One hundred years ago, the Zionist activist Harry Sachar wrote an essay titled “A Jewish Palestine,” which appeared in the July 1919 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Writing less than two years after the Balfour Declaration, and a year before the League of Nations assigned the mandate for Palestine to Britain, Sachar made an impassioned plea for the creation of a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel:
The Zionist movement is a longing and striving to restore to the Jewish people normal national life. . . . The Zionist movement will continue until the Jewish people are once more living a normal national life, when it will be transformed into the active expression of that normal national life.
There are some who deny that there is such a thing as the Jewish people, but the denial is a modern innovation. Very rare is the non-Jew who thinks of Jews as merely a sect without national quality; and it is doubtful whether among the Jews themselves there could be found a single instance of such a denial much earlier than the second decade of the 19th century.
Let us try to clear the ground by attempting not so much a definition as a characterization of Judaism. Judaism is not a religion in the Western sense of the word. Judaism is the precipitated spiritual experience of the Jewish people. The idea of Judaism is inseparable from the idea of the Jewish people, and the idea of the Jewish people is inseparable from the idea of the Jewish land. You may see this in every form and expression of Jewish religious life. Individual prayer, prayer for the individual Jew alone, is exceedingly rare. When the Jew prays, he prays not simply for himself, but for all Israel; and this national conception permeates prayer even in what might be considered to be the most personal and individual incidents of life: birth, marriage, death. The welding of the idea of the Jewish people with the idea of the Jewish land is manifest in every page of the Jewish liturgy.
What Jews are asking for is the right to make Palestine a Jewish country once again—Jewish in the sense that the majority of the people shall be Jews; Jewish in the sense that the predominant culture shall be Hebrew culture. For this purpose a mere bare permission to emigrate into the country will not suffice. He who wills the end must also will the means. The land must be made accessible to the Jews. At present, from 60 to 80 percent of the soil of Palestine is held in great estates, by absentee landowners, who rack-rent a miserable peasantry. The Jewish people had no intention of allowing their passion for the country, their enterprise, and their genius to be converted into unearned increment for the benefit of these absentee landlords. They are, however, anxious that the rights of the cultivating fellaheen [the Arab peasantry] shall be conserved, and there is plenty of room for the fellaheen and for the Jewish immigrants. Palestine today has not one tenth of the population it once had.