Trending Topics:

Huck and Jim vs. Herzl and Morris: Mark Twain on Zionism and the first aliyah

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 20 Comments
Mark Twain's visitors pass to Palestine issued by the Ottomans. (Photo by Shapell Manuscript Foundation via Haaretz)

Mark Twain’s visitors pass to Palestine issued by the Ottomans in 1867. (Photo by Shapell Manuscript Foundation via Haaretz)

Anyone reading Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial or its fetid progeny, Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel, will find Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad invoked as evidence for the claim that there weren’t many or any Palestinians in Palestine. Dershowitz comments, “Other travelers recorded similar accounts of Palestine prior to the arrival of the Jews of the First Aliyah, who began the process of revitalizing the land and increasing its population by creating jobs and an infrastructure” (p. 24). This is a classic settler colonial argument for land theft. One can find versions of it the writings of John Winthrop on seventeenth-century Massachusetts, in Thomas More’s Utopia, and in Jabotinsky’s The Iron Wall.

38931What isn’t so well known is Twain’s hilarious satire of Christian and Jewish