A Palestine Picture Book

My wife just dug out a few of her grandparents’ books from storage. They were refugees from Nazi Germany who came to the US in the mid-1930s. One of the books is an original edition of A Palestine Picture Book, published by Schocken in 1947, featuring photographs by Jakob Rosner for the Jewish National Fund. The photographs are stunning, but it’s the text that caught my attention.

From the Preface:

It is barely forty years since the large-scale Jewish colonization of Palestine was begun. Despite natural and political handicaps, Jewish colonization, once begun, continued.”

From chapter 1:

Long a barren waste, it has been transformed by Jewish settlers into a place of fertile fields and green gardens in a generation’s time….

Orange plantations now cover thousands of acres of the once water-starved coastal plain in dramatic contrast with the parched tracts of soil where colonization has not yet begun….

Buried beneath these dunes is the ancient city of Caesarea, the port of Herod the Great, a prey to the shifting sands that the modern settler must continually combat in order to preserve his trees and fields.

From chapter 2:

On its [the Galilee] western shore is the city of Tiberias, which Joseph ha-Nasi, Duke of Naxos, rebuilt in the sixteenth century above the ruins of the ancient city with the intention of inviting colonists all over the world to settle there….

From Lake Chinnereth the Jordan flows through a wide valley studded with new and thriving Jewish settlements…

The Jordan sweeps past Kfar Ruppin, southernmost settlements in the Jordan Valley….

From chapter 3:

Tel Aviv. In twenty-five years its all-Jewish population has reached a figure of more than 200,000.

From chapter 4:

…they have devoted their life and labor to the one aim of developing their settlements into strong and efficient units. Many of the new agricultural colonies are either…

…and landscaped prospects of the permanent settlement….All collective settlements…The fully developed settlements…the collective settlements…Some settlements…especially settlements…A number of settlements…brought upon a settlement…fathers and mothers of the young settlers, left Europe to join the settlements…When a settlement is founded…in every settlement…reproduces the work of the settlement…

From chapter 5:

Even in modern Jerusalem the colorful Jewish tradition lives on—in this colony of Bokharan Jews, for example, who came from the Russo-Persian border…

The book, a gorgeous propaganda of image and word, is rife with references to colonization, settlement, settlers, and ethnic homogeneity. In a completely unapologetic, almost naive way. Indeed, the preface claims that Rosner “has deliberately avoided the controversial issues that at times tend to overshadow, in the eyes of the outside world, the patient and inspired labor that goes forward daily in Jewish Palestine.” Colonization and settlement, in other words, are part of the uncontroversial vocabulary of Zionism ca. 1947.

Yet, call Israel a colonial project today, say that it is and has always been a settler society, and you’ll be branded an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew.


  1. Human Relationships September 4, 2014 at 9:47 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Human Relationships and commented:
    This is our history! Great article!

  2. Bor September 4, 2014 at 10:14 pm | #

    “Yet, call Israel a colonial project today, say that it is and has always been a settler society, and you’ll be branded an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew.”

    Well, I don’t know about people calling others anti-Semites or self-hating Jews for pointing out that Israel was settled in the past century by Jews. Perhaps you’re referring to circumstances where people claim that Jews have no historical connection to Israel, to Jerusalem, to the Temple Mount, to Judea, to Samaria, to the Galilee, etc.? Or that Jews “stole” the land and are stealing land? Or that Jews treat the land and its inhabitants as if they are Nazis? Or that Israel’s colonization is like the colonizing that Europe’s nations conducted? I mean, you know the drill. The manner in which “settlers,” settlements” and “colonial” is used today in the discourse about Israel is very different than what this book had in mind.

    Israelis have always been quite proud of precisely what your book shows and openly proud at that – with schoolbooks, songs and photographic accounts demonstrating what took place in that era..

