Laurence Oliphant.

The land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; online

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especially to Asiatic Turkey: "An Indian Mussulman of high rank,
who has been visiting Constantinople, states that his poor co-religion-
ists are suffering, as he believes, more than the Christians from the
misgovernment which exists, and expresses his regret that such a Gov-
ernment should be taken as a representative of what a Mussulman
Government ought to be. . . . Christians and Turks alike, have
given up the present Government as hopeless. The attitude of the
whole population is that of despair." 'Daily News,' 28th Oct. 1880.

2 K


grounds of race or religion, must necessarily ex-
cite the strongest animosity against us on the part
of a people naturally disposed to look to us for
protection, and drive them reluctantly and in de-
spair into the arms of their own Government.
Nothing can be more certain than this, that any
Christian Power who should undertake the reform
of the central Government of Turkey in such a
manner as to secure equal rights to Christian and
Moslem, and relieve the professors of both creeds
from the oppression and misrule under which they
are suffering, would earn the gratitude and win the
support of the whole Mohammedan population as
well as the Christian, and acquire a prestige that
would extend throughout Islam ; and this, as I have
already said, can only be brought about by the in-
troduction of popular institutions which, as Khair-
eddin Pasha has so ably shown in his pamphlet, does
not in any way conflict either with the letter or the
spirit of the Koran.

It is in anticipation of this radical administrative
change, and of the decentralisation which must result
from it, that I think no time should be lost in urging
upon the Porte in its own interest, the creation of local
autonomy with provincial councils, popularly elected
under governors-general, immovable for a term of
years, throughout the empire ; but the two provinces
in Asia which most urgently stand in need of a
measure of this description, are Armenia and Syria.


If they are to be preserved to the empire at all, it can
only be by pursuing the policy which has succeeded
so well in the case of our own colonies, of loosening
the bonds that unite them to the central Govern-
ment. It was in the hope that I should be able to
illustrate this, on a small scale, to the authorities at
Constantinople, that I proposed the colonisation of
Eastern Palestine ; and the fact that the political party
then in power steadily resisted any measure, even of
the most tentative description, tending to decentralisa-
tion, when privately suggested, only renders it the
more incumbent upon the Governments chiefly in-
terested in averting serious complications In Asia to
take the matter in hand before it is too late. Apart
from the clause in the Berlin Treaty especially
affecting Armenia, the reasons which render it desir-
able that Armenia and Syria should be dealt with
in the first instance, are to some extent identical.
Both provinces contain a mixed Christian and Mos-
lem population ; in both, the popular discontent
among Christians and Moslems alike, has reached
an acute stage ; both are chiefly inhabited by races
not Turkish, and are looking to foreign Powers for
relief Armenia to Russia, Syria to England, and
both intervene between the Russian frontier and the
Mediterranean. To prevent that political interfer-
ence from without, which, in the European provinces
of Turkey in a like condition, has produced, first,
serious political complications, and finally, massacres,


war, and violent disruption, the concession of a meas-
ure of local administrative autonomy to both becomes
an imperative necessity and this cannot be done in
the case of Syria, without forcing upon our consid-
eration the special necessities of Palestine, and the
exceptional and prominent position that it has ac-
quired politically under the new conditions which
have been created by the late Russo-Turkish war,
and the Treaty of Berlin.

Practically, the Congress of Berlin amounted to a
European coalition against Russian aggression on
Turkey in Europe, which must put an end hence-
forth and for ever to any designs on her part on
Constantinople. The independence of Roumania,
the erection of Bulgaria into a principality, the
territorial intervention of Austria, the creation of
Eastern Roumelia, are all so many barriers inter-
posed between Russia and the Bosphorus, which
time will only serve to strengthen. Relieved from
the burden of any such design, though she may still
labour politically to control the Slav States of the
Balkan peninsula, she can henceforth concentrate
her energies on conquest in Asiatic Turkey, and
in accomplishing even more effectively the objects
which she had proposed to herself by the acquisi-
tion of Constantinople. For in the days when the
Russian policy of aggression on European Turkey
was originated, Egypt was not, as now, the com-
mercial highway and strategical road to India.


Nor did the occupation of Constantinople open the
Mediterranean to her fleets, unless it was comple-
mented by the occupation of a port in the ^gean.
Now, however, that her frontier has been extended
in the direction of Armenia, she is as near the
Mediterranean from her Asiatic outposts as she
ever was from her European. It is no further
from her lines beyond Kars to the Bay of Alex-
andretta, than it is from her frontier on the Danube
to the Dardanelles, while Alexandretta is not half
as far from Egypt as Constantinople. Instead of
a Treaty of Berlin, and sundry more or less inde-
pendent States intervening between the Asiatic-
Russian frontier and Alexandretta, there is the Chris-
tian nationality of Armenia loudly calling for foreign
interference, a Moslem race of Kurds in a state of
more or less chronic insurrection, and aspiring to
complete independence, and a mixed Christian and
Moslem peasantry in a condition of extreme destitu-
tion and suppressed discontent. These all constitute
invitations rather than obstacles to an advance in this
direction. But the temptation to the Russian popu-
lation to embark in a campaign in Asiatic Turkey
would not be the prospect of a port on the Medi-
terranean, or the relief of an oppressed population,
but the fascination of a religious war which should
have for its object the conquest of the Holy Places
at Jerusalem. Every year about four thousand
Russian pilgrims, composed largely of discharged


soldiers, make painful and laborious journeys to
visit the sacred shrines. One comes in contact with
them in crowds during the Holy Week, and it is
impossible not to be struck by the air of fanatical
superstition which characterises them. Russia at
Alexandretta could not stop there ; an advance on
Jerusalem would be imperatively demanded by the
religious sentiment of the country ; and indeed, to
judge by the site which she has chosen for her
Hospice, she seems to have anticipated the con-
tingency. Lieutenant Conder, in his * Tent Work in
Palestine,' says : " Standing on the approximate site
of the old tower of Psephinus, the Russian Hospice
commands the whole town [of Jerusalem], and is
thought by many to be in a position designedly of
military strength." While a writer in a recent
daily paper justly remarks, in allusion to Pales-
tine, that " if the conflict between the civilisation
of the West and the autocratic barbarism of the
North be ever committed to the arbitration of
arms, nowhere is the contest so likely to be de-
cided as in the region which guards the two roads
from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean." ^
Once in possession of Palestine, she is astride on
two seas, for Akaba would certainly before long be
included in her boundaries. The only way of re-
sisting her advance on the Red Sea would be by
a previous occupation of that port ; but this would

^ St James's Gazette, 15th September 1880.


be attended with great difficulty and risk. With
Russian arsenals at Haifa and Akaba, the route to
India vid Egypt would be practically closed, and
her strategical position would be one that would
give her political control of the East; for with
Asiatic Turkey thus dominated, the independence
of Persia would virtually be at end, and the Per-
sian Gulf, no less than the Red Sea, would soon
be open to her fleets. The rescue of Palestine
from this fate, which otherwise appears inevitable,
can only be accomplished by so strengthening and
reforming the Turkish empire in Asia, that Russia
would be deprived of any excuse for invading it,
and would feel the task too hazardous to be under-
taken lightly. In other words, such a degree of
administrative autonomy must be granted to Ar-
menia, Syria, and Palestine, as shall satisfy their
local requirements and aspirations, and so secure
their loyalty to the Sultan, and their cordial co-
operation with the Ottoman troops against an in-
vading army. If the Turkish Government refuses
to see that the highest interests of the empire im-
pose this duty upon it, a policy should, without
delay, be adopted, which should anticipate the com-
plications that must inevitably ere long be pro-
voked by the enfeebled and disaffected condition of
these provinces ; and as the point at which such
complications must ultimately culminate is Jerusalem,
it is upon Palestine that this policy should, in the


first instance, be directed. We owe the Crimean
war to a dispute which arose out of the conflicting
pretensions of European Powers to the Holy Places ;
and we shall have another war, of which the theatre
will be in their immediate vicinity, unless we take
steps to avert the danger by insuring to Palestine a
degree of independence under the rule of the Sultan
which should carry with it the sympathy and ap-
probation, and therefore the indirect protection, of
European Powers, and so prevent it from becoming
the object of a Russian religious crusade. It would
probably be found impossible to solve the Eastern
problem in any other way ; for the ecclesiastical jeal-
ousies involved in the possession of Jerusalem are
so violent, and the mistrust of European Powers of
each other is so profound, that no one of them would
agree to the occupation of Palestine by another ex-
cept by right of conquest ; but none of them would
object to the creation of a small province, enjoying
certain privileges from the Turkish Government, in
which the burning questions of the "Holy Places"
would remain undisturbed, and where, from the con-
ditions of their existence as a race, every country
in Europe would probably be represented among its

The scheme, however, that I propose, does not
therefore involve any attack on the integrity of the
Ottoman empire ; on the contrary, it was suggested
with a view of consolidating and strengthening an


outlying portion of the Sultan's dominions over
which there is now no well-defined administrative
organisation. Nor is it one altogether without pre-
cedent in our dealings with the Porte. The ex-
periment of local administrative autonomy, under a
special statute devised by the Governments of Eng-
land and France, has been in most successful opera-
tion during the last twenty years in the Lebanon ;
and there is no reason why a form of local govern-
ment which has answered so well in one province
of Syria, should not be applied in a form modified
to suit the special conditions in another and why
the same policy should not be attempted in Pales-
tine, either by England alone, or jointly with any
European Power willing to co-operate, which has
rendered the Lebanon the most prosperous and con-
tented province in the dominions of the Sultan.

It is only within the last few years that the terri-
tory to the east of the Jordan has been brought
under any control by the central authority. And
even now this control in the districts adjacent to
that proposed for colonisation is little better than
nominal. The establishment of a well - governed
settlement in the Belka would have an immediate
and most beneficial influence ; to the south, over
the magnificently fertile but turbulent state of Kerak
to the north and north-east, over the luxuriant pas-
ture and rich arable lands of Jaulan and Hauran,
where the settled population is still liable to Arab


incursions and to the west, over the whole of Pale-
stine ; for, in addition to the stimulus which would
be given to agricultural enterprise generally, and
the benefits arising from the employment of native
labour, the expenditure of capital, and the introduc-
tion of a proper system of farming with modern
implements, it would afford facilities to the peas-
antry for borrowing money at moderate, instead of
the present ruinous, rates of interest. The construc-
tion of the important lines of railway which I have
suggested, would follow as a necessary consequence,
though they should be undertaken by degrees, and
with a due regard to financial conditions and local
requirements. And there can be no doubt that
the inauguration of such an enterprise would be
the first step towards the restoration of the Holy
Land generally to the prosperous condition which
enabled it in olden time to maintain a dense and
thriving population.

In this anticipation I am borne out by the testi-
mony of all intelligent and unprejudiced travellers.
Captain Burton, whose intimate knowledge of the
country entitles his opinion to especial weight, says,
in his ' Unexplored Syria : ' " The Holy Land, when
provided with railways and tramways, will offer the
happiest blending of the ancient and modern worlds.
It will become another Egypt, with the distinct ad-
vantage of a superior climate, and far nobler races
of men." And again : " Syria and Palestine, I may


safely prophesy, still awaits the hour when, the home
of a free, a striving, and an energetic people, it will
again pour forth corn and oil, it will flow with milk
and honey, and it will * bear,' with proper culture,
almost all the good things that have been given to

I could multiply quotations to the same effect
from the reports of Colonel Warren, Lieutenant
Conder, and other officers who have surveyed the
country on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund,
which are fully borne out by the opinions of old
residents, and by the experience of those who have
already become agriculturists in the country.

From whatever point of view, then, we regard a
project that has for its object the ultimate regener-
ation of Palestine, whether from one of sentiment,
as involving the repatriation of a nationality which
surely has its claims upon us equal to, if not greater
than, those of the Slav or the Greek ; or from one
of practical benevolence for a considerable resident
population would immediately benefit, while the
success of the experiment would promote its exten-
sion to regions sorely in need of development under
a like system ; or from one of political expediency
for it is only by means of such development that
the Ottoman empire in Asia can either be preserved
and consolidated, or adequate provision made for the
contingency of its disruption ; it holds out induce-
ments which the public of England should be the


first to recognise : for as we have special interests,
so we have come under special obligations in regard
to this quarter of the globe. The population of
Palestine in particular, of which 25,000 belong to
the Hebrew race, is looking to England for pro-
tection and the redress of grievances ; and those
who see in the relations which our own country
now occupies towards the Holy Land, the hand of
Providence, may fairly consider whether they do
not involve responsibilities which cannot lightly be




Mr Laurence Oliphant's Scheme for the
Colonisation of Palestine.

{From the 'Jewish Chronicle^ yanuary g, 1880.)

" Si le Messie viendra nous rassembler eii Palestine, je le
prierai de m'offrir Vainbassade de sa Majeste Juda'iqiie a
Paris!" It is such an observation as this, of a well-known
French banker, which makes non-Jews ask us if we still
seriously hope for the Restoration, and, if it came, whether
we should accept the position and leave the countries of
our adoption. It is the old story of the Israelites returned
from exile to their native land, longing for the hanging-
gardens and the soft sensuous delights of Babylon. When
Jeshurun waxed fat he kicked, and he wanted to remain in
his well-stored manger. But there are many of the chil-
dren of Jeshurun who have not waxed fat, and are lean
and hungry, even as Cassius himself. The prosperous Jews
form but a small portion of our brethren. Those who are
comfortable and content are comparatively few. These,
perhaps, would be loath to leave their assured and luxurious


homes to find a new country and a new civilisation. But
those who are oppressed and unhappy long for the advan-
tages which a reconsolidated nationality would give them.
Oppression and persecution have kept our people, as a
body, alive and homogeneous. The more the Jew is down-
trodden, the more he clings to the faith of his fathers
and its observances. Liberated and anxious to compete,
socially, with his fellow-countrymen, he throws over the
restrictions which are deeply respected by those whom he
would conciliate by their abandonment, with the simple
result of making himself appear contemptible and syco-
phantic. It is oppression, and not prosperity, which will
lead us back to our proper place in the Holy Land.

It cannot be denied that at no period of our modern his-
tory have there been so many forces at work which tend
directly to the Great Restoration. Signs and portents
abound, and the air is thick with rumours. Can these be
the precursors of the Event, or are they but evidence of
the restless spirit of advanced civilisation } Who can tell ?
Those who earnestly desire what is, or should be, inborn in
their blood, can only wait and watch, assisting these move-
ments to the best of their ability.

Mr Laurence Oliphant's scheme, detailed by a corre-
spondent in our last week's issue, contains the most feasible
plan that has yet been put before the world. It is unne-
cessary to recapitulate particulars which have been suc-
cinctly set forth. It is impossible, in the present stage, to
suggest modifications of it before the full details are before
us ; and it is strongly to be hoped that the matters that
have affected the relations between the Porte and the
British Embassy may not once more delay Mr Oliphant's
progress towards success. At present, the matter is a
purely commercial and administrative speculation ; but the
very practicability and non-sentimentality of its character


is an assurance of its feasibility. Mr Oliphant has, as we
can avouch from personal knowledge, selected the very best
spot available for the purpose (for who has not heard of the
fertility of Gilead and its balms ?), and has laid down condi-
tions which contain the elements of prosperity. At present,
the only requisite quality which our brethren possess, or
adequately fulfil, is that of the possession of capital, and that
they are asked to give, not as gift, but as remunerative in-
vestment. This, to say the least of it, is a by no means
injudicious way of appealing to our feelings. We can place
some of our protegh, our brethren in Palestine, in positions
where they can be self-supporting, and teach them, at the
same time, the industry which led to the rise of the nation ;
for, in the first instance, Hebraic prosperity took its rise in
agricultural power of application and technical knowledge.
The scheme of Jacob and the peeled sticks and rods is
thought by some to show evidence of acquaintance with the
highest forms of animal breeding and physiology; while
others attribute it, perhaps with more show of reason, to
the miraculous interposition of Providence. We are an
agricultural people, and we shall become so again. The
enormous extension of American industry and commerce
has taken its origin in cultivation and farming, notably
during the present year. A nation always begins by pro-
ducing food-stuffs, and prospering in that, goes on to manu-
factures. It would be a great elevation of the Jewish char-
acter in the eyes of the world at large, could they prove
themselves capable of conducting a colony, harmoniously
and reputably, under the present lawless conditions of
Ottoman rule. It must be a peaceful triumph worthy of
the days of the Messiah, when all shall be peace. Even
now, of their own accord, our brethren of Palestine are be-
ginning to show that they appreciate the advantages to be
gained from agricultural industry, as the letter of the same


correspondent reporting Sir Henry Layard's conversation,
which is in the highest degree interesting and important,
amply proves.

Without being able to promise Mr Oliphant our full sup-
port until we are in possession of all details of government,
and of the knowledge of the individuals in whom the local
government is to be vested, we can go so far as to say that,
up to the present, the scheme recommends itself strongly
to the consideration of all earnest and sincere Jews. We
shall watch its completer development with intense interest
and watchful anxiety.

Almost coincidentally with the publication of Mr Oli-
phant's plans comes the scheme of Mr Cazalet, exposed at
length in our leader of the 12th ult. It seems strange, and
yet most reassuring, that two men of culture and thought
have hit upon a similar scheme for the regeneration of
Palestine and Syria. There are persons who think that
the Restoration is to be brought about by a supernatural
coup de theatre, and that it cannot be accomplished without
the intervention of startling and directly apparent miracu-
lous means. The ways of Providence are inscrutable, and
much that appears to us merely the result of natural evolu-
tion, may be, although not clearly visible, the silent work-
ing of the Great Power. There are many who believe that
miracles are daily performed, and it cannot be said that
their theories are utterly untenable. There is no reason
why all the prophecies, in which the vast majority of us
devoutly believe, may not be fulfilled in an apparently
natural and consequent manner. It is not our purpose to
give any undue importance to Mr Oliphant's scheme. It
may be found not to hold water on close examination, but,
on the other hand, it may be productive of vast and singu-
lar benefit. Mr Oliphant is avowedly a free-thinker. He
has no religious motives. Christianity is to him of as little


consequence as Judaism.^ He is a politician with a theory
to carry out and nothing more. Yet the least likely of us
may be the instrument of Providence, and the least reli-
gious be guided by the hand of God. Heaven may lead a
man of great intelligence, but of little faith, to become the
precursor of the Messiah, who is to be, according to our
belief, but a man of marvellous intelligence and power of
influence and organisation. Exceptionally superior qual-
ities of mind may, not improbably, be the result of the
inspiration of God. King Solomon, under whose reign
only were the Jews completely united, was but a man, even
endowed with human failings in the highest and most
animal degree. May not the Messiah, who is to unite all
mankind in the common bond of an universal method of
worship of the Creator, and thus to bestow peace on the
world for the majority of wars and dissensions are the
outcome of religious and political difference be but the
Strong Man, strong-minded and strong-bodied; the Can-
ning whom Mr Carlyle imagined, with his faulty philology
but true historical insight.!" Agricultural colonies may
not bring about the Restoration, but they cannot fail to
benefit all who suffer from want of direction to their
labours and from want "of aliment. To wait for a miracle,
directly visible, to assist in any work which may conduce
to the great end, is to resemble children who, not strong
enough to cast off parental leading-strings and to assist in
the father's work, wait for him to give them their daily bread,
without doing aught to contribute personally to its obtention.
To work and to pray is the surest means of accomplishing
human aims, but to pray without work is to cast ourselves
indolently on the mercy of Him who has put before real

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 33 of 35)