August 2, 2019


The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann 

November 1917 – October 1918

Volume VIII, Series A 

Introduction: Devorah Barzilay

General Editor Meyer W. Weisgal, Volume Editors Devorah Barzilay and Barnet Litvinoff, Transaction Books, Rutgers University and Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem, 1977

[Reprinted with express permission from the Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel, 

by the Center for Israel Education www.israeled.org]

VOLUME VIII of the Weizmann Letters opens with the granting of the Balfour Declaration. It covers the activities of the Zionist Commission in Palestine and concludes, in October 1918, with Chaim Weizmann’s return to England to engage in preparations for the Peace Conference.

The Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917 marked the culmination of a dramatic phase in Weizmann’s political path, rewarding three years of intensive work among public figures and men in government, of preparations within the Zionist camp and efforts to establish a common front with non-Zionist bodies. At last public recognition was won of the right of the Jewish people to a National Home in Palestine, with the British statement receiving the unpublicized endorsement of the President of the United States, and France, Italy and the Vatican giving their agreement in principle with Zionist aspirations.

Weizmann, Sokolow and their colleagues received congratulations and expressions of solidarity from Jewish communities the world over, and perceived this as an historic moment: “Since Cyrus the Great there was never, in all the records of the past, a manifestation inspired by a higher sense of political wisdom, far-sighted statesman- ship and national justice towards the Jewish people, than this memorable Declaration. The Zionist Organization confidently hopes that this important act will mark the beginning of a new period in their activity and will render immeasurable services to their movement. Indeed, the British Declaration, taken in conjunction with that of its Ally, France, and the promised support of the Italian Government gives us full confidence in the achievement of our purpose which thus becomes part of that great cause of liberation of small nationalities for which the Allies are striving so gloriously.”

But this high note did not signify the fulfillment of the dream. Practical steps had still to be taken to implement the concept embodied in the Declaration, and Weizmann was convinced that the time for action had arrived. 

Britain was still at war, the situation on the Western Front remained unpredictable, and the project for peaceful reconstruction lay immeasurably in the distance. It was furthermore uncertain whether Great Britain would eventually have Palestine in its trusteeship, or whether the arrangement would be an international administration in accordance with the Sykes-Picot agreement. 

The early days of the Balfour Declaration, however, coincided with General Edmund Allenby’s offensive against Southern Palestine. During the six weeks following the decision to grant the Declaration, Beersheba, Gaza, Jaffa and Jerusalem fell to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

In Palestine the British Army found communities impoverished by years of war and in an economic and social plight that demanded urgent solution, and were confronted with a heterogeneous population of Arabs and Jews. Word of the Balfour Declaration had already reached them, arousing fears and protests on the one hand, and great hopes of redemption on the other. The British were joined by an official French delegation. The latter tried to ingratiate themselves with the local population and, by virtue of the Sykes-Picot agreement, claimed their share in the government of the country. A similar attitude was taken by the Italian delegation. The early months of the British Army’s occupation of the country could prove to be fateful for its future political visage.

Weizmann had stressed throughout the war years the need of political achievements to further the Zionist cause at the Peace Conference. He now felt that the Zionists should follow in the wake of the British offensive and lay foundations in the spirit of the Balfour Declaration as Palestine was progressively occupied. He wrote: “Much will depend upon our activity and achievements in Palestine between now and the Peace Conference. We must therefore work with great intensity and clearness of purpose.”

Thus the idea born in discussions with C.P. Scott and. Sir Mark Sykes in March-April 1917, that Weizmann join the Egyptian Expeditionary Force then moving up towards Palestine came into realization.

On 17 Dec. 1917 Weizmann laid a memorandum before the Foreign Office with a detailed proposal for the despatch of a Zionist Commission to Palestine. He dwelt upon the propaganda value in demonstrating determination to realize the idea embodied in the Balfour Declaration, on the urgent need of relief for the rishuv in the suffering it had been caused by the war, and on the necessity of taking early steps to establish orderly relations with the Arabs and French. Later Sykes and A. J. Balfour presented an amended proposal to the Cabinet’s Middle East Committee, which confirmed, on 19 Jan. 1918, the dispatch of a Zionist delegation to Palestine, to be led by Chaim Weizmann and accompanied by a British Political Officer.