    I know you don’t mean it this way, but the propaganda to which you’re referring has little to do with Arabs, but rather the big lie in a beautiful pictorial book such as this would be that it is unlikely to show the extraordinary efforts that went into creating what it depicts – the extremely trying physical labor, the harsh conditions, the disease and poverty, the determination to try new social experiments, the attempt to create a melting-pot society by unifying ideas and language, the attacks by local Arabs and many other hardships that the Yishuv faced in those years, including extensive smuggling efforts (that led to imprisonment and death sometimes) to save the surviving remnants of European Jewry who were unable to return to their old homes or to move to closed countries such as Canada and the USA and who were blocked by the British from coming to Mandatory Palestine as well. Instead, these hardships were romanticized – propagandized – as part of the communal and idealized effort to develop the Jewish Yishuv and what would become the State of Israel.

    • Some dude September 4, 2014 at 11:01 pm | #

      Great comment. I totally disagree with much of what Prof. Robin has to say on Israel/Palestine, but this post of his is just blatant propaganda. He should know better than to read a 21st centruty debate into a book from 100 years ago, without contextualizing that book in its own time.

      Prof. Robin – make your argument, don’t make propaganda.

      • Benjamin David Steele September 5, 2014 at 10:18 am | #

        The book was published a little over a half century ago. People who read that as young adults might now be in leadership positions in Israel. That isn’t distant history. Your description isn’t honest. Take your own advice: “make your argument, don’t make propaganda.”

      • bor September 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm | #

        The book was written in English. It was not directed for the Yishuv’s book market. Anyway, that’s irrelevant. The young men and women of that period are now in their late 70s and 80s and you can be certain the know both the truth and the propaganda of that book inside out and upside down.

  3. rafshari@pace.edu September 4, 2014 at 10:48 pm | #

    Reza Afshari
    Very interesting. Thank you for sharing it. In the political arenas in this country one is likely to be accused of anti-Semitism for the reason that you have explained. In US academe – particularly in history courses – it is quite prevalent to read assigned books that place the aspiring Zionist movement within the contexts of Western Europe in the second half of the 19th century. We often read that Zionism combined the 19th century themes and ideas derived from colonialism and nationalism.

    In 1895 Theodor Herzl noted in his Diaries: “We shall have 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. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” This was a reflection of the European mindset of the era – perhaps on a newly discovered ethnic steroids. The mainstream Zionist leaders felt no burden on their conscience. They saw the “Arab population” as inhabitants, the same way that European colonialists saw the colonized as peoples without nationality. The Arabs had no “national rights.” In 1947 Zionist leader Abba Hillel Silver said “There has never been a politically or culturally distinct or distinguishable Arab nation in Palestine. Palestine dropped out of history after the Arab conquest and returned as a separate unit only after the League of Nations gave international recognition to a Jewish national home in the country.”
    Herzel biographer Desmond Steward wrote:
    Herzl seems to have foreseen that in going further than any colonialist had so far gone in Africa, he would, temporarily alienate civilized opinion. “At first, incidentally,” he writes on the pages describing “involuntary expropriation,” “people will avoid us. We are in bad odor. By the time the reshaping of world opinion in our favor has been completed, we shall be firmly established in our country, no longer fearing the influx of foreigners, and receiving our visitors with aristocratic benevolence and proud amiability.”

    Today’s “bad odor” he could not even imagine.

    In a letter to Balfour, the British minister who issued the Balfour Declaration, Chaim Weizmann wrote:
    It is with great sense of responsibility that I am attempting to write to you about the situation here and about the problems which confront the Zionist Commission….
    The Arabs, who are superficially clever and quick witted, worship one thing, and one thing only – power and success….. The British Authorities…knowing as they do the treacherous nature of the Arab, they have to watch carefully and constantly that nothing should happen which might give the Arabs the slightest grievance or ground of complaint. In other words, the Arabs have to be “nursed”, lest they should stab the Army in the back. The Arab, quick as he is to gauge a situation, tries to make the most of it. He screams as often as he can and blackmails as often as he can.
    The first scream was heard when your Declaration was announced. All sorts of misinterpretations and misconceptions were put on the declaration. The English, they said, are going to hand over the poor Arabs to the wealthy Jews, who are all … ready to swoop down like vultures on an easy prey and to oust everyone from the land…. The fairer the English regime tries to be, the more arrogant the Arab becomes…. The fair and clean-minded English official…is not conversant with the subtleties of the Oriental mind. The present state of affairs would necessarily tend towards the creation of an Arab Palestine, if there were an Arab people in Palestine. It will not in fact produce that result because the fellah is at least four century behind the times, and the effendi [landowner] is dishonest, uneducated, greedy, and as unpatriotic as he is inefficient.
    [The letter was dated May 30, 1918]

