Monday, January 04, 2010


I skimmed through Theodor Herzl's book “Altneuland” (available here), published in 1902, curious to see how it corresponded to Israel today. I skipped the parts describing the Jewish state's mostly socialist political arrangements, and focused on descriptions of the landscape and infrastructure.

In general, the correspondence to modern Israel was quite good. I most identified with the following paragraph:
The serpentine road opened wider and wider prospects. Now the city and harbor of Haifa lay before the entranced eyes of the travelers. On the near side the broad bay with its zone of gardens; beyond, Acco with its background of mountains. They were on the summit of the northern ridge of the Carmel. To the right and to the left, to the north and to the south, a magnificent expanse lay spread out before them. The sea glittered blue and gold into an infinite horizon. White-capped waves fluttered over it like gulls toward the light brown strand. David ordered the driver to stop the car so that they might enjoy the unique view. As they alighted, he turned to Freidrich. "See, Dr. Loewenberg, this is the land of our fathers."

This, of course, exactly describes the view from the apartment I lived in last year. (And “serpentine” is definitely a good description of the roads here.) The only difference between Herzl's vision and the modern view is that “the broad bay” between Haifa and Akko now consists of factories and suburbs, not a large park.

Features such as Haifa Bay and the Dead Sea Works, both predicted in the book, have turned out exactly as described. Other projects mentioned, such as a canal to the Dead Sea, are still on the drawing board. The book's focus on Haifa is a result not only of the early Zionist emphasis on settling the North, but on the fact that airplanes had not yet been invented, making Haifa's port the main place of entry to the country. The modern city of Tel Aviv was only founded a few years later, in 1909.

Despite Herzl's generally prescient vision for the Jewish state, there is one detail I cannot forgive him for. In one place, he described a train line going through Tzfat. Anyone who has ever been on the windy mountain roads to Tzfat knows that it's the absolute last place in Israel that a train line would ever be built to.

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