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21 - Jan - 1975

 
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This essay was written in 1975 at the request of the American Zionist Movement

 
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ZIONISM differs from other national Liberation movements
 
 

Zionism: The National Liberation Movement of The Jewish People

By: Robert Rockaway

Zionism is a modern national liberation movement whose roots go far back to Biblical times. Its purpose is to return to the Jewish people the independence and sovereignty which are the right of every people. The Jews lost that independence and sovereignty in the Judaeo-Roman war two thousand years ago.

A. ANALYSIS - Zionism is a modern national liberation movement whose roots go far back to Biblical times. Its purpose is to return to the Jewish people the independence and sovereignty which are the right of every people. The Jews lost that independence and sovereignty in the Judaeo-Roman war two thousand years ago.

ZIONISM differs from other national Liberation movements in its point of departure. Whereas other movements arose among peoples who, though oppressed and exploited, continued to live on their own land, Zionism had to cope with Jewry's unique position in the world: homelessness and exile.

This movement sought to introduce a fundamental change in the geo-demographic position of Jewry in the world. It meant the transfer of a whole people back to its home, the land of Israel. Palestine has never been a state with a separate identity except in the minds of the Jews -- in their prayers, in their historical memory, in their hopes, and national ideology. It is the Jews, and the Jews alone, who lent a special status and gave political, religious and cultural identity to that land. For all other people who occupied the land, Palestine was merely a piece of their empire. This was the case for Rome, Byzantium, Ottoman. Even for the Crusaders, Palestine was an extension of Christian Europe.

ZIONISM -- the Jewish national liberation movement had two goals: reversing the course of Jewish history of the past two millennia by removing the exile imposed on Jewry from without; seeking to be revolutionary movement from within. This latter goal expressed itself in different aspects of Jewish life:

  1. ZIONISM called for the restructuring of the social and economic pattern of Jewish life. Thus, the town-dwelling Jew, who for so many centuries and against his own will, used to be identified in the Diaspora with petty commerce and money lending, was called upon by Zionism to change his habits and till the soil, develop industries, and do all other work by himself.
  2. ZIONISM brought about the secularization of the expression of Jewry's traditional attachment to Palestine. Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reform all had to redefine their positions vis-a-vis the concept of the centrality of Israel. On the one had, Zionism made the modern Jew rediscover, proudly assert and emphasize the national component of his identity as Jew and on the other hand, it channeled the age-old messianic longings as well as the people's concrete needs for immediate alleviation of diasporic misery into five major endeavors:
  1. The organization of world-Jewish support for Zionist activities in and for Palestine;
  2. the acquisition, through purchase, of land in Palestine;
  3. immigration;
  4. settlement;
  5. the establishment of Jewish self-governmental agencies.
  1. ZIONISM called for a linguistic revolution in Jewry, or a renaissance of the ancient Hebrew tongue, once the living language of the Jewish state but long considered dead, or at least relegated to use in prayer, in study or in purely literary creativity. Zionism expected that language to serve not merely as an educational instrument for the expansion of Jewish historical consciousness, but as an effective vehicle for fusing together Jewry's scattered tribes.
  2. ZIONISM meant self-liberation from ghetto mentality into the creation of a breed of Jews, proud, enterprising, efficient, ready to stand up for their rights, unafraid of adversity or of sacrifice. Jews asserted their right to shape their own destiny whatever the reaction of foe or friend.

ZIONISM was a minority view point among the Jewish people. It was electrifying to the youth, while at the same time, undermining the authority of the parents who were trying to survive. It was critical of the leaders, a challenge to the traditional leadership of the diasporic community.

Many well-meaning Jews tried many remedies to solve the "Jewish Problem" -- assimilation, Communism, diasporic autonomism, cultural self-determination, territorialism (non-Palestinocentric). All these remedies failed for none of them had produced the one and only solution that was needed most: a sovereign home.

Only the attainment of national sovereignty -- the ultimate goal of all liberation movements and the ultimate goal of classical Zionism could provide the basis for the solution of Jewish "homelessness".

The State of Israel, the ultimate goal of Zionism, was created not solely for those Jews who had the good fortune and wisdom to make it their home, but primarily for those who had not done so, yet are at present, or will be at some future juncture, in need of a haven from physical and/or spiritual persecution.

The State of Israel arose in response of the Jewish need as well as the Jewish desire for a national home. Hence, the State was built by and for those who either had to come, driven by anti-Semitism, or wanted to, driven by a quest of their own identity, searching for their historical roots and a place of their own to live a full and creative Jewish life. It was only natural that this place be in the land of Israel.

B. THE CONTINUITY OF JEWISH PRESENCE IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL - - The physical link between the Jews and the Land of Israel was never broken over the centuries. Despite difficulties, Jews kept arriving from Italy, Spain, France and North Africa to Jerusalem. In the letters they sent to the Diaspora, they called upon their brethren to settle in Israel disregarding all the obstacles and economic distress existing in those times in the country. The Jewish presence in the land of Israel was not extinguished at any moment even under religious persecution by Moslems and Christians. The crusaders harassed the Jewish communities in the land of Israel. Yet, even under crusader rule, (Thirteenth Century) 300 Rabbis arrived in the country with their families from France, and England, in order to settle and to renovate here their community life.

During the Sixteenth Century, the Jewish communities in the Land of Israel increased. Tiberias was rebuilt and the Jewish population of Safed reached 15,000. Safed, the capital of Northern Galilee, became the spiritual centre of Judaism, influencing the entire Jewish world. The Jewish mystical doctrine (Kabala) emerged there, and it was there that Rabbi Joseph Caro codified the Oral Law in his "Shulchan Aruch". In that century, the Jews made up 15% of the total population in the country. In modern times, the Return to Zion began during the Eighteenth Century as a consequence of positive factors as well as negative ones such as anti-Semitism. Ever since, the process of return of the Jewish people to its land has continued and has become ever stronger.

Jewish immigration to Palestine in modern times began in the late Nineteenth Century. In 1850, there were 20,000 Jews in Palestine; in 1945, there were approximately 100,000.

C. ZIONISM AND THE ARABS -- While the Zionist movement had as its major target the finding of a permanent solution to Jewish suffering and homelessness, it did not aim at doing so at the expense of and to the exclusion of the Arabs living then in Palestine. It was Zionism that struggled for human and national equality and dignity for all people.

The ideologists of Zionism did not anticipate a Jewish-Arab conflict. On the contrary, they thought it would be possible to unite the national interest of both peoples and they assumed that a modern Jewish society in the Middle East would complement the patriarchal Arab society.

Dr. Chaim Weizmann, a dedicated scientist and Zionist leader, who later became the first President of the State of Israel, signed in 1919 a pact of co-operation between the Zionist Movement and the Arab National Movement, represented by Emir Feisal, chief Arab delegate at the Paris Peace Conference, who, three months after the signing of the Agreement, wrote to Professor Frankfurter:

"....We understood that Arabs and Jews are blood cousins and that both suffered similar oppression at the hand of stronger powers and that now, due to a happy coincidence, they are able to take their first step together towards their national ideals. We, Arabs, view the Zionist Movement with deep sympathy. The Jewish movement is nationalist, not imperialist. Along with my people, I foresee and look forward to a future in which we shall help you and you shall help us."

With regard to land ownership, Jewish immigrants lived on land that was legally purchased from Arab -- often absentee-owners, and for which they often paid exorbitant prices. Dr. Arthur Ruppin, one of the fathers of the agricultural settlements in Israel, decreed that Arab farmers who had been living on land acquired by the Zionist Movement from the Effendis (Turkish or Arab absentee landowners) had to be compensated even when the purchase deals for such lands did not incorporate such an obligation. The Jews bought the land, dunam by dunam, and not a single Arab was displace. On the contrary, the Arab population doubled in that same period. They were attracted by the economic progress being made. The years for which we have reliable statistics are 1922 - 1931. In those years, about 94,000 Jews immigrated, and approximately 60,000 Arabs. In other words, the Arab immigration of that period accounted for 36.8 percent of total immigration. The number of Jewish owned enterprises increased from 1,850 t o 6,007, and sixty percent of the industrial work force it employed in 1927 was Arab. Prior to 1922, Arabs were leaving the country; after 1922, they began to come in from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Egypt. The figures for Jerusalem are even more impressive. The Encyclopedia Britannica of 1911 gives the following figures for 1905, reporting the Turkish census: of a total population of about 60,000, there were 7,000 Moslems, 13,000 Christians and 40,000 Jews.

British government statistics show that in May, 1948, when the State of Israel was established, 8.6 percent of the land was owned by Jews and 3.35 percent by Arab Israelis, while 16.9 percent had been abandoned by Arab owners who fled the country. More than seventy percent of the land was vested in the Mandatory Power and so reverted to Israel as its legal heir.

The new society that the Zionist Movement wanted to create gave a wide range of rights to all the citizens of the future state, and this was clearly specified in Israel's Declaration of Independence:

"The State of Israel ... will uphold full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of creed, race or sex ... will guarantee full freedom of conscious worship, education and culture ... will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability and the protection of all the holy places of all religions." (14 May 1948)

Israel stayed true to her Declaration of Independence. Despite constant conflicts with her Arab neighbors, Israel preserves intact a democratic society, which gives absolute freedom for all political ideologies. It is the only state in the Middle East where minorities enjoy full civil rights and develop along with the majority of the population.

Statistics clearly show the remarkable progress of Arabs living in Israel, both in comparison with 1948 as well as in relation to those living in neighboring countries.  


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