AN ADDRESS BY COLONEL FREDERICK H. KISCH,
19th March, 1929
MR. WILLIAM TYRRELL introduced the speaker, who said: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, I confess to a certain thrill when I rise to address you briefly today. I stepped out of the train this morning and for the first time set foot on Canadian soil. The nearest, but very intimate, contact with Canada which has fallen to my lot was that it was my privilege in 1915 to spend a short period attached to the Second Canadian Division. Unfortunately I did not serve in France with that division; I had been out, and was in England on light duty recovering from some rather trivial wounds, and I was attached to help in training the Second Canadian Division, a privilege which I am always very proud to remember. And I learn with pride and joy today from the Mayor of the City of the splendid example which was set by the city in regard to the care of its men on service and afterwards, and of its ex-service men. I hope you will forgive me this digression, as I wanted to express in just a word my feelings on this occasion, before I turn to the subject of Palestine. (Applause.)
Gentlemen, I have been living in Jerusalem for six years and working in Palestine, but I must correct an impression you might get from the Chairman's introductory remark. Although I hope and believe that the work I am helping to do in Palestine, of which I will tell you something, is of service to the Empire, I am no longer in the British service. I am in Palestine as a Jew engaged in the task of establishing what we call the Jewish National Home in Palestine, under the auspices of the British Mandate. It will be impossible in the short time I wish to occupy, to cover fully the picture of Palestine today, which was the title that was given to this address. But I will try to give you a few of the high lights and give you some indication of how the finished picture will be if our hopes are realized.
Perhaps I can introduce the subject well by quoting a phrase from my friend, Col. Wedgewood, who said "England has provided the picture frame, but the Jews are painting the picture". That is what is intended, what we are trying to do. When I say "We" I mean both Britain as mandatory government and the Jewish people. I shall give you a word or two on the political background of this picture, which is necessary to understand it. Palestine administered by a British High Commissioner in the name of the Sovereign, on the basis of the mandate granted to Great Britain by the League of Nations, and that mandate charges the mandatory with establishing such social, political, and other conditions, as will facilitate the establishment of the Jewish National Home. In that spirit the mandatory government is administering the country. England found the country not only devastated by war, but devastated by false entries of Turkish misgovernment which produced a greater devastation than the actual military occupation and fighting to which Palestine was subjected. There was no development under the Turk, but such works as irrigation works, and water supply works which had been in existence as far back as Bible times, even before the Roman works, both those and the Roman works had been allowed to fall to ruin. It is in its nature a hard and difficult country; it needs attention and development. From the Turks Palestine received neither. Roads were few and bad; railways were limited to a narrow gauge line constructed by a French concessionaire from Jaffa to Jerusalem; harbours and ports there were none. Agriculture was conducted only by the most primitive methods, and there was nothing of industry. Banditry was prevalent, there was no law and order, and there was an almost universal regime of backsheesh and corruption wherever the Turkish official was to be found. And in a short space of time Great Britain has succeeded in establishing a regime of order, respect for security and justice, and at the same time that has helped and promoted the introduction of many of the amenities of civilization and progress. (Applause.) I do not believe any other power could have cleared away the corruption of the Turkish regime in so short a time, and what was done I attribute to that tradition of straightforward administration which is the heritage of the British Public Civil Service. (Hear, hear, and applause.) That is really the picture frame. The British have established a system of gendarmerie and have made possible the development of the country by its previous population and by a new Jewish immigrant population, which comes to Palestine from all countries of the world, and is of course controlled in accordance with the economic capacity of the country to absorb immigration. Before passing to Palestine itself I would like to say one worn in regard to the importance of the British mandate from the British imperial point of view. That importance lies mainly in the geographical position of Palestine. Palestine is situated virtually where three continents meet, Europe, Asia and Africa. Palestine controls the approaches to the Suez Canal by land from the east. From that point of view, even before the Suez Canal the importance of Palestine was realized, and you all know that Napoleon sought from Egypt to conquer and occupy Palestine, that he took Jaffa, but was held up before the borders of Acre, and eventually abandoned his campaign. During the late war a Turkish army traversed Palestine and actually reached the Suez Canal in 1915, which is very recent and living evidence of the importance of Palestine to Great Britain. In connection with the development of air routes, Palestine also has great imperial significance. Air routes to Persia and India all touch in Palestine, lying as it does between the Mediterranean on the west and the Arabian Desert on the east. While on this order of subjects I should mention that the construction of a harbour at Haifa is about to begin and this harbour will be connected by rail with Baghdad. The Haifa to Bagdad railway line has already been planned; it will not be constructed in the immediate future but it is one of the certainties of the years to come. It is also possible, but it is not more than a possibility, that there will finally be a pipe line from the oil fields to Haifa. In any case, the mere construction of the harbour at the terminus of these trade routes to Mesoptamia, Persia and India, will give Palestine a new important economic significance in connection with the imperial British position in the Mediterranean. Then in connection with the changed conditions in Egypt, whose independence, as you know, has been recognized, Palestine assumes an additional significance from the British point of view. I mention this, because although I as a Jew, and my co-religionists, all appreciate that generous act on the part of the British statesmen, which is known to the world as the Balfour Declaration, that recognition of the Jewish historical rights in Palestine, that pledge to assist in the revival of Jewish rights in Palestine, it is but right to recognize that in this cooperation between Great Britain and the Jewish people there is a common bond of mutual interest. That is generally recognized also by British statesmen.
