‘Lawrence of Arabia’ Was a Zionist
May 21, 2015
envisioned Jewish and Arab neighbor states coexisting peacefully.
This week, May 19 to be exact, marks the 80th anniversary of the death of T. E.
Lawrence — generally known as Lawrence of Arabia — who played a crucial role as
a British officer in defeating the Ottoman Empire in the heartland of the
Islamic world. While widely recognized as a champion of Arab nationalism,
Lawrence also embraced political Zionism.
Put simply, he was both an Arabophile and a Zionist. The popular vision of Lawrence
— including in David Lean’s breathtaking, Oscar-winning 1962 film Lawrence of
Arabia — has airbrushed from history his contributions to the formation of
the Jewish state.
early as 1909, Lawrence wrote about a then-undefined Palestine: "The sooner the
Jews farm it the better: their colonies are bright spots in a desert." His
advocacy in this vein would extend to the post-WWI conferences that carved out
nation-states in the Middle East. Lawrence served as the mediator between
Hashemite Prince Faisal, who would later become the king of Iraq, and Chaim
Weizmann, later the first president of Israel. Lawrence’s goal, he said, was to
secure "the lines of Arab and Zionist policy converging in the not distant
a scarcely noted 1920 article titled "The Changing East," Lawrence wrote of the
Jewish biblical connection to Israel. For Lawrence, "the Jewish experiment" to
create a homeland was "a conscious effort, on the part of the least European
people in Europe, to make head against the drift of the ages, and return once
more to the Orient from which they came."
Martin Gilbert, the late peerless British historian and biographer of Sir
Winston Churchill, wrote the most compelling essay on Lawrence’s "little known
romance with Zionism."
Lawrence debunked the most obviously dishonest of anti-Israel myths, which
circulate widely in Europe, the Arab world, and Iran — namely, that the Jews
lacked a presence in a pre-Christian and pre-Islam Palestine.
While he recognized in his writings the continuous presence of Jews in
pre-Zionist-movement Palestine, Lawrence noted, "The colonists will take back
with them to the land which they occupied for some centuries before the
Christian era samples of all the knowledge and technique of Europe. They propose
to settle down amongst the existing Arabic-speaking population of the country, a
people of kindred origin, but far different social condition. They hope to
adjust their modes of life to the climate of Palestine, and by the exercise of
their skill and capital to make it as highly organized as a European state."
Lawrence’s biggest success was his advocacy of Zionism, leading to the eventual
creation of the state of Israel.
Lawrence’s vision would become a reality. Israel rapidly became the freest and
most advanced capitalist economy in the Middle East.
Lawrence loathed radical, dogmatic Islam. As the Islamic State has just seized
control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra — and is set to destroy its Roman
archeological ruins — it’s worth remembering that Lawrence wrote in his
autobiography of this location,
"nothing in the scorching, desolate land could look so refreshing."
all his efforts to unify a fragmented Arab Middle East, his biggest success was
his advocacy of Zionism, leading to the eventual creation of the state of
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.