Early bank operations supporting the Zionist cause helped establish the Jewish state long before 1948
After spending almost a year examining and cataloguing an exorbitant amount of documents from the Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine era, I’ve come to the decision that this week, we are celebrating a much bigger number than 71. The State of Israel was established after many strong, strategic steps and after many objectives were realized, long before 1948. Certainly, we all know that the State of Israel was not established overnight. We cannot overlook the massive impact of movements, organizations and philanthropic and/or visionary individuals. The Zionist Movement, Haganah, the Joint Distribution Committee, and Keren HaYesod are immovable pieces of the puzzle. People such as Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, Henrietta Szold, and Theodor Herzl are the ultimate patrons. I bear witness with my own eyes, with each fascinating document I retrieve, the efforts, actions and influence of the above
I founded an auction house out of my passion for history, specifically, Jewish and Israeli history. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded everyday by antique books (religious and secular) and historical documents. These documents are not simply old pieces of paper. They are rich pieces of our history. They tell a story, and a fascinating one at that. Our archives contain a wide range of material with a concentration in pre-state establishment into the early years of the state. It is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing times in our country’s history, and in my opinion, in history, in general. Israel, as a state, was established as a result of both pull and push factors. Zionism being the obvious pull factor and the Holocaust being the obvious push factor. But these factors required people, money, vision, logistics and all kinds of support in order for something official to ensue. When I read handwritten letters from Jews in British Mandate Palestine beseeching contributions from abroad or when I look at the first Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (JNF) stamps on the envelopes, I am always left impressed and bewildered. How did we get from Point A to Point B? Each step, small and grand, got us closer to May 14, 1948.
“While I was recently archiving, I came across something that hit home — something that I suddenly looked at in a different light: an official certificate of shares by the Jewish Colonial Trust, dated April, 1901. The Jewish Colonial Trust was established in 1899, at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. A people’s bank, was intended to act as an economic and financial instrument of political Zionism….”
While I was recently archiving, I came across something that hit home — something that I suddenly looked at in a different light: an official certificate of shares by the Jewish Colonial Trust, dated April, 1901. The Jewish Colonial Trust was established in 1899, at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. A people’s bank, was intended to act as an economic and financial instrument of political Zionism. It was at the First Zionist Congress where the idea was launched by Theodor Herzl. Having gone through several transformations, the JCT went on to become the Anglo-Palestine Company/Bank and then on to what we know as Bank Leumi.
And what came before the Jewish Colonial Trust was established? In 1891, Baron Maurice de Hirsch created the Jewish Colonization Association. Its mission was to expedite the mass emigration of Jews from Russia and other Eastern European countries by settling them in agricultural colonies on lands purchased by the committee, mostly in North and South America. But in 1896, the JCA began offering support to Jewish farming communities newly established in Ottoman Palestine.
Most interestingly, this share certificate is so official that one would think it existed in the context of an already established state. The vision but, just as impressive, the implementation and realization of the dream, is astounding. Most of the Jewish Colonial Trust’s activities were carried out by the Anglo-Palestine Bank (formed in 1902). Its seed capital was only £40,000. The bank opened its first branch in 1903, in Jaffa, and its impact on the eventual establishment of the state is likely due to the fact that it did not consider business transactions and profitability as its only goals. The goals were bigger and more long-term. Early on, the bank conducted transactions in support of the Zionist endeavor: land purchase from the Ottoman government, imports, obtaining of concessions and the like. Subsequent branches were opened in Jerusalem, Beirut (then the region’s main commercial center), Haifa, Hebron, Safed, Tiberias and Gaza. With money in the bank, pun intended, we were already on our way to establishing a state, long before we actually did so.
The State of Israel was not born in one day. And was not a result of one event or one person. This year, when I celebrate 71 years to the State of Israel, I will be thinking about every single step (small and large, abstract and actual) that contributed to the land, and country, that I call home.