Manual Rothschild and Early Jewish Colonization in Palestine (Geographical Perspectives on the Human Past)

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Rothschild and Early Jewish Colonization in Palestine. Ran Aharonson.

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It is commonly accepted that the initial Jewish resettlement of the Holy Land in the late nineteenth century laid the foundations of the State of Israel. But what were the key elements of that process, and who implemented it? What did the new enterprise look like, and what was its significance?

Zionist society was viewed as a realization of the goals and needs of a historic people with deep roots in the land. Thus, during the twentieth century, about seven hundred urban and rural communities were established by groups of Zionists to serve the interests of the Jewish people.

From the inauguration of Zionist colonization in the s through the present, there has been almost no homesteading, or the establishment of farms by private individuals. Israel has virtually no examples of "the little house on the prairie. Instead, there are various forms of village settlement—of which the moshav and the kibbutz are the best known. The American and Zionist frontier experience can also be compared by observing how pioneering in each has been idealized and stereotyped. In America, pioneering is highly associated with individualism, but not in the Israeli case. The equivalent of "pioneer" in Hebrew is derived from the biblical halutz, one who went before the people and was in their service.

It derives from biblical passages describing how the Israelites overcame Jericho upon entry into the Promised Land:. And he [Joshua] said unto the people: "Pass on, and encircle the city, and let the halutz pass on before the ark of the Lord. And the halutz went before the priests that blew the horns. Joshua While the root of the word halutz contains the meaning of "armed soldier," it more popularly came to mean one who goes before the people. The halutz is part of the avant-garde. While the word virtually disappeared from use in Hebrew during the Middle Ages, Zionist writers at the beginning of the twentieth century rediscovered the term and employed it extensively to describe pioneers halutzim and pioneering halutziut.

Although in the pre-Zionist context it referred to fulfilling a divine mission, secular Zionists readily appropriated the term and the concept to refer to those taking the lead on behalf of a national, secular movement. Another significant difference between the American and Zionist frontier experience is the way land was viewed. In America land is protected as private property or the possession of individuals. In Zionist thought and praxis, land is a resource for the benefit of the people as a whole.

There were also practical issues and the historical context that shaped the Zionist attitude toward land. Whether under the Ottomans or the British Mandate , Jews in Palestine were limited in where they might purchase land and were often denied this elementary right because of their identity as Jews. Moreover, the process of acquiring land was cumbersome and few individual pioneers had the ability and means to negotiate the difficulties or possessed the legal expertise and the connections to overcome obstacles. Territory, once acquired, was held in reserve for the national movement in the name of the Jewish people rather than for individuals.

Even today, Israelis typically "own" their property through long-term and renewable leases from the Israel Lands Authority or the Jewish National Fund. Hence, land is referred to as "Jewish" or "Arab" throughout historic Palestine.

Palestine Jewish Colonization Association

The earliest Zionist villages, or moshavoth, from the s to World War I , proved economically unsustainable. A consequence of financial dependence was that they could not expand fast enough to absorb the pioneers who wanted or needed to immigrate. By , members of the Second Aliyah were imagining alternative forms of colonization that with a collective, communal approach might manage to be self-sustaining. The result was the moshav that blended private ownership with cooperation and was therefore much preferred by the bourgeois leadership of the World Zionist Organization WZO.

During World War I, Palestine became a battlefield where the Ottomans with their German allies fought the British, so it was not until that Nahalal , the prototype moshav, was established at the eastern end of the Valley of Jezreel. By the mids, despite its earlier preference for the moshav, the same bourgeois leadership of the World Zionist Organization WZO made the communistic kibbutz the prime instrument of settlement despite ideological preferences and economic difficulties.

From the s, security needs took precedence over economic considerations. That is, once the Zionist settlement program became seriously obstructed by the Arabs of Palestine and beyond, it was the growing national struggle with Arabs that dictated both the form of settlements and their locations. Jewish self-defense developed in response to growing hostility. Later, a Muslim urban elite organized attacks. The watershed occurred in when anti-Jewish riots that began in Jerusalem over the rights of Jews to the Western or Wailing Wall spread to other cities and the countryside.

Finally, the extended Arab uprising from against Jewish settlements, as well as the British, caused a radical transformation in the ways in which Jews organized settlement. These threats resulted in a coordinated policy of settlement designed to protect the Zionist enterprise as a whole, as well as individual communities.

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The clustering of settlements into a discernible N-shaped pattern had characterized Zionist settlement since the s. With the Arab population located largely in the hills and the mountains of Palestine, land could be purchased and settled more readily in the valleys where absentee landlords were willing to sell to Jews. What is significant is that even though some Palestinian Arabs initiated violence against Jews, others, members of leading families including that of the Mufti, sold land for Zionist settlement.

