Back to top

Exiled in the Homeland

Exiled in the Homeland
Zionism and the Return to Mandate Palestine

A stirring portrait of daily life and political dilemmas in 1920s Palestine, during the first decade of British rule in the region.

Series: Jewish History, Life, and Culture Endowment

November 2009
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
Add to cart
263 pages | 6 x 9 |

Offering a new perspective on Zionism, Exiled in the Homeland draws on memoirs, newspaper accounts, and archival material to examine closely the lives of the men and women who immigrated to Palestine in the early twentieth century. Rather than reducing these historic settlements to a single, unified theme, Donna Robinson Divine's research reveals an extraordinary spectrum of motivations and experiences among these populations.

Though British rule and the yearning for a Jewish national home contributed to a foundation of solidarity, Exiled in the Homeland presents the many ways in which the message of emigration settled into the consciousness of the settlers. Considering the benefits and costs of their Zionist commitments, Divine explores a variety of motivations and outcomes, ranging from those newly arrived immigrants who harnessed their ambition for the goal of radical transformation to those who simply dreamed of living a better life. Also capturing the day-to-day experiences in families that faced scarce resources, as well as the British policies that shaped a variety of personal decisions on the part of the newcomers, Exiled in the Homeland provides new keys to understanding this pivotal chapter in Jewish history.

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Dispossession, Displacement, and Dreams: The Meanings of Auto-Emancipation
  • Chapter 2. Great Britain's Colonial Venture: The Starting Point
  • Chapter 3. Making Concessions: Zionist Immigration Politics
  • Chapter 4. Mishnah Impossible: Zionist Attempts to Transform the Jewish People
  • Chapter 5. No Kaddish for Exile, No Path to Redemption
  • Chapter 6. Unsung Heroes
  • Conclusion: Vital Statistics and the Statistics Vital for a Jewish State
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

A specialist in Middle East politics, Donna Robinson Divine is Morningstar Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Government at Smith College. Her previous books include Politics and Society in Ottoman Palestine, and she recently served as co-editor of Postcolonial Theory and the Arab-Israel Conflict. She lives in Connecticut.


When the Roslan dropped anchor at the port of Jaffa in late December 1919 following its month-long journey from Odessa, Zionist leaders heralded the ship's arrival as the dawn of a new age. They deemed its 670 passengers "pioneers" and portrayed them as absolutely dedicated to the Zionist aim to remake the Jewish people. The trouble with this view is that it was not entirely accurate: local newspaper reports told a very different story. Contemporaries described Zionism's so-called Mayflower as filled with a wretched "refuse" escaping the deadly battlefields of civil war Russia and most emphatically not coming to Palestine possessed with Zionism's visionary purpose. Examining the Roslan's masthead should have further dampened the enthusiasm of Zionist leaders, who by calling the ship's landing a milestone may have revealed more about their extraordinary capacity for wishful thinking than for accurate accounting or reporting. Compared to the situation on other ships carrying people to Palestine during 1919, fewer people aboard the Roslan (by about 10 percent) called themselves workers, and very few of those strewn across its almost unlivable decks conformed to the profile of Zionist pioneer: few were in their teens or early twenties; many were children traveling with their parents, and at least 40 percent were married. But despite the abundant evidence, the Zionist narrative that shaped how Israelis understood the origins of their state and society did not incorporate the Roslan's real story.

Although the gap between Zionism's national building paradigm and the historical narrative of events—the difference between myth and reality—has drawn considerable scholarly attention, it has not resolved the puzzle of how idealism and balance-of-power considerations mobilized the resources vital for the establishment of a Jewish state. Most analyses have focused narrowly on either ideals or power politics, as if a choice between them must be made. Despite decades of revisionist history, there are still two rather distinct models of the Jewish nation-building experience in Palestine, and scholars seem more attentive to the differences between them than to their points of intersection. Without ignoring the differences, Exiled in the Homeland aims to show how one perspective can invigorate the other.

