I recently came across an excerpt of a text by Ahad Ha’am (born Asher Ginsberg), a Zionist who went to Palestine for the first time in 1891. It’s called “A Truth from Eretz Yisrael,” and I found it in the collection edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon called Wrestling with Zion:
We who live abroad are accustomed to believe that almost all Eretz Yisrael is now uninhabited desert and whoever wishes can buy land there as he pleases. But this is not true. It is very difficult to find in the land [ha’aretz] cultivated fields that are not used for planting. Only those sand fields or stone mountains that would require the investment of hard labor and great expense to make them good for planting remain uncultivated. […]
The Arabs, especially the urban elite, see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land, but they keep quiet and pretend not to notice anything. For now, they do not consider our actions as presenting a future danger to them. They therefore do their best to exploit us, to benefit from the newly arrived guests as much as they can and yet, in their hearts, they laugh at us. The peasants are happy when a Jewish colony is formed among them because they get better wages for their work and get richer and richer every year, as experience has shown us. The big landowners also have no problem accepting us because we pay them, for stone and sand land, amounts they would never have dreamed of getting before. But, if the time comes that our people’s life in Eretz Yisrael will develop to a point where we are taking their place, either slightly or significantly, the natives are not going to just step aside so easily. […]
If we have this ambition to settle in a new country and radically change our way of life and we truly want to achieve our goals, then we can’t ignore the fact that ahead of us is a great war and this war is going to need significant preparation. […]
It is not our way to learn nothing for the future from the past. We must surely learn, from both our past and present history, how careful we must be not to provoke the anger of the native people by doing them wrong, how we should be cautious in out dealings with a foreign people among whom we returned to live, to handle these people with love and respect and, needless to say, with justice and good judgment. And what do out brothers do? Exactly the opposite! They were slaves in their diasporas, and suddenly they find themselves with unlimited freedom, wild freedom that only a country like Turkey can offer. This sudden change has planted despotic tendencies in their hearts, as always happens to former slaves [‘eved ki yimlokh]. They deal with the Arabs with hostility and cruelty trespass unjustly, beat them shamefully for no sufficient reason, and even boast about their actions. There is no one to stop the flood and put and end to this despicable and dangerous tendency. Our brothers indeed were right when they said that the Arab only respects he who exhibits bravery and courage. But when these people feel that that the law is on their rival’s side and, even more so, if they are right to think their rival’s actions are unjust and oppressive, then, even if they are silent,and endlessly reserved, they keep their anger in their hearts. And these people will be revenged like no other.