Awakening in the Christian world in support
of a Jewish Restoration 1830-1930
The conception and application of practical
modern measures for the Jewish restoration was preceded by a fascinating
interlude: Zionist awakening in the Christian world.
The affinity of the Jewish people for Palestine,
unique in the historic circumstances, had become an integral part, inextricably
entwined in the texture of Western culture. It was a commonplace of all
education. The persistence of the Jewish people as an entity, kept alive
for century after century of monstrous persecution by a faith in ultimate
restoration to its Homeland, was congenial to some Christians, unpalatable
to others. The Christian Churches had their share in perpetuating the forced
exile of the Jewish people. To Catholics, it was a matter of duty as God's
servants to enforce the Jewish dispersion; they therefore could not even
countenance Jewish restoration to their land. It was part of his apostasy
that in 464 the Emperor Julian announced his intention of rebuilding the
Temple. With the splits and schisms in the Church, the coming of the Reformation,
and the evolution of the various Protestant sects, voices were heard proclaiming
it as a Christian act to help the Jewish people regain its homeland. Palestine,
however, was in the hands of the Ottoman Turks, and there was no means
of translating Christian feeling into action.
In practical Christian minds, this situation
began rapidly to change during the early nineteenth century. The first
catalytic agent may have been Napoleon Bonaparte. On launching his campaign
for the conquest of Palestine in 1799, he promised to restore the country
to the Jews. Though Napoleon was forced to withdraw from Palestine, the
prospect he opened may have been instrumental in setting off a chain of
developments, primarily in Britain, that grew in intensity and significance
as the nineteenth century wore on. A distinguished gallery of writers,
clerics, journalists, artists, and statesmen accompanied the awakening
of the idea of Jewish restoration in Palestine. Lord Lindsay, Lord Shaftesbury
(the social reformer who learned Hebrew), Lord Palmerston, Disraeli, Lord
Manchester, George Eliot, Holman Hunt, Sir Charles Warren, Hall Caine --
all appear among the many who spoke, wrote, organised support, or put forward
practical projects by which Britain might help the return of the Jewish
people to Palestine. There were some who even urged the British government
to buy Palestine from the Turks to give it to the Jews to rebuild.
Characteristic of the period were the words
of Lord Lindsay:
The Jewish race, so wonderfully preserved,
may yet have another stage of national existence opened to them, may once
more obtain possession of their native land. . . . The soil of "Palestine
still enjoys her sabbaths, and only waits for the return of her banished
children, and the application of industry, commensurate with her agricultural
capabilities, to burst once more into universal luxuriance, and be all
that she ever was in the days of Solomon."1
In 1845, Sir George Gawler urged, as the remedy
for the desolation of the country: "Replenish the deserted towns and fields
of Palestine with the energetic people whose warmest affections are rooted
in the soil."2
There were times when this concern took
on the proportions of a propaganda campaign. In 1839, the Church of Scotland
sent two missionaries, Andrew Bonar and Robert Murray M'Cheyne, to report
on "the conditions of the Jews in their land." Their report was widely
publicised in Britain, and it was followed by a Memorandum to the Protestant
Monarchs of Europe for the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. This memorandum,
printed verbatim by the London Times, was the prelude to many months of
newspaper projection of the theme that Britain should take action to secure
Palestine for the Jews. The Times, in that age the voice of enlightened
thought in Britain, urged the Jews simply to take possession of the land.
If a Moses became necessary, wrote the paper, one would be found.
Again and again groups and societies were
projected or formed to promote the restoration. The proposals and activities
of Moses Montefiore found a wide echo throughout Britain. Many Christians
associated themselves practically with his plans; others brought forward
plans and projects of their own and even took steps to bring them to fruition.
What was probably the first forerunner in modem times of the Jewish agricultural
revolution in Palestine was the settlement established in 1848 in the Vale
of Rephaim by Warder Cresson, the United States Consul in Jerusalem; he
was helped by a Jewish-Christian committee formed in Britain for the Jewish
settlement of Galilee.
The ideas of Sir George Gawler, a former
governor of South Australia, before and after the Crimean War, when he
formed the Palestine Colonisation Fund; of Claude Reignier Conder who,
with Lieutenant Kitchener, carried out a survey of Palestine and brought
to public notice the fact that Palestine could be restored by the Jews
to its ancient prosperity; of Laurence Oliphant, the novelist and politician,
who worked out a comprehensive plan of restoration and a detailed project
for Jewish settlement of Gilead east of the Jordan; of Edward Cazalet,
who proposed equally detailed projects -- all were broached and propagated
against a background of widespread Christian support.
