor it had been seeking since Herzl's time. After the war, Britain constituted Palestine as a distinct political entity, established its own rule (in the form of a League of Nations “mandate”), and implemented its wartime pledge by facilitating the Zionist project in a variety of ways.[45]

The British-Zionist alliance was never free of tensions and would break down just before the Second World War as the two parties' interests diverged. It is nonetheless clear that it was British colonial rule over Palestine which, in the face of growing Palestinian Arab nationalist opposition to Zionism and demands for self-determination, opened the way to Jewish immigration, land acquisition, and development of the Yishuv's infrastructure on a scale which would have been unimaginable had Palestine either remained under Ottoman rule or achieved independence under an Arab government. The relative success of labor Zionism's strategy of pursuing Hebrew labor and building up a relatively self-sufficient Jewish high-wage sector, and the labor-Zionist camp's attainment of hegemony within the Yishuv and world Zionism, would in this sense have been inconceivable in the absence of a sympathetic colonial regime which could hold the indigenous majority (still two-thirds of the country's population in 1947) in check until the Yishuv was strong enough to stand on its own.

Notes

1. Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1972), vol. 16, 1519. [BACK]

2. On nationalism generally, see Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, 1991), and E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge, U.K., 1992). [BACK]

3. In this connection, see Uri Eisenzweig, Territoires occupés de l'imaginaire juif: essai sur l'espace sioniste (Paris, 1980), and Uri Eisenzweig, “An Imaginary Territory: The Problematic of Space in Zionist Discourse,” Dialectical Anthropology 5, no. 4 (May 1981); and Kimmerling, Zionism and Territory. [BACK]

4. When I use the term “European” here I also include Europe's demographic extensions overseas, namely the states which European settlers established and dominated in the Western Hemisphere, the South Pacific, and southern Africa. On colonialism and European culture, see Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York, 1993). This discussion also draws on Said's The Question of Palestine (New York, 1979). [BACK]

5. More than two decades ago the French historian Maxime Rodinson pointed out the need for research on the images of, and ideas about, Palestine, Arabs, Turks, Islam, and “the Orient” in general which were current among Jews of different classes and educational levels in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and which are likely to have colored Zionist notions of contemporary Palestine and of its inhabitants; see Israel: A Colonial-Settler State? (New York, 1973), 38. To my knowledge no comprehensive study of this kind, which would entail delving into Jewish literature and popular culture as well as the emerging Yiddish- and Hebrew-language mass culture taking shape in newspapers, novels, and theater, has yet been carried out, and it is obviously beyond the scope of this book as well. Nor has there yet been sufficient research on the images and attitudes of those Jews who actually went to Palestine, and how those attitudes were affected by interaction with the indigenous Arab population. Yet it seems clear that just as recent research on popular and mass culture in Europe has shed important new light on the shaping of attitudes about empire, colonialism, and race, so similar studies on the cultures of Jews in Europe may tell us something important about how early Zionists perceived Palestine, its Arab inhabitants, and its Ottoman rulers. I am thinking of such studies as John MacKenzie, ed., Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester, England, and Dover, N.H., 1986), and Malek Alloula, The Colonial Harem (Minneapolis, 1986). Michael Berkowitz provides some interesting material in his Zionist Culture and West European Jewry before the First World War (Cambridge, U.K., 1993). [BACK]

6. On these representations, see Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York, 1978), and Maxime Rodinson, Europe and the Mystique of Islam (Seattle, 1987). My discussion here draws on the analyses in both these very important works. [BACK]

7. For discussions of Zionism's borrowings from various European projects of colonization, within Europe (e.g., Germans in predominantly Polish Silesia) as well as outside it, see, for example, Shafir, Land, and Penslar, Zionism and Technocracy. This topic merits much more scholarly attention. [BACK]

8. Thus even a relatively recent and critical study like Simha Flapan's Zionism and the Palestinians (London, 1979) takes 1917 as its starting point, without providing any rationale for that choice. [BACK]

