Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Background: a brief history


Modern Zionism began with the prophetic-programmatic writings of Moses Hess, Judah Alkalai, Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and Theodor Herzl and the immigration from Russia to Ottoman-ruled Palestine in the 1880s of Jews dedicated to rebuilding a national home for the Jewish people on their ancient land, the Land of Israel, in Zionist parlance. The immigrants were impelled both by the positive ideal and by the negative experience of oppression in Eastern Europe; a wave of pogroms had engulfed Russia following the assassination of Czar Alexander II in March 1881.

Simultaneously, during the last decades of the 19th century, Arab intellectuals in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt began to advocate a revival of Arab culture and cultural ‘independence’ from the Ottoman Empire. By the beginning of the 20th century, with the spread of the spirit of nationalism to the area, they began to think and talk about ‘decentralising’ Ottoman rule and, more hesitantly, eventual political liberation and the establishment of an independent Arab state.

The spread of Jewish settlement in Palestine resulted in friction between neighbouring Arab and Jewish communities. Townspeople and villagers resented the influx of Russian- and Yiddish-speaking, Allah-rejecting foreigners and began to fear cultural–religious subversion of their way of life and physical encroachment and even displacement.

The First World War, which destroyed the Ottoman Empire, exacerbated regional nationalist hopes and fears and changed the face of the Middle East. The idea of national self-determination, trumpeted by the victorious Allies, fired the imaginations of the educated throughout the colonial world.