The Colonization of Palestine


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This article was published in "The Century Magazine" of June, 1882. It was written by J. Augustus Johnson, at the time the United States consul-general in Beirut.

It is important because it demonstrates that:

- Christians and Jews did not notice in 1948 that the Jews had returned to Palestine, then go back to their Bibles looking for proof texts to show that the event was prophesied. They believed the prophesies were there long before that time.

- Though they believed the Bible predicted it, there was nothing obvious about the return of Jews to Palestine. As you will see in reading this, in around 1882 Johnson - an intelligent man - clearly believed it wouldn't happen. Therefore, those Jews and Christians who did believe, believed because they saw the event as prophesied, not because circumstances suggested it was likely.


Colonization eastward, like all efforts to turn back the hands of time, is likely to meet with little success. Even when prophecy and the religious instinct of the Hebrew race favor the return of the Jews, progress toward the Holy Land is slow-paced, and those who have gone there to reside within the last hundred years number less than the aggregate of emigrants arriving at the port of New York in a single month. From the time of the Crusades feeble efforts, of a semi-religious character, have been made to recover and occupy the country about Jerusalem, but always with barren results. Nearly all the elements of successful colonization are wanting there. The colonist may plant, but the harvest is pretty sure to leave little enough for seed after the predatory Arab and the organized Turk have taken their tithes from the field. Nor is commerce more attractive. The ports are inaccessible in bad weather and are unprotected at all seasons. The climate is unfavorable for the foreigner, and is often fatal to the tourist. The graves of modern travelers and explorers may be seen from Dan to Beersheba, and from Jerusalem to Damascus.

[This section deals primarily with a small Christian sect called "The Church of the Messiah," which had attempted to establish a settlement in Palestine in anticipation of the second coming of Jesus. The author says the group planned, by purchasing land early, to make a big profit in real estate by selling it to the Jews, "who, under divine command, would soon proceed from the four quarters of the globe, and take up the land of their forefathers." It didn't work, and it was to unscramble the resulting mess that the author, Johnson, went to Palestine.]

The German Jews at Caipha, with their American associates, under an organization known as The Temple, have adopted a different course, and have met with better success. Their leaders, who are established near Mount Carmel, and their home committees in Germany and the United States, arrange in advance for the shipment of small detachments of colonists, from year to year, but only to such an extent as to comply with the prudential requirements of the governing elders. Mechanics, farm-hands, laborers, and domestics are sent for only when employment has been duly provided, and thus each colonist becomes self-supporting from the hour of his arrival, and is soon able to acquire a sufficient knowledge of the language of the people to cooperate in promoting the general aims of the colony. Numbering in all about eight hundred, including branches and offshoots in other parts of Palestine, and having about a thousand acres under cultivation, they seem to have avoided the mistakes of the Jaffa colonists, and to have established friendly relations with the people and the local authorities. Should they continue to show the same tact and discretion they may prosper until, by the recurrence of periodical outbreaks of Moslem fury, they are swept away, as the river Kishon, which flows through their farms, sweeps away all accumulations of labor upon its banks when its swollen torrents rush to the sea.

It is doubtful if any effort by Christians toward the colonization of Palestine will succeed in the face of climatic and political complications. Hebrews may find more in the language and customs of the country to harmonize with their history and traditions, yet it is to be doubted if they can achieve any greater success. A pilgrimage to El Khuds is pleasing in anticipation, enjoyable in execution, and charming in retrospect; but a residence and a life career where commerce and traffic is inconsiderable, and where daily bread will depend on daily labor in the open field, is not to the taste of the fiscal and commercial Hebrew of modern times. While investigating the Jaffa colony, I met at the Jewish hotel a French gentleman who was largely interested in grape-culture and the wines of Bordeaux. In discussing with him the feasibility of a Jewish colony and matters relating to the "return of the Jews," as prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures, I learned that he was a Hebrew and had given some thought to the subject. He seemed a practical man, and I asked his view of the matter. His reply was emphatic.

"It will be impossible," said he, "to bring Jews of different nationalities together and make them live in harmony. As a matter of fact, a French Jew has his prejudices, and will not affiliate with Englishmen and Germans of the same creed: their national antagonisms are too strong! In my judgment, it will require a greater miracle to bring all the Jews together than was required for their dispersion, and a greater miracle still, each day, to prevent their eager departure to the countries of their birth."

The success of colonies must of necessity depend on the climate and the products of the territory, and history teaches that successful colonies have never been established upon the sites of decayed empires, or upon ground exhausted by the civilizations of the past.

- J. Augustus Johnson