Palestine before Zionism: Part II, more witnesses

This is part II of Palestine before Zionism. Part I was published previously. In case you missed it, and would like to see it go here.

Probably one of the most telling of all these witnessed accounts would be that of Mark Twain’s, Innocents Abroad.  One of the foremost American writers of the 19th century he gives a clear and concise view of what lesser known observers have been chronicling for 300 years. In 1867 he wrote:

Stirring scenes… occur in the valley (of Jezreel) no more. There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent…not for thirty miles in either direction. there are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings.”(14)

 Twain was indeed surprised at what he found in Palestine as he scornfully express dismay at apparently being misled by some other information about Palestine that led to “romantic” and “prejudiced” accounts of the Holy Land.(15)

He also seems to have been thoroughly disgusted with the Bedouin and their method of robbing and stealing from the groups of pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.

“They met together in full view of the pilgrims, and took lunch, divided the baksheesh extorted in the season of danger and then accompanied the cavalcade home to the city! The nuisance of an Arab guard is one which is created by the sheiks and the Bedouins together, for mutual profit..”.(16)

Twian continues in a most passionate manner:

“These unpeopled deserts, these rusty mounds of barrenness, that never, never, never, do shake the glare from their harsh outlines and fade and faint into vague perspective, that melancholy ruin of Capernaum, this stupid village of Tiberians, slumbering under its six funereal palms….We reached Tabor safely…. We never saw a human being on the whole route. Nazareth is forlorn…. Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin today, even as Joshua’s miracle left it more than three thousand years ago. Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Savior’s presence.”(17)

“Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes…. desolate and unlovely” sadly he wrote, “It is a dreamland.”(18)

Thirty years after James Finn made his telling remarks to a friend in a letter, and on the eve, of the first Aliya, (The first large scale immigration of Jews to Palestine) a French traveler had this to say about Jaffa, Haifa and other populated areas of Palestine.

“(Jaffa) was still a ruin. “ (19)

 “(Haifa) has 6,000 souls and can be crossed in five minutes”(20)

 Of the port of Acre it was remarked while there was some private activity, the economic advantages to such a harbor were not being used.

“That magnificent port was commercially idle”(21)

The Reverend Samuel Manning was deeply saddened by the awful condition of the Sharon Plain. Manning once again like Finn before him makes a definite reference to the lands “Hebrew” connection.

“The exquisite fertility and beauty of which made it to the Hebrew mind a symbol of prosperity( was no more)” This fertile plain, which might support an immense population is almost a solitude…Day by day we were to learn afresh the lesson now forced upon us, that the denunciations of ancient prophesy have been fulfilled to the very letter—”the land is left void and desolate and without inhabitants.”(22)

Report after report independent of one another used the same phrases like

“a desolate country”(23) “wretched desolation and neglect”(24) “ “almost abandoned now”(25) “unoccupied”(26) “uninhabited”(26) “thinly populated”(27)

An author, Colonel C. R. Condor visited Palestine twice within a ten year period. Once in 1872 and again  in the early 80’s. In his book called Heth and Moab he comments on the fact of how the population had diminished in just that ten year interim of his visits.

“The peasantry who are the backbone of the population, have diminished most sadly in numbers and wealth.”(29)

In 1881-2 Russian pogroms forced the Jews’ hand and a number of hearty souls made the trek to Palestine it what is describe as the First Aliya. This marks the beginning of the Jews return to “the Land of Israel.” Right from the beginning, farms were started, swamps were cleared, roads were built where there were none before. Within 50 years the Jews had built an infrastructure of schools, hospitals, roads, municipal works, and had established towns and villages. Farming communities based on a social democratic order, called kibbutzim,  were dotting the landscape all over Palestine. The accounts of the country starting in the 30’s, at least that which was Jewish settled Palestine is a complete about face from the descriptions 50 years earlier.



14) Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1867 pp. 349, 367

15) Ibid. pp. 367

16)Ibid. P. 429

17)Ibid PP. 441-442


19) Jules Hoche, Les Pays Des Croisades, (Paris) p.10

20) Brother Lievin de hamme, Guide indicateur, Vol. 111 pp. 163 and 190

21) Ibid.

22)The Reverend Samuel Manning, Those Holy Fields, (London) 1874 pp. 14-17

23)The Population of Palestine, Circa 1875, Middle Eastern Studies vol. 15 no.3, October 1979

24) S.C. Bartlett, From Egypt to Palestine ( New York) 1879 p.409

25)Ibid. p. 410

26)W. Allen, The Dead Sea: A new route to India.(London) 1855 p.113

27)W.M. Thomson, The Land and the book (New York) 1862 p.446


Photo at top of Ramle late 19th century coutesy of

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