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On the good Zionists who did not bother to read Herzl
By: Shmuel Amir
Hagada Hasmalit
18 February 2016

Original Hebrew:

Walter Benjamin wrote in his essay “On the concept of history” that history
should be brushed against its grain. He also points out that those who write
history identify with the victor. I was reminded of his words when I read our
historians (but not just them) who would not dream of swimming against the
current. They fantasize about the beautiful Zionism of days gone by. They
sigh: if only we had remained faithful to the spirit of Herzl, everything
would be different. I discovered to my surprise that they had not read even
the basic texts of Herzl, or they had simply ignored them – hard to say which
is worse.

A few days ago the story appeared about settlers who broke into Palestinian
homes near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. They displayed documents
purporting to show that the land had been legally bought from its Palestinian
owners. In an excellent report by Raviv Drucker on Channel 10, he showed that
the entire deal was mendacious from the bottom up. The land had been acquired
by deception and lies from Arab straw men who were guided by a group of
corrupt lawyers and they had no right to represent themselves as the owners.
The fake documents were sometimes signed by people who had been long dead or
people who had been out of the country for decades. Thus does a network of
lawyers and straw men “buy”, over the course of several years, land from which
Palestinians are then evicted. The authorities, the police and the justice
system turn a blind eye.

This time, after the outcry caused by the report, the purchase was not
successful and they were removed from the houses. But on countless other
occasions Palestinians have been successfully evicted by such methods, which
are usually accompanied by government pressure on the owners of the land.
The affair caused reverberations and by most accounts also denunciation. Many
said that those settlers were “rotten apples” and their way of acquiring land
goes against the spirit of the settlement enterprise in the country and
Zionism in general. I do not know if those responses stemmed from ignorance or
from a desire to avoid the painful truth that there is no inconsistency at all
between the misdeeds of the settlers and the words of the father of Zionism,
Theodor Herzl. Here is Herzl in his own words, in which he described the
desirable methods of buying land, as he wrote in his diary on 12 June 1895, in
the German language. “We must expropriate gently the private property on the
estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across
the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while
denying it any employment in our country. The property owners will come over
to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor
must be carried out discretely and circumspectly.” [1] And: “for the purposes
of voluntary expropriation we will have to employ local agents who are not to
know that their employer is himself an agent who works under instructions of
the central committee for the acquisition of property. The secret purchasers
of the land are not independent agents, they are our employees.”

Thus does Herzl describe the deceptive methods that must be used in order to
expropriate the local population’s land. So to say that the settlers today are
acting against the spirit of Herzl is a falsification of history. Even Dr.
Gadi Taub (Haaretz 10 February 2016) fulminates against the brazen
antics of the racist-nationalist Im Tirtzu movement, which exploits the image
of Herzl in its logo and which egregiously appropriated his slogan, “If you
will it” (Im tirtzu), taken from his book Altneuland. He fumes “because
Altneuland is in its entirety a polemic for tolerance, equality,
minority right and inclusive democracy, words that are missing from the agenda
of Im Tirtzu.” The Zionism of Im Tirtzu, he claims, “does not resemble the
Zionism of Herzl”.

There is nothing new about the invocation of Altneuland as evidence of
supposedly enlightened Zionism. Prof. Shlomo Avineri already covered that
ground some time ago. And back then I wrote against the utter fraudulence of
representing Altneuland as an example of the tolerance and democracy
that characterize Zionism. Here we must revisit something I wrote about the
fraudulence of that representation. Herzl wrote a utopian novel in which he
gave free rein to his imagination regarding the future state. Workers have it
good there, petty commerce is negligible, human beings do not bite dogs nor do
they eat glass. Everything goes ideally, not to say idyllically.
Differently from Prof. Avineri’s opinion, most people have not found in
Altneuland a novel of “universal and humanitarian values”, as he writes
in his article, but, to put it bluntly, a Zionist propaganda novel the purpose
of which was to convince Europe that the future Jewish state would be a model
state worthy of support. According to Avineri, “the struggle for the rights of
the Arab residents is central to the political plot of the book”. Let us
examine this claim.

At the centre of the plot of Altneuland stand two men: one is Dr.
Friedrich Loewenberg, a young Jewish Viennese intellectual, and the other is
an older and wealthy Prussian nobleman. They are both tired of their lives in
Western European civilization and decide to flee in a yacht to an isolated
island in the Pacific Ocean. As they pass the coast of Palestine they decide
to put in to the port of Jaffa and tour the country before proceeding on their
way. Their impression of what they see is menacing and terrible. The country
is described in their eyes as backward and forsaken, ruined and hopeless.
Misery and despondency everywhere.

With the passage of twenty years in which they have been living in complete
isolation they decide to revisit the world they had abandoned and as they pass
the coast of Palestine they stop again to tour the country. A different
country is revealed to their eyes. How did it happen? What happened to the
former residents? Were they spirited across the border as Herzl had foreseen
in his diary? There is no answer. It should be noted that at the time Herzl
wrote Altneuland Palestine was an Arab land where the number of Jewish
residents was negligible. At any rate, our heroes Loewenberg and Kingscourt
encounter an Arab engineer from Haifa named Reschid Bey who tells them about
the Arabs in the country. It turns out that he is really enamoured with
Palestine as a Jewish state. From his lips they hear how miserable the Arab
villages were before the Jews came, about how the Jews brought culture and
that the Arabs benefited greatly from Jewish immigration. When he is asked if
the Arab residents had not suffered from the Jewish immigration he replies:

`What a question! It was a great blessing for all of us[.] …
Naturally, the land-owners gained most because they were able to sell to the
Jewish society at high prices, or to wait for still higher ones. … Those who
had nothing stood to lose nothing, and could only gain. And they did gain:
Opportunities to work, means of livelihood, prosperity. Nothing could have
been more wretched than an Arab village at the end of the nineteenth century.
The peasants` clay hovels were unfit for stables. The children lay naked and
neglected in the streets, and grew up like dumb beasts. Now everything is
different. They benefited from the progressive measures of the New Society
whether they wanted to or not, whether they joined it or not. [2]

He goes on to describe the swamps that were drained and the beautiful villages
that were built, and so on and so forth. On the question of whether the Arabs
saw the new immigrants as invaders, he replies:

`Would you call a man a robber who takes nothing from you, but
brings you something instead? The Jews have enriched us. Why should we be
angry with them? They dwell among us like brothers. Why should we not love

This, then, is the picture of the Arabs that Herzl paints in
Altneuland, and this is the book of which Avineri claims that “the
struggle for the rights of the Arab residents is the focus of the political
plot of the book”. True, the book describes a racist by the name of Dr. Geyer,
who proposes to found a Jewish racist party, and whom the hero of the book
berates with a fiery speech in favour of tolerance. But even in that speech
Arabs are nowhere to be found! Is it because Altneuland is already
empty of Arabs?

Above all, the picture that emerges in the description of the Arabs in
Altneuland is the classical view typical of all colonialists. The land
they conquer is a poor and miserable one, the natives are ignorant, and the
conquerors bring progress: Christianity, democracy, freedom and a better life.
It is clear that that the “values” Herzl acquired in the Europe of his time
were nationalism and imperialism. He took it for granted that the colonialist
powers would help him to acquire Palestine without any need for the consent of
the native population, that is, the Palestinians.

Europe in the florescence of its era of imperialism wanted to look liberal.
That was nothing but hypocrisy on a large scale. The same was true, of course,
of the biggest empire at that time: Britain, whose hypocrisy earned it the
sobriquet “perfidious Albion”.

That is the hypocrisy at the base of Altneuland. For this is not a book
only about democracy, liberty and equality, but also about establishing a
state based on the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians, who
figure in it, if at all, as sycophantic flatterers singing the praises of
their conquerors.

And for all that, it must be asked: did Taub only read Herzl when he was
weaving fantasies about an “Old-new land” in order to convince the “Goyim” to
support the creation of a Jewish state? He never heard of Herzl’s words about
buying land from the natives or expelling the poor from the country as
described above? And what, for example, about what Herzl had to say in his
foundational Zionist book The Jewish State, such as: “We should there
form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization
as opposed to barbarism”? [3] Are these words not consistent with the platform
of the Im Tirtzu movement? It turns out, then, that in order to defend Zionism
one must ignore the words of Herzl himself.

It is regrettable that even Amos Schocken, in his excellent and courageous
article in Haaretz of 26 January 2016, in which he calls for external
pressure on Israel in order to force it to withdraw from the Occupied
Territories, also writes that “the two-state solution is the Zionist way”, and
“Zionism, which is always willing to divide the Land of Israel with its Arab
residents …” Where did he gets that idea from? Where did the founders of
Zionism write any such thing? Did not the fathers of Zionism speak of “a land
without a people for a people without a land”? Even at the beginning of
Zionism there were already those who saw Transjordan (today’s Kingdom of
Jordan) as part of the Promised Land. It is true that the Zionist leadership
were forced to forego part of the land, as in the Peel plan, for example, but
then Palestina-EI [4] was under the rule of the British Mandate and the Jews
were a minority of the residents of the country. When David Ben-Gurion’s son
complained to his father about conceding parts of the country, his father
replied that the concession was a temporary one and the time would come “when
we will get stronger and we will cancel this agreement”. And indeed since its
independence Israel has aspired to conquer as much territory as possible for
the new state. It began in the 1948 war and has continued to this very day.

Does not Schocken himself claim in his article that Israel will not
voluntarily give up land, that is, withdraw from the Occupied Territories?
With that stance Israel is acting in the spirit of Zionism and not counter to
Zionist ideology.

The meaning of Zionism today is rule over and exploitation of another people,
that is, the Palestinians. Israel’s refusal to withdraw from the Occupied
Territories is in conformity with the spirit of Zionism rather than against
it. The abandonment of Zionism as the State religion would be a (very!)
desirable development, but that looks fanciful today. Withdrawal today depends
not on abandoning the Zionist ideology but on ending the massive support of
the West, and especially of the US, for Israel and its conquests, and on the
Palestinian people’s struggle for liberation and the creation of their
independent state.

Translator’s notes

1. Source of the English text of the preceding sentence: English translation
of Herzl’s diaries quoted in the article on Herzl in Wikipedia:

2. English translation of Altneuland: Dr. D. S. Blondheim. Federation
of American Zionists, 1916. Jewish Virtual Library:

3. English translation of The Jewish State: Silvie D’Avigdor. American
Zionist Emergency Council, 1946. Jewish Virtual Library:

4. During the British Mandate, Palestinian coins, banknotes, stamps and
official documents bore the word “Palestine” in Arabic, English and Hebrew.
The Hebrew rendering of the word was “Palestina” followed by 2 Hebrew letters
corresponding to “E” and “I”: “Palestina (EI)”. The EI stood for “Eretz
Israel”: the Land of Israel.

Translated from Hebrew by George Malent

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