By the middle of the century, the concept
of Jewish restoration began to be considered in responsible quarters in
Britain as a question of practical international politics. In August 1840,
the Times reported that the British government was feeling its way in the
direction of Jewish restoration. It added that "a nobleman of the Opposition"
(believed to be Lord Ashley, later Lord Shaftesbury) was making his own
inquiries to determine:
1. What the Jews thought of the proposed
2. Whether rich Jews would go to Palestine
and invest their capital in agriculture.
3. How soon they would be ready to go.
4. Whether they would go at their own expense,
requiring nothing more than assurance of safety to life property.
5. Whether they would consent to live under
the Turkish government, with their rights protected by the five European
powers (Britain, France, Russia, Prussia, Austro-Hungary).
Lord Shaftesbury pursued the idea with
Prime Minister Palmerston and his successors in the government and was
incidentally instrumental in the considerable assistance and protection
against oppression that Britain henceforth extended to the Jews already
living in Palestine.
The Crimean War and its aftermath pushed
the ideas and projects into the background, but they soon came to life
again. In 1878, the Eastern Question reached its crises in the Prusso-Turkish
War, and the Congress of Berlin gathered to find a peaceful solution. At
once reports spread throughout Europe that Britain's representatives, Lord
Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli) and Lord Salisbury, were proposing as
part of the peace plan to declare a protectorate over Syria and Palestine
and that Palestine would be restored to the Jews.
Though these reports were unfounded, the
idea again caught the imagination of political thinkers in Britain. It
was widely supported in the newspapers, which saw it as both a solution
to the Jewish problem and a means of eliminating one of the perennial causes
of friction between the powers. So popular was the idea with the British
public that the weekly Spectator on May 10, 1879, in criticising Beaconsfield
for not having adopted it, wrote: "If he had freed the Holy Land and restored
the Jews, as he might have done instead of pottering about Roumelia and
Afghanistan, he would have died Dictator."
No less significant is the fact that the
idea of Jewish restoration, when it was presented in the form of practical
projects, was not rejected by the Moslem authorities. In 1831, Palestine
was conquered from the Turks by Mehemet Ali, who ruled it from Egypt for
the next nine years, introducing a comparatively pleasant interlude in
the life of the country. It was at this time that Sir Moses Montefiore
began developing his practical plans. In 1839, he visited Mehemet Ali in
Egypt and put forward a large-scale scheme for Jewish settlement that would
regenerate Palestine. Mehemet Ali accepted it. Montefiore was in the midst
of discussing practical details with him when Mehemet was forced to withdraw
from Palestine, which returned to Turkish rule.
Forty years later, the Turks themselves
were presented with practical plans for Jewish colonisation and autonomy
in a part of Palestine. The most important of these plans was that carefully
and conscientiously worked out by Laurence Oliphant, who demonstrated to
the Turks that it was in their own interest, as well as in Britain's, to
help fulfil a Jewish restoration in Palestine. His detailed plan for the
settlement of Gilead was supported and recommended to the Turkish government
by the leading personalities in Britain: The Prime Minister Lord Beaconsfield,
the Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury, and even the Prince of Wales (later
King Edward VII). The French government, through its Foreign Minister Waddington,
also added its encouragement.
The Sultan showed considerable interest
in the plan; the Turkish Foreign Office even proposed some amendments for
further discussion. But again events intervened. in 1880, a general election
drove Beaconsfield -- considered by Turkey as her friend -- from office,
to be replaced by William Ewart Gladstone. To the Turks, Gladstone was
an enemy. The Oliphant scheme, based on Turko-British co-operation as well
as a similar scheme proposed by the British industrialist Edward Cazalet,
were shelved and faded into history.
By now the effervescence among the Jewish
people began to find its outlets.
Jewish organisations were now launched.
The result was a wave of immigration, to be known later as the First Aliyah,
which laid the solid foundation of the new Jewish agriculture. The advent
of Theodor Herzl was only fifteen years away, and with it the beginning
of the modem political frame for the return to Zion: the World Zionist
Throughout the ages, and now in the nineteenth
century, when the restoration of the Jewish people to Palestine and the
restoration of Palestine to the Jewish people was discussed in growing
intensity, when scores of books and pamphlets and innumerable articles
published in Europe, America, and Britain put forward both ideological
motivation and practical projects for the consummation of the idea, never
once was it suggested openly or covertly that the Holy Land could not,
or should not, be restored to the Jews because it had become the property
of others. There were many who disliked the Jews; there were Christians
who objected on theological grounds to the very idea of reversing the "edict"
of exile. Imagine what would happen to the Catholic dogma of the inadmissibility
of Jewish restoration if a Jewish state were suddenly to Arise! They had
enough reason to seek grounds and means of resistance to the spread of
the idea. Yet nothing led anyone to believe or to suggest that there was
any other nation that had a claim, or had established an affinity or connection,
or had made such a contribution in sweat or in blood, to have and to hold
the country for its own.
