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Texts Concerning Zionism: "The Picture in 1907"

by Dr. Arthur Ruppin (February 7, 1908)

Address to the Jewish Colonization Society of Vienna:

I wish to thank the members of the Colonization Society of Vienna for the opportunity they have given me to tell them something about what I was able to observe in Palestine during my six months' stay there in the spring and summer of 1907.

My address will fall into two parts. The first will deal with that which I actually saw, in other words, with that which is. In the second part I shall attempt to suggest that which ought to be, in other words, what programmatic work should be undertaken on behalf of the Jews of Palestine in order to raise them to a higher economic level.

Every study of present-day conditions in Palestine must use as its starting point the manner in which the 80,000 Jews of that country immigrated -- beginning with the few thousand Sephardic Jews who were already to be found there a century ago.

Jewish immigration into Palestine cannot be subsumed under the same general heading as Jewish immigration into other countries. Whereas immigration into other countries has been motivated entirely by economic considerations, that is, by the impulse to find better economic conditions, the motives which impelled the Jews to migrate toward Palestine were not economic but predominantly religious.

This difference of motives finds clear expression in the composition of the Jewish immigrant groups. the Jews who have migrated from East Europeans countries to the United States are, for by far the greatest part, between the ages of 15 and 45, that is, the age of maximum earning capacity. But until twenty years ago the Jews migrating to Palestine went there almost exclusively to die in the Holy Land; persons of advanced age, who could not support themselves by work, but who had to be supported by charity while they devoted themselves exclusively to religious duties.

They could rely on this charity with a certain degree of confidence, for since the middle of the 19th century there has existed in Europe a widely ramified organization for the collection of funds for the support of the Jews of Palestine; every year large sums are collected and transmitted for that purpose. This is the famous 'Halukkah. The distribution of the 'Halukkah in Palestine is not guided by the relative needs of the recipients, it follows the simpler rule of the counting of heads. Every Jew who enters Palestine is added to the register, and is entitled to his proportionate share of the money sent into Palestine by the country of his birth. The per capita income from this source is fairly large in the case of the Hungarian Jews, since there are few of them in the country; for opposite reasons that of the Polish and Russian Jews is fairly small. The method of distribution of the 'Halukkah has many defects, for there are Jews receiving 'Halukkah who could very well support themselves by the work of their hands. Apart from this, the administration and distribution of such a fund is almost inevitably bound up with the evils of nepotism.

The Jewish population of Palestine consists of three distinct strata. The first is made up of those Sephardic Jews who have lived in the country for centuries, have become closely assimilated, in mores and in the general mode of life, to the local Arabs and who, side by side with Spaniolo, speak Arabic too. A good picture of the life of these Jews is furnished by the town of Saida (the ancient Sidon) where 2000 Jews -- all of them Sephardic -- may be found. They receive no 'Halukkah, earn a difficult and pitiful living as small merchants and artisans, are poorly educated and of a not particularly high moral standing. The Jews of Morocco, Persia and the Yemen, who have come into Palestine of recent years, may be lumped together with this group.

The second stratum is composed of the Ashkenazic Jews who have come into Palestine during the last hundred years for religious reasons, and for whom the 'Halukkah system exists. They have tended to concentrate in Jerusalem, but numbers of them are also to be found in Safed, Tiberias and Hebron, where they have settled side by side with the older Sephardic population, from who they keep aloof, however, on the ground of their superior Jewish learning. Safed with its 8000, Tiberias with its 5000 and Hebron with its 1000 Jews are very much alike. They are typical 'Halukkah towns.

In this second stratum there is no economic life to speak of. The few occupations which have been taken up -- of which the principal is trading with the Bedouins -- bring in very little. Hence these cities present, to European eyes, a wretched picture of cultural and economic stagnation. There is no connection with the outside world. Newspapers and modern books are unknown in these places, and life goes on as it did a hundred years ago. The kindergartens of the Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden and the schools of the Alliance Israelite find it extremely difficult to introduce a new education content into this population. The condition of these communities may be illustrated by the following incident. In Safed I visited a Jew who told me that his income amounted to eighty francs a month, and that he was therefore considered very well to do, and was much envied. The average monthly income of a Sephardic Jew is somewhere between thirty and forty francs.

