Early Zionism and The Settling of Palestine

Matthew Gindin
21 min readNov 29, 2022
Photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-the-flag-of-israel-4033852/

The Holy Land Before Zionism

Jews lost all power in our homeland in 136 CE after the Bar Kokhba revolt was crushed by the Roman Empire. By then it had been some time since Jews had ruled the region the Hebrew Bible says was promised to us by God. The area had been shrunk by the conquests of the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians, as well as back and forth struggles for land with the Philistines and other local non-Jewish tribes. The last Jewish state had been the Hasmonean Kingdom ruled over by descendants of the Maccabees, a state, at its peak, about half the size of modern Israel. The Hasmonean Kingdom became a client state of Rome, and in 6 CE was officially declared a province of the Roman Empire.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt was defeated Jerusalem was destroyed and a new city, Aelia Capitolina, was built over it to be the capital city of the Roman province of Palestine. Jews were forbidden to enter Aelia Capitolina and lived mostly in the north. They were now a powerless minority in the Roman province. The center of Jewish life moved to Babylon as well to other parts of the Roman Empire (Egypt, Syria, North Africa, Eastern Europe, France and Germany).

The Rabbis reformulated Judaism to be a portable religion where the “Temple” was now “the four cubits of the halacha (Jewish law)”, i.e. the body and actions of the individual Jew. It must be understood that the Rabbis taught, as had the prophets of the Hebrew Bible before them, that the Jewish people had no right to the land of Israel. It was a gift to them dependant on them living there by the covenant. To put it another way, God had not given Israel to the Jews in perpetuity, but rather, as the Hebrew Bible says many times, Israel was given to Jews so they could fulfill the Torah, and if not, then in the indelicate words of the Chumash, “the land would vomit them out.” The common Zionist phrase that Jerusalem is the “eternal capital of the Jewish people” is both historically and theologically inaccurate. According to traditional Judaism, Jerusalem belongs to God.

The belief of those who wrote the Torah, which tells the early history of the Jewish people, was that we had betrayed the covenant many times, and this had caused defeat, exile, disempowerment, and finally the loss of the land. Attempts to take back power through warfare had not worked; the Rabbis concluded that only when the Jews were faithful to the teachings given by God in the Torah and won back the reward of the holy land would God return them- to take it back by force was forbidden. Passages in the Torah promising a messianic age where a great redeemer would establish Israel in peace, end violence throughout the world, and bring knowledge of God to all that lived, were now interpreted as being about the return of Jews to Israel by the Messiah, which would be a part of the redemption of the world and the long-awaited fulfillment of all of God’s plans for Israel and humanity.

In the religious imagination of Jews between 136 CE and the 19th century, Israel was a magical land. Jews prayed multiple times a day for the messianic return to Israel and the redemption of the world. Prophecy, they said, was more easily attained in Israel (or only attainable there according to some); the produce was huge and tasted impossibly good; the soil had magical properties, etc. For centuries, however, though many small groups of Jews went to live in Palestine for religious reasons, Jewish law itself was understood as forbidding a return to Palestine in the way that modern Zionists would eventually advocate for. The Rabbis of the Talmud wrote that there were three oaths preventing Jews taking Israel back through war or population transfer: One, that the Jews should not ascend to Eretz Yisrael as a wall (take it back by returning en masse). And another one, that the Holy One, Blessed be He, adjured the Jews that they should not rebel against the nations of the world. And the last one is that the Holy One, Blessed be He, adjured the nations of the world that they should not subjugate the Jews excessively.

The three oaths mentioned above, or rather the two applying to Jews, were taken quite seriously, as was the Rabbinic teaching that Jews should relate to the nations non-violently even if oppressed by them. Jewish law and consensus prior to 1890 stated that Jews should defend themselves boldly before the nations, but only with words. In the 1890s some argued that since the nations had broken the third oath, Jews were released from the first two. Orthodox Rabbis did not agree, arguing instead that if the nations broke their oath with God, then God would deal with it himself.

In the 19th century a group began arguing that Jews were a people like any other who should live in self-determination and freedom as any other, and could only live in freedom, peace and strength if they shrugged off traditional religion and its promises and built their own nation-state to protect themselves. After some debate over where it should be, it was decided it should be an “altneustate” (old-new state) in Palestine.