The objectives of the Commission were defined as three-fold: assisting the Yishuv in repatriating those evacuated, restoring its colonies and institutions and planning future development ; establishing friendly relations between the Jews and the Arabs; forming a link between the British authorities and the Jewish population of Palestine.

In addition to the general definition of the objectives of the Commission, Weizmann laid the ground for its activities in four areas which he considered to be basic to the Jewish National Home: the establishment of a Hebrew University, the acquisition of land, the despatch of the Jewish Battalions to the Palestine front, and the operation of the Anglo-Palestine Company’s banking system.

He regarded the establishment of the Hebrew University as a political step of the first magnitude, which “would clearly symbolise before the eyes of the world our relation to our country and also the spirit in which we desire to enter Palestine.” He won Balfour’s support of the idea, and Major W.G.A. Ormsby-Gore, the Political Officer who accompanied the Zionist Commission, received instructions to report on its implementation. At the beginning of February the contract for the purchase of land on Mount Scopus was signed and the military authorities in Palestine were charged with arranging a suitable date for laying the cornerstone.

The question of lands was brought up in a negative way: with the conquest of Palestine the fear arose that land speculation might spread in the country before the Zionist Organization was able to go into action, thus damaging future activity in agricultural settlement. Weizmann therefore proposed that the military authorities be requested to prevent transfers of land so long as the country remained under military occupation. This proposal coincided with official policy under the “Laws and Usages of War,” which dictated a preservation of the status quo in the country. Examination of the possibility of preventing speculation was consequently one of the objectives of the Zionist Commission, which were noted in Ormsby-Gore’s directives.

The first Jewish Battalion, the 38th Royal Fusiliers, was then awaiting embarkation at a training camp in Plymouth. Energetic campaigning was in progress in the United States to mobilize a large number of volunteers for despatch to England and enrollment in further Battalions. Weizmann had supported Jabotinsky in his campaign to create a Jewish Legion to fight on the Palestine front. He now urged the Foreign Office to expedite its despatch there. The 38th Battalion left at the beginning of February 1918, and Weizmann received an assurance that volunteers enrolled in America would also be moved to Palestine.

Weizmann was particularly anxious for the early reactivation of the Anglo-Palestine Company, for the proper operation of its banking branches was both an economic necessity and a political desirability. He pressed for the enlargement of the Bank’s capital, particularly to United States Zionists, for he regarded this as a pre-condition for the use of its services by the military authorities. He was successful in obtaining permission for reopening the Bank and transferring funds, despite the fact that its branches were in occupied territory. He tried to persuade the authorities to use the Bank’s services, and sought, unsuccessfully, to secure its recognition as a Bank of Issue. Egyptian currency was declared legal tender in Palestine.

Two funds were set up to finance the Zionist Commission’s activities. The London Political Committee established the Zionist Preparation Fund and as of Nov. 1917 requests were telegraphed to the various Zionist Federations and to the Jewish Colonial Trust to raise their contributions. The Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs in the United States passed a resolution at its Baltimore Conference in December 1917 for the creation of the Palestine Restoration Fund, with a target of $100,000,000. Weizmann ensured that the various Zionist bodies were aware of the need to channel all future rishuv relief activities through the Zionist Commission, with the funds under its control. Parallel to the discussions concerning the objectives of the Zionist Commission and the coordination of moneys to finance its activities, strong efforts were exerted in London to secure its composition as a representative body.