9. The notion that most of Palestine's Arabs were, as late as the British mandate period, newly arrived in the land (and hence lacked any authentic claim to it) was recently resurrected in a notorious work of pseudoscholarship by Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine (New York, 1984). For critiques, see the review by Yehoshua Porath, Israel's leading historian of Palestinian nationalism, in New York Review of Books, January 16, 1986, and Norman Finkelstein's chapter in Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds., Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (London, 1988). [BACK]

10. For example, when the German Imperial Chancellor questioned him about the current owners of the land in Palestine which the Jews would purchase, Herzl described them as “Arabs, Greeks, the whole mixed multitude of the Orient.” Entry for October 9, 1898, in The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl (New York, 1960), edited by Raphael Patai, vol. 2, 702. A little later, writing in Jerusalem, Herzl uses the same English-language phrase to describe a group of “Arab beggars, womenfolk, children, and horsemen.” Entry for October 29, 1898, vol. 2, 743. [BACK]

11. Entry for June 12, 1895, in ibid., vol. 1, 88–89. The Jewish National Fund, formally established in 1901 and incorporated in 1907 as the Zionist Organization's land-purchasing agency, did in fact require that its lands never be leased to or cultivated by non-Jews. In Israel this stricture was not infrequently violated, but it is nonetheless emblematic of the specific character and consequences of the Zionist project for Palestine's Arab inhabitants. For details, see Walter Lehn (in association with Uri Davis), The Jewish National Fund (London, 1988), especially chs. 2 and 6. [BACK]

12. For a discussion of al-Khalidi and his career, see Alexander Schölch, Palestine in Transformation, 1856–1882: Studies in Social, Economic and Political Development (Washington, D.C., 1993), ch. 9. [BACK]

13. See Neville J. Mandel, The Arabs and Zionism before World War I (Berkeley, 1976), 47–48. [BACK]

14. Quoted in Walid Khalidi, ed., From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948 (Washington, D.C., 1987), 91–93. [BACK]

15. Quoted in Eisenzweig, “An Imaginary Territory,” 281. [BACK]

16. Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution to the Jewish Question (London, 1967), translated by Sylvie D'Avigdor, 30. [BACK]

17. I am thinking, for example, of Yosef Gorny, who manages to read Altneuland as manifesting only the “universalist, humanist essence” of Herzl's thought and his “compassion and concern for human beings”; see Zionism and the Arabs, 1882–1948: A Study of Ideology (Oxford, 1987), 31, 33. Gorny also apparently deems his analysis of Herzl's attitudes toward Arabs complete without so much as mentioning passages from Herzl's diaries in which he envisions dispossessing and displacing Palestine's Arab peasantry. More generally, Gorny's narrow focus on Zionist ideology obscures the broader issue of Zionism's relationship to contemporary colonial discourse and practice. In this book as in his other work, Gorny fails to transcend (or even perceive) the conceptual limits imposed by his unquestioning adherence to a Zionist framework of interpretation. In this regard, see my review of Gorny's book The British Labour Movement and Zionism, 1917–1948 (Totowa, N.J., 1983), in Middle East Journal 38, no. 1 (winter 1984).

To her credit, Anita Shapira at least mentions these diary entries in her Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881–1948 (New York, 1992). But she does not devote serious attention to them, or to other texts (and ways of understanding them) that do not fit her interpretative paradigm, which posits a sharp dichotomy in Zionist thinking about the use of force between an early “defensive ethos” and a later “offensive ethos.” Shapira echoes Gorny when she argues that “If someone had predicted to Herzl that the state he had envisaged would ultimately be established in blood and fire and that its fate would rest on the point of a sword, the author of The Jewish State would undoubtedly have been repulsed and would have rejected the implications of this prophecy. His ideas about the establishment of a Jewish state were shaped by conceptions of progress in a global community of enlightened peoples, a world in which problems were solved by reason and common agreement” (354). This assertion ignores the fact that for Herzl and many of his contemporaries, the “community of enlightened peoples” was not truly global, since it excluded most of the population of the earth outside Europe and Europe's extensions overseas; consequently the “problems” of those so excluded—which often meant their resistance to European domination—could quite legitimately be “solved” not by reason but by force. As I argue here, most Zionists implicitly adopted this perspective and applied it to the Arabs of Palestine.

