issue 199 - September 1989
Chasing the dangerous
dream of Zion
The Jews were being persecuted. They needed a home and
they got one. So what went wrong? Danny Rubenstein tells the
tragic tale of a 90-year conflict over the land of Palestine.
TV viewers all over the world have witnessed clashes between Israeli soldiers and Arab demonstrators. The Palestinian popular uprising, the intifada, has produced some shocking images. But it is just the latest development in a conflict which started when the first Zionists arrived in Palestine at the end of the nineteenth century. The struggle is over land, and it grew out of the Jews' longing for a safe home.
Jewish people as a whole were landless for almost 2.000 years after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They lived scattered around the Mediterranean until the Middle Ages when they gradually moved northward to Europe, especially to Eastern Europe. Faced with the traditional anti-semitism of the Christian world, which saw them as 'the killers of Christ', Jews concentrated in closed, isolated ghettos where they lived conservatively. This isolation further fuelled anti-Jewish feeling.
Pogroms and persecution
Only in the nineteenth century did European attitudes towards Jews start to change. Greater education and a more liberal social climate allowed some Jews to leave the ghettos and assimilate into modern national states. But new anti-semitic movements were also emerging - more aggressive than in the past. Murders and rapes escalated in Eastern Europe during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: four million Jews fled to Western Europe and America. A new movement was born a nationalist awakening called Zionism.
For thousands of years, Jews had dreamed of returning to the land they called Zion which they spoke of in their prayers. It was a religious aspiration. But the burgeoning anti-semitism gave birth to a new vision. Zionism translated the religious dream into a...