In Jerusalem conditions differ from those which obtain in the three above-mentioned cities: the reasons being that, in addition to the original Sephardic and the later 'Halukkah Ashkenazic populations, we find a considerable element, of recent growth, which earns its living by work; it is composed partly of Jews from Persia, Yemen, Bokhara and Morocco, and partly of young Jews of the modern type from Eastern Europe, who have come to Palestine under the influence of the Zionist idea. It is an exceedingly motley mixture of Jews from all the countries under the sun which makes up the Jewish population of Jerusalem. There are many interesting observations to be made on the diverse modes of life adopted by these Jewish settlers. The Bokharian Jew is generally well to do or even rich, and it is a matter of pride with him to have a handsome and roomy house in Jerusalem. The East-European Jew builds himself a small, wretched dwelling. Even more primitive is the e mode of life of the Yemenite Jew, who is happy to have any sort of home. Nevertheless these immigrants from Yemen are a valuable element for Palestine, for they are able, by virtue of the fewness of their needs, to compete successfully with the cheap labor of the Arabs. Apart from this, they are so accustomed to heavy physical labor that they can easily be transformed into agricultural workers, and from all appearances they will play a considerable role in this field.

In Jerusalem, again, have been concentrated the most important educational and hygienic institutes, There are the big hospitals, schools, orphan homes, the Bezalel Arts and Crafts School, the National Library, etc. Jewish influence in Jerusalem is, however, considerably smaller than might be expected for the fact that the Jews make up sixty to seventy per cent of the population. The reason for this apparent anomaly is that political influence is a consequence of economic power, and the Jews of Jerusalem lack economic power. It is still the 'Halukkah which is the main support of the community. An increasing number of Jews may, indeed, be found turning to labor and trade; but this phenomenon is more or less of an experiment, which we hope will be successful and will grow in t he future. The fact that the Jews of Jerusalem are a majority finds expression in the Hebrew and Yiddish signs which cover the shops nearly everywhere. The post offices of the foreign governments have Hebrew notices, while the Turkish post office in the Jewish quarter even has a Hebrew rubber-stamp. A large mill has recently been acquired by Jews.

The third stratum of the Jewish population consists of those who have come into the country during the last twenty or thirty years as a result of the 'Hibbath Tsiyon, or the Zionist movement, some to take up agriculture, others to settle in Jerusalem, Haifa, or Jaffa -- where older Jewish communities already existed -- and to take up trade or some handicraft. Jerusalem has already been referred to above. There is little to say about Haifa; among the 2000 Jews to be found there, 1800 are Sephardic, 200 Ashkenazic. Some wealthy Russian Jews have founded here an oil and soap factory which gives employment to a large number of Jews. The opening of the Haifa-Damascus railroad has had a healthy influence on the harbor activities of Haifa, with a consequent improvement in the economic life of the city; this improvement has in turn been of benefit to the Jews, whose condition is relatively satisfactory.

This third stratum of Jews now under consideration received its largest addition in Jaffa, whose Jewish population of 8000 is divided equally among Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, none of whom receive 'Halukkahsupport. Jaffa differs from, let us say, Jerusalem, in not being under the pressure of an ancient and unproductive settlement, hostile to all innovation; this city has therefore become the centre of modern Jewish life in Palestine. Fifty years ago there were hardly any Jews in Jaffa; thirty years ago they counted 1000; within the last few decades the number has grown to 8000. It is in Jaffa that we find the beginnings of a modern industrial development. There is a large machine shop which employs about 100 Jewish workers.

The Jews also share in the export and import trade, but their role in this activity leaves much to be desired. The proximity of the Jewish colonies of Petach Tikvah, Rishon le Zion and Rehovoth has had an invigorating effect on the city, as the colonists sell their produce to Jaffa, and in turn make their purchases in the city. But very few Jews of Jaffa can be considered comfortably off; for the most part they still lead a hand to mouth existence.

Of considerable importance to Jaffa is the recently founded Hebrew Gymnasium, which is dominated by a modern and progressive spirit. Apart form this, the Gymnasium has adopted Hebrew as the language of tuition; it therefore serves as a means of spreading Hebrew through wider and wider circles of the Jewish population.

