In 1799, the French armies under Napoleon were camped outside of Acre. Napoleon issued a letter offering Palestine as a homeland to the Jews under French protection. The project was stillborn because Napoleon was defeated and was forced to withdraw from the Near East. The letter is remarkable because it marks the coming of age of enlightenment philosophy, making it respectable at last to integrate Jews as equal citizens in Europe and because it marked the beginning of nineteenth century projects for Jewish autonomy in Palestine under a colonial protectorate. After the defeat of Napoleon, it was largely the British who carried forward these projects, which have in hindsight been given the somewhat misleading name of “British Zionism.”
Letter to the Jewish Nation from the French Commander-in-Chief Buonaparte
(translated from the Original, 1799)
General Headquarters, Jerusalem 1st Floreal, April 20th, 1799,
in the year of 7 of the French Republic
BUONAPARTE, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE ARMIES OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC
IN AFRICA AND ASIA, TO THE RIGHTFUL HEIRS OF PALESTINE.
Israelites, unique nation, whom, in thousands of years, lust of conquest and tyranny have been able to be deprived of their ancestral lands, but not of name and national existence !
Attentive and impartial observers of the destinies of nations, even though not endowed with the gifts of seers like Isaiah and Joel, have long since also felt what these, with beautiful and uplifting faith, have foretold when they saw the approaching destruction of their kingdom and fatherland: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35,10)
Arise then, with gladness, ye exiled ! A war unexampled In the annals of history, waged in self-defense by a nation whose hereditary lands were regarded by its enemies as plunder to be divided, arbitrarily and at their convenience, by a stroke of the pen of Cabinets, avenges its own shame and the shame of the remotest nations, long forgotten under the yoke of slavery, and also, the almost two-thousand-year-old ignominy put upon you; and, while time and circumstances would seem to be least favourable to a restatement of your claims or even to their expression ,and indeed to be compelling their complet abandonment, it offers to you at this very time, and contrary to all expectations, Israel’s patrimony !
The young army with which Providence has sent me hither, let by justice and accompanied by victory, has made Jerusalem my head-quarters and will, within a few days, transfer them to Damascus, a proximity which is no longer terrifying to David’s city.
Rightful heirs of Palestine !
The great nation which does not trade in men and countries as did those which sold your ancestors unto all people (Joel,4,6) herewith calls on you not indeed to conquer your patrimony ;nay, only to take over that which has been conquered and, with that nation’s warranty and support, to remain master of it to maintain it against all comers.
Arise ! Show that the former overwhelming might of your oppressors has but repressed the courage of the descendants of those heroes who alliance of brothers would have done honour even to Sparta and Rome (Maccabees 12, 15) but that the two thousand years of treatment as slaves have not succeeded in stifling it.
Hasten !, Now is the moment, which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of civic rights among the population of the universe which had been shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as a nation among the nations, and the unlimited natural right to worship Jehovah in accordance with your faith, publicly and most probably forever (JoeI 4,20).