Since the outbreak of war Zionists in England had been cut off from the headquarters of the Movement in Berlin, remaining beyond its area of influence. This enabled Weizmann and his friends to operate politically almost autonomously, independent of pro-German or neutral factors in the Movement. At the same time, Weizmann and Sokolow had to provide assurances that they had the support of Jewish public opinion to justify a pro-Zionist British policy. Weizmann made great efforts to win the support of American and Russian Zionists in urging a British Protectorate for Palestine. Now, with his efforts rewarded in the granting of the Balfour Declaration, he wanted the Zionist Commission to be as widely representative as possible. The British authorities could not, of course, sanction participation from the Central Powers or even from neutral countries. The Commission was therefore limited to Jewish leaders from Allied countries, particularly the United States and Russia. But the U.S. Government, not having declared war on Turkey and wary of an involvement in Palestine, prevented American Zionists from joining the Zionist Commission, thus limiting their contribution to moral and material support. Russia was in the throes of a revolution, and the personnel nominated there did not succeed in arriving in time.

So, at the end of February, only a small mission gathered around Weizmann. It was composed of the British Zionists Israel Sieff, Leon Simon and Joseph Cowen, a representative of the Jewish Territorial Organization, David Eder, and Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s nominee from France, Sylvain Levi. Attached to the Commission were Zalman D. Levontin, of the A.P.C.; Jules Rosenheck, an I.C.A. official; Walter Meyer from the U.S.A., who came privately at Weizmann’s request; Aaron Aaronsohn, who was versed in Palestinian affairs; and, in British uniform, James de Rothschild and William G. Ormsby-Gore, the Political Officer.

Travelling through France and Italy, the Zionist Commission arrived in Egypt on 20 March. They were received enthusiastically, with promises of support by the Jews there, and established contact with the military authorities. (Sir Reginald Wingate, the British High Commissioner, described Weizmann to Hardinge on 23 March as “undoubtedly a very clever and capable leader…”). They also met for the first time with Arab personalities. Furthermore, Weizmann completed arrangements for control by the Commission of relief funds, thus rendering this body the main instrument for restoration of the yishuv.

Weizmann arrived in Palestine on 3 April, as Allenby’s guest at his Headquarters, while other members of the Commission followed him to Tel Aviv, where a warm welcome and urgent questions were awaiting them. Within a fortnight they had visited the Judean colonies and Jerusalem, held discussions with the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Councils, the Federated Council of Judean Colonies, the Provisional Committee (Va’ad Hazmani) and the Education Committee, and begun to tackle the problems of reconstruction of the colonies and relief for the Jerusalem population.

Weizmann’s encounter with the colonists stirred him to lyrical praise: “We […] have carried away the impression that the colonies, their mode of living and working, their upbringing of the children, the spirit reigning there, the purity of life, all stand out as the most creditable achievement of Jewry in the last century […] There is an equilibrium between the mental and physical forces here, and a new upright type of an open air Jew is being moulded in the modest schools of our colonies.”

The economy of the colonies, however, and especially Petach Tikvah, which was still in the front-line, had suffered in the war. Agricultural production had been damaged and access to its export markets was blocked. All the colonies needed finance for their reconstruction. Weizmann began telegraphing requests, mainly to America but also to England, urging the creation of a fund to provide long-term loans to the farmers through the A.P.C. He repeatedly demanded the despatch of professionally qualified people to assist the Yishuv: teachers and physicians, agronomists, engineers and economists, and he did not feel free to leave the country until these arrived.

The problems of Jerusalem were especially acute. The war had left a substantial number of the Jerusalem population on the verge of starvation. The stream of Halukka funds had dribbled, sources of support had largely ceased and families lost their providers. With starvation, prostitution and traffic in alcohol became rampant in the city. This worried the Occupation authorities and caused Weizmann grave concern: “The Jewish quarters in Jerusalem are nothing but filth and infection. The indescribable poverty, stubborn ignorance  and fanaticism—the heart aches when one looks at a all! To organize Jerusalem, to bring some order into that hell—it’s a job that is going to take a long time and require the strength of a giant and the patience of an angel!”

This situation demanded effective control, but this was not found, since the elders of all sects in Jerusalem had been squabbling since the occupation over the composition of the leadership. This had resulted in the election of two rival Councils which inter all a fought over control of the distribution of philanthropic funds: the Ashkenazi City Council, which represented the old Yishuv, and the City Council for Jerusalem Jews, which included Zionists.

