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Middle East Kevin Dispatch

Israel: The Man, the Dream, and the Reality.
December 22, 1999

About 100 years before the World Trek began, a foreigner named Theodore Herzl visited Palestine (which includes present-day Israel) following only a dream as his guide. The dream: a Jewish State.

Herzl was born in 1860 into a Jewish family from Budapest. His family moved to Vienna and after Herzl received a doctorate degree; he devoted himself to writing (Hey, that's what we Trekkers are doing!).

Web sites didn't exist back then, so he began writing for a liberal Viennese newspaper called The New Free Press. Traveling was part of his job (sound familiar?) and he was sent to Paris where he covered the trial of a French officer named Alfred Dreyfus who was accused of treason. Dreyfus was humiliated and convicted without overwhelmingly sufficient evidence and Herzl was convinced that Dreyfus, who happened to be Jewish, was innocent. However, the French public felt otherwise and mobs gathered in the streets shouting "Death to Jews!" After the Dreyfus affair, (he was later found to be completely innocent) Herzl felt that there was no longer a place for Jews in Europe and that assimilation into European societies was no longer possible. He decided that the only solution to anti-Semitism would be a mass immigration of the Jewish people to a land that they could call their own.

Jewish leaders thought his idea was a radical one but Herzl responded to them by publishing his book "Der Judenstaat" (The Jewish State) in 1896. At the time the book was written he had no specific location in mind for this Jewish State. Soon after, he became interested in establishing a state in Palestine, which was once the biblical homeland of the Jewish people.

In August of 1897, Herzl brought together the First Zionist Congress, which took place in Basel, Switzerland. About 200 representatives from 17 countries attended the 3 day meeting which was the first ever gathering of Jews representing their communities worldwide. Following the successful meeting, Herzl wrote in his diary, "If I were to sum up the Basel congress in a single phrase, I would say, 'In Basel I created the Jewish State.' Was I to say this aloud, I would be greeted by universal laughter, but perhaps five years hence, in any case, certainly in fifty years, everyone will agree."

Herzl thus began a world trek of his own in which he was determined to see his global ideals eventually become a reality. He knew that world Jewry would need to obtain sponsorship for such a revolutionary idea and so he set about to find anyone who would help him.

Vocabulary Box

Diaspora - the scattering of Jews to countries outside of Palestine after the Babylonian captivity
Zionist/Zionism - a world-wide Jewish movement for the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jews

At that time, Palestine was under the control of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. He first met with the Turkish Sultan Abdel-el-Hamid in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). In exchange for the Sultan's support he immediately offered him the wealth of world Jewry (although he lacked adequate support to make good on such a generous offer). This would be a solution to Turkey's financial troubles, but his attempt was unsuccessful. He then approached the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, since Germany was a strong ally of the Turks and already had plans for the creation of a railway stretching from Berlin to Baghdad. Herzl met the Kaiser in Palestine and asked him to become the patron of the Zionist settlement there (Herzl actually assumed that the official language of the Jewish State would be German!). The Kaiser was intrigued by the thought of a German styled outpost existing in the Middle East but he too refused to commit to Herzl's objective.

Before giving up hope, Herzl turned to the British for support. He met with Britain's Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain and offered him the idea of a Jewish Palestine which would act as a Northern Egyptian frontier further defending the Suez Canal from any German or Turkish threat. By 1903, in Britain's first official proposal, they offered the Zionist nearly 10,000 square miles of Uganda, an idea not very well received by most European Jews. They were for the most part set on Palestine, which they called "Eretz Yisrael" (Land of Israel). They believed strongly in their religious and historical ties to the land despite the centuries of exile in the Diaspora.

Herzl's short life came to an end in 1904 at the age of only forty-four. By that time he had overseen no less than six Zionist Congresses which had succeeded in establishing The World Zionist Organization based in Vienna. He passed onto World Jewry his determination to take whatever steps necessary to create a Jewish State in "Eretz Yisrael." This would quickly lead to a worldwide Zionist campaign set on encouraging rapid Jewish immigration to Palestine, a movement that was sure to clash with the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs already living on the land. Less than 50 years later Herzl's dream did become a mighty reality and the "Medinat ha-Yehudim" (Hebrew for "Visionary of a land for the Jews") is now buried in a cemetery bearing his own name on a hilltop in Jerusalem.


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