Ottoman army officer in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. (Image: TRTWORLD) (Theodor Herzl)
Before Britain allowed European Zionists to colonize Palestine, its main idealist, Theodor Herzl, tried to buy land from the Ottoman Empire.
Long before the controversial Balfour Declaration began to colonize Palestine at the request of the British Empire, Theodor Herzl, one of the main founders of Zionism, appealed to the Ottoman Empire for a Jewish country.
Palestine and its people were an integral part of the Ottoman lands, linking the sublime port of Istanbul to a wider area, including the three holiest places in Islam Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
The Ottoman sultans were also the caliphs of Islam and derive their authority by owning the holiest places in the Muslim world. But the Ottoman Empire had a worldly problem: debt and there were many more.
In 1896, Theodor Herzl noticed a real estate opportunity and arrived in Istanbul with a deal he believed the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II could not refuse.
The Ottoman Empire was faltering under the debt burden accumulated at the end of the 19th century, and today debt is as high as $11.6 billion. Debt was controlled through a tool called the Ottoman Public Debt Management Agency, which represents major European countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and the Netherlands.
This gave the European colonial powers some level of control within the Ottoman countries, which would eventually prove to be their undoing.
Cash for land
Based on the historical records, Theodor Herzl offered to pay 20 million pounds (approximately 2.2 billion dollars in today’s currency value) to the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid II to issue a letter for the Jewish Zionist’s colonization of Palestine Country.
This money would have shaved the debt burden of the Ottoman Empire by about 20%. Herzl reportedly exclaimed that “without the help of the Zionists, there would be no chance for the Turkish economy to recover.”
Herzl’s interlocutors with the Ottoman Sultan, Philip de Nureinsky & Arminius Wanberg, suspected that however unstable the financial condition of the Ottomans, Jerusalem the holy land would be the 3rd holiest place in Islam would simply be sold.
They were right. Sultan Abdul Hamid II refused the offer outright in 1896, telling Newlinski, “if Mr. Theodor Herzl is as much your friend as you are mine, then advise him not to take another step in this matter. I cannot sell even a foot of land because it does not belong to me but to my people who have fought for this Ottoman Empire with their blood and have fertilized it with their own blood. We will again cover it with our own blood before we allow it to forcibly pull away from us.”
Sultan Abdul Hamid’s words were really prophetic. Therefore, this Palestinian conflict is often discussed as an ancient and old conflict going back more than 1,000 years, where the roots of this conflict are clearly in the late 19th century.
The foundation of Zionist thinking was that Jews can be moved to Palestine from Europe as a result of getting free of the so-called “Jewish problem” in the European continent. Vaious non-Jews and even anti-Semitists assisted the idea of retransferring European Jews to the Middle East, which will result in local iniginous Palestinians leaving their own homes. Some Zionists Jews like Herzl, although not all, adopted this idea, which instilled Zionist ideas as a colonial project from the beginning.
The historian Louis Fishman in his book ‘Jews and Palestinians in the Late Ottoman Era’, made the case that the “colonial Jewish project developed within an Ottoman context.”
But the migration of Jews to Palestine also unfolded in the context of fanatical European-led anti-Semitism, and Herzl and his Zionist contemporaries realized that this would never yield, he was right.
Jews of the Ottoman Empire
When Herzl finally faced Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1901, he suggested that Jewish rich financiers could build up a company in Istanbul and buy Ottoman debt from European powers over time. As a result, some lands in Palestine can gain autonomy and become a destination for Jewish immigrants.
Herzl’s idea was a commitment to independence. However, although Abdul Hamid II was interested in the idea of integrating the foreign debt within the empire, he insisted that it was a separate agreement that would not linked to the Jewish Colonization of Palestine.
European Jews’ migration towards Palestinian land was a trickle at the time. But it still resulted in tensions with indigenous Palestinian peoples.
However, due to the constitutional crisis, the Ottoman Empire struggled to maintain its territory in the Balkans and faced internal political unrest, often finding itself extinguished the fires that threatened the empire.
However, even in this case, when the Ottoman Parliament raised the issue of Jewish immigration, Nissim Matzliah, a Jewish member of the Ottoman Parliament, made it clear, “if Zionism is indeed harmful to the State, then without question my loyalty lies with the State.”
However, the Ottoman countries increasingly viewed European Zionism and its ambitions in its territory as part of another colonial attempt to divide the land.
In a detailed and long report to Istanbul, Ahmed Tufik Pasha, (Ottoman ambassador to Berlin) wrote: “we should have no illusions for Zionism” the objective he added was nothing more short of “making of the great Jewish Zionists State in Palestinian land, which would also spread towards the neighboring countries.”
Sultan Abdul Hamid II commented in his memoirs that Herzl had tried to mislead the country about his ultimate intentions on the earth. Herzl realized that there would be no rewards for asking for help in Istanbul, and eventually formed an alliance with Britain. The rest is history.
Source: TRT WORLD
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