The Zionist Commission, with the assistance of the Palestine Office, set up its Relief Department in Jerusalem. It distributed funds, arranged the import of commodities, dealt with the problems of prostitution and traffic in alcohol, ensured that the urban orphans were sent to the rural colonies and found means of livelihood for its citizens. It prepared a plan for drainage in the city and undertook the resumption of the health services. Through the Education Committee it organized and financed the school system, including the Hilfsverein institutions not formerly under its aegis.

Control of the Halukka funds presented a problem: ” […] not to accept this money at all, or if we are going to take charge of it, then  to do it in our own way. Either is difficult and it is hard to escape from the dilemma […] But to fight this system, which has developed over the centuries and become sanctified […] by religious tradition, one needs tremendous strength […] I believe it is now our duty to begin a general revision and, taking advantage of the situation as well as of the fact that we now have power in our hands, to make the full horror of these conditions clear to the entire Jewish world…”

With relief funds in his hands, Weizmann sought to exercise his authority to terminate the rivalry in the city leadership. In his meetings with the two Councils he brought about agreement for a combined Council, with adequate representation for both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, and through which all aid funds would pass. Supervision over relief activities was entrusted to a committee of the Zionist Commission. The agreement, however, failed to materialize.

Concurrently, Weizmann met representatives of the Orthodox community, which was especially dependent upon Halukka, and, by extension, on the Zionist Commission. He attributed historical importance to this meeting: “First time in Zionist movement Zionism entered direct discussion with Jerusalem Rabbinate and all it represented.” The rabbis requested that Orthodox education be left untouched, that assistance to the reshivot be enlarged, and that their heads be enabled to appeal directly for contributions from abroad. Weizmann called upon. the rabbis to cooperate with the Zionist movement, and proposed that Hebrew be the language of instruction and that changes be made in the syllabus of the yeshivot.

As regards local Zionist institutions, the Commission held discussions with the Provisional Committee of Palestine Jews in Occupied Territories. This was established early in 1918 and included representatives of the Permanent Political Committee, the Federated Council of Judean Colonies and other bodies. The Provisional Committee hoped that its representatives would be included in the Zionist Commission, but the latter would agree only to joint sub-committees under its control, to operate in the fields of agriculture and land settlement, education and relief, industry and finance.

Until the arrival of the Zionist Commission, the Zionist Organization was represented in the country exclusively by the Palestine Office, which was responsible for all its projects. But the war had reduced opportunities for land purchase and settlement, and its activities were in fact restricted to preserving the status quo and assisting the needy. Now that the Zionist Commission undertook this role as well, the function of the. Palestine Office became indeterminate and meaningless. Its Acting Director, Jacob Thon, proposed a division of responsibilities, with the Zionist Commission limited to contact with the authorities, and the Palestine Office left to transact the affairs of the yishuv. Weizmann recognized that the Office had accumulated knowledge and experience of great value to the Commission, and he secured American funds to enlarge its budget and facilitate its work. This budget, however, became the responsibility of the Zionist Commission, giving it complete autonomy of operation and effectively making it, under Weizmann, the highest Zionist authority in Palestine, and the executive and representative Jewish body vis-à-vis the British authorities.

Weizmann was ever conscious that he had come to Palestine not merely for the purpose of helping the Yishuv heal its wounds, but to lay the foundation for a new reality which would give concrete expression to the principle of a Jewish National Home.

He undertook discussions with leading officers in the British Military Administration: Allenby and Wingate; Brigadier-General Gilbert Clayton, Chief Political Officer; Col. Ronald Storrs, Military Governor of Jerusalem; Major-General A.W. Money, Chief Administrator Occupied Enemy Territory Administration (South); Colonel Wyndham Deedes, Chief Intelligence Officer, and others. He took pains to imbue his hearers with a consciousness of the vision of the “National Home” in the framework of a British Protectorate over Palestine, to explain the considerations which had brought about the Balfour Declaration, and to convince them that assistance in realizing Zionist ideals was both possible and desirable.

