Zionism - Israeli Flag

Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary

A land without a people for a people without a land  

Zionism maps history biography definitions about issues photos books documents links contact

A land without a people for a people without a land - This slogan, coined by Christian Zionists, became a tool in the campaign to delegitimize Zionism.

The myth that "A land without a people for a people without a land" was or is an important  slogan of Zionism was propagated by Edward Said (Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Times Books, 1979), p. 9) and Rashid Khalidi (Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p. 101.). Opponents of Zionism insisted that it meant that Zionism assumed or taught its adherents that no people lived in Palestine. Illogically, it is also presented as "proof" that Zionists planned to expel the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. If Zionists believed that no people lived in Palestine, they would have believed there was nobody to expel.

The mythmaking plays on a slight distortion of the English language. "A people" refers to a nation or ethnic group. "People" without the indefinite article means "humans." In his book The Question of Palestine, Said distorted the phrase in this wording, "A land without people for a people without a land. S. Ilan Troen and Jacob Lassner call Said's omission of the indefinite article 'a,' a "distortion" of the meaning. It was done "perhaps malevolently" for the purpose of making the phrase acquire the meaning that Said and others try to give it, that Zionists thought that the land was empty or wanted to make it into a land "without people"( Jacob Lassner, Ilan Troen,  Jews and Muslims in the Arab World: Haunted by Pasts Real and Imagined, 2007, p. 303). Stephen Poole termed the omission of the article and the play on words  ""a subtle falsification" (Poole, Steven, Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How that Message becomes reality, 2007, Page 84). 

Said and others like John Pilger (counterpunch.org/pilger3.html ) have compared the treatment of the Palestinians to the British concept of terra nullius, as applied to Australia. They claim that the existence of a difference between "people" and "a people" is a distortion in itself. This claim is clearly contradicted by the every day use of the phrase "a people" versus the use of "people." "People say smoking is bad for you" makes sense. "A people say smoking is bad for you" is ungrammatical and makes no sense. Neither Pilger nor Said would consider it correct English if they were not trying to distort the language to "prove" a political point.

A version of the slogan "A land without a people for a people without a land" was coined by a Christian Zionist, a British advocate of the restoration of the Jews,  Alexander Keith, wrote that the Jews are "a people without a country; even as their own land, as subsequently to be shown, is in a great measure a country without a people." (Alexander Keith, The Land of Israel According to the Covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob (Edinburgh: William Whyte and Co., 1843). This was shortened to "a land without a people and a people without a land" in a review of Keith's book (The United Secession Magazine (Edinburgh), vol. 1, p. 189).

Keith had been to the Holy Land and knew that there were Arabs living there. The phrase did not evidently mean to imply that there were no people living in Palestine. It did not say "A land without people." The intent of the phrase was apparently that there was no nation or nationalist entity other than the Jews who claimed Palestine as its homeland, as the Arabs of Palestine identified themselves variously as Arabs, Syrians, Nabulsi, Qudsi etc. and did not have a concept of Palestinian Arab nationhood or any Palestinian national organizations at that time. That this was the intent is shown by Lord Shaftesbury's version of the slogan, "There is a country without a nation; and God now in his wisdom and mercy, directs us to a nation without a country." (Shaftsbury, quoted in Albert Hyamson, "British Projects for the Restoration of Jews to Palestine," American Jewish Historical Society Publications, 1918, no. 26, p. 140). Diane Muir  reviews the extensive use of the phrase by Christian Zionists including the American Blackstone, and its use in Jewish Zionism. Israel Zangwill is the first prominent Zionist recorded to have used the phrase and probably the only one who used it with serious intent in 1901 (Israel Zangwill, "The Return to Palestine," New Liberal Review, Dec. 1901, p. 615.). There was also apparently an isolated use of the phrase in the American Zionist journal, The Maccabean in 1901 (Raphael Medoff, American Zionist Leaders and the Palestinian Arabs, 1898-1948 (Ph.D. diss., Yeshiva University, 1991), p. 17. ).

It would probably be an exaggeration to conclude that "a land without a people for a people without a land" was never a slogan of Zionism at all, as most Jewish Zionists were familiar with it,  Anita Shapira notes that the phrase was in use in the nineteenth and early twentieth century (Shapira, Anita, Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948 (Studies in Jewish History) translated by William Templer. Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 41 ff.) It vanished from the Jewish Zionist vocabulary with the rise of Arab Palestinian nationalism, which was recognized by the Zionist movement as a force beginning in 1905, if not before. However, it was not a particularly important slogan or part of any political action platform, and Zionists certainly did not understand it to mean that there were no people in Palestine.

By 1914, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann was referring to the phrase retrospectively (Paul Goodman, Chaim Weizmann: A Tribute on His Seventieth Birthday (London: V. Gollancz, 1945), p. 153). Other Zionists have also used the phrase ironically, in view of the bitter struggle with the Arab inhabitants of Palestine.

Ami Isseroff

 November 16, 2009


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

Definitions of Zionism  General History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel   History of Israel and Zionism   Historical Source Documents of Israel and Zionism

Back to main page: http://www.zionism-israel.com Zionism and Israel Information Center

This site is a part of the Zionism and Israel on the Web Project


This work and individual entries are copyright 2005-2009 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


ZioNation - Zionism-Israel Web Log    Zionism & Israel News  Israel: like this, as if Bible Bible Quotes History of Zionism Zionism FAQ Zionism Israel Center Maps of Israel Jew Israel Advocacy  Zionism and its Impact Israel Christian Zionism Site Map