When Israel was established in the midst of war and hardship, most of its citizens accepted the Zionist paradigm and viewed their nation as the embodiment of ideals and as the template for social advances that would one day come to all peoples. They viewed the country's pre-state era as a heroic period overflowing with pioneers who poured energy and sweated labor into building communities grounded in the shared ideals of freedom and equality. Presumably only their determined quest for social and political justice enabled these early Zionists to endure the suffering necessary for creating the economic and political basis for Jewish sovereignty. In the conventional wisdom, the development of a Jewish state is depicted as a process of binding people through a joint commitment to a set of sacred principles: freedom, love of the land, physical labor, and revitalizing the Hebrew language—and was all seemingly accomplished by sheer will power—yesh me-ayin (creating something from nothing). The idea of Israel's existence supposedly resonated with proof of what could be done with a combination of personal altruism and unshakeable national commitment.

In themselves, Zionist ideals were not exceptional, particularly in the context of the interchanges of culture and politics in nineteenth-century Europe. They derived from nationalist and socialist principles well known across the continent. But when these principles were applied to the Jews, something new did emerge. And when they were implemented in Palestine, an ambitious enterprise was launched that was substantially different from its European counterparts. Fusing the political with the cultural, Zionism could claim success only if its adherents' dedication to the movement's ideals matched the scope of the project. Zionist ideals were intended to empower a people, long the object of hatred and violence, to act upon the world and chart its own collective future. Jews could remake their world—Zionists contended—and establish a state, but only if they devoted their minds and bodies to the cause. Zionist immigrants to Palestine were supposed to see themselves not simply as leaving their homes but rather as rejecting them in order to create a community that would not succumb to the ordinary injustices and conflicts found in other societies. Zionist history, from the start, was cast as an inspirational story whose beginning promised and seemed to culminate in a transcendent conclusion in 1948. Stirred by an acute sense of the heroic images of their past, Israelis, for a long time, believed their forebears—called Halutzim (pioneers) —developed a society and polity in accordance with their ideals and through their own exemplary behavior and altruism. Perhaps because Israel, in its first decades, encountered and successfully dealt with more than the average number of crises attendant upon the creation of a new state, it fended off for quite a long time the kind of scrutiny that would later call into question the conventional narrative of its founding.

But the assumption that because people held fast to their beliefs and were willing to risk their lives for the fulfillment of their mission, the Jewish state-building process proved successful, has now been dismissed either as naïve or as shackled by a dogma that self-consciously ignores the real forces harnessed to secure Zionism's victory. With access to declassified material, and trained in new methodologies, scholars have lifted the veil dropped around the actions taken by the country's leaders to mobilize the resources for a Jewish state. Some of the most imaginative scholarship today focuses on the lives and contributions of those people who were typically ignored in the well-known story of Israel's creation—Arabs, women, Jews from the Middle East, non-Zionist Jews living in what they considered the Holy Land—and refutes the narrative woven by the country's leaders and founders. The familiar image drawn from poems, songs, and paintings that was once presumed to personify the Zionist nation-building project has faded under the intellectual assaults mounted by scholars who have mined recently opened archives and probed the data with new questions in mind. Even economics has been turned against Israel's image. In a recent study called Not by Spirit Alone, the title itself suggests that the making of the Jewish state marched forward together with the flow of private investments and of public economic resources.

But although the axiomatic principles of Israel's founding have been challenged, and Israelis have grown more reluctant to celebrate and venerate the people and events once safely tucked into their pantheon of heroes and turning points, revisionism has produced its own truisms. Formerly affirming their pre-state era as the implementation of a vision through sheer force of will, Israelis are currently disposed to seeing their past as a simple point of origin marking the beginning of a state-making path filled with conflict and fragmentation not only across the Arab-Jewish divide but also around the fault lines separating capitalists and socialists, Middle Eastern and European Jews, men and women, residents of towns and countryside. The notion that a Zionist redemptive vision worked itself out in Israel's nation-building experiences has been abandoned as fully as the ideal of the purported moral purity of the country's founders.