If you’re curious what had been happening in Palestine since the end of Jewish power there in 136 CE, seventeen hundred years before, read here.

Pre-state Zionism 1897–1947

In 1878 Jews made up 3% of the population of Palestine.

In 1917, when Palestine was forcefully taken from the largely Muslim Ottomans by the British and the French, it had a population of 657,000 Muslim Arabs and 81,000 Christian Arabs. It also had a population of 59,000 Jews, most of which had emigrated since the 1890s in the hopes of igniting the new Zionist project, bringing the Jewish population closer to 10%.

In 1897 Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist, playwright, political activist, and writer, had infused Zionism, which at the time was a small movement led by Jewish intellectuals, with a new ideology and practical urgency, leading to the First Zionist Congress at Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, which created the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Herzl had written, in his landmark “The Jewish State”:

I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabeans [i.e. the guerilla army that won Jewish freedom from the Greek empire in ancient times] will rise again.

Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it.

We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes.

The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness.

And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.

Herzl began an energetic strategy of international diplomacy behind the idea, and he and his co-workers focused on increasing immigration to Palestine and attempting to form an alliance (unsuccessfully) with the Ottoman Empire and several other players (like the Pope). Before his death he planned to suggest the Zionist council accept a British offer to give land in Uganda for a Jewish homeland, but he died before he could see the offer rejected by the WZO.

Chaim Weizmann (1874–1952) would take over as the next great Zionist diplomat, and play a key role in getting the Balfour Declaration from the British government in 1917:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

Cabinet heard from both Zionist and non-Zionist Jews before issuing the declaration. The non-Jews who then made up 90% of the population of Palestine were not consulted. It should be noted that the specific identities of the “non-Jewish communities of Palestine” are neither mentioned nor protected in the declaration, nor are their historical roots in Palestine acknowledged. The British government said, in 1939, that the local population’s views should have been taken into account, and recognised in 2017 that the declaration should have called for protection of the Palestinian people’s political rights as well.

Why did Britain issue the Balfour declaration? The explanation probably lies in the secret Sykes-Picot negotiations over Palestine that Britain was conducting with France to decide who would have it. Cooperating with the Zionists would get Britain a pro-British Jewish colony on the ground, helping to cement their claims to the area. As historian Eugene Rogan wrote, “On the face of it Lord Balfour was offering Palestine to the Zionist movement. In fact Lloyd George’s government was using the Zionist movement to secure Palestine for British rule.” This was further complicated by the fact that Britain had encouraged Palestinian Arabs to rebel against the Ottoman Empire with promises that they would support an independent Palestinian Arab state after the war was over. That promise was abandoned when it no longer served their interests.

British rights over Palestine were recognized in 1922 against the wishes of the non-Jewish Arab majority of Filastin, now the “British territory of Palestine”. Among Palestinian Jews, the Zionist activists hoped that Britain would cooperate with the creation of a secular Jewish state in the area. The old yishuv (older settlement of religious Jews), who were the majority, were opposed to that (to understand why read here). Relations between the old yishuv and local Arabs were generally good, but rumours of the Zionist project were beginning to circulate and provoking hostility among the locals to all Jews. They viewed Zionism as an imposition of their unwelcome British overlords and their European Jewish collaborators.

Between 1878 and 1948 the Jewish population of Palestine would increase from 3% to 32%. The Jews who arrived bought land from Arab landlords and usually evicted its Arab tenant farmers, replacing them with Jewish ones. Schools and other infrastructure went up for Jewish use alone, and most Zionist settlements did not employ Arab labour as a matter of principle, further stoking resentment. Arab perception was that Jews intended to grow to dominate the land while creating a nation for themselves, as opposed to growing the country for all the residents of Palestine.

Non-Jewish Palestinians revolted against British colonialism and the growing Zionist presence in 1920, 1929, and 1936, leading to many deaths on all sides. During the 1929 Hebron riot, 133 Jews and 129 Arabs were killed. During the 1936–1939 uprising, which demanded Arab independence and the end of open-ended Jewish immigration and land purchases, over ten percent of the adult male Palestinian Arab population between 20 and 60 was killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled by British authorities. The British employed brutal methods to suppress the Arabs which included torture, imprisonment without trial, and execution.

