For a place that ‘never existed’ Chaim Weizmann writes about Palestine a lot. In his memoir (Trial and Error. p.21) writing of his childhood, he has this to say, ‘Palestine was at the centre of the ritual, a longing for it implicit in our life. Practical nationalism did not assume form till some years later, but the ‘Return’ was in the air, a vague, deep-rooted Messianism, a hope which would not die.’ The Rebbi’s response if a ‘youngster..so much as mention the rebuilding of Palestine. He would say: ‘You keep quiet. You’ll never bring the Messiah any nearer’.
Later, speaking with C.P.Scott (Editor of the Manchester Guardian) he would tell him of ‘our hopes and aspirations for Palestine, of the little we had already done there, and of our almost Messianic dreams … for the future.’ It is apparent that Weizmann’s notion of ‘Messianism’ was in stark contrast to those Rabbi’s waiting for the Messiah. For nearly 1800 years the Rabbinic tradition had been to wait but Weizmann would not. He hoped for ‘a million Jews’ who would ‘develop the country, bring back civilization to it and form a very effective guard for the Suez canal’, (page.191). The latter aspect would most commend itself to the British War Cabinet, although, as is clear from Anthony Bruce’s The Last Crusade (John Murray. 2002), British forces with significant help from Feisal’s Arab Army were, by autumn of 1917, already pushing back the Turkish-German army.
It would be interesting to explore Weizmann’s mind on the subject of bringing back civilization. When, exactly, did he think civilization had been there before; when and for what reason had it departed, and what would it look like restored. Much has been written and said, much of it nonsense, about how poorly developed Palestine was. Suffice to point out here (more elsewhere) that the League of Nations determined after careful assessment that Palestine was a Class A category Mandate nation ready for independence with a minimum of assistance.