Immediately on arrival in Egypt Weizmann encountered “enormous ignorance,” since “the authorities here are all convinced of one thing, namely that the Jews are getting ready to create a State in Palestine immediately and that the first thing they will do will be to requisition all the land and enslave the Arabs.”

To be sure, Wingate underscored the importance of dialogue with the Arabs. And after his first meeting with Allenby, Weizmann wrote: “I had to explain our programme at length and in detail, but what cut across every explanation was the Arab problem, which is far more acute here than in Egypt or in London.”

Preparation for discussions with Arab leaders had already been made prior to the departure of the Zionist Commission from London. Following publication of the Balfour Declaration, Mark Sykes approached Syrian Arab leaders in Egypt opposed both to the Declaration and the intention to cut off Palestine from Syria, and explained that not only need the Arabs not be apprehensive, but the well-being of their cause demanded cooperation with the Armenians and the Zionists. Sykes also sent directives to the British authorities in Egypt and they took appropriate action to produce an atmosphere for cooperation. The Arab-Armenian-Zionist Committee, established by Sykes to promote the realization of the national aspirations of the three peoples, also asked the Arabs in Egypt to cooperate with the Zionist Commission upon its arrival.

Weizmann made it clear to Arab leaders, both in Cairo and Jerusalem, that the Zionists had no designs for economic or political control of the country, which would bring about the dispossession of the local population. He called for cooperation and the removal of suspicion.

His statements to the Arabs evoked the most positive echoes from the British authorities. Clayton observed, in a letter of 4 April to Sykes, after Weizmann’s first meeting with Allenby: “We are all struck with his intelligence and openness and the Commander in Chief has evidently formed a high opinion of him. I feel convinced that many of the difficulties which we have encountered owing to the mutual distrust and suspicion between Arabs and Jews will now disappear. An inkling of his real policy, which I suspected but which I was never really aware of until his arrival and the receipt of your last letter, will undoubtedly go far towards removing the fears of Arabs, both in Occupied Territory and elsewhere. Already his conversations in Cairo with Dr. Nimr and others have had satisfactory results and I feel sure that the same will be the case when he meets the leading Moslems in Jerusalem.”

The meeting did indeed sustain Clayton’s optimism, but not so Weizmann’s. After his address to Arab leaders in Jerusalem he wrote:  “The Arabs responded very politely to it, but it’s difficult to trust them. The importance of the speech lay in the fact that it was delivered in the presence of members of the Government, with their knowledge and approval. I feel that I do not need to concern myself with the Arabs any more; we have done everything that was required of us, we have explained our point of view publicly and openly […] If the Government were to undertake to arrange matters with the Arabs, that would be the only thing required.” In a different context he declared: “…it is very desirable that the Arabs of Palestine should be brought to realise the actual position and the intentions of the Government, and that this work of education can be carried out only by the Authorities themselves.”

A further attempt at rapprochement, initiated by Clayton, took place early in June, when Weizmann met Feisal, son of Sherif Hussein. Weizmann described Feisal as “the first real Arab nationalist I have met […] contemptuous of the Palestinian Arabs whom he doesn’t even regard as Arabs!” It was a cordial meeting, to raise the hopes both of the British authorities and Weizmann. The latter offered financial and propaganda aid to the Arab National Movement, and was impressed that Feisal “expects a great deal from collaboration with the Jews!” Weizmann long held the view that his proposal for assistance to the Arab movement would lead to future cooperation. However, though this meeting was a prelude to a signed agreement between the two leaders in London the following year, it had no tangible outcome. Feisal raised hopes for an understanding but committed himself to nothing.

Weizmann’s belief that it was incumbent upon the authorities “to arrange matters with the Arabs,” emanated chiefly from the difficulties he encountered whilst dealing with actual questions of Arab-Jewish relations. The reaction of the Military Authorities to the election of a Jaffa City Council with an Arab majority and its decision to put up signs in Arabic; a nationalist Arab address given in Jerusalem in the presence of the Governor; allegation that the Petach-Tikvah farmers were engaged in espionage, etc., brought Weizmann to the conclusion that the root of the problem lay in the policy of the military authorities.

