Haaretz Then and Now

The first edition of The Palestine News, a weekly published by the British Army, April 1918.

To judge by the size of the font in the first issue of Haaretz, which was published in June of 1919, and which was reprinted in last Friday’s Hebrew edition of the newspaper in reduced format, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the distinguished readers at the turn of the last century has impressively keen eyesight. We have all learned from our parents that carrots are good for your eyesight, so we can therefore conclude that the upper class readers at the time consumed carrots in great quantities.

In any event, and taking the conditions 100 years ago into account, I would note that newspaper graphics were not at their best. One can imagine the unfortunate reader at the time gazing at a sea of little letters, having to move from one column to the next without the benefit of sub-headlines or bold letters. It’s true that they were good enough to separate the columns with lines, but even so, the chance of misreading the text from one column to the next was high.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 32Haaretz

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And at any rate, I thought I would mention that, if the first edition of Haaretz, the first Hebrew newspaper here, appeared in 1919, it was preceded by more than 15 Arabic newspapers, beginning in 1908, following the Young Turk revolution in the Ottoman Empire that freed Palestinian intellectuals from the stranglehold they had been under. After this, according to scholars Ami Ayalon and Nabih Bashir, 20 newspapers were published here in Arabic prior to World War I, including Filastin, Al-Nafa’is, Al-Quds and Al-Karmil. We had a land following with milk and honey…and newspapers. Yet later, it is claimed, Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land.

What is beautiful about Haaretz in 1919 and which is also apparent today, is that its editors told it straight. The editorial in the first issue spoke simply, as if it is was self-evident, about “the liberation of our land by the British army.” And elsewhere, there was reference to the national home of the Jews “which is about to be built under the auspices and assistance of England.” Therefore, according to Haaretz, which has always appealed to people’s minds rather than their emotions, all of those slogans to the effect that Zionism fought British colonialism are nothing but a fantasy, a stubborn attempt to resemble national liberation movements that swept the globe after World War II.

It’s also clear that then as now, matters involving the Arab world were also covered by Haaretz. There was also the public statement of “the moderate Syrian faction” in which it declared that Syria stretches from “the Taurus mountains in the north to the Sinai in the south, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Syrian desert in the east.” Gone was Jordan and with it Lebanon, Palestine and the national home of the Jews! And this was just the moderate faction.

But no less than this, the Syrian faction stresses the need for the establishment of a government that is “constitutional and of a political character, without any religious aspect.” Unfortunately, we are witness to Syria today with all of its communal fragmentation and destruction.

But let’s leave these trivialities aside and turn to the really important issues. Journalists in 1919 had the benefit of an afternoon nap and a seven-hour work day, from 9:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M., and then from 3:00 to 6:00 P.M. This had to have been the Golden Age for journalists. Let’s hope that journalists at today’s Haaretz seek to restore past glory – the afternoon nap.

In addition, newspaper subscriptions back then were called a “signature.” What a lovely expression. And the price was in Egyptian currency.

Those looking for employment received an attractive rate on advertising – a discount of 67 percent – yet Haaretz is accused of being a bourgeois newspaper. Soon, when I get my hands on a magnifying glass, I will tell you more about the first issue. And the hidden message here is for those who are here in another 100 years: don’t forget us!