Journal of Palestine Studies,
Zionism as a modern political creed arose as a reaction to three interacting challenges or problems facing Europe in the nineteenth century, the heyday of Western imperialism.
The first of these was the growth and expansion of European imperialism, which necessitated the search for new sources of raw materials and markets for the finished products, in addition to securing the lines of commercial and military communication. The importance of the Arab lands as the gateway to Africa and the bridge to Asia was made evident by Napoleon's campaign (1797-1799). Yet the "dangers" of an independent state comprising Egypt and other parts of the Arab world set up by Muhammad Ali (Al-Kabir) became clear soon afterwards. Thus the need for stifling any nascent independent state, doubly threatening to imperialism later on, in the wake of the spread of Arab nationalist sentiment, became increasingly persistent as the "Ottoman Empire," the "sick man of Europe," drifted further towards disintegration.
Secondly: the failure of European liberalism and the ideas of equality and democracy to incorporate and assimilate the Jew were combined with the capitalist crisis in Eastern Europe that followed in the wake of the adoption of industrialization with the consequent loss of vocation for a great number of Jews who could not easily adjust to the transformation of the feudal economic system. It is important to note that this separation of the Jews from their environments encouraged a Jewish "apartness" which was, in the past, a contributory factor to the phenomenon of anti-Jewishness.
Thirdly: The spread of aggressive and chauvinist nationalism in Europe stressed racial qualities and the racial basis of the nation and the nation- state as well as racial superiority and the need for expansion, Lebensraum, which was diverted to overseas colonies and possessions. Superiority, exploitation and domination were upheld as a civilizational mission under the notion of the "white man's burden. " These ideas and notions played a crucial role in the ideological formulation of Zionism as well as a guiding light for its founders.
These challenges were known as the "Eastern Question" or the "Syrian Question," and the "Jewish Question." We shall see that it was the first question which prompted the major imperialist figures to propose the idea of creating a client Jewish settler state in Palestine, primarily designed to block the fulfilment of unity and independence in that important area of the world, and to serve the interests of the imperialist sponsors and protectors of that state. The events of the latter part of the century were conducive to the creation of what amounted to a consensus of opinion among the imperialist and Western politicians, with the cooperation of Western Jewish capital and anti-Semites everywhere in favour of Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
THE RISE OF IMPERIAL INTERESTS IN PALESTINE
Towards the end of the eighteenth century the Western powers' interest in the Arab area intensified as the aging Ottoman Empire became increasingly dependent on the European powers, which obtained privileges, footholds and spheres of influence within the Empire itself. These powers sought to establish direct links with the various populations and religious sects in the area. Thus, eventually France was to become the protector of the Catholic communities in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine while the Orthodox Christians came under Russian protection.
It was during his Palestinian campaign (1799) that Napoleon, motivated by his war needs and later on by his ambition to attract the loyalty of the Jews as agents throughout the world, issued his call for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the "return" of the Jews to Palestine for political purposes. The campaign itself aroused British interest in Palestine as it posed a threat to the British overland route to India. When Muhammad Ali of Egypt embarked on his ambitious plan to modernize Egypt and build a strong independent state comprising Egypt, Greater Syria and the Arab Peninsula during the first decades of the nineteenth century, the British government adopted a course of direct military intervention and was instrumental in driving the armies of Ibrahim Pasha (son of Muhammad Ali) back to Egypt...
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