In other words, like Gorny, Shapira fails to situate Zionist conceptions of, and attitudes toward, Palestine and Arabs in relation to contemporary European colonial discourse and practice. She thereby ignores a significant part of the larger context within which Zionist thought and practice took shape, and outside of which it (and many of the specific texts she discusses) cannot be properly understood. More generally, while Land and Power's focus on Zionist culture is welcome and the book contains much that is interesting and useful, there are many things it deals with unsatisfactorily or simply leaves out, perhaps because Shapira still remains within the confines of Zionist discourse, if on its liberal fringe. [BACK]

18. See, for example, Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London, 1992), especially ch. 3, on southern Africa. [BACK]

19. Ahad Ha‘am's 1891 article was originally published in the Odessa Hebrew-language journal Hamelitz. It was soon republished in ‘Al parashat derakhim (Odessa, 1895), a collection of his articles and essays, and later in his collected works, Kol kitvei Ahad Ha‘am (Jerusalem, 1949). The 1911 article, “Sakh hakol,” is also in Kol kitvei Ahad Ha‘am. [BACK]

20. Ahad Ha‘am's scathing review of Altneuland is in ibid., 313–20. [BACK]

21. For a discussion of these aspects of Ahad Ha‘am's thought, see Jacques Kornberg, ed., At the Crossroads: Essays on Ahad Ha-am (Albany, N.Y., 1983), especially chs. 8 and 10. [BACK]

22. Another case in point is Yitzhak Epstein, a teacher in Palestine whose 1907 article “A Hidden Question,” published in the Hebrew-language periodical Hashilo’ah, touched off debate by insisting that the Zionist movement had to come to terms with the fact that Palestine had long been settled by another people which was unlikely to leave in order to make room for Jewish immigrants. The controversy sparked by Epstein's article was short-lived, however, and the movement's attention soon turned to other issues. See Shapira, Land and Power, 45, 47, 49, 65–66. [BACK]

23. In Nahman Syrkin, Kitvei Nahman Syrkin (Tel Aviv, 1938–39), vol. 1, 1–59. [BACK]

24. This is certainly the way MAPAI'S leading thinker, Berl Katznelson, depicted Syrkin in his biographical preface to Syrkin's collected works; see ibid., and also Marie Syrkin, Nachman Syrkin, Socialist Zionist (New York, 1961). [BACK]

25. Kitvei Nahman Syrkin, vol. 1, 53. [BACK]

26. See B. Borokhov, Ketavim (Tel Aviv, 1955), vol. 1, 154–80. [BACK]

27. Large parts of his argument had already been set forth in his 1905 essay “On the Question of Zionism and Territory.” See Ketavim, vol. 1, 18–153. [BACK]

28. “Our Platform,” Ketavim, vol. 1, 283. [BACK]

29. “Zionism and Territory,” Ketavim, vol. 1, 148. [BACK]

30. “Our Platform,” Ketavim, vol. 1, 282–83. [BACK]

31. “Zionism and Territory,” Ketavim, vol. 1, 148. [BACK]

32. In Ketavim, vol. 1, 290. [BACK]

33. “Our Platform,” Ketavim, vol. 1, 284–85. [BACK]