    The Palestinian Arabs were considered a people without sovereignty.
    They were also perceived as “a hindrance to the achievement of a fully Jewish state in totality of Palestine.”
    This mush we teach in our introductory history courses, often using books by Israeli scholars.

    The right-wing “pro-Israeli” lobbyists have largely lost the battle in our university classes – thus the hostility.

    • bor September 5, 2014 at 3:01 am | #

      All those long quotes just to demonstrate that the Palestinian Arabs were “perceived not to have sovereignty?”

      If you read Palestinian scholars such as Rashid Khalidi, they will say pretty much the same thing (see: Rashid Khalidi, Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East, by Israel Gershoni and James Jankowski, editors, Chapter 9. The Formation of Palestinian Identity: The Critical Years, 1917-1923). If you read Hafiz al Assad (yes, the dad) in the last part of the 20th Century, he said the same thing directly to the Palestinians. If you read the Higher Arab Committee’s reps to the UN in 1947, they said the same thing. If you read Ahmad Shukeiri, the former chairman of the PLO, speaking in the 1960s, he said the same. If you watch Azmi Bishara, the Israeli-Arab politician currently hiding from Israeli intelligence services in Qatar due to his alleged spying meetings with Hizbullah, he said the same thing less than 20 years ago.

      You don’t need Israeli scholars or right-wing “pro-Israeli” lobbyists to make this assertion.

      And, of course, there was no sovereign over the Jerusalem Sanjak or, if you prefer, the southern tip of the Ottoman province of Syria, after the Ottoman Empire collapsed. There wasn’t another sovereign, in fact, until Israel came into being. And, of course, there is still some territory without sovereign…

      But you sure did some good digs in at Weizmann and Herzl. Nice job.

      • rafshari@pace.edu September 5, 2014 at 11:55 am | #

        All those long quotes just to demonstrate that the Palestinian Arabs were “perceived not to have sovereignty?”

        Not exactly. I meant to agree that Zionism was well grounded in European colonialist paradigm. Thanks

      • bor September 5, 2014 at 2:09 pm | #

        Oh, I know precisely what you were seeking to accomplish. I was responding to what you had written.

        By the way, if you are seeking to demonstrate that “Zionism was well grounded in European colonialist paradigm,” then you would have a serious problem if you look at the actual history. By the time Herzl is saying what he’s saying, you already have years and years of moshavot and other Jewish communities being formed by both European and Eastern Jews. Why don’t you look at the Yemenite families that arrived in the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries? Why don’t you look at the Romanian families that moved to the area that became Zichron Yaakov in the late 1800s? Both groups are improverished and have no connection to the refined circles in which Herzl and Weizmann moved. They had no knowledge of political Zionism and had no clue as to what Herzl thought or what Weizmann was trying to sell to the British. They certainly weren’t moving to Israel as “colonialists” but rather as people seeking to return to their holy land.

        You see, when the British conquered a territory, they had not been praying to return to it for thousands of years. When the French conquered a territory, it wasn’t a place to which they had been turning to face during their prayer services for thousands of years. When the Spaniards took over land as colonists, they did not have in their linguistic quiver a language that would be found in ancient documents buried in the ground of the land they were visiting or conquering. The Jews were returning to a place that still housed an outside wall of their Temple, that still had a city to which they had been pining for millenia and endless artifacts covered by sand and earth that were connected to their history as Jews. As educated residents of Europe, it should not be surprising that you’ll find them using language similar to their countrymen when it came to the premise of colonizing, but unlike the colonizing European nations, the Jewish nations was returning to a homeland. And that’s without even getting into the Jewish population that had remained in this land for thousands of years and whose remnants still remained. Jerusalem had a Jewish majority in the 19th century and it had a Jewish majority in the 10th century and it had a Jewish majority when the Romans ruled it.

  4. Roquentin September 5, 2014 at 7:41 am | #

    Israel and the United States are quite similar in that regard, aren’t they? Manifest destiny and all that? It’s amusing that the colonizing force tends to imagine the place as empty before they got there or at least that all the land should rightfully be theirs. I’m sure it would be pretty comforting to forget the Trail of Tears for that matter, so long as we’re participating in selective historical amnesia.

  5. amerycann September 5, 2014 at 9:29 am | #

    Instead of framing the question as whether or not Jews “colonized” Palestine, why not ask whether or not that is a bad thing in and of itself. I tend to look at it kind of like adverse possession – in the US, an individual that does not “own” the land can acquire rights to it by living on it, and making use of it while the “true” owner is not even aware. In other words, if the inhabitants on a given piece of land aren’t really doing all that much with it, then what is so awful about them having to move over for people that will. Palestinians moved a few miles East so the Jews could have national self-determination, and protect themselves from another Holocaust, and while a few thousand Native Americans could argue that they had some divine “right” to ALL of continental America, in the end property is what you can defend. The European colonialists transformed a largely uninhabited continent, with little to no philosophy, science, or civilizational achievements, into a democracy of 350 million people that has contributed more to human civilization than any other country in history. I can smell the PC brigades coming…

  6. Jara Handala September 5, 2014 at 9:29 am | #

    The 1947 book’s conceptualisation of Jewish migration to Palestine as a colonisation is not surprising: it was the view of the late 19th century Europeans who were Jewish nationalists. Rather than struggling against their own rulers, be it for equal rights or statehood (such as for the Pale of Settlement), & uniting with other oppressed minorities, they (1) sought alliances with their rulers, & (2) advocated & organised emigration from Europe as the political response to their oppression.

    As I mentioned on this blog a while ago, this European Jewish nationalism is unique in a number of ways: (1) it is an emigratory nationalism; (2) it is a colonising nationalism as the ideology was one of Jewish separatism, excluding the indigenes, favouring Jews at their expense; (3) it is an allotopic & a xenotopic nationalism, seeking freedom from oppression in another place, a foreign place, not in one’s own country; &, one can add, (4) it is an international nationalism, advocating emigration from all countries – except one.

    Because this xenotopic Jewish nationalism ended up trying to colonise a place where others lived, Palestine, it met the resistance of its indigenes. Once these Jewish nationalists founded a state, given that some non-Jewish indigenes remained, it could only be sustained if their nationalism became a supremacism, a struggle to keep Jewish Israelis supreme, lording it over their fellow non-Jewish citizens. Hence the creation of a new kind of political animal, Jewish Israeli supremacists. This is the fifth uniqueness: a supremacism of a religio-ethnic kind, uniting believers with mythic kin, i.e. with an ethnicity labelled Jewish, claiming to be the sole defender of the interests of the Jewish nation, of the Jewish people.

    Which brings us back to the project of Jewish colonisation of Palestine. The principal financial institution in this had a straightforward name: it was the Jewish Colonial Trust.

    “The first Zionist bank, it was founded at the Second Zionist Congress and incorporated in London in 1899. The JCT was intended to be the financial instrument of the Zionist Organization, and was to obtain capital and credit to help attain a charter for Palestine . . . The JCT’s main activities in Palestine were carried out by the Anglo-Palestine Bank, formed as a subsidiary in 1902 . . . In its early years, the bank conducted transactions in support of the Zionist enterprise: land purchase, imports, obtaining of concessions ”
    https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/jct.html (An impeccable source: its masthead proudly says it is “A project of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise”)

    “The Jewish Colonial Trust was originally intended to be a mere holding company, and was founded with the aim of encouraging the establishment of the financial institutions necessary for the creation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. It soon departed from this orginal intention, however, and itself became an active bank”
    http://www.jta.org/1934/01/14/archive/anglo-palestine-bank-takes-over-work-of-jewish-colonial-trust (A 1934 report)

    • Ligurio September 5, 2014 at 10:03 am | #

      Well, and also because the Arabs are “superficially clever and quick witted”–much more so than the Africans, don’t you know. (It’s quite funny how often you see the same descriptors repeated across various ethnicities in the context of colonialism and domination. So, in 12-16th century Europe, it is the Jews who are “superficially clever and quick witted,” in 16th-20th century England, it is the Irish who are “superficially clever and quick witted”, and then again for the Zionists of the 19th and 20th century it is the Arabs who are “superficially clever and quick witted.”)

