The historical background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes back to 1917 (the Balfour Declaration) and the establishment of the British protectorate over Palestine (the Palestine Mandate) after WWI with its provision for a national home for the Jews, although formally not to be at the expense of the local inhabitants – the Palestinians. Nevertheless, it became in practice the focal problem to keep an appropriate balance between these stipulations to be acceptable to both sides – the Jews and the Palestinians.
The people and the land
Since the time of the Enlightenment followed by Romanticism, in Western Europe emerged a new trend of group identification of the people as ethnic or ethnocultural nations different from the previous feudal trends from the Middle Ages based on religion, state borders, or social strata belonging. In the course of time, a new trend of people’s identification as a product of the capitalistic system of production and social order became applied across the globe following the process of capitalistic globalization. As a direct consequence of such development of the group identities, the newly understood nations, especially in the areas under colonial foreign rule, started to demand their national rights but among them, the most important demand was the right to self-rule in a nation-state of their own. In other words, the ethnic or ethnic-confessional groups under foreign oppression demanded the rights of self-determination and political sovereignty.
Since around 1900, both the Jews and the Arab-Palestinians became involved in the process of developing ethnonational consciousness and mobilizing their nations for the sake of achieving national-political goals. However, one of the focal differences between them in regard to the creation of a nation-state of their own was that the Jews have been spread out across the world (a diaspora) since the fall of Jerusalem and Judea in the 1st century AD while, in contrast, the Palestinians were concentrated in one place – Palestine. From the very end of the 19th century, a newly formed Th. Herzl’s Zionist movement had a task to identify land where the Jewish people could immigrate and settle to create their own nation-state. For Theodor Benjamin Zeev Herzl (1860‒1904), Palestine was historically logical as an optimal land for the Jewish immigrants as it was the land of the Jewish states in the Antique. It was, however, an old idea, and Th. Herzl in his book pamphlet (Der Judenstaat) which became the Bible of the Zionist movement was the first to analyze the conditions of the Jews in their assumed “native” land and call for the establishment of a nation-state of the Jews in order to solve the Jewish Question in Europe or better to say to beat traditional European anti-Semitism and modern tendency of the Jewish assimilation. Nonetheless, the focal problem was to somehow convince the Europeans that the Jews had the right to this land even after 2.000 years of emigration in the diaspora around the world.
However, what was Th. Herzel’s Eretz Yisrael in reality? For all Zionists and the majority of Jews, it was the Promised Land of milk and honey but in reality, the Promised Land was a barren, rocky, and obscure Ottoman province since 1517 settled by the Muslim Arabs as a clear majority population. On this narrow strip of land of East Mediterranean, the Jews and the Arab Palestinians lived side by side and at the time of the First Zionist Congress (Basel, Switzerland, August 29−31st, 1897) there were some 400.000 Arabs and some 50.000 Jews. Most of those Palestinian Jews have been bigot Orthodox who entirely depended on their existence on charitable offerings of different Jewish societies in Europe which have been distributed to them by the communal organizations set up mainly for that purpose.
Palestine is a historic land in the Middle East on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea between the River of Jordan and the Mediterranean seacoast. Palestine is called the Holy Land by the Jews, Christians, and Muslims because of its spiritual links with Judaism, Christianity as well as Islam.
The land experienced many changes and lordships in history followed by changes of frontiers and its political status. For each of the regional denominations, Palestine contains several sacred places. In the so-called biblical times, on the territory of Palestine, the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea existed until the Roman occupation in the 1st century AD. The final wave of Jewish expulsion to the diaspora from Palestine started after the abortive uprising of Bar Kochba in 132−135. Up to the emergence of Islam, Palestine historically was controlled by the Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, the Roman Empire, and finally by the Byzantine Empire (the East Roman Empire) alongside the periods of the independence of the Jewish kingdoms.
The land became occupied by the Muslim Arabians in 634 AD. Since then, Palestine has been populated by a majority of Arabs, although it remained a central reference point to the Jewish people in the diaspora as their “Land of Israel” or Eretz Yisrael. Palestine remained under Muslim rule up to WWI, being part of the Ottoman Empire (1516−1917), when combined the Ottoman and German armies became defeated by the Brits at Megiddo, except for the time during the West European Crusades from 1098 to 1197. The term Palestine was used as the official political title for the land westward of the Jordan River mandated in the interwar and post-WWII period to the United Kingdom (from 1920 up to 1947).
