To be honest I can’t wait to get this series to the First World War (WW1). But I want to be thorough. So I’m going to take you from the beginning, when Zionists were buying land in Palestine to start a Jewish homeland, to the eve of WW1.*
During this time, both groups, Arabs and Jews, underwent a bit of a transformation. Jewish immigrants no longer wanted to be bookish bankers, but hardy farmers. Arabs too changed. When the Zionists started arriving, the Arabs weren’t very aware of their national identity. As they lived in a huge multi-ethnic empire, that was probably a good thing. But the arrival of the ‘other’ lead, eventually, to a sharper definition of the ‘self’. The Young Turks revolution in 1908 had a lot to do with promoting nationalism in the Ottoman Empire, but I’ll discuss that in a separate post (two, if you’re lucky).
Nationalism was a big factor in the incidents between the Arabs and the Jews between the 1880s and the start of WW1. But the direct cause was often about land, ownership and mastership. The arriving Jews had quite the colonial view of the Arab population: “almost always a submissive servant, who may be exploited … and accepts lovingly the expressions of his master’s power and dominion,” according to Yosef Vitkin, as quoted by Benny Morris. And they treated their new neighbors accordingly.
The Arabs, some pushed of their land, others living close to the new Jewish communities, came to fear that it was the Jews aim to take over the whole country. The Ottoman rulers started to fear the same thing, and started pushing back with restrictive measures and active discrimination. Ultimately, these efforts failed because Ottoman power wasn’t very strongly represented in Palestine and because the great powers (France, the British Empire and Russia) pushed back against the restrictive measures. But the Ottomans weren’t overestimating the reach of some Zionist’s ambition. Leading Zionists envisioned a Jewish state with a border as far east as the Euphrates (including therefore most of present day Syria, Jordan and Iraq).
In the 1880s and 1890s, the Jewish community in Ottoman Palestine was still small. But already it was clear to some,like Ahad Ha’am that: “If a time comes when our people in Palestine develop so that, in small or great measure, they push out the native inhabitants, these will not give up their place easily.” (Again as quoted by Morris) In the thirty odd years between the first arrival of Jewish settlers and WW1 the violence was restricted to small attacks on settlements and retribution. But the atmosphere was tense, and as I have tried to show you, everyone (including the international community) could have known that the conflict would escalate.
So I guess we might call this one a transition post. The next two posts in this series will be about the Young Turks revolution in the Ottoman empire of 1908, after which we’ll talk WW1.
This is part two of a series about the history of the state of Israel. Read part one here.
The main source for this series is: Righteous victims : a history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-1999, by Benny Morris. Other sources are linked, or mentioned.
*As the bird flies. I probably missed interesting morsels. Know of anything I should have mentioned? Please let me know in the comments.