A minority of Jewish Zionists criticized the Jewish Zionist establishment for racism, dismissal of Palestinian Arabs concerns, and injustice towards them. Ahad Ha’am (1856–1927), the Russian Jewish Zionist, wrote in 1891:

“We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in our dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do our brothers do? Exactly the opposite! They were slaves in their Diasporas, and suddenly they find themselves with unlimited freedom, wild freedom that only a country like Turkey [the Ottoman Empire] can offer. This sudden change has planted despotic tendencies in their hearts, as always happens to former slaves [‘eved ki yimlokh — when a slave becomes king — Proverbs 30:22]. They deal with the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly, beat them shamefully for no sufficient reason, and even boast about their actions. There is no one to stop the flood and put an end to this despicable and dangerous tendency.”

“We who live abroad are accustomed to believing that the Arabs are all wild desert people who, like donkeys, neither see nor understand what is happening around them. But this is a grave mistake….The Arabs, especially the urban elite, see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land, but they keep quiet and pretend not to notice anything. For now, they do not consider our actions as presenting a future danger to them. … But, if the time comes that our people’s life in Eretz Yisrael will develop to a point where we are taking their place, either slightly or significantly, the natives are not going to just step aside so easily.”

-Ahad Ha’am, Russian Jewish Zionist, 1891- “Truth from the Land of Israel [Eretz Israel]”

In 1907, in an article in HaShiloah, one of the earliest modern Hebrew-language publications, the Odessa-born teacher and activist Yitzhak Epstein returned to Ahad Ha’am’s point.. Epstein belonged to the Hovevei Tzion, the earliest Zionist organization. He had witnessed the purchase of the lands of Ras al-Zawiya and al-Metulla (now known in Hebrew as Rosh Pina and Metullah) several years earlier, and he remembered the anger of the dispossessed Druze farmers:

‘The lament of Arab women … still rings in my ears’, he wrote. ‘The men rode on donkeys and the women followed them weeping bitterly, and the valley was filled with their lamentation. As they went they stopped to kiss the stones and the earth.’

Epstein warned that relations with the Arabs were the ‘unseen question’ that the Zionist movement was not addressing. He argued that Zionists tended to “forget one small detail: that there is in our beloved land an entire people that has been attached to it for hundreds of years and has never considered leaving it….What will the fellahin [arab pheasant farmers] do after we buy their fields?” he asked, “we must admit that we have driven impoverished people from their humble abode and taken bread out of their mouths.” His argument attracted little response, as had Ahad Ha’am’s before him.

In Palestine itself, the emerging leader of the new Yishuv was David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), who played a key role in shaping Mainstream Zionist policies as the “Jewish homeland” was created. These included a left-leaning government (B-G was a moderate socialist) and a hope for peace with the Arabs that would be based, as he said, on “Jewish power.”

US President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 appointed the King Crane Commission to explore the implications of the Zionist project. The commission recommended “serious modification of the extreme Zionist program for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish State….to subject a people…to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle [of national self-determination]… and of the people’s rights”.

The Zionist project “could [not] be carried out except by force of arms” said the report, a grim and true prophecy.

The Zionist response was that “Palestine was a small part of the overall Arab homeland, and therefore, the rights of Arabs in general were not violated by Jewish settlement and political control in Palestine. They could still exercise their political rights freely in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and so on.”

This problematic argument is still repeated today. It manages to ignore the fact that there was no “Arab homeland” but rather many different countries with different cultures, histories, political realities, and religious commitments. They consist of a variety of different peoples within the Arabized sphere. Saying Palestinians could be absorbed by Jordan or Saudi Arabia is as ridiculous, and arguably racist, as arguing that it would be ok to displace Nigerians, for example, since Nigeria is only a “small part of the black homeland” and other black countries could surely absorb them.

Most importantly, to do so would ignore the humanity and wishes of the Nigerians just as surely as the argument ignores the fact that Palestinians were real people with real rights and desires who did not want to give up their land or country.

Mainstream Zionists also argued that Jews would eventually be the majority in Palestine and therefore would have the right to do with the country what they wished. Lastly, they argued that the average Palestinian didn’t know what was best for them- Jewish development of Palestine would actually benefit them, and they should welcome becoming part of a Jewish state.