Maintaining the concept of a people initially bound together by idealism and by a shared set of norms—so long a resonating theme in Israel's self-understanding—is, of course, impossible today. But should it be entirely discarded? Several recent examinations of the historical record have brought to the surface interactions between Zionist ideals and policy realities, but such fresh perspectives have left us wondering how these twin factors operated and how they influenced actions on the ground. If Zionist idealism doesn't speak for itself, does that mean it didn't speak at all in the course of developing a homeland in Palestine? Revisionist scholarship has snapped open the connection between ideals and reality, but it has also apparently rendered it unfit for critical analysis. But without that connection, it is impossible to understand how a national identity settled into the minds of Jews in Palestine. It is this connection that serves as the organizing theme for Exiled in the Homeland, a book exploring the experiences of Zionist immigrants during the early years of Great Britain's Mandate (1918-1948), when the country was mapped for the first time and when every passenger ship reaching Palestine's ports brought some people willing to take on the self-conscious task of building the Jewish national home and of elaborating its meaning. To return to the Roslan and to the topic of its welcome by Zionist leaders and the disdain it received from most of Palestine's residents, then, is to witness not the denial of Zionist senses but rather the deployment of discourse as a political instrument.

It is not difficult to imagine a number of reasons why early leaders invented a tale so easily undone by the facts. The story composed by Zionist leaders is, in fact, a perfect document of the cultural and political challenges they faced in 1919. When Zionists secured global power backing for their project in the form of Great Britain's wartime declaration of support for building a Jewish national home in Palestine in 1917, they had not yet achieved a broad-based Jewish consensus for their aims. Desperate to prove that Jews, under the right circumstances, could rally to their nation-building cause, Zionists focused on demonstrating to the British, however flimsy the evidence, that their grandiose claims carried weight.

Great Britain's endorsement of a Jewish national home thus proved to be both an achievement and a frightening challenge for the Zionist movement. To meet the expectations that resulted from Great Britain's support, Zionists had to attract large numbers of Jews to Palestine's shores, mobilize vast amounts of money for economic investment, and build an autonomous infrastructure to serve as the authority for a future Jewish state. The disjunction between a recognized diplomatic status and an ambivalent position across Jewish communities had a profound effect on the theory and practice of Zionism. Zionists had to present a unified front and claim state-building authority for their political institutions before Great Britain and the world, while at the same time confronting the reality of their own organizational diversity. Further, they had to deal with the fact that the attitudes displayed by most Jews toward their identities were not at all congruent with Zionist goals.

Consider the starting point. For Jews, the very words for Palestine—Holy Land—conjured up images not of life but rather of death. Jews were often buried with small packets of soil from the Holy Land, and some were said to come to die rather than to live in Palestine. Zionists had to contend with this widespread folk conception before they could convince Jews to see the land of Israel as a site of national rebirth rather than as a cemetery for their people. Zionists had to change the Jewish imagination. They had to convince Jews to describe themselves not sometimes as a people and at other times as a religious group, seemingly adapting their terminology to the actions of others and not to their own absolute convictions. Rather, they had to present themselves as only a nation. Partly by designating Hebrew as the national language, Zionists made this nation the heir of an ancient civilization detained in its current domiciles by a chain of events beyond its control.

Nationalisms typically look backward to a reconstructed past to define identity and forward to an imagined future to secure it. In fusing memory to vision, Zionism drew on Judaism's biblical text for its primary historical traditions, claiming the stories of ancient glory as proof of a correlation between political dominance in the land of Israel and the production of everlasting cultural achievements, a generative power supposedly lost as Jews were scattered across the globe and dispossessed of a homeland. Rhetorically and ideologically, then, the Zionist nationalist narrative was selective, offering a lofty interpretation of the most remote and unknowable periods of Jewish history while disparaging the most verifiable record of achievements in what to most Jews was the most familiar of circumstances.

A national solidarity tied to Judaism's ancient history and to its classical textual language was a hard call for Zionists to issue. It devalued what Jews shared with one another—religion and language—and demanded that they accept a vision whose meaning was so new and different that it could not be instantly apprehended. Thus, Zionism could not avoid bearing an anomalous relationship to the societies from which it emerged and from the population that was expected to respond to its call for national rejuvenation. The claim that without a land of their own, Jews had no capacity for action or creativity was, at the very least, inconsistent with the expectation that Jews, by a collective act of national will, would be able to bring their global dispersion to an end. Zionists insisted that the European Jewish culture in which they were raised and nurtured could not furnish a normative model for the rehabilitation of Jewish life. Zionists dreamed "of transforming the Jewish self into something utterly other." But could the new Jewish society be totally unlike and detached from the civilization that gave it life and purpose?