I would like to pass now for a moment to the actual picture, as Jews see it. What is Zionism? Probably to many of you it is little more than a phrase, and I know that there are many in England, perhaps not here, who have a very false idea of what Zionism means. I have sometimes met people who thought it was in some way connected with Bolshevism. Zionism is of course essentially a nationalist movement; it is by no means internationalist. Zionism is essentially constructive, the antithesis of destruction. Zionism is essentially an ideal. Zionism preaches and pleads that apart from the contribution which Jews can bring to whatever country they live in as citizens, the Jewish people as a race have some special characteristic Jewish contribution to give to the world, that contribution, which at its height, in its most inspired form, took the shape of the Bible and of the ethical ideas which are founded on it. We Zionists believe that the world has lost from the fact that through the destruction of the temple nearly two thousand years ago there has been no centre where Jewish life could develop freely, so that the Jewish spirit could find its natural growth. That is what Zionism is trying to create today in Palestine. Only in Palestine, the traditional homeland of the ancient Hebraic people, is it possible to re-establish this national Jewish life. And progress--I think remarkable progress--has been made with the painting of this picture. There are today in Palestine some 150,000 Jews, where there were only 65,000 at the time of the Armistice. Of those 150,000 Jews, 30,000, about half of the newcomers, are engaged solely in agricultural pursuits, which is a somewhat new phenomenon for Jewish life. And our farmers in Palestine are successful, imbued by an almost physical passion for the soil. That you will appreciate if you know that it is a tradition and practice of Jewish othodox life that a handful of Palestinian earth should be buried with the Jew in his coffin; so living has remained this attachment to the soil of Palestine.
Side by side with the development of agricultural life, goes a development of new social forms. We have what I might describe as an intellectual proletariat. A good many of our agricultural workers are young men and women who have received a higher education in colleges and universities in these countries of eastern Europe from which they come. In Palestine they are content to devote themselves to the manual labour of agricultural work, and they find their intellectual outlet in new social forms. I hope and believe that perhaps in the domain of sociology Palestine will make some real and valuable contribution to the world within a measurable distance of time. We have established agricultural schools in the country for boys and girls, and we also send over a good many of our young people to study in California, where the climate is almost identical with that of Palestine.
And with the development of agriculture, we are also developing industries, in the first instance those industries that are based on Palestine's agricultural products, the olive and almonds, and other products which can be turned to the purposes of industry. Also industries useful in the building up of the country, such as the manufacture of cement, which was formerly all imported, and which is now all manufactured locally in Palestine under Jewish initiative. The development of the harbour will greatly facilitate the industries of the country. Up to now it has cost as much to land a cargo of coal from the ship to the quay in Haifa, as to bring that coal from Wales to Haifa. We have also suffered from the fact that we have no fuels in the country, and today we are harnessing the Jordan for electrical energy. A dam has been thrown across the Jordan just below where it runs out of the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee, which will remain untouched and unspoiled, will act as a natural storage reservoir for this hydroelectric station. In a short time electrical energy from the Jordan will be available throughout the country.
The orange is the chief product of our agricultural life. We exported last year over two million cases of oranges, and with the new groves that have been planted we expect to be exporting five million cases in five years. With regard to the population which the country will ultimately support, it is difficult to tell you anything definite, but we know that in Roman times the country did support a population of some two to three millions. Today the total population is under one million, so there is ample room for Jewish immigration for a considerable time to come.
Then I should say a word or two about the Arabs. It is sometimes suggested that the idea of Zionism is to interfere with the Arabs of Palestine. In the first place I would say to that that the Arabs have shown neither the desire nor the ability to develop the Holy Land. Their production in the field of agriculture was just enough for their own minimum needs. The country went steadily back. I think it is generally recognized that the world is too small to justify a country being left in an undeveloped and deteriorated condition if there is a people ready to develop it. In this case, also, we are dealing with a people that has come from this ancient land. I was once asked by one of the Arab leaders, the king who formerly ruled in Mecca, how he, an Arab, should be expected to accept the Balfour Declaration. I will give you my reply, which explains something of the historical background of Zionism. I told him I thought even he as an Arab leader would accept it, that the Balfour Declaration was merely the recognition of certain historical facts. The first fact was that the Jews were once the people of Palestine; the second fact was that the Jews were driven from Palestine by might, by the Roman Empire. The third fact was that the Jews throughout the two thousand years during which they have been scattered throughout the world, have retained a love and a race-consciousness for this Palestine. And the fourth fact was that what the Jews have given to the world comes from this very connection with this land. (Applause.) It goes without saying that in everything we do we are most careful to respect all other peoples and all other faiths that are living and practising in Palestine. (Applause.) We ourselves took the initiative at the time the mandate was being inaugurated in moving the League of Nations to arrange that the mandate should include a special provision by which a Commission, entirely independent of the government and of the local population, should be charged with the custody of the holy places. Unfortunately, owing to internal reasons between the various authorities and churches concerned, that Commission has never yet been set up. We Jews would very much welcome such a Commission. I feel at any rate it has come to be generally recognized that Zionism in Palestime makes for the pacification and development of the country. It is very interesting to compare conditions
in Palestine and in Syria. In Palestine there is very little garrisoning; the British have found it possible to remove all regular troops, other than a few aircraft units and armoured cars. There is no single unit of infantry or cavalry or artillery in the country. In Syria the French have come to recognize that while this is partly due to the methods of the British administration, it is very largely due to the fact that Zionism makes for pacification. We can colonize a country only where there is peace, and that means that everybody should be happy and content. The Arabs have come to see that the Jews have come to Palestine not to exploit the country but to develop it for the benefit of all its inhabitants. I would like to conclude with a word or two about the Jewish cultural revival in Palestine. Hebrew, the same Hebrew as that of the Old Testament, has become the current language among the Jews of Palestine. There
are three daily papers, all in Hebrew. No other papers are published by the Jewish community in Palestine, except in Hebrew. There are monthly reviews on such subjects as art, and jurisprudence and health, and other technical matters. We have a complete system of Hebrew schools from the kindergarten to the University, which was founded on Mount Scopus and opened by Lord Balfour in
1925. A most wonderful site, that site of the University or Mount Scopus! One looks down, facing east, to the Jordan and over to the mountains of Moab, and facing west one looks over the ancient city of Jerusalem with its ancient walls. I hope, and we Jews all hope, that from this seat of Hebraic learning on
Moriah, we will be enabled to make some fresh contribution to general progress.
I would like to tell you about a rather remarkable archaelogical find which occurred just before I left Palestine. Some of our people were excavating in one
of the new Jewish agricultural colonies near Bezan. It is at the foot of Mount Gilboa where Saul fought his last battle and met his death, close to Bezan where his body and that of Jonathan were taken. There, in what was a wilderness when we went there a few years ago, we planted a few Jewish agricultural settlements, and making there an irrigation canal, came across a tessellated pavement which disclosed a circle with the signs of the Zodiac, and the names in Hebrew characters, and this was identified as the floor of an ancient synagogue of the third or fourth century of the Christian era, showing that where this Jewish life is being restored, was the centre of normal Jewish life fifteen centuries ago.
That perhaps will give you some idea of this picture which the Jews are painting in Palestine, while Great Britain is holding the picture frame. We hope and believe that it is our destiny to complete the painting of this picture. Speaking as a Jew, we are grateful to the British people that have made possible this task which we are undertaking, and we hope that in aiming at the destiny to be realized in Palestine, mankind at large will also benefit there-from. (Applause.)
The thanks of the Club were tendered to the speaker by Canon Cody.