The Arab riots and rebellions of 1920–1939 brought home the realization that the Arabs would not ‘easily yield their place’, as Ahad Ha’am had predicted 30 years earlier. The Yishuv’s National Committee invited Yitzhak Epstein, as an old expert on ‘Arab affairs’, to address it on the topic. Epstein called for “involving the natives in all our activities. In actual practice we must take it upon ourselves — from the points of view of justice and necessity — to involve them in everything.” His call for egalitarian democracy in Palestine was reportedly met by the committee with “cold silence”.

Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher and mystic, proposed to the 12th Zionist Congress of 1921 a resolution that urged Jews to reject “with abhorrence the methods of nationalistic domination, under which they themselves have long suffered”, and renounce any desire “to suppress another people or to dominate them”, since in the country “there is room both for us and its present inhabitants”. The official Zionist leadership rejected this approach, insisting that Arabs accept the Balfour Declaration as a basis for cooperation. In other words, Arabs needed to recognize Palestine as the national home of the Jews before Zionists would work with them. This approach still continues today in Israeli demands that Palestinians first recognize Jewish rights over Palestine before they are given rights and land in it.

Buber and other bi-nationalists were willing to proceed without that, instead allowing for Jews and non-Jews to build a new political entity which would recognize all residents as equals. The bi-nationalists like Martin Buber were in the minority and the Zionist mainstream prevailed.

Buber and others, including academics affiliated with the newly-established Hebrew University in Jerusalem like Gershom Scholem, the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, created “Brit Shalom,” the first major Zionist Arab-Jewish peace group in 1925. The association existed “to arrive at an understanding between Jews and Arabs…on the basis of absolute political equality of two culturally autonomous peoples, and to determine the lines of their co-operation for the development of the country”.

Brit Shalom’s founders came from different political and personal backgrounds. Some of them were well established Yishuv leaders, who saw reconciliation with Arabs as a practical necessity (like Arthur Ruppin, a senior Zionist settlement official). Still others were inspired by moral convictions, and saw the need to incorporate the needs and concerns of local people — not only of Jews — into the Zionist mission.

Ruppin, as a senior settlement official, was criticized by his Labour allies who regarded Brit Shalom as “delusional.” Ruppin, in turn, worried that Zionism would “deteriorate into pointless chauvinism” and that it would become impossible “to allocate a sphere of action to a growing number of Jews in Palestine without oppressing the Arabs.”

The Zionist mainstream consistently claimed that Palestinian nationalism was superficial and was a result of the “ignorant masses” of Arabs being manipulated by an elite who wanted to destroy the Zionist project. This was a dangerous misunderstanding. In fact, as other Zionists saw, the non-Jews of Palestine were deeply attached to the farms and villages their families had lived in for generations and identified with their land and culture just as much as Jews identified with theirs.

Hans Kohn (1891–1971), a Zionist, philosopher, and critic of nationalism, wrote: “I cannot concur with this policy when the Arab national movement is being portrayed as the wanton agitation of a few big landowners. I know all too well that frequently the most reactionary imperialist press in England and France portrays the national movements in India, Egypt, and China in a similar fashion — in short, wherever the national movements of oppressed peoples threaten the interest of the colonial power.”

He wrote: “We have been in Palestine for twelve years [since 1917] without having even once made a serious attempt at seeking through negotiations the consent of the indigenous people. We have been relying exclusively upon Great Britain’s military might. We have set ourselves goals which by their very nature had to lead to conflict with Arabs. We ought to have recognized that these goals would be the cause, the just cause, of a national uprising against us … But for twelve years we pretended that the Arabs did not exist and were glad when we were not reminded of their existence.”

With lucid prescience, Kohn wrote that without the consent of local Arabs, Jewish existence in Palestine will only be possible “first with British aid and then later with the help of our own bayonets … but by that time we will not be able to do without the bayonets. The means will have determined the goal. Jewish Palestine will no longer have anything of that Zion for which I once put myself on the line.”