      I mean it is quite fascinating anthropologically. The desire to acknowledge, but then to undermine, the worth of the people you are dominating. Humans! What fucks we all are.

  7. BillR September 5, 2014 at 10:44 am | #

    Palestine was a flourishing place the very year Herzl wrote down his ethnic cleansing fantasy in his diary “to spirit the penniless population across the border”:

  8. VL September 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm | #

    Along similar lines, Corey, there’s an excellent 25-minute film narrated by Israeli architect Eyal Weizman about how architecture has been used to shape Palestinian/Israeli lives and movements, instantiating oppression down to the most minute detail. It’s fascinating:

    • bor September 5, 2014 at 2:49 pm | #

      This is tendentious. When an architect gives you a tour of a place and defines everything in terms of “domination” without addressing legitimate, historically driven security concerns, he isn’t telling the truth.

      For example, he describes a road on which Arab Israelis may drive but non-Israeli Arabs may not and calls it a Jewish-only apartheid road. That is dishonest, especially when ignoring the reason such a road exists in the first place, namely the thousands of sniper and rock attacks on Jewish cars in the years following Israel’s offer of peace and a state to the Palestinians.

      When he points to a Jerusalem stone faced building in a neighborhood built in an area that had been entirely cleared of Jews and then blocked off from Jews when under Arab control, so that it could only be built after 1967, he is purposely ignoring the historic attempt to rectify this artificial division of Jerusalem.

      The big lie of this architect’s ideas, and he’s actually been making the same claim for years, is that Jews build settlements on hilltops so that they may “dominate” the Arabs down below in the valleys. Well, in agrarian communities you want to have your community in the valley. Water goes down, not up. Also, it is extremely hard to work the hilltop, to get to the hilltop and to live on the hilltop. The valley is lusher and easier to work when farming is a staple industry, as it historically has been for Arabs in the region. The hilltop is barren and makes agricultural development challenging, compelling the resident to focus on surviving from things that can be grown on terraces, hillsides or in creating value added products that can be sold (in other words, you make the booze with someone else’s grapes). Admitting this, however, would undermine Weizman’s premise, so he comes up with the “domination” hypothesis. In reality, the Palestinian communities exist on the superior land and the “settlers” live in whatever land is available. That’s not to say that security isn’t a factor and a concern, it most certainly is, but the idea of superiority and domination is ridiculous. It speaks more to Weizman’s inherent biases and beliefs than about reality.

      • Ligurio September 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm | #

        “This is tendentious.” That is the truest sentence bor has penned in some time.

  9. BillR September 5, 2014 at 3:48 pm | #

    Don’t feed the hasbara troll:

    The exploits of the propaganda soldiers conscripted into Israel’s online army have helped give rise to the phenomenon of the “hasbara troll,” an often faceless, shrill and relentless nuisance deployed on Twitter and Facebook to harass public figures who express skepticism about official Israeli policy or sympathy for the Palestinians.


    • bor September 5, 2014 at 4:06 pm | #

      As I’ve pointed out to someone else already, when somebody tosses out the “hasbara” word, it’s because they’ve lost the debate.

      You are welcome to point to what I’ve written in this discussion that isn’t on-point, doesn’t contain accurate information or doesn’t make an argument that, even if you believe it to be wrong, is a reasonable one backed by verifiable historical and other facts.

      Of course, for all we know, you could be Steven Salaita posting as BillR.


      • Anonymous September 5, 2014 at 6:52 pm | #

        You may have “pointed out” your claim, but it doesn’t mean anyone needs to accept it.

Leave a Reply