It is important to note that all the lands on which Zionists established settlements were purchased from Arabs, and not taken by conquest or international treaty. The map also indicates selected purchases and settlements outside this region: near Jerusalem , the northern Negev and the Western Galilee near the Lebanese border. Zionist planners also consciously invested their resources outside the Arab-populated West Bank until independence. This policy effectively established which areas would become part of the Jewish state after Independence.

Not only the location but the form of village settlements within these areas changed. It is worth pointing out that the earliest settlements through World War I were built without regard to defense.


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For example, there were no walls around the moshavoth. In , the buildings in Nahalal were placed in an inner circle with paths leading to the outlying fields like spokes in a wheel, a design meant to increase security, but there was still no wall. It was the first of 57 such settlements founded during this three-year period.

The same concern for security informed settlement after Israel was established in This can readily be illustrated with reference to the placement of new development towns and of the rural settlements. The United Nations partition plan for Palestine of November established a Jewish and an Arab Palestinian state and designated a significant area around Jerusalem and leading toward the sea as an international zone.


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As the conflict developed both the Arabs and Jews established lines that ignored the creation of an international zone and the final battle lines defined the borders between Israel and Jordan. Similarly, the termination of the conflict brought additional areas of the Galilee as well as the Negev into the new state. Since the war ended with armistice lines rather than peace treaties, that is, with a suspension of active hostilities rather than agreed international borders, it was essential to defend those armistice lines.

As occurred earlier, Zionist settlement was based on the idea that people living in communities would establish and defend the borders of the state. This logic determined how and where Israel absorbed a large body of immigrants and how it dispersed them into new communities. New villages, whether moshav or kibbutz , were established all along the borders and in strategic areas that were largely devoid of Jewish population within the country, notably in the Lachish region between the center of the country and the northern Negev near where were the city of Kiryat Gat was later established.

In the absence of such settlements, movement between Jordan and the Gaza Strip would have been unimpeded and the Negev could have been readily cut off from the main body of Israel. It is important to note that at this point the balance in popularity between moshav and kibbutz changed. As one can readily see in the table below, the kibbutz became the prime instrument of rural settlement in the decade before the creation of the state and still had a measure of popularity in the few years after Independence.

After , however, few kibbutzim are established and the overwhelming choice was again the moshav, the form of settlement that blended private property with cooperative features. The kibbutz, based on the ideological commitments of highly motivated and often still single youth, was essential for defensive purposes in a period when there was no state army to define and defend future borders.

This form of village proved less popular among family-oriented immigrants from cultures that were not imbued with collectivist and radical ideologies. Whatever form it took, new settlements continued to be planned as villages, whether moshav or kibbutz , and meant to serve national purposes. Another significant development one can see in the table above is a decline in the number of new agricultural settlements. Few are established after the first decade of Israeli independence. There are many reasons for this. The first may be the unanticipated fact that despite Zionist ideology, most Jewish immigrants to Palestine intended to live in cities.

In fact, many immigrants were bourgeois or expectant bourgeois intent on attaining a satisfactory European standard of living in their new country. It developed in tandem with innovations in agriculture and was itself crucial to the success of the Zionist project. The foundation for urban Israel was laid already in the pre-state period with Tel-Aviv and Haifa. Built on the sands just north of Jaffa , Tel-Aviv, the first new Jewish city in nearly 2, years, was home to about one-third of the population of the Yishuv by the s.

Rapidly expanding Haifa was a substantial second. In contrast, in , no more than 7 percent of the population had ever lived on a kibbutz. It probably could not have been different given a semi-arid zone where much of the soil had been degraded over centuries of abuse and was unsuitable to productive and profitable agriculture.

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The leading modern states are based on advanced urban-industrial economies rather than a society of peasants tilling the soil. For all the celebration of the halutz as farmer in Zionist ideology and iconography, Zionist settlement depended on a successful urban component. In keeping with this tradition, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev was founded in in the Negev frontier to develop the region and anchor the growth of Beer-Sheva, which would become its major city.

The development of the country by an educated population was envisioned and intended by Herzl who portrays the hero of Altneuland as a well-educated chemical engineer. Between the War of Independence and the June War , settlements continued to be planned along the lines established earlier. That is, they were urban-type communities in a rural setting. Initially planted on the hilltops of the Galilee in the s to maintain control over areas where Arabs were or were likely to be a majority, these were essentially white-collar rather than farming communities and inhabited by residents who usually commuted to industrial zones in the area or to nearby cities like Haifa.

It turned out, unexpectedly, that they provided the model for the settlement of the West Bank. Similar urban settlements are now scattered across the hilltops of much of the West Bank. The growth of the West Bank settlements was initially very slow.