Brit Shalom warned that without an ongoing link to traditional Jewish values Zionism would be reduced to crude political nationalism and lose its claim to be a continuation of Judaism. These warnings turned out to be the final words from Brit Shalom, which faded out of existence in the 1930s as the rise of anti-Semitic fascism in Europe, in the form of the Third Reich, saw 200,000 Jews moving to Palestine, more than doubling the Jewish population there and filling the Zionist project with a new sense of legitimacy and urgency.

Non-Jewish Palestinians, meanwhile, were engulfed by their own sense of impending doom. The transformation of the Jewish community into 30% of the population, with dense institutional network and organizational capacity, meant that the trend was going against Palestinian hopes for a democratic, representational government. The Jewish community increased military cooperation with the British, actively assisting them in repressing the Arab revolts. Attempts were made to reach agreements slowing Jewish immigration to reduce tension between Jews and Arabs, but the Zionist leadership fiercely resisted them. This was partially a result of increasing Jewish power in the land and partially based in growing anti-Semitic fascist violence in Europe.

Nevertheless a new bi-nationalist movement emerged, a successor to Brit Shalom called Ihud (Unity). The association called for “Government in Palestine based upon equal political rights for the two peoples.” It was led by Judah Magnes (1877–1948) and Martin Buber, veteran critics of mainstream politics, as well as the famed Jewish anti-fascist intellectual Hannah Arendt (1906–1975). In a 1942 letter to an American Reform rabbi, Magnes defined Jewish nationalism as “unhappily chauvinistic and narrow and terroristic in the best style of Eastern European nationalism”. When this statement became public and he was harshly criticised, he defended his views: “What I had in mind was not the few extremists … but rather, definite acts which some important leaders and groups have not repudiated and which take on the aspect of being, to say the least, not contrary to their national policy.” In other words, the shapers of mainstream Statist Zionism were happy to tolerate Jewish violence towards Palestinians, a trend which would unfortunately become cemented in Zionist governance after the creation of the State.

In the face of armed Arab resistance and changing political desires, the British in the 1940s had gradually withdrawn their support for the Zionists. They were attempting to slow Jewish immigration to Palestine even as European fascism and the refusal of other countries to provide refuge for Jews made it almost inevitable that the demand for Jewish immigration to Palestine would skyrocket.

In 1942, another Zionist of impact arrived in Palestine, Menachem Begin (1913–1998). Begin quickly made a name for himself as a fierce critic of the dominant Zionist leadership for being too cooperative with the British, and argued that the only way to save the Jews of Europe, who were facing extermination, was to compel the British to leave. In 1942 he joined the Irgun, a rightwing underground Zionist militia which had split from the main Jewish military organization, the Haganah, in 1931.

In 1944 Begin became leader of the Irgun. He launched a series of guerrilla attacks to humiliate the British and force them to resort to morally repellent, repressive measures, which he hoped would alienate mainstream Zionists and create unity amonf Jews against the British.

Begin planned to use violent attacks to attract media attention. He referred to this method as turning Palestine into a “glass house” with the world looking in. This would draw international attention, and British repression would create global sympathy for the Irgun’s cause, which in turn would translate into political pressure on Britain. If all of this sounds eerily familiar to you, as this playbook would later be used by Palestinian milotanst themselves. Ultimately, the British would be forced to choose between conflict and controversy or withdrawal. Begin was confident that in the end the British would withdraw.

On 1 February 1944, the Irgun announced a revolt. They bombed the empty offices of the British Mandate’s Immigration Department in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, and then bombed the Income Tax Offices in those three cities, followed by a series of attacks on police stations in which six policemen were killed. Meanwhile, Lehi, another extremist wing, joined the revolt with a series of shooting attacks on policemen.

In 1944, after Lehi gunmen assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Resident Minister in the Middle East, the official Jewish authorities, fearing British retaliation, ordered the Haganah to collaborate with the British. Known as The Hunting Season, this campaign weakened the Irgun for several months. Begin ordered his men not to fight back, convinced that the Irgun could ride out the Season and the Jewish Agency would eventually side with them. He was correct.

In the summer of 1945, as it became clear that the British were not planning on establishing a Jewish state and would not allow significant Jewish immigration to Palestine, Jewish public opinion shifted decisively against the British. The end result was the Jewish Resistance Movement, a under which the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi cooperated. Following Operation Agatha, during which the British arrested many Jews, seized weapons, and occupied the Jewish Agency building, Begin ordered an attack on the British military and administrative headquarters at the King David Hotel. The bomb killed 91 people, including British, Arabs, and Jews, who were inside the hotel. In September 1947, the British cabinet voted to leave Palestine.

In 1948 68% of the total population were Arabs and 32% were Jews. In November of 1947 the United Nations approved a resolution to partition the country between them, with 61% of the land going to the Jewish state, and 39% going to the Arab one.

The UN voted for partition, a result enthusiastically welcomed by the Yishuv even as intercommunal violence broke out between the Jewish and Arab populations. Ben-Gurion declared Independence and then international war broke out between the nascent Jewish state and five Arab countries. Buber bemoaned the state being “built in blood” and stated that even if the Yishuv won it would be a false victory, as it would be a defeat of the true Zionist ideal of national rebirth- “not simply the secure existence of the nation” but the revival of its ethical mission. For Buber the normalization of the Jewish state was tantamount to assimilation. Jews were succeeding in becoming a normal state, he wrote, to “to a terrifying degree.”

“I cannot be joyful in anticipating victory,” he wrote, “for I fear that the significance of Jewish victory will be the downfall of Zionism.”

As fighting raged between the fledgling Jewish army and the Arab armies, within Palestine, 800,000 Palestinian refugees would be displaced, almost 500 Palestinian villages depopulated (and many destroyed) and Palestinian society “shattered.” Several massacres of Palestinians occurred, many of which were long denied but which have been proven by testimony from aging Israeli veterans no longer afraid to speak and by declassified government archives. These massacres involved the machine-gunning of civilians, the use of rape as a weapon of war by Jewish soldiers, and even the poisoning of Palestinian wells.

In one such massacre, that at Tantura, the bodies of 200 Palestinian civilians, men, women and children, were buried in a mass grave which has recently been shown to be now under the parking lot at a popular beach — Dor — in Tel Aviv. The massacres and rapes were communicated to the recently born Knesset in real time, and though some members of the Knesset spoke in horror, some voices, including Ben-Gurion, saw the destruction of Palestinian village life as an acceptable price to pay for victory. Palestinian villages were in most cases renamed in Hebrew and populated by Jews, and there was widespread looting of Palestinian possessions by Jewish soldiers and civilians. Much of the land was seized by the new government to be held “in trust” for the absent Palestinian owners, then rented — or eventually outright sold or given — to Jewish Israelis.

The early Israeli government chose not to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their villages and landholdings, some of which had been in their families for generations. The young Israeli government, faced with the daunting task of building a country nearly from scratch and integrating Jewish refugees from many different countries, many of whom spoke different languages, saw the Palestinian refugees as an undesirable and dangerous burden.

Calls from Jewish peace activists like Martin Buber to welcome them into the new Israel were ignored. Israeli society was gearing up for what is surely one of the most remarkable accomplishments in human history: the intentional, designed birth of a country, complete with a new language and a functioning economic, political, technical, agricultural and social infrastructure, including a rich community of artists, writers, musicians and philosophers, and the creation of a new homeland for Orthodox Jews as well (though many of them continued to be officially anti-Zionist and not recognize the state).

Palestinian Arab refugees moved into camps or became second-class citizens in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. One Arab statesman of the time grimly commented that the refugee camps were not a bad thing- they would breed the future fighters which would destroy the unjust Zionist state.

The destruction of Palestinian society is known to Palestinians as the “Nakba”, or the Catastrophe, and is commemorated the day after Israeli Independence Day today, although the government financially penalizes any Israeli institution that acknowledges it. Some Palestinians wear the keys to their former homes on necklace chains which have been passed down in their families, or otherwise make “key symbols” to mark the “right of return” they believe they have.

Thus was born the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which 74 years later still rages like a festering sore. As is known well to Jews, the conflict has also long changed into a conflict within Jewish society as well, with strongly held opinions in defense of Israeli actions or in defense of Palestinian human rights, and with Jews divided over whether Jewish values are better expressed by support for the Israeli state, or by opposition to its human rights record. For my opinion of the relation between Judaism and the Zionist State, read here.

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