34. Ketavim, vol. 2, 429. [BACK]

35. Ketavim, vol. 2, 403–5. [BACK]

36. See Yehuda Slutzki, “MPSI beve‘idat hayesod shel hahistadrut,” Asufot 1, no. 14 (December 1970), 135. [BACK]

37. On developments in this period, see Mandel, The Arabs and Zionism, chs. 3–7. [BACK]

38. As the “Hebrew” in “Hebrew labor” indicates, the self-styled “workers” and “pioneers” who arrived in Palestine during the Second Aliya period generally referred to themselves and their organizations not as “Jewish” (yehudi) but as “Hebrew” (‘ivri). By adopting this term they expressed their denigration and rejection of Diaspora Judaism, associated in their minds primarily with statelessness, powerlessness, and passivity, and identified themselves instead with the (suitably mythologized) ancient Hebrews who had lived in their own homeland as a sovereign people. This move allowed them to link their own project with heroic episodes from the Jewish past, now reinterpreted nationalistically, such as the struggle of the Maccabees to free the land of alien rule and restore Jewish sovereignty. These Jewish immigrants newly arrived from Europe could thereby imagine themselves to be elementally connected to the land, giving them a claim to possess it stronger than that of its indigenous Arab inhabitants. At the same time, it gave them a way to see themselves as prototypes of the “new Jew” whom socialist Zionism would produce in Palestine, a person who was thoroughly modern yet deeply rooted in the national soil and intimately connected to the wellsprings of Jewish history and culture, which Zionism identified with national sovereignty. This self-image gave those who embraced it (particularly labor Zionists) a potent weapon to wield against rival forces within the Yishuv, the Zionist movement, and world Jewry. [BACK]

39. For a study of early debates over this issue, see Yosef Gorny, “Ha’ideologiya shel kibbush ha‘avoda,” Keshet, nos. 37–38 (1967–68). For a much broader and more useful perspective, see Shafir, Land. This chapter obviously draws on Shafir's perceptive analysis, though I have sought to broaden and enrich his rather structural approach by attending to the discursive aspect of the processes and developments under discussion. [BACK]

40. The second part of the essay, with which I am primarily concerned here, was entitled “Hashkafa proletarit vehagana le’umit” (Proletarian perspective and national defense). The essay as a whole, “Leshe’alot ‘avodateinu ba’aretz,” was published under Ben-Tzvi's pseudonym “Avner” and first appeared in the Po‘alei Tziyon organ Ha’ahdut 3, nos. 16–17 (1912); it was soon republished in pamphlet form. [BACK]

41. See Slutzki, “MPSI,” 135. [BACK]

42. For a discussion of these strategies from the standpoint of Bonacich's theory of split labor markets, see Michael Shalev, “Jewish Organized Labor and the Palestinians: A Study of State/Society Relations in Israel,” in Kimmerling, Israeli State and Society, 93–133. On the struggle for Hebrew labor on the Jewish-owned citrus plantations in the late 1920s and 1930s, see Anita Shapira, Hama’avak hanikhzav: ‘avoda ‘ivrit, 1929–1939 (Tel Aviv, 1977). [BACK]

43. Quoted in Shafir, Land, 198. [BACK]

44. The kibbutzim kept consumption and overhead costs low by socializing many of the costs of reproduction of labor (common kitchens, dining halls and laundries, shared living quarters, collective child rearing) as well as by promoting an ideology of asceticism and self-sacrifice. At the same time, collective labor made effective use of scarce resources and limited land. The kibbutzim also proved an efficient means of effecting the spatial extension of the Yishuv and would later play a significant military role as well.

The kibbutz soon came to occupy a unique place in the labor-Zionist imagination and in Zionist (and later Israeli) mythology, at least until the 1970s. Although kibbutz members never accounted for more than about 5 percent of the Yishuv's (and later of Israel's Jewish) population, the kibbutz was held up as the model of the Jewish commonwealth-in-the-making in Palestine. Into the 1960s, labor-Zionist politicians took pride in claiming membership in some kibbutz, even if they had in reality spent only a few months living and working there forty years earlier before going on to careers in the labor-Zionist movement's burgeoning bureaucracy. Though the Yishuv was always predominantly urban, labor Zionism cast the kibbutz member astride a tractor, rifle in hand, as the paragon of Zionist virtue and achievement, the prototype of the tough, hardworking “new Jew” which Zionism had produced in Palestine. The kibbutz became a powerful symbol not only of the “pioneering” spirit, of readiness for self-sacrifice in the national cause, but also of Zionism's authenticity and rootedness in the soil of Palestine and its ability to make the land productive, often counterposed to the Arabs' alleged failure to do so. One might usefully compare the kibbutz with the “red-roofed farmhouse” which, Jacques Berque suggests, became a central symbol of colon society in Algeria, even though the great majority of European settlers in Algeria actually lived in urban areas; see Jacques Berque, French North Africa: The Maghrib between Two World Wars (London, 1967), ch. 1 [BACK]

45. For an introduction to the origins and significance of the Balfour Declaration, see my entry in Joel Krieger, ed., The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World (New York, 1993), 67–68. [BACK]


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