These were in fact strictly observing the terms of The Hague Convention of 1907. Allenby had defined his role to Weizmann as preserving the existing order so that he could “hand over Palestine at the end of the War in a good condition.”

Earlier, Weizmann had admitted that “ …while Great Britain will welcome our activities in Palestine now, it will certainly not allow us to do such things which might lead to an increase of jealousy on the part of France and all the forces which centre round it, or which might be construed by the world as a hidden desire of Great Britain to annex Palestine by simply using the Jews as a blind.” But he nevertheless insisted that rigid maintenance of the status quo implied having regard to the numerical superiority of the Arab population in Palestine at the expense of assisting the realization of the idea of a Jewish National Home. He contended that the Jewish population in Palestine, though inferior in size to the Arabs, was in effect the advance presence of Jews the world over whose aspirations were centered on the rebuilding of Palestine. The policy embodied in the Balfour Declaration was postulated on assumptions that recognized Jewish power and Jewish public opinion throughout the world. Rigid observance of the status quo would therefore operate against the policy of the Declaration and the establishment of the Jewish National Home promised therein.

Weizmann also charged that the status quo policy in effect left the corrupt Arab-Ottoman administration intact, under British officials from Egypt and Sudan who lacked understanding of and sympathy for Zionism, and who were without directives from London as to the policy of the Declaration. As a result every appeal to the authorities by members of the rishuv came up against an impenetrable wall, to maintain the policy of discrimination against the rishuv which had prevailed during the Ottoman period.

To rectify the wrong Weizmann appealed to Zionist colleagues in London and New York for English-speaking personnel qualified to join the Administration. He was also active in arranging this locally, both in the case of the Administration and of the police. Further, he obtained Allenby’s consent to Zionist propaganda activities among the senior officials, and strove for a flexible definition of the status quo. All Weizmann’s letters and activities kept the objective for which he had come to Palestine in sight: the creation of facts which could be stressed at the Peace Conference and which could serve as a basis for continued effort in determining the future character of Palestine.

As opposed to the numerical criterion, Weizmann maintained that democracy would be better served in a country of such heterogeneous population if autonomy were granted to the various communities. He convinced Allenby (19 May, 1918) to sanction the collection of the tithe tax by the Colonies’ Committees. Thus encouraged, he sought recognition for the Rabbinical and Jewish Arbitration Courts as judicial authorities, the delegation of execution of judgements to the Colonies’ Committees, and conferment upon the Jerusalem Community of authority to deal with problems of prostitution and traffic in alcohol. These were denied, as was similarly his request that coins and stamps bear Hebrew inscriptions.

During his stay in Palestine Weizmann relentlessly promoted the four issues he regarded as foundations of the Jewish National Home. In his appeals to England and to the United States he continued to press for an increase in the Bank’s capital, and made a second unsuccessful attempt to enable the Bank to issue money.

He supported representations to the authorities for approval of enlistment of Palestinian volunteers in the Jewish Battalion, and kept a hopeful and sympathetic eye on the volunteer movement. Weizmann displayed untiring initiative in the land question. Here the problem was not the prevention of land speculation, which the authorities did their best to keep in check, but to find room for purchase and cultivation within the framework of the status quo policy. Invoking one of its objectives—the planning of future development—the Zionist Commission proposed the investigation of fallow or partially uncultivated land in the South. Survey missions on behalf of the Zionist Commission and the military authorities were sent to explore the possibilities of cultivating land that had lain fallow, and a detailed plan was presented to the authorities. The project was frustrated, however, as the military authorities were not prepared to accept responsibility for its implementation. At Allenby’s suggestion Weizmann requested Balfour’s approval of the plan, explaining it as a concrete demonstration to the Jewish world of the National Home policy and providing evidence to the Arabs that there was no intention to evict them from their land. Balfour delayed his decision in the matter. 

