The Lebanese Aristocrat Whose Family’s Support for Zionism Helped Make Israel Possible

September 29, 2020 | Tal Schneider
About the author:

Among the many casualties of the deadly explosion in Beirut last month was Lady Yvonne Cochrane Sursock, who was injured in the blast and died 27 days later, at the age of ninety-eight. A citizen of Lebanon, Italy, and Britain who was formerly married to the Irish consul in Beirut, Cochrane lived a remarkable life and was a distinguished philanthropist and art collector. She and her family were also important supporters of the Zionist cause, as Tal Schneider explains:

Lady Cochrane was born in Naples in 1922. Her father, Alfred Bey Sursock, was a member of one of the great property-owning families in the Middle East, and her mother, Donna Maria Teresa Serra di Cassano, was a member of Italy’s aristocratic Serra di Cassano family.

Her family inheritance included hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the Jezreel Valley, the Western Galilee, the Hefer Valley, Haifa, and Jaffa. . . . These acquisitions began in 1870, when the Ottoman government sold land in Israel to subjects of the empire. The wealthy Sursock family (also spelled Sursuq), purchased no fewer than 200,000 acres throughout Palestine, including about 50,000 acres in the Jezreel Valley.

In 1891, Zionist activists entered into negotiations with the Sursock family for land purchases. Bit by bit, plot by plot, properties were purchased by Zionist leaders. [Cochrane’s father] did business with Yehoshua Hankin, the “land redeemer” responsible for most of the major World Zionist Organization purchases, who came to Beirut for this purpose. Hankin’s niece, Tzila Shoham-Feinberg, [who accompanied him on some of these trips], later wrote: “I personally have no doubt that without the great help that Yehoshua Hankin received from the Sursock family in various ways—despite strong opposition from extremist and nationalist elements in the Arab world and despite threats on their lives—in addition to the sale of land by them, he would not have redeemed the [Beit She’an] valley at the time.”

Later on, Lady Cochrane never seemed to lose her pro-Zionist sympathies, and in the 1970s would become a staunch opponent of the PLO—which brought so many woes to her country—and of the Syrians.

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