However, after 1948, the term Palestine continues to be used, but now in order to identify rather a geographical than a political entity. It is used today, particularly in the context of the struggle over the land and political rights of Palestinian Arabs displaced since Israel became established (May 14th, 1948).
The Jewish migrations to Palestine in 1882−1914
As a consequence of renewed pogroms in East Europe in 1881, the first wave of Jewish immigration into Palestine started in 1882 followed by another wave before WWI from 1904 to 1914. The immigration of the Jewish settlers was encouraged by the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and very much intensified since May 1948 when the Zionist State of Israel was proclaimed and established.
There were historically two types of motives for the Jews to come to Eretz Yisrael (In Hebrew, the “Land of Israel”):
- The traditional motive was prayer and study, followed by death and burial in the holy soil.
- Later, since the mid-19th century, a new type of Jew being secular and in many cases idealistic began to arrive in Palestine but many of them have been driven from their native lands by anti-Semitic persecution.
In 1882 there was the first organized wave of European Jewish immigration to Palestine. Since the 1897 First World Zionist Congress in Basel, there was an inflow of European Jews into Palestine especially during the British Mandate time followed by the British-allowed policy of land-buying by the Jewish Agency which was, in fact, indirect preparation for the creation of the Jewish nation-state – Israel. In other words, such a policy was designed to alienate land from the Palestinians, stipulating that it could not be in the Arab hands.
Even before the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Th. Herzl tried to recruit prosperous and rich Jews (like the Rothschild family) to finance his plan of the Jewish emigration and colonization of Palestine but finally failed in his attempt. Th. Herzl decided to turn to the little men – hence his decision to convene the 1897 Basel Congress where according to his diary, he founded the Jewish state. After the congress, he did not waste time in turning his political program into reality but at the same time, he strongly disagreed with the idea of peaceful settlement in Palestine, or according to his own words “gradual Jewish infiltration”, which, in fact, already started even before the Zionist meeting in Basel.
At that time, Palestine as an Ottoman province did not constitute a single political-administrative unit. The northern districts have been parts of the province of Beirut, and the district of Jerusalem was under the direct authority of the central Ottoman government in Istanbul because of the international significance of the city of Jerusalem and the town of Bethlehem as religious centers equally important for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. A vast majority of the Arabs either Muslims or Christians have been living in several hundred villages in a rural environment. Concerning the town settlers of Arab origin, the two biggest of them were Jaffa and Nablus together with Jerusalem as economically the most prosperous urban settlements.
Until WWI, the biggest number of Palestinian Jews was living in four urban settlements of the most important religious significance to them: Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias. They have been followers of traditional, Orthodox religious practices spending much time studying religious texts and depending on the charity of world Jewry for survival. It has to be noticed that their attachment to Eretz Yisrael was much more religious than of national character and they were not either involved in or supportive of Th. Herzl’s Zionist movement emerged in Europe and was, in fact, brought to Palestine by the Jewish immigrants after 1897. However, most of the Jewish immigrants to Palestine after 1897 who emigrated from Europe have lived of secular type of life having commitments to the secular goals to create and maintain a modern Jewish nation based on the European standards of the time and to establish an independent Jewish state – modern Israel but not to re-establish a biblical one. During the first year of WWI, the total number of Jews in Palestine reached some 60.000 of whom some 36.000 were settlers since 1897. On the other hand, the total number of the Arab population in Palestine in 1914 was some 683.000.
The second wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine (1904−1914) had many intellectuals and middle-class Jews but the majority of those immigrants have been driven less by a vision of a new state than by the hope of having a new life, free of pogroms and persecutions.
Research Fellow at Centre for Geostrategic Studies
© Vladislav B. Sotirovic 2023
Personal disclaimer: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.
 About the ethnicity, national identity and nationalism, see in [John Hutchinson, Anthony D. Smith (eds.), Nationalism, Oxford Readers, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 1994; Montserrat Guibernau, John Rex (eds.), The Ethnicity Reader: Nationalism, Multiculturalism and Migration, Malden, MA: Polity Press, 1997].
