“Our settlers do not come here as do the colonists from the Occident to have natives do their work for them; they themselves set their shoulders to the plow and they spend their strength and their blood to make the land fruitful. But it is not only for ourselves that we desire its fertility. The Jewish farmers have begun to teach their brothers, the Arab farmers, to cultivate the land more intensively; we desire to teach them further: together with them we want to cultivate the land — to ‘serve’ it, as the Hebrew has it. The more fertile this soil becomes, the more space there will be for us and for them. We have no desire to dispossess them: we want to live with them. We do not want to dominate them: we want to serve with them…..”
— Martin Buber
One of the refrains of detractors promoting BDS is that Israel is the embodiment of colonialism and imperialism. This is yet another attempt to tar Israel by repeatedly linking it to words with negative connotations. As Buber observed, from the beginning, the intention of those building the state of Israel was precisely the opposite of the aim of the imperialists of that era.
“Colonialism means living by exploiting others,” Yehoshofat Harkabi has written. “But what could be further from colonialism than the idealism of city-dwelling Jews who strive to become farmers and laborers and to live by their own work?”
Moreover, as British historian Paul Johnson noted, Zionists were hardly tools of imperialists given the powers’ general opposition to their cause. “Everywhere in the West, the foreign offices, defense ministries and big business were against the Zionists.”
Emir Faisal, who later was the king of Iraq, also saw the Zionist movement as a companion to the Arab nationalist movement, fighting against imperialism, as he explained in a letter to Harvard law professor and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter on March 3, 1919, one day after Chaim Weizmann presented the Zionist case to the Paris conference. Faisal wrote:
The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement….We will wish the Jews a hearty welcome home….We are working together for a reformed and revised Near East and our two movements complete one another. The Jewish movement is nationalist and not imperialist. And there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed, I think that neither can be a real success without the other (emphasis added).
In the 1940s, the Jewish underground movements waged an anti-colonial war against the British. The Arabs, meanwhile, were concerned primarily with fighting the Jews rather than expelling the British imperialists.