To all the foregoing must now be added a brief description of the Jewish colonies and Jewish agricultural life. The colonies have been founded within the last thirty years, and along two lines: some by young people who came out of Eastern Europe, bringing with them much enthusiasm and industriousness, but little by way of experience or economic resources; others by the programmatic colonization work of Baron Rothschild. With few exceptions (e.g., Rehoboth) the first type of colony went to pieces in the first few years, or found itself compelled to place itself under the protection of Baron Rothschild. The colonization work of the Baron has achieved much for Palestine and has created enduring values. enormous sums have, indeed, been swallowed up by it; nor can it be said that the colonies have come up o the expectations with which the founder may have started out. But the fault lies not with the work of the Baron, but with the fact that, when he resolved to undertake Jewish colonization in Palestine, he already found a number of Jewish colonies in a desperate condition, and was compelled, willy-nilly, to begin with these. Most of the mistakes which have been made in the colonization work may be traced back to this situation.

The first mistake which I must point out was the fact that the persons who were to be transformed into farmers did not know enough about agriculture. They had not been brought into the country according to plan; they had simply come, had installed themselves one way or another as agriculturalists, soon found themselves at the end of their means, and called for help. It is difficult to find among the Jews the right sort of human material for agriculture; there are, indeed, statistics of Russian, Galician and East European Jews who live by agriculture; but there seems to be a wide gap between these statistics and what I have observed personally in East Europe. The Jews who, according to the statistical tables, belong in the class of agriculturalists, are for the most part not farmers, but landowners, who lease out their lands, or agricultural day laborers, or else small cattle-breeders; in any case, they are not the type of farmer which is needed for Palestine. In consequence it appears altogether doubtful whether we shall find, anywhere in the world, Jews whose abilities and training would fit them to become successful farmers in Palestine. It will be necessary to put the land settlers thorough a period of preliminary training in the country itself so that they may win the necessary experience acclimatize themselves, become accustomed to the work, and in general become acquainted with the general conditions obtaining in Palestine.

The second mistake consisted in the fact that persons who were in desperate need suddenly found themselves, through the munificence of Baron Rothschild, in possession of considerable sums, and could without any effort on their own part obtain all sorts of equipment which other farmers must as a rule acquire slowly, through the years, and by the sweat of the brow. And the old rule still holds, that the man who acquires the means to a livelihood only after much effort, prizes and guards these means, while the man who has these means thrown into his lap will not know how to appreciate them. We therefore find in Palestine a vast difference between German and Jewish colonists in regard to the card which they bestow on their live and other stock. This has nothing to do with inferior ability on the part of the Jews but with the circumstance that the German colonist has created what he possesses by his own labor, and he treats it with more care, foresight and affection. The superior stability of the German on the land, again, is connected with the organic way in which he acquired, and grew with, his possessions; the Jew obtained his as it were overnight.

The third mistake was the system of administration, which blocked the development of a spirit of independence among the colonists. An agricultural expert was appointed for every group of colonies; his instructions to the colonists were binding, but the risk was carried, formally and legally, by the colonists themselves. A situation like this is impossible in the long run. I can imagine two methods of agricultural colonization. A man may work under the direction of an administrator, but without accepting responsibility. It is also possible for a settler to make his own decisions on his own responsibility. But it is hard for me to imagine a system under which the farmer must bear the responsibility while following the instructions of the administrator. It is for this reason that the Jewish colonist does not feel the same responsibility as the farmer who takes the risk for his own decisions. I will cite only one example of the disadvantages which result from this system of guardianship over the colonists. a tone time a number of Jewish colonies, under instruction from Baron Rothschild, planted a certain variety of grape. Later it was found that this variety did not pay. The consequence was that colonists were compelled to uproot the vines, and to ask the Baron to make good their losses. which he did.

The fourth mistake , it seems to me, lies in t the fact that many colonies are built on the culture of a single product; they go in exclusively for grapes, or oranges, or grain; as a result the risk is much greater; to this must also be added the consequence that such colonists are employed only during part of the year. During the remaining time they are condemned to idleness.

Now these mistakes did not escape the notice of the administrators, and for many years attempts were made to find a way out. Efforts were made to increase the self-reliance and independence of the colonists by limiting the competence of the administrators. For instance, the wine-cellars of Rishon le Zion, which were at first directed by the administration, were placed under the care of a committee of colonists. In choosing settlers for the colony of Ekron and for the recently founded colonies in Galilee, much care was exercised, and only those received land who were acquainted with Palestinian agriculture, in particular the sons of older colonists and agricultural workers. But was found impossible to undo all the harm which had resulted from the earlier mistakes. The old generation of colonists has been brought up in a spirit of complete dependence; whenever something goes wrong, they come running for assistance; it is only here and there, among the new generation, that we find more spirit.

In conclusion, we may say that the colonization work of the Baron was the enterprise of a rich man who wanted to indulge in the luxury of seeing a piece of work completed in less time than it should have taken by a process of organic growth. In any event, the money invested has not been lost. Baron Rothschild found himself reimbursed by the increase in land values, so that even the over-expenditure was made good. But from the point of view of the Jew who today wishes to settle on the land in Palestine, the value of the Baron's work cannot be over-estimated. Our position today is very different from what it would have been if we had had to start our colonization work form the beginning. How important the colonies are is proved by the role which the four or five German colonies in the country play as centers of support for Germany. How much more important for the Jews are the twenty five colonies which they can call their own. Mention should, indeed, be made of the inclination among the young manhood of certain colonies to migrate from the country; in particular is this true of second and third sons; the reason is that they can see no future for themselves in the country. Unfortunately they leave Palestine not as Syrians leave Syria, namely with the intention of making some money abroad and for returning with their savings; if they leave Palestine it is for good.

In contrast with the pitiful Arab villages, with their huts of baked clay, the Jewish colonies, with their wide streets, their strong stone houses and their red-tiled roofs, look like veritable oases of culture. The Jewish colonists have also contributed a great deal to the technical improvement of Palestinian agriculture. They have been particularly active in plantation work -- oranges, almonds and olives. The best proof of this success is to be found in the fact that the German colonists of Sarona employ Jewish workers in order to start plantations, and pay them at the high rate of five or six francs a day.

In grain farming the Germans are in advance of the Jews, but the Jews have been pioneers in the starting of plantations; they were the first to resort to deep well boring, and it is they who have brought the orange culture of the country to its present high level.

There is a lively spiritual activity in the colonies, and Jewish self-consciousness finds much stronger expression here than in the cities. Hebrew is rapidly gaining ground as the language of daily use. In the streets one hears the children speaking only Hebrew; it is from the colonies that the language thrusts its way into the cities. where it is already playing an important role.

Permit me now to devote a little attention to my second thesis: what can be done in Palestine? With regard to the cities, the answer is not difficult. We must liquidate the 'Halukkah system, which still provides most of the Jews with the largest part of their income, by the substitution of work. In the last decade Palestine has been lifted to a new economic level, and the standard of life has risen not only among the Jews, but among the Arabs too. The latter are beginning to dress European fashion, and in this way they have increased the home market. Nevertheless, the purchasing power of Palestine is still low. We still see no prospect of so raising it as to absorb our 80,000 Jews in internal commerce and industry. The market is too small. Jews are, indeed, to be found in the import and export trade, which is almost exclusively devoted to agricultural products (grain and sesame), but here too only a relatively small number of Jews can make a living. there is, in my opinion, only one way of providing work for the Jews, and that is by the creation of industrial enterprises with large export possibilities. Certain articles can be produced in factories; some, indeed, are already being produced. But the erection and equipment of factories calls for heavy investment, and the absence of coal and iron in Palestine will always be a certain obstacle in the way of the development of heavy industry. A much better prospect is offered by the introduction of small industry, such as can be carried on in the home or in small workshops, with human instead of mechanical power. There is already one town in Palestine which supports itself almost entirely through small industry of this kind, namely Bethlehem, where practically the entire Christian population is engage din the production of sacred images and travellers momentoes made of mother-of-pearl, which find a market chiefly in America. The same is true of the Christians of Nazareth. The centre of small industry is, however, Syria -- chiefly Damascus. here it is mostly the Sephardic Jews who are employed in small industry. Form Damascus comes the well-known type of furniture pieces inlaid with mother-of-pearl or with mosaics of other woods; likewise utensils of beaten copper. Some 10,000 workers are said to be thus employed, one half of them Jews, so that the greater part of the Jewish population of Damascus supports itself through small industry. The earning in this line of work are small; nevertheless the unprejudiced observer detects a great difference between the life in Damascus and the life in Jerusalem. Wherever one passes through the streets of Damascus there is a busy life; here are people who have something to do and know something about the value of time. Jerusalem is, by contrast, like a city of the dead; its inhabitants have no constant occupation, and they are hard put to it to pass the time. I would therefore recommend, as the first step in the improvement of the economic condition of the Jews of Palestine, the introduction of small industry, and that preferably in Jerusalem, which contains two thirds of the Jewish population of Palestine. A beginning has already been made with the Bezalel Arts and Crafts School, founded in 1906. A well developed small industry could be of advantage to, and derive benefits from, the Bezalel school. As things are today, Palestine lacks a small industry which could absorb the pupils of the Arts and Crafts School, and put their training to use. On the other hand, a small industry would itself also benefit by the existence of the school.