 About globalization, see in [Frank J. Lechner, John Boli (eds.), The Globalization Reader, Fifth Edition, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014].
 In the science of politics, self-determination as an idea emerged out of the 18th-century concern for freedom and the primacy of the individual will. In principle, it can be applied to any kind of group of people for whom a collective will is to be considered. However, in the next century, the right to self-determination is understood exclusively to nations but not, for instance, to the national minorities of confessional groups as such. National self-determination was the principle applied by the US’s President Woodrow Wilson to break three empires after WWI. It is included in the 1945 Charter of OUN, in the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples, and in the 1970 Declaration of the Principles of International Law. However, self-determination, as taken to its most vicious extremes, leads in practice to phenomena as, for instance, “ethnic cleansing” that was recently in the 1990s practiced, for example, against the Serbs in neo-Nazifascist Croatia of Dr. Franjo Tuđman or in NATO’s occupied Kosovo-Metochia after the 1998−1999 Kosovo War. In short, self-determination is the right of groups in political sciences to chose their own destiny and to govern themselves not necessary in their own independent state [Richard W. Mansbach, Kirsten L. Taylor, Introduction to Global Politics, London−New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2012, 583].
Sovereignty is the claim to have the ultimate political authority or to be subject to no higher power concerning the making and executing of political decisions. In the system of international relations (the IR), sovereignty is the claim by the state to full self-government, and the mutual recognition of claims to sovereignty is the foundation of the international community. In short, sovereignty is a status of legal autonomy that is enjoyed by states and consequently, their Governments have exclusive authority within their borders and enjoy the rights of membership of the international political community [Jeffrey Haynes, Peter Hough, Shahin Malik, Lloyd Pettiford, World Politics, New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2011, 714].
 About the fall of Jerusalem, see in [Josephus, The Fall of Jerusalem, London, England: Penguin Books, 1999]. Josephus Flavius (born as Joseph ben Matthias, c. 37−c. 100) was a Jewish historian, Pharisee and General in the Roman army. He was a leader of the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire in 66 AD and was captured in 67. His life was spared when he prophesied that Vespasian would become an Emperor. Subsequently, Josephus received Roman citizenship and a pension. He is today well-known as a historian who wrote the Jewish War as an eyewitness account of the historical events leading up to the rebellion. Another of his historiographic work was Antiquities of the Jews – history since the Creation up to 66 AD.
There were two Jewish rebellions against the Roman power which inspired Jewish diaspora from Palestine: in 66−73; and in 132−135 [Џон Бордман, Џаспер Грифин, Озвин Мари (приредили), Оксфордска историја Грчке и хеленистичког света, Београд: CLIO, 1999, 541−542].
 He was born on May 2nd, 1860 in Pest in the Austrian Empire at that time and was given the Hebrew name Binyamin Ze’ev, along with the Hungarian Magyar Tivadar and the German Theodor. In Pest, Th. Herzl attended the Jewish parochial school, where he became acquainted with some biblical Hebrew and religious studies. In 1878, he moved to Vienna where he was studying law at the university and later working for the Ministry of Justice. In 1897, Th. Herzl published his famous book Der Judenstaat, just a year before he convened the First Zionist Congress in Basle in Switzerland. In this book in a form of a political pamphlet, he wrote that: “The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is a very old one: it is the restoration of the Jewish state” [Extracts from Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State, Walter Laqueur, Barry Rubin (eds.), The Israel-Arab Reader, London, 1995, 6]. According to him, the borders of Israel as Judenstaat had to be between the River of Nile in Egypt and the River of the Euphrates in Iraq.
 Present-day Israel (est. 1948) is the third independent state of the Jews in Palestine. The biblical Kanaan was a tiny strip of land some 130 km of length between the Jordan River, Mt. Tiber, East Mediterranean littoral, and the Gaza Strip [Giedrius Drukteinis (sudarytojas), Izraelis: Žydų valstybė, Vilnius: Sofoklis, 2017, 13].
 Ahron Bregman, A History of Israel, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, 7.
 The Orthodox Judaism is teaching that the Torah (the five books of Moses) contains all the divine revelation that the Jews as a chosen people require. In the case of Orthodox Judaism, all religious practices are strictly observed. When it is required the interpretations of Torah, references are made to the Talmud. The followers of Orthodox Judaism are practicing strict separation of women from men in the synagogues during the worshiping. In Israel, exists only an Orthodox rabbinate. While a majority of the Orthodox Jews support the Zionist movement, however, they deplore the secular origins of it and the fact that Israel is not a fully religious state. The Orthodox Jews recognize one as a Jew only in two possible cases: 1) if he/she mother is a Jew; or 2) the person undergoes an arduous process of conversion. For the Orthodox Jews, it is prohibited to cut the beard, which probably originated in a wish to be distinguished from unbelievers. About Jewish history and religion, see more in [Дејвид Џ. Голдберг, Џон Д. Рејнер, Јевреји: Историја и религија, Београд: CLIO, 2003]. The Israeli Law of Return that is governing Jewish emigration back to Israel accepts all those with a Jewish grandmother as potential citizens of Israel. Alongside with the Orthodox Judaism exist Liberal Judaism and Reform Judaism.
 [Geoffrey Barraclough (ed.), The Times Atlas of World History, Revised Edition, Maplewood, New Jersey: Hammond, 1986].
 About the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by the Israeli authority, see in [Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2007]. About the general history of the Jews, see in [Дејвид Џ. Голдберг, Џон Д. Рејнер, Јевреји: Историја и религија, Београд: CLIO, 2003].
 The term pogrom from a very general point of view is used to describe organized massacres of Jews in the 20th century but especially during WWII in the Nazi-run concentration camps during the Holocaust.
 Originally, according to Th. Herzl, the “Land of Israel” was from the River of Euphrates in Iraq to the River of Nile in Egypt that is visually symbolized on the flag of the Zionist movement – today the state flag of the Zionist Israel (the David Star between two rivers).
 However, overwhelming of those Jewish emigrants came from Central and East Europe as well as from the Russian Empire. About the Jews in Central and East Europe, see in [Jurgita Šiaučiunaitė-Verbickienė, Larisa Lempertienė, Central and East European Jews at the Crossroads of Tradition and Modernity, Vilnius: The Centre for Studies of the Culture and History of East European Jews, 2006]. About the Jews in Russia, see in [Т. Б. Гейликман, История Евреев в России, Москва, URSS, 2015].
 The 1878 Ottoman census claims some 463.000 inhabitants of Jerusalem.
 The Ottoman population in 1884 was composed of 17.143.859 of which some 73.4% were Muslims [Reinhard Schulze, A Modern History of the Islamic World, London‒New York: I.B.Tauris Publishers, 1995, 22].
 Since the mid-18th century till WWII, Vilnius was known as “Jerusalem of the North” and was a center of Rabbinic Judaism and Jewish studies. Almost half of the city populations have been the Jews but according to Israeli Cohen, journalist, and writer who visited Vilnius just before the beginning of WWII, around 75% of Vilnius’ Jews were dependent on the support of charitable and philanthropic organizations or private benefactors [Israeli Cohen, Vilna, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1943, 334]. In Jewish St. in the Old Town of Vilnius, it was established in 1892 the biggest Judaica library in the world – the Strashun Library (or the Jewish Library of Vilnius) by founder Mattityahu Strashun (1817−1885). The library was gone in 1944 as a consequence of the fight between the Germans and the Red Army. The Library collection reached 22.000 items by 1935 [Aelita Ambrulevičiūtė, Gintė Konstantinavičiūtė, Giedrė Polkaitė-Petkevičienė (compilers and authors), Houses that Talk: Everyday Life in Žydų Street in the 19th−20th, Century (up to 1940), Vilnius: Aukso žuvys, 2018, 97−100]. Vilnius up to WWII had and famous Great Synagogue. A well-known and respected Gaon of Vilnius – Elijah ben Salomon spent all of his life in Vilnius (1720−1797).
The importance of the Jewish Vilnius for the Zionist movement can be seen from the fact that the Zionist leader Th. Herzl visited Vilnius in 1903 when the Jewish representatives met him in the building of the Supreme Rabbi Board House of the Great Vilnius Synagogue [Tomas Venclova, Vilnius City Guide, Vilnius: R. Paknio leidykla, 2018, 122].