Palestine: Part 1 – The Dreyfus Affair
As one traces the modern history of the conflict in Palestine, feelings shift back and forth. I don’t see how they can not. The conflict is a virtual tennis match of actions motivated by legitimate fears, perceived slights and anticipatory breaches. To definitively say one side is right or wrong is lunacy when looking at the history. Thanks to Wikipedia, amongst other sources, we are able to do just that.
Where is Palestine?
Palestine is located in Western Asia between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. It is strategically situated between Egypt, Syria and Arabia, and the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, the region has a long and tumultuous history as a crossroads for religion, culture, commerce, and politics. The region has been controlled by numerous different peoples. Today, the region comprises the State of Israel and Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip) in which the State of Palestine was declared.
Dreyfus Leads to Zionism
The Dreyfus affair began November 1894 in France with the conviction for treason of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent. Sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having communicated French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, Dreyfus was sent to the penal colony at Devil’s Island in French Guiana, where he spent almost five years.
Two years later, in 1896, evidence came to light identifying a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit. After high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence, a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy after the second day of his trial. The Army accused Dreyfus of additional charges based on false documents.
Word of the military court’s framing of Dreyfus and of an attendant cover-up began to spread, chiefly owing to J’accuse, a vehement open letter published in a Paris newspaper in January 1898 by the notable writer Émile Zola. Activists put pressure on the government to reopen the case.
In 1899, Dreyfus was returned to France for another trial. The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus (now called “Dreyfusards”), such as Anatole France, Henri Poincaré and Georges Clemenceau, and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards), such as Édouard Drumont, the director and publisher of the antisemitic newspaper La Libre Parole. The new trial resulted in another conviction and a 10-year sentence but Dreyfus was given a pardon and set free.
Eventually all the accusations against Alfred Dreyfus were demonstrated to be baseless. In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during the whole of World War I ending his service with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
The Affair divided France deeply and lastingly into the pro-Army, mostly Catholic “anti-Dreyfusards” who generally lost the initiative to the anticlerical, pro-republican Dreyfusards. The incident profoundly shocked emancipated Jews. The depth of antisemitism in France, the first country to grant Jews equal rights, led many to question their future prospects among Christians. The Affair was a turning point for many Jews whom began to believe that only the creation of a Jewish state would enable them to join the family of nations and escape antisemitism.
Palestine: Part 2 – Zionism