No such nation existed, nor any such claim.
The claim of historic association, of historic right, of historic ownership
by the Arab people or by a "Palestinian entity" is a fiction fabricated
in our own day.
After the Jews had been absent as a nation
for eighteen centuries, this was a self-evident truth, which is also part
of the historic record.
"No nation has been able to establish itself
as a nation in Palestine up to this day," wrote Sir John William Dawson
in 1888, "no national union and no national spirit has prevailed there.
The motley impoverished tribes which have occupied it have held it as mere
tenants at will, temporary landowners, evidently waiting for those entitled
to the permanent possession of the soil."3
When Jewish independence came to an end
in the year 70, the population numbered, at a conservative estimate, some
five million people. (By Josephus' figures, there were nearer seven million.)
Even sixty years after the destruction
of the Temple, at the outbreak of the revolt led by Bar Kochba in 132,
when large numbers had fled or been deported, the Jewish population of
the country must have numbered at least three million, according to Dio
Cassiusí figures. Seventeen centuries later, when the practical possibility
of the return to Zion appeared on the horizon, Palestine was a denuded,
derelict, and depopulated country. The writings of travellers who visited
Palestine in the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century
are filled with descriptions of its emptiness, its desolation. In 1738,
Thomas Shaw wrote of the absence of people to fill - Palestine's fertile
soil. In 1785, Constantine Francois Volney described the "rained" and "desolate"
country. He had not seen the worst. Pilgrims and travellers continued to
report in heartrending terms on its condition. Almost sixty years later,
Alexander Keith, recalling Volney's description, wrote: "In his day the
land had not fully reached its last degree of desolation and depopulation."4
In 1835, Alphonse de Lamartine could write:
Outside the gates of Jerusalem we saw
indeed no living object, heard no living sound, we found the same void,
the same silence ... as we should have expected before the entombed gates
of Pompeii or Herculaneam a complete eternal silence reigns in the town,
on the highways, in the country ... the tomb of a whole people.5
Mark Twain, who visited Palestine in 1867,
wrote what he saw as he travelled the length of the
Desolate country whose soil is rich enough,
but is given over wholly to weeds -- a silent mournful expanse-- A desolation
is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action.
We reached Tabor safely... We never saw a human being on the whole route.
There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere.
Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil,
had almost deserted the country.
So overwhelming was his impression of an irreversible
desolation that he came to the grim conclusion that Palestine would never
come to life again. As he was taking his last view of the country, he wrote:
Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes.
Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered
its energies. Palestine is desolate and unlovely-- Palestine is no more
of this workday world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition, it is dreamland.6
By Volney's estimates in 1785, there were
no more than 200,000 people in the country.7
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the estimated population for the
whole of Palestine was between 50,000 and 100,000 people.8
1. A. W.
C. Crawford, Lord Lindsay, Letters on Egypt, Edom and the Holy Land, Vol.
II (London, 1847), p. 71.
Gawler, Tranquillisation of Syria and the East (London, 1845), p. 6.
Science In Bible Lands (New York, 1890), pp. 449-450. There was another
fact that gave immediate practical impact to the logic and justice of Jewish
restoration. Palestine was a virtually empty land.
Shaw, Travels and Observations Relating to Several Parts of Barbary and
the Levant (London, 1767), p. 331ff.; Constantine Francois Volney, Travels
Through Syria and Egypt in the Years 1783, 1784 and 1785 (London, 1787);
Alexander Keith, The Land of Israel (Edinburgh, 1944), P. 465.
of the East, Vol. I (London, 1845), pp. 268, 308.
6. The Innocents
Abroad (New York, 1966), pp. 351, 375, 401,441.
7. Vol. II,
8. De Haas,
p. 39n. It was the gaping emptiness of the country, the spectacle of ravages
and neglect, the absence of a population that might be dispossessed and
the growing sense of the country's having "waited" for the "return of her
banished children," that lent force and practical meaning to the awakening
Christian realisation that the time had come for Jewish restoration.
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Middle Eastern Political and Religious
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