Tom Segev Reviews Gur Alroey: The Makings of History / Zionism, Uganda and the Jews

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The Makings of History / Zionism, Uganda and the Jews

In the annals of the Zionist movement there was no argument more bitter and more formative than that over whether the Jewish state should be built within the Land of Israel, or whether it would be better off wherever possible

Source: Haaretz, 12-9-11

A Jew, a Swiss and an Englishman were on a train. This could be the opening of a joke, but the three were on their way from Basel to Trieste. From there they sailed to Africa in December 1904, to look into founding a state for the Jews in Guas Ngishu, northwestern Kenya. That venture mistakenly went down in history as the “Uganda Plan.” The trio went at the behest of Herzl, following a decision by the Sixth Zionist Congress.

In the annals of the Zionist movement there was no argument more bitter and more formative than that over whether the Jewish state should be built within the Land of Israel, or whether it would be better off wherever possible. The Swiss scholar Alfred Kaiser and the engineer Nahum Wilbush, who came from the Land of Israel, ruled out settling Jews in Guas Ngishu; the British explorer Hill Gibbons thought the region might work and proposed setting up an experimental settlement.

Nahum Wilbush. Industrial pioneer. Nahum Wilbush. Industrial pioneer.

A fascinating book by Gur Alroey maintains that the British explorer voiced the most serious, in-depth and credible opinion (“Seeking a Homeland,” Ben-Gurion Research Institute ). Alroey, a professor in the University of Haifa’s department of Land of Israel studies, writes: “If we compare the condition of the Land of Israel to the condition of the region that the delegation investigated in those years, Guas Ngishu was not in the least ‘a place that has nothing and with which nothing can be done,’ as Wilbush claimed. It seems that had a similar delegation been sent in December 1904 to the lower and upper Galilee, the Jezreel Valley or the sand hills north of Jaffa, where Tel Aviv later arose, the sight would have been far worse than what the delegation found on the plains of Guas Ngishu. In this country – malaria stricken, rife with swamps and occupied by natives – they surely would have concluded against it.”…READ MORE

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