It is only by an improvement in their economic condition that the Jews of Palestine will be able to get the full advantage of the high standard of education which they enjoy. Today the boy who has received a training in European languages simply does not know what to do with it; he is too educated to be satisfied with those occupations which are accessible to him in Palestine; he is unhappy in Palestine, and at the first opportunity migrates, so that it may be said that all the education which the Jews of Palestine receive only serves to drive them out of the country. Improvement of hygienic conditions is also important for the cities. City hygiene is the weakest point in the Turkish administration; in fact, it can hardly be said to exist at all.

I turn now to the colonies. Two questions arise at once: What is to happen with those colonies which already exist, and how shall colonization be extended, i.e. how shall we found new colonies? It will be necessary for the colonists to turn to mixed farming. They must not be content with plantations alone; they must also take up grain-growing. It is an immense disadvantage for the plantation colonists that during the many months when nothing can be done in the orchards, they practically forget their work, and in general find it difficult to overcome the habit of laziness into which they have fallen. This can be avoided if, side by side with the plantations, there is also the cultivation of grain. In this fashion a problem of prime importance, namely, the labour problem, will also be solved. Hitherto the plantation colonists have been able to employ Jewish workers for only part of the year. As the demand for workers increased in season, it was of course impossible to find Jewish workers in sufficient numbers; Arab workers were therefore engaged from the nearest village. The consequence has been that in many colonies more Arab than Jewish workers are employed at certain seasons of the year: which is a most undesirable state of affairs. If every colony had wheat cultivation as well as plantations, the Jewish worker could find employment all the year round.

Of very great importance is the problem of drawing the women into agricultural work. While in the German colonies nearly every woman has the dairy work to look after, nothing of the sort is to be found in the Jewish colonies, simply because the production of milk has not been undertaken. The production of fodder has been neglected, so that it is difficult to keep cattle; and thus neither milk nor butter can be bought in the Jewish colonies. But there is a great deal more to be done in this direction; more attention must be paid to chicken and vegetable farming than has been paid till now. While the Arabs make immense sums of money out of vegetable farming, the Jewish colonies have hardly begun to do anything in this field.

Important, too, is the extension of credit to cover agricultural enterprises. Mortgage credit, of the kind which has rendered invaluable service in Germany is, indeed, impossible in Palestine because of the peculiar legal complications bound up with the holding of land in the Jewish colonies; but as far as personal credit is concerned, a great deal can be done through the extension of the cooperative system, which at present has merely made a beginning.

Nor must we neglect the question of a network of roads between the colonies. It would be an excellent thing if the largest colonies of Judea could be connected with Jaffa by spur railroad lines; I understand that steps have already been taken to obtain these small concessions from the Turkish government.

And now, in closing, I turn to the question of how to proceed to the extension of our colonies. We must make sure, before we provide prospective settlers with land, whether as lessees or as owners, that they have a practical knowledge of Palestinian agriculture; they must also be accustomed to the country and its climate. Secondly, through the introduction of a system of mixed farming, we must make it possible for the colonists to put their labour to use throughout the entire year. Thirdly, before we help a colonist to become a farmer for himself, we must see to it that he is at least able to provide himself with live stock out of his own means.

But the problem before us is not easily solved; for most of the Jews who come to Palestine have no means of their own, and it is precisely the best and most industrious elements which are thus prevented from working their way up from the status of worker to that of independent farm lessee or owner.

The ICA has tried to introduce a change into its colonization system. In Sedjera (Palestine) [Sejera became Kibbutz Degania in 1909] and Leloir (the Argentine) it has a new method. The Jews are first given employment as workers on a large farm; then, when they have become accustomed to the agricultural life, they are helped toward becoming independent farmers by being given, as leaseholders, a reasonable stretch of land and, by way of credit, the first stock and whatever is necessary for the building of a house. It no longer issues to the settlers instructions as to how they are to work the land, and the responsibility rests entirely with the settlers. This method promises much better results than were e obtainable with the older one.

This closes my brief report. I should be happy to feel that the little I have said concerning the work in Palestine has convinced you that the country is one which affords great possibilities which need only be approached methodically and systematically in order to come to fruition.

Sources: Zionism and Israel Center