Although Zionists frequently asserted that the new Jewish society in the land of Israel was being fashioned in accordance with their vision and not molded by the customs and habits acquired in the countries of their birth, political configurations are not transcribed literally from theories, and societies are not founded without the imprint of earlier traditions. Even those Jews who recognized the corrosive and menacing effects of their dispersion could not so easily abandon the way of life of their fathers and mothers. Palestine's Zionist leaders, in particular, were more often prepared to define what set them apart from their Diaspora Jewish roots than to acknowledge the many fateful connections. Rejecting the Diaspora was so strong an article of Zionist faith that even when the principle was being flouted, it never ceased being invoked. Still, Zionists faced a dilemma: how to reconcile their repudiation of the Diaspora with an absolute dependence on its population as potential immigrants and on its capacity for generating revenue. The dilemma was compounded by the Zionist determination to produce in Palestine an active and autonomous Jewish citizenry, not dependent for its sustenance on the charity of Diaspora Jewry. In Tel Aviv, a city that idealized financial independence and sought investment and not charity, its long-time mayor, Meir Dizengoff, found a creative way to address the dreadful conditions for the poor without literally compromising principles. In an era of dark times, he invited the city's rabbis to meet the director of a large Jewish philanthropy and instructed them "not to ask for money but not to refuse it either."

Although the idea of rejecting the Diaspora—or exile, as Zionists put it—may have been a consistent theme in Zionist ideology, it was obviously countered in practice by a variety of sustained interactions that extended well beyond the point of immigration. In standard Zionist historiography, exile is central to the assessment and description of the developing Jewish national home in Palestine. Rather than project a clear vision of home, Palestine's Zionist leaders continually looked backward and organized the ways they described the Jewish society being formed in Palestine in reference to exile and to the societies and cultures they presumably rejected and certainly denounced. Exile, in fact, took on much of its modern connotation in the process of reshaping Jewish society in Palestine. Intending to generate a unified Jewish culture in the land of Israel, Zionist discourse, partly because of its preoccupation—some might say, obsession—with exile, more often than not exposed many of its own cultural contradictions and fault lines.

Historical Borders

The Zionist project I survey in this book concentrates on the period when Jews believed that moving to Palestine lifted them up to a new kind of solidarity, moral development, and social coherence. I have chosen the first decade of British rule (1919-1929) as the temporal borders for this study because it was a formative time for developing a Jewish national home and can hold up a mirror to Israel's conventional nation-building narratives. Thus, I am able to show not only how Zionists settled into Palestine when resources were severely limited but also how much they relied on their visionary hopes and expectations when circumstances provided no cause for optimism. The 1920s—a coherent period from the point of view of British colonial policy and the development of Palestine's Jewish community—affords an ideal opportunity to examine whether the encounter of Zionists with the land of Israel lived up to their expectations and to reflect on both the accomplishments and shortcomings of the Zionist effort to mold a new national identity and to transform the Jewish people.

A scholarly engagement with the desires, values, decisions, and reflections of the early generations who created the economic and political structures for the Jewish state means following the individual men and women who crossed continents and seas to make Palestine their home. Not forced to move to Palestine, immigrants during the 1920s made choices even when their options narrowed as the decade wore on. And during this first decade of Great Britain's Mandate, faith in the Zionist project, however differently defined, supplied the motivation for a significant number—albeit not all—of the people who made their way to Palestine's shores.

Immigration was a decisive element in the national life of Palestine's Jews even though its nature and significance continue to puzzle scholars who seek to know it well. Immigration to the land of Israel was deemed, even by secular Zionists, a quasi-sacred act, and was vaunted as a powerful idiom for legitimating the Zionist idea that Jews properly belonged in this ancient land. Migrations to the country followed patterns, and each cycle seemed to be touched with special significance and specific characteristics—labor Zionist idealism for the Third Wave or Aliyah (1919-1923) and petty capitalism for the Fourth (1924-1929). The conventional historical focus on immigration created the impression that each wave was relatively homogeneous in interests, habits, political affiliations, and its distinctive contributions to the national home. Conventional renditions of Israel's pre-state history are typically organized around eras that supposedly accord not only with immigration cycles but also with the flow of the country's history. When immigration was halted for one reason or another, recorded Zionist history, itself, seemed to be on "pause."

The British Mandate, which provided Palestine with a geography, also supplied Jews with an incentive to project an image of a polity so stable and unified as to be worthy of sovereignty. But the immigrants most energized by Zionist visions were also those with the deepest engagement in Diaspora-based Zionist movements, and they often arrived in Palestine committed to diverse ideologies and, more important, infused with quite different political cultures. These immigrants had more than a passing acquaintance with change, as the organizations with which many were affiliated had often unleashed challenges to the inherited structures of authority in their Diaspora hometowns. Imagine the reactions of these Zionist activists upon arrival when they discovered how little they had in common with their peers from other towns and villages, let alone other countries, and how quickly they felt alienated from their comrades, all of whom shared a common discourse but whose experiences in Palestine often quickly set them apart or in conflict with one another. Often the robust Diaspora organizational life that gave Zionism its appeal inhibited those Zionists who reached Palestine from making common cause. Surprised, perhaps, by the range of "Zionisms," immigrants had to be shocked by how much freer they were to imagine radical change than to produce it.

For many immigrants, Palestine presented a strange if not hostile environment far different from what they expected. Interaction among people and cultures was intense and fraught with the potential for suspicion and misunderstanding. Immigrants had to learn Hebrew and find work. In these quests, prospects would sometimes hinge on contacts established in hometown youth movements or with extended kin. Drawing a disproportionately large number of males, the Zionist community's social structure in Palestine was not, initially at least, dominated by family units. A person's passage to Palestine was sometimes made possible by parents left behind in the Diaspora. Respected movement leaders typically arrived with their friends or classmates rather than with parents or siblings. Where immigration necessarily dissolved the warm embrace of families, Zionist terminology extended the intimacy of kinship to networks of comrades, friends, and neighbors. But unlike familial ties, these depended heavily on continuing to endorse a common set of political principles and to conform to a prescribed list of regulations. Deviation in thought or behavior could dissolve relationships or turn comrades into enemies. No wonder that leaving the country—even if provoked by starvation and illness—grew to be interpreted as an act of treason. Even when viewed with sympathy, emigration was often felt as a form of personal betrayal.

No degree of ideological indoctrination seemed sufficient to bring absolute unity to a people fragmented by economic interests and radically different individual desires. Proponents of transformation themselves not only disagreed on their objectives but also on the significance of their daily activities. According to one report prepared by a delegation of International Poale Zion in 1920, "in the course of its work, in the face of the contingencies of life, each kvutza [small agricultural collective] has sought its own set of values, and built its internal life according to its own feelings and the desires of its members." This description differs markedly from that provided in 1924 by Labor Zionist leader Berl Katznelson, who saw in these same settlements what he called a sound basis for unity. But Katznelson may have discerned commonalities precisely because he so ardently wished to generate them, not because they actually existed.

Finally, British sovereignty over Palestine meant that mandatory policies set the course of nation-building in Palestine for Jews as well as for Arabs. Failing to bring Jews and Arabs together in a unified countrywide legislative framework, mandate rulers authorized the creation of institutions with limited autonomy by downgrading the two communities from national to religious entities. Although Zionists originally intended Jewish nation-building to supply the passion and experience to detach Jews from their religious roots, they were impeded in their battle for a secular public realm by the very structure of mandatory rule in Palestine. Zionists could operate their institutions only because, on some level, they accepted the classification of Jews as one of Palestine's recognized religious groupings, although that rubric contradicted the founding principles of their movement. During these years, most Zionists thought religion to be moribund and doomed for extinction. Mandate policies also continued the Ottoman practice of delegating to religious officials authority over matters of personal status, thereby making it impossible for Zionist practices to match Zionism's transformative vision of a secular Jewish society.

Throughout this book, I try to make visible the differences between Zionist prescriptions and Zionist policies while indicating how the development of a Jewish national home both complicated and changed the relationship. The development of a national home in Palestine divided the Zionist movement from left to right in ways that could not have been imagined at the time Great Britain adopted the policy enunciated in its 1917 Balfour Declaration. Nor could anyone have predicted the difficulties of simultaneously accommodating the needs and interests of Jews in the Diaspora and in Palestine. Even the labor Zionist movement could not ignore the conflicting pressures, although it tried to press its adherents into a single mold.

Zionist Immigration and Jewish Immigrants

From the standpoint of their public discourse, Zionists identified the number of Jews choosing to live in Palestine as evidence for the strong Jewish attachment to the land of Israel and to the idea, however understood, of transforming Jewish life. Zionists could not march forward without those Jews, but they quickly saw them more as heavy burdens than as transformers of Jewish destiny. Calculations and sentiments typically pointed in different directions. About 100,000 Jews came to Palestine between 1919 and 1929, anticipating that British rule would guarantee them security and economic opportunity. Contrary to expectations, the experience of immigration even under the administration of Great Britain was all too familiar. When accompanied by sufficient capital, immigration stimulated economic growth. When the numbers of people ran ahead of the resources available for aid, financial shortfalls, however minimal, had disastrous and cascading effects. The pressures of a large unemployed population strained local relief systems to the point of collapse. A severe depression—but not Palestine's first—set off in 1925 by the devaluation of Poland's currency instantly turned small capitalists in the country into impoverished immigrants and forced many back to Europe. The volatile economy of Palestine's Jewish community provoked euphoria in boom times and a deep sense of gloom in the all-too-frequent cycles of depression.

For the Zionist creed, immigrants posed a special set of contradictions. Affirming the Zionist argument about the appeal of Jewish nationalism, immigrants could also be carriers of what Zionists labeled a Diaspora disease whose symptoms fixed Jews as permanent victims of oppression and deprived them of any potential for genuine creativity. Zionists were determined to wipe out this old-world mentality and its attendant behavioral patterns. A new culture, it was asserted, could not be formed without destroying the old. But in trying to overturn deeply rooted attitudes and patterns of action, Zionist terminology often alienated the very people it was supposed to indoctrinate. The distinction between immigration and immigrants explains how Zionists could consider immigration essential and a positive act and, at the same time, often hold immigrants themselves in contempt.

Recent sociological research provides a complex and mixed picture of the motivation and affiliations of the immigrants during the period of the Third Aliyah (1918-1923) and of the pattern of their absorption into Palestine's Jewish society. Less than one-third of the total (about ten thousand) could be described as genuine Halutzim committed to social and political transformation. Of those, only a small percentage actually worked on the land as agricultural laborers. Although glorified in literature and song, many who joined agricultural communities did not remain for very long. For all their professed enthusiasm for the land, most immigrants (80 percent) flowed into Palestine's cities, quickly spilling into the adjacent neighborhoods that became Palestine's first garden suburbs.

Apart from their desires or expectations, immigrants typically had trouble finding agricultural jobs. They had to compete with better-trained, cheaper Arab laborers for salaried work on private farms or be prepared to wait for many years before finding a place on the agricultural collectives and cooperatives already heavily dependent on subsidies and unable to absorb additional immigrants without incurring devastating financial risks. Although these agricultural communities increased in number and in population, they were subject to high rates of attrition because many immigrants could not adapt to the harsh working conditions or to a life so far away from Palestine's urban centers of culture.

Presumably the same desires that led Jews away from Palestine's countryside also drew them away from a radically new occupational structure. Most of Palestine's Jewish residents continued to work as artisans and shopkeepers, jobs that had sustained their families for generations in Europe. Labor union surveys in 1922 estimate that 19.9 percent of the Jewish labor force worked on the land, 18.4 percent in industry, 14.5 percent in construction, and 52.8 percent in other occupations, including a high number (47.2 percent) in services. Some found work in road construction projects financed by the mandatory government. On the road, many immigrants organized themselves into collectives, pooling resources and creating communal housing arrangements. The Gedud ha-Avodah (Labor Battalion), with a strong core of committed socialists, was the largest of these grassroots collectives. But what gave the Gedud ha-Avodah its distinctiveness as a relatively large and well-organized commune also weakened its ideological power. The Gedud's leaders themselves complained that "many of the new immigrants stayed in it long enough to become acclimatized to the country, learn the language, and get a basic training in a trade that they, then, practiced elsewhere," presumably without the same dedication to socialism's redemptive vision.

Zionism's call for auto-emancipation was presented not only as a solution for persecuted and ghettoized Jews but also as a means to usher in a society that reflected the highest ideals and the hopes of an oppressed people seeking liberation in the promised land. Zionism posited that not only the Jewish problem but also most human problems could be resolved rationally with benevolent rule and progressive social policies. Poverty would be eradicated if inequality was ended. But the attempts to bring about a utopian future ignited unexpected suffering and difficulties. Even the young radical renegades from religious homes felt an irreparable loss at holiday times that their egalitarian collectives and newly adopted workers' identities and consciousness could not repair.

The Book

Exiled in the Homeland examines the immigration of Zionists to Palestine during the 1920s in years when their experiences were turned into myth and when their struggle to make the land of Israel their home was ignored. The textbook version of Israel's pre-state history emphasizes immigration as informing the political, social, and economic development of Palestine's Jewish community, implying that the Zionist vision was, in large measure, put into practice. There is much to be said for this approach. It has encouraged the analysis of immigrants from the "outside" by isolating the forces propelling Jews to leave their European homes for Palestine. It has nurtured the study of these immigrants from the "inside" with the scrutiny of official records to disclose the age, gender, marital status, and occupations of those entering Palestine. Israeli history has benefited enormously from investigations of the socioeconomic structure, political affiliations, and level of education of those coming to build the Jewish national home.

This study builds on that research but expands on it as well to look closely at the daily lives of the men and women who came to live in Palestine during the first decade of the British Mandate and to consider the benefits they received and the costs they paid for their Zionist commitments. In one sense, the people whose lives I examine are not ordinary; they left a written record of their ideas, feelings, and experiences in memoirs, essays, and newspaper articles. But in another sense, these were the ordinary people living in Palestine's Jewish community whose thoughts and actions shaped and consolidated the Jewish national home while their lives offered up selective material used to sustain Zionism's progressive narrative. By examining the gap between the expectations and experiences of Zionists in what they deemed their rightful homeland, I am deliberately taking an unconventional approach. Instead of replicating the conventional wisdom and thinking about Zionist immigrants in purely sequential terms, I want to discuss their lives as a series of graded examples on a visionary spectrum moving from those possessed of the ambition for radical personal and national transformation to those motivated by the dream of simply finding a better life.

The book's comparative approach depends on and departs from a generation of important studies on pre-state Israeli history that take labor Zionist hegemony as both an explicit topic of research and as a given. Interestingly, whether criticizing labor Zionism for failing to forge the policies promulgated by its theory or lauding the movement for its capacity to help expand the economy and design a democratic political system, almost all scholars seem to acknowledge its institutions—the Histadrut, the umbrella labor organization, and the several labor Zionist political parties—as the dominant powers in Palestine's Jewish community. Crucial as this scholarship is, it anchors its findings more in discourse than in an examination of the extent to which labor Zionist ideologies actually propagated a corresponding set of behaviors. Labor Zionism may have dominated culture and rhetoric, but it did not necessarily exert the same influence over policies and activities.

Thus, I begin my study with a discussion of Zionist views of immigration and of the various interpretations offered for the general movement of Jews across frontiers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although scholars regard the mass migrations in these decades as the reasons for the subsequent economic and social successes of Jews, the immigrants themselves described their journeys quite differently: they felt uprooted from kin and community, and prey to new forms of exploitation and moral deviance. What appears, in retrospect, as the extraordinary capacity of Jews for creative adaptation seemed at the time to be working to their detriment. Classical Zionist theories were developed partly as a response to what was perceived as the multiple crises of family and faith triggered by the fact that so many Jews were on the move.

