Zion Unveiled: The Story of Zionism and the Shaping of Modern Israel

Zionism is a nationalist and political movement that supports the establishment and maintenance of a Jewish state in the territory historically known as Palestine. 

Zionism encompasses a variety of ideologies but is generally linked to the encouragement of Jewish migration to the ancient Land of Israel (Eretz Israel), the revival of Jewish culture and the Hebrew language, and the belief in the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in a sovereign state at the cost of Palestinian autonomy and self-governance. The Zionist movement marks a critical era in the history of Judaism, emerging in the late 19th century amid widespread anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe. A key driver for this movement was the prolonged persecution faced by Jews, coupled with the aspiration for a sovereign homeland to practice self-governance. Additionally, the movement drew significant impetus from biblical prophecies. The Torah, which is the foundational religious scripture of Judaism, repeatedly references the Land of Israel. 

For many Zionists, the creation of a state of Israel symbolizes the fulfillment of God’s promise to the forefathers — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — that their offspring would inherit the land. This historical linkage is fundamental to Zionist philosophy, reinforcing the notion of the Jewish people’s entitlement to claim and govern this territory. The idea of the Jewish diaspora returning from their exile to the Land of Israel, a concept embedded in the Torah, is also perceived by some as being actualized through the Zionist movement.

Based on these religious and political beliefs, Zionism aimed to establish such a homeland in Palestine, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. 

However, some Orthodox Jews do not accept these assertions, with some even actively opposing the Zionist movement. Instead, they adhere to the messianic principle that Jews should only return to Israel and establish a Jewish state upon the arrival of the Messiah. In this view, any attempts to do this through human actions are premature and contradict divine intent. Additionally, the initial secular orientation of the Zionist movement sparked concerns among some circles about diminishing adherence to religious values and Jewish law. 

It is also crucial to understand Christian Zionism — a widespread belief among evangelical Christians — to gain a better understanding of the movement and current responses. The United States holds the largest evangelical population globally, making them the second predominant religious group in the nation after mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants. Notably, evangelical Christians, who are typically influential in American politics, have remained mostly quiet regarding the recent humanitarian issues in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Christian Zionism is rooted in the belief that the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, seen as part of God’s plan for humanity’s ultimate destiny. The doctrine of Christian Zionism has gained prominence in public discourse, particularly due to its endorsement by evangelical leaders including former U.S. presidents such as Ronald Reagan and televangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in their support for Israeli policies. This belief system is a significant factor shaping the perspectives of many Americans on Israel, Jewish people and their own nation’s role.

The conceptual groundwork for Zionism was established by Theodor Herzl, a journalist from Austro-Hungary. Inspired significantly by the Dreyfus Affair in France, a notable example of anti-Semitism that underscored the vulnerable situation of Jews in Europe, Herzl championed the idea of a Jewish homeland. He convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, signifying the official inception of the Zionist movement. This congress set the goal of establishing a “home for the Jewish people,” as articulated by Herzl in 1897. 

The early years of Zionism were largely secular, and its initial plan was wholly political.The Zionists and their supporters had considered, and subsequently vetoed, various territories in their search for a contemporary homeland for Jewish people including el-Arish, the Sinai Peninsula and Cyprus. Aside from Palestine, East Africa was also considered because, after the Kishinev pogrom in Russia, Herzl became more desperate to build a Jewish homeland. Ultimately, this initiative failed. The reasons for its failure are manifold, including resistance from the burgeoning white settler community in Kenya, indecision within the Colonial Office about managing the developing East Africa Protectorate and notably the hesitation of the Zionist leaders themselves.

Firmly focused on Palestine and its vicinity as the appropriate location for a Jewish national homeland, the Zionists, during their seventh Congress held in Basel in August 1905, emphasized the unfavorable elements of the fact-finding commission’s reports and subsequently declined the British proposal.

In the late Ottoman era, Jewish migration to Palestine was modest and largely driven by religious motives. The Palestinian Arab population, primarily Muslim but also comprising Christians, typically lived in harmony with the existing small Jewish community and the new Jewish immigrants.

As the Zionist movement promoting the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine gained momentum, perceptions started changing. Initially, Palestinian Arabs were either neutral or somewhat supportive of Jewish immigration, but their stance evolved as its political ramifications became clearer. Prior to 1948, the dynamics between Jewish immigrants and Palestinian Arabs transitioned from a state of coexistence and harmony to escalating tension and conflict, driven by Zionist ambitions in the territory.

The views expressed in opinion pieces do not represent the views of Glimpse from the Globe or its editorial team.


Hosna Hossain

Hosna is a Political Science major at the University of Southern California concentrating in Law and Human Rights. Hosna enjoys studying geopolitical governance and how humanitarian efforts are affected as a consequence. As a pre-law student, she enjoys debating about public affairs and writing policy memos regarding our unalienable rights. Hosna has been a Title IX student ambassador since 2020. She was also an undergraduate legal intern at the preliminary hearing unit of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. She is currently interning at MapGive- an initiative by the U.S. Department of State’s Humanitarian Information Unit, where she assists in creating open map data for humanitarian and development purposes. In her spare time, she enjoys going for long night walks, cooking foreign cuisines, and spending time with family.