National Geographic : 1946 Oct
Palestine Today BY FRANCIS CHASE, JR. PALESTINE friend whose home was originally in Zurich stood with me recently on the shores of the Dead Sea and pointed out that it might well be Lake Constance, on the Swiss border, with the mountains beyond not those of Moab, from which the Children of Israel first sighted the Promised Land, but the Alps. The thermometer stood that day at 1100 F. in the little shade afforded by varicolored beach umbrellas borrowed from the closed winter-resort hotel near by. The temperature in all reason should have ruled out such a comparison. Yet the intense coloring of the sea, the shifting hues on the overhanging slopes and deep gorges, and the blue-white clouds caused by excessive evaporation did make it seem more a Swiss landscape than a Palestinian one. In Jerusalem I sat with a Yugoslav friend in one of the tiny coffeehouses which dot Ben Yehuda Street, as well as many other short streets bisecting Jaffa Road in the modern city, leisurely talking politics over cheesecake and coffee to the soft music of a string quartet. His eyes grew dim, and he confessed that there, in that moment, it was like Belgrade before the war. In few other places has the atmosphere of the Central European coffeehouse been so well preserved as here (page 502). In Tel Aviv, when you walk down the broad, tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard or in the Zina Dizengoff Place with their nu merous sidewalk cafes, citizens of this all Jewish city will ask you wistfully if it doesn't remind you of Paris. In honor of modern Palestine's chief patron, the late Baron Edmond de Rothschild, an effort was made to lay out Tel Aviv after the manner of Paris, but it doesn't quite come off (page 512). Tel Aviv is white and shining, new and ultramodern, with little of the mellow, age-softened beauty of the French capital.* Shrine of Three Great Faiths Palestine today-as it has been through the ages to men of Christian, Moslem, and Jew ish faith-is all things to millions of people. Each little group of nationals strives desper ately to plant here the best seeds of the culture they left behind them, to see in this new but eternally old country something of the lands from which they came. Being American, I may be pardoned, then, for concluding that Palestine is, in a broad sense, the United States of the middle 1800's at the same time that it is, paradoxically enough, California of today. This dual character of present-day Palestine derives from the fact that it is still a pioneer country, but a pioneer country of the 20th century in which ox-drawn plowshares have given way to tractors and the tempo of de velopment is swift, certain, and scientific.t Big stretches of untilled and unsettled land are dotted, as our own Middle and far West were about 1860, with settlements in various stages of development. A new one, with crude wooden barracks hurriedly thrown up and the fields just be ginning to be worked, lies only a few miles from older settlements, such as Petah Tiqva, near Jaffa, which started in precisely the same way. Petah Tiqva now has grown into a municipality of some 20,000 citizens, with modern homes and large municipal buildings and apartments. A still-growing community, it stretches out its suburbs like green fingers in the desertlike dunes. Reminders of California Like the pioneer United States, Palestine is dependent primarily upon agriculture. Per haps a century separates it from the United States of today. Also, like the United States, it drew its modern immigrants from almost every country of the Old World. It is particularly fortunate, however, in that its Old World immigrants looked to the New World for certain methods of agriculture, and particularly to California (page 513). This is not strange, for in certain aspects of climate and topography the Holy Land, al though only about the size of Vermont, is closest to California. Allowing for the fact that the vegetation of California is much less disturbed after 150 years of settlement than is that of Palestine after 1,500 years of in tensive cultivation during Biblical times and 1,300 years of comparative neglect after the Arab conquest, the natural vegetation of the two is very similar. The paloverde tree of the Colorado Desert and Coachella Valley desert area has a counterpart in the shittah tree of southern Palestine and Egypt's Sinai desert. *See "Bombs over Bible Lands," by Frederick Simpich, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1941. t See "Bible Lands and the Cradle of Western Civilization," map supplement with the December, 1938, issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE.