Syrian history, Western Colonisation

A history of Syria: the beginnings of the ”State” of Israel and Zionism

Defining Jewish Zionism

Prior to discussing 19th century European colonisation in Palestine it is worth saying, that the region has always been inhabited, regardless of the faith and ethnicity of the inhabitants. An obvious point perhaps but one, that eliminates the need to differentiate between the groups, who lived in Palestine prior to 1897, when Zionism was established as a political organisation. Admittedly it is a bit of a broad distinction as western settlers colonised the region, throughout the 1800s and before.

Settling in Palestine after the exodus from Egypt, is contested by a huge percentage of the world Jewry and many leading Rabbis. This view is under-pinned by the role of the nation state and its relationship to the spread of monotheism and more specifically by arguments pertaining to, whether Judaism is a religion or a nationality. It is the latter, that defines Zionism as the ideology entails establishing a ”homeland” in Palestine.

The book ‘Deconstructing Zionism: A Critique of Political Metaphysics’ edited by Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder refers to the process, whereby the concept of state is synonymous with one nation. It explains how Zionism is a secular entity dependent on the separation of state and religion and a symbol of 19th century modernity and progress, it applied only to Europe and America. Of course this distinction clashes with the theological perspective of more religious or orthodox Jews.

The progression of Zionism

Peter Mansfield writes, how the first Zionists were ” essentially non-political” and sought to cultivate Palestinian land, through establishing the Mashave (cooperative farm) and the Kibbutz (communal farm). Palestine was then, the least affluent part of ”Greater Syria” and the first settlers were assisted, financially by rich Europeans like the Rothschilds. Their emphasis was on philanthropy and cultural activity such as the development of Hebrew as a national language.

Mr. Mansfield suggests, that they were mainly influenced by prominent Russian writers, who maintained, that assimulation into non-Jewish society was insufficient and that a homeland was required for all Jews. Nevertheless people did not, at the time, feel this was achievable, for example, Asher Ginsberg, a prominent Zionist, decided Palestine ”could not absorb the Jewish masses” but then came the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl.

The persecution of Jews had lessened in Europe but during the last two decades of the 19th century, 600,000 Jews emigrated to America. Herzl organised a world Zionist congress in Switzerland in 1893, by 1903, Britain made them an offer of a homeland in east Africa, to which Herzl agreed at first but this was short lived. Mr Mansfield claims, that Herzl considered Palestine was empty of people but relented to an extent, just before his death in 1904. He was set on it as a homeland nevertheless, as were many of his Jewish counterparts and in 1917 came the Balfour declaration.

The economic backdrop; farming in 19th century Syria

The last entry looked at the capitulations and how they evolved to undermine the economic power of the Ottoman empire. By the end of the Crimean war the entire region was under-going change as the balance of economic power shifted from central government to local landowners and more importantly into western hands often, through the consular staff.

To this day the Zionists claim to have cultivated the barren wilderness, that was Palestine. When you visit apparently they use this to discredit the indigenous population but this is just one side of the story. While no-one doubts they played their part, in the 1800s much of Syria was flourishing agriculturally and until the war in 2008, Gaza was exporting agricultural products. Though some regions are rocky and unproductive, almost the whole of the region is fertile in some way. This of course is due to the abundance of rivers, which wind their way from east to west and north to south.

Colonisation is a slow process

”Syria and the Holy Land”, an internet archive publication by George Adam Smith, which is from a personal account, describes how in the last twenty years of the 19th century, successive European governments agreed to a Jewish ”homeland” in Palestine. As the writer states even the German government, that was a friend of the Ottoman sultan agreed, despite colonisation by many German subjects, who shared the aspiration to cultivate parts of Palestine. In fact the Turkish porte was not opposed to the idea either but the Ottoman empire was on its last legs and various treaties were in place by then; so who knows.

The writer stresses the point, that when Balfour made his declaration, there was civil strife in Syria itself, which had to be resolved and the Jews were divided on the subject. He accuses the Zionists of ignoring the social and economic difficulties and more importantly of failing to establish the ”frontiers” for the ”homeland”. He describes how a minority of Jewish intellectuals from Britain and America wished to establish a small group of Jews in Palestine, for religious reasons, a group, that would inspire the world Jewry, whilst cultivating ”complete social and political identifications” with local people. This idea is contradictory to the ideological position of a nation state for Jews.

Next time: more about Lord Balfour and the political backdrop.

No to NATO!!

There will be a NATO summit held in Newport and Wales is none to pleased. We plan to oppose this debacle. If you are interested see for further info.



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