Another problem of land-purchase which Weizmann regarded as symbolic to the implementation of the Balfour Declaration, and in which he sought the intercession of the Foreign Secretary, related to the area adjacent to the Western Wall. Here the Authorities gave their support; the area, however, belonged to the Waqf, and its owners refused its surrender.

The crown of the Zionist Commission’s activities was the laying of the cornerstone for the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. The ceremony, which required official sanction from London, was held before a large public assembly and with the participation of military, governmental and communal representatives. Weizmann describes the scene: “It was in a marvellous spot on our grounds from which one could see almost the whole of Palestine. There was the Dead Sea spread out before us and the mountains of Judaea and Ephraim and Moab looking as if they were amazed at what was taking place.” He spoke of the University as a heritage for generations to come, a focus of the Jewish intellect. He emphasized the importance of instruction in Hebrew, and the necessity to maintain high scientific standards while adjusting the teaching to all strata of the population.

Experience with the military authorities told Weizmann that the policy could not be rendered flexible without clear directives from London, and he asked Sokolow to elaborate on this to the Foreign Office. He himself expounded the problem in an exhaustive letter to Balfour, in the course of which he also stated: “It is my intention to go to America in the near future, to report there on what we are doing and are going to do, and to rally American Jewish, and I am sure also non-Jewish, opinion behind us. Then I contemplate a Congress of representative Jews in Palestine to give authoritative expression to Jewish demands. The voice of such a congress, I venture to think, will not pass unheard at the Peace Conference. But the possibility of formulating a clear, strong and representative demand will exist only if the Jewish people knows that during the period of British occupation the foundations of the National Home have been laid in Palestine.” 

Weizmann now considered that his role in Palestine had terminated, although much still remained to be done, and his last weeks in the country were permeated by disappointment. The voice of a tired man is heard, one who is leaving his post in the fear that the project in which he had invested his strength might be lost: ” …these two months in Palestine have cost me a great deal. And now I’m asking  myself, what will happen when I leave? Who is to replace me? I’m simply terrified at the thought that all this hard work will be placed in jeopardy.” Truly, the effort of waiting for people to come and help had exhausted him. Despite his repeated entreaties no one qualified to replace him in negotiations with the authorities arrived before his departure. He was in time to greet the American Zionist Medical Unit but not the reinforcements of teachers and other professional personnel. The Relief and Preparation Funds at the disposal of the Zionist Commission dwindled. The Bank’s capital was insufficient to undertake large projects, and prospects diminished for granting of long-term loans to the farmers. “I fail to understand why you do not realize how serious and critical the position is!” he wrote to Sokolow. “It hurts me so much that I want to scream!”

Additionally, he was anxious for his personal affairs. His laboratory was closed in his absence and its staff dispersed. His wife reported delays in fixing the royalties due to him. He was wanted at home. “I feel from the tone of your letter that you are depressed and lonely,” he wrote his wife. “All this makes my heart ache, but I’m coming to you soon and we shall be happy and contented together, my Verochka! But what people are like, and especially Jews! I’ve seen a little of that here! But they are our people, there are no others. That is small comfort, but what can one do? One must come to terms with it, just as with the climate of Palestine, the rocks of the Judean hills, the Arabs and other difficult obstacles in our difficult path. Oh, what a difficult road and how many valuable lives will yet go in creating the ‘Home’! In these five months I have lived through at least 10 years and have gone noticeably more grey, but I have become spiritually stronger in the struggle, for there is something here that inspires one to great deeds! This something is that sacred tradition, unforgettable, strong, the voices of our prophets and sages telling us that we shall have to create our Palestine with pain and torment.”

Weizmann left Palestine in mid-September. He held discussions with the Foreign Ministry and Jewish personalities in Italy, while in France he tried to smooth out differences which had arisen in his relations with Baron de Rothschild, who had been angered by Weizmann’s professed pro-British and anti-French attitude. He arrived in England at the onset of October, ready to enter the fray in anticipation of the Peace Conference and to take his place at the forefront of the Zionist leadership.

DVORAH BARZILAY