Fayez Sayegh (1965)

The frenzied 'Scramble for Africa' of the 1880s stimulated the beginnings of Zionist colonisation in Palestine. As European fortunehunters, prospective settlers, and empire builders raced for Africa, Zionist settlers and would-be state-builders rushed for Palestine...If other European nations had successfully extended themselves into Asia and Africa, and had annexed to their imperial domains vast proportions of those two continents, the 'Jewish nation' – it was argued – was entitled and able to do the same thing for itself.


The JCT was founded in 1899 to be the financial instrument for the colonisation of Palestine

By imitating the colonial ventures of the 'Gentile nations' among whom Jews lived, the 'Jewish nation' could send its own colonists into a piece of Afro-Asian territory, establish a settler-community, and, in due course, set up its own state – not, indeed, as an imperial outpost of a metropolitan home-base, but as a home-base in its own right, upon which the entire 'Jewish nation' would sooner or later converge from all over the world. 'Jewish nationalism' would thus fulfil itself through the process of colonisation, which other European nations had utilised for empirebuilding. For, Zionism, then, colonisation would be the instrument of nation-building, not the by-product of an already-fulfilled nationalism.

The improvised process of Jewish colonisation in Palestine which ensued was hardly a spectacular success, in spite of lavish financial subsidies from European Jewish financiers. By and large, Jews were more attracted by the new opportunities for migration to the United States or Argentina than by the call for racial selfsegregation as a prelude to state-building in Palestine. The objective of escape from anti-Jewish practices prevailing in some European societies could be attained just as well by emigration to America; the objective of nation-building – which alone could make the alternative solution of large-scale colonisation in Palestine more attractive – was still far from widespread among European Jews in the late nineteenth century.

The failure of the first sporadic effort to implant a Zionist settlercommunity in Palestine during the first fifteen years of Zionist colonisation (1882-1897) prompted serious reappraisal and radical revision of the strategy. This was accomplished by the First Zionist Congress, held at Basel in August 1897 under the leadership of Theodor Herzl.

Haphazard colonisation of Palestine, supported by wealthy Jewish financiers as a mixed philanthropic-colonial venture, was from then on to be eschewed. It was to be supplanted by a purely nationalistic program of organised colonisation, with clear political goals and mass support. Hence the over-all objective of Zionism formulated by the Basle Congress: 'The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law '.

In addition to defining the ultimate objective of Zionism, the Basel Congress made a diagnosis of the special character and circumstances of Zionist colonisation in Palestine, and formulated a practical program suited to those special conditions. Three essential features in particular differentiated Zionist colonisation in Palestine from European colonisation elsewhere in Asia and Africa, and called for Zionist innovations:

  1. Other European settlers who had gone (or were then going) to other parts of Africa and Asia has been animated either by economic or by politico-imperialist motives: they had gone either in order to accumulate fortunes by means of privileged and protected exploitation of immense natural resources, or in order to prepare the ground for (or else aid and abet) the annexation of those coveted territories by imperial European governments. The Zionist colonists, on the other hand, were animated by neither impulse. They were driven to the colonisation of Palestine by the desire to attain nationhood for themselves, and to establish a Jewish state which would be independent of any existing government and subordinate to none, and which would in due course attract to its territories the Jews of the world.
  2. Other European settlers could coexist with the indigenous populations – whom they would exploit and dominate, but whose services they would nevertheless require, and whose continued existence in the coveted territory they would therefore tolerate. But the Zionist settlers could not countenance indefinite coexistence with the inhabitants of Palestine. For Palestine was fully populated by Arabs, whose national consciousness has already been awakened, and who had already begun to nurse aspirations of independence and national fulfilment. Zionist colonisation could not possibly assume the physical proportions envisaged by Zionism while the Arab people of Palestine continued to inhabit its homeland; nor could the Zionist political aspirations of racial self-segregation and statehood be accomplished while the nationally-conscious Arab people of Palestine continued to exist in that country. Unlike European colonisation, therefore, the Zionist colonisation of Palestine was essentially incompatible with the continued existence of the 'native population' in the coveted country.
  3. Other European settlers could, without much difficulty, overcome the obstacles obstructing their settlement in their chosen target-territories: they could count on receiving adequate protection from their imperial sponsors. But the prospective Zionist colonisers of Palestine could count on no such facilities. For, in addition to the Arab people of Palestine, certain to resist any large-scale influx of settlers loudly proclaiming their objective of dispossessing the 'natives', the Zionists were likely to encounter also the resistance of the Ottoman authorities, who could not view with favour the establishment, on an important segment of their Empire, of an alien community harbouring political designs of independent statehood.

It was in order to counteract these peculiar factors of its situation that the Zionist Movement, while defining its ultimate objective at the First Zionist Congress, proceeded to formulate an appropriate practical program as well. This program called for action along three lines: organisation, colonisation, and negotiation:

  1. The organisational efforts were given supreme priority; for, lacking a state-structure in a home-base of its own to mastermind and supervise the process of overseas colonisation, the Zionist Movement required a quasi-state apparatus to perform those functions. The World Zionist Organization – with its Federations of local societies, its Congress, its General Council, and its Central Executive – was established at Basel in order to play that role.
  2. The instruments of systematic colonisation were also promptly readied. The 'Jewish Colonial Trust' (1898), the 'Colonization Commission' (1898), the 'Jewish National Fund' (1901), and the 'Palestine Office' (1908) were among the first institutions established by the Zionist Organisation. Their joint purpose was to plan, finance, and supervise the process of colonisation, and to ensure that it would not meet the same fate which the earlier experiment of haphazard colonisation had met.
  3. While the instruments of colonisation were being laboriously created, diplomatic efforts were also being exerted to produce political conditions that would permit, facilitate, and protect large-scale colonisation.

At the beginning, these efforts were focused mainly on the Ottoman Empire, then in control of the political fortunes of Palestine. Direct approaches to the Ottoman authorities were made; lucrative promises of financial grants and loans were dangled before the eyes of the Sultan; and European powers were urged to intercede at the Porte on behalf of the Zionist Organisation, in order to persuade the Sultan to grant the Organisation a Charter for an autonomous Zionist settlement in Palestine. Other efforts were exerted to induce the German Emperor to endorse the creation of a Chartered Land Development Company, which would be operated by Zionists in Palestine under German protection. Still other attempts were made to obtain permission from the British Government to establish an autonomous Zionist settlement in the Sinai Peninsula, as a steppingstone towards colonisation in Palestine. But none of these efforts bore fruit.

Extracted from Fayez Sayegh (2012): Zionist Colonialism in Palestine (1965), Settler Colonial Studies, 2:1, 206-225




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