I follow this opening analysis with two chapters on immigration policies, one on the immigration regulations forged by the mandatory administration in Palestine and the other on how the World Zionist Organization attempted to realize its goal of Jewish independence while trying to render it compatible with Great Britain's imperial interests. These two policy chapters (Chapters 2 and 3) concentrate on the first decade of British rule, when both mandatory procedures and Zionist operations were defined. Both also draw connections between internal domestic constraints in England and in Palestine and the demands and expectations of colonial rule. My account of the Zionist role in the immigration process highlights the dissonance between the movement's proclaimed values and its actual practices.

Each of the book's next three chapters—4, 5, and 6—offers a distinct view of the many ways in which immigrants worked out the relationship between the theory and practice of Zionism. In Chapter 4, I look at some attempts to structure communities around a set of values and ideals that would transform the very nature of their members and dissolve their individual interests and desires into a collective solidarity. Chapter 5 focuses on immigrants whose visions echoed the values of the visionaries analyzed in the previous chapter but whose actions made bargains with a unionism protective of capitalist interests and indifferent to class solidarity.

The shifting tactics and many complicated negotiations between the representatives of labor and capital in Palestine often generated troubled relations within the labor Zionist fold. Ordinary workers sometimes called the actions of their labor Zionist leaders "shameful sellouts," while leaders, in turn, frequently tried to enforce organizational discipline on their vulnerable members, who might not find work if they lost their union card.

Finally, in Chapter 6, I turn my attention to the people who saw themselves not as visionaries but rather as simply newcomers to the promised land. They did not proclaim their allegiance to a clear transforming vision of change for the Jewish people, but they did subscribe to the central Zionist principles about work, language, and communal solidarity, and although not fully incorporated into the Zionist narrative, they were significant contributors to Palestine's Jewish economy and society.

In Exiled in the Homeland, I have combined the practices of several disciplines, although my training as a political scientist disposes me to develop arguments supported by the largest number of sources possible. I have immersed myself in the history of the period, and drawn from a wide range of autobiographies, memoirs, and newspaper accounts of these years. The published memoirs are sufficiently candid and numerous to provide an outline of the parameters within which individual lives took shape and the several ways in which people either surmounted Palestine's difficulties or were defeated by them. I also integrate popular sources—poems and songs—that were very important in describing and, in some cases, molding national identity in Palestine.

I do not presume to be able to register, with any precision, the extent to which the various Zionist visions informed Jewish nation-building in Palestine. But I can, perhaps, suggest how they seeped into the consciousness and lives of immigrants to the country. I can also show the nature of the circumstances against which these immigrants measured their commitment to these visions. Although I am sensitive to chronology, I believe that pairing and juxtaposing investigations across what have been taken as conventional time periods demonstrates not only the differences and conflicts among the peoples who created the national home for Jews but also how and under what circumstances they accommodated one another.

The measurable economic and political developments required to produce statehood for the Jews often undermined if not destroyed the possibility for creating the kind of humanistic community idealized in Zionist visions. And although these visions continued to be deployed to describe the quality of place and identity unfolding for Jews in Palestine, they may have angered and alienated as many people as they inspired. If Benedict Anderson is correct that a nation is more than a political entity and is, rather, an imagined community, then Jewish immigrants in Palestine lived in their national homeland without necessarily feeling that they fully belonged there. This disjunction between national visions and national realities is my primary concern. Both the Zionist discourse on immigration and the actual immigrant experiences shaped Palestine's Jewish community and prepared it for statehood. Exiled in the Homeland explores these often contradictory state-making and nation-building trends and explains how movements of Jews could be viewed as both agents of renewal and sources of instability. The double-edged meaning of crossing borders did not begin in our age of globalization, but Palestine is a good place to examine the tensions unleashed by changes in population and by populations trying to change their understanding of where they truly belonged.


“A major contribution to the field [that] asks fresh questions. This is the first book of which I am aware that looks at the internal tensions within the early Jewish community in British Mandatory Palestine, deconstructing the notion that there was ever a single Zionist narrative.”
Peter Haas, Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies, Case Western Reserve University


Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse