Rothschild Urged Zionists: Work Hard, Get Along With Arab Neighbors

100 years ago this month, Baron Rothschild warned the residents of Zichron Yaakov to make sure their Arab 'relatives' were beside them and not against them, documents show.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Riding on horseback, dressed in formal wear, all the young men of the Zichron Yaakov farming colony came down from the mountain at 7 A.M. to the neighboring village of Tantura on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, 5 kilometers from their home. It was late February 1914. The young men were riding to welcome an honored guest: Baron Rothschild, the well-known Zionist benefactor who sponsored and developed the colony.

This week, which marks a century since his visit, one of the metal cabinets in Zichron Yaakov’s historical archive was opened. Talma Bahur, who runs the archive, took out a large, thick book, one of the ten volumes that contains the minutes of the meetings of the colony’s executive committee. She turned to page 360 and read what was written there: “A decision was made to write the details of the fourth visit of the benefactor Baron Binyamin Ben-Yaakov de Rothschild [Edmond James de Rothschild] to Zichron Yaakov.”

The colony’s record book documents the fourth of Rothschild’s five visits to the Land of Israel. He came by ship to the Palestinian fishing village of Tantura and was taken from there by wagon to the top of the mountain. The journey, which would take only a few minutes by car today, lasted an hour and a half. At 11 A.M., the baron entered the gates of Zichron Yaakov accompanied by two high officials and his personal physician.

His visit to Zichron Yaakov was part of a tour of the Land of Israel, during which he visited Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva, Nes Tziona, Rehovot, Ekron and Haifa. “Baron Edmond Rothschild crossed the country like lightning, like a meteor,” the newspaper Hazman reported after his visit. His wife, Adelheid, also accompanied him on his travels.

“The school pupils, on the instruction of their teachers, formed two lines near the gate of honor near the vineyard, where a group of elderly farmers waited to welcome the benefactor. Inside the gate of honor, a crowd gathered on both sides of the road,” the record book relates.

“I am happy to come to Zichron Yaakov this time,” Rothschild said in a speech in French that was translated into Hebrew. “Then, when I came to you 15 years ago, you had not worked enough, but from that time to this, you have made a great deal of progress in your work, you and your children, and this gives me satisfaction. Do not leave the saplings. Keep working; progress and develop using your own resources. Do not put your trust in benefactors [a quote from Psalm 146:3], and then you will do well,” he said.

After giving his speech, Rothschild went to the old part of Zichron Yaakov, from where he looked out over the nearby colonies, Meir Shfeya and Bat Shlomo. Then, accompanied by the colony’s physician, Dr. Hillel Yaffe, he went to the synagogue. “About 20 elders and respected members of the colony stood in two lines before the synagogue entrance,” reads an account in the daily newspaper Moriah, “where they gave him greeting and welcome.”

“Health is an important matter for settling the Holy Land. If you are healthy, you can work diligently and support yourselves from your work, and stay in the country. Always see how you can learn, improve and develop the working methods into new ones, and not stay in the same place,” Rothschild told the colony members. He urged them to honor the memory of his father, Yaakov, whose name the colony bore. “I gave my father’s name to this colony, and I hope that you will honor that name and be worthy of it,” he said. “I also remind you to observe the principles of our faith, which is good and beautiful, and the ethics of Judaism, and our language. Be loyal sons of our religion and our land so that you will be worthy of dwelling in our ancestral country.”

The record of the baron’s meetings with the Arab villages near Zichron Yaakov was erased from the protocol, but the newspaper Moriah reported on them several days later. “When [Rothchild and his delegation] reached the villages of Tantura and Faradis, the Arab sheikhs and elders welcomed them, and the baron greeted them kindly,” it read. The newspaper also notes that Rothschild asked the colony members “to live at peace with their neighbors.” It says of Rothschild, “He warned them to maintain good relations with our Arab neighbors, since ‘we were all the children of the patriarch Abraham.’ He told them to make sure that our Arab ‘relatives’ were beside us and not against us, and to be careful not to attract questions from the Arabs about us.”

Unlike on previous visits, no aid requests were made of Rothschild. Instead, he was given certificates of honor. “The sapling that you planted upon our holy soil has taken root in the ground and borne fruit, and no wind will shake it,” the members of Zichron Yaakov told him. “The building that you built for your people stands on a firm foundation, and for generations upon generations it will tell of the great deed you accomplished for Israel’s rebirth in Zion.”

After his visit to the Land of Israel, Rothschild said, “The Zionists could not have done what they did without my help ... but I grew to understand that the Zionist idea worked in its spirit in the Land of Israel perhaps more than my money did.”

World War I broke out shortly after Rothschild’s visit, and he continued giving the farming colonies financial and political support. He visited the Land of Israel for the last time in 1925, when he was almost 80 years old, and died in 1934. Twenty years later, his remains and those of his wife were brought from Paris for interment in Ramat Hanadiv, near Zichron Yaakov.

Baron Binyamin Ben-Yaakov de Rothschild in Zichron Yaakov, 1925.Credit: Zichron Yaakov historical archive

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