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The Birth of Zionism

At roughly the same time as Arab nationalism was becoming a vital force, modern Zionism was also beginning to take shape. Zionism was a political movement based upon the belief that Jews, although they were scattered in many different countries around the world, constituted a single nation. As minorities in these countries, Jews had historically suffered persecution. Therefore, the Jewish nation required a land of its own where Jews would be in the majority. In its earliest forms, modern Zionism did not identify a particular location for the Jewish homeland, but later Palestine was identified because of its connection with Old Testament events.

The Zionist movement gained momentum in the late 19th century, partly spurred by pogroms against Jews in Europe, particularly Russia. There were many cases of anti-Semitism in Europe. One well known case was the false conviction in 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the highest ranking Jew in the French military, for treason. The case against Dreyfus was proven false, and, he was given a pardon in 1899. The conviction was caused by the anti-Semitic French press that aroused public opinion against Dreyfus.

Jewish immigration to Palestine became more significant and Jews made up a progressively larger percentage of the population. There were five separate waves of immigration called aliyah (singular) or aliyot (plural) from the Hebrew word meaning “ascent.”

The Arab population viewed the Jewish immigration with anxiety, as a potential complication to their own aspirations of an independent state. The Zionists were criticized at times for ignoring the needs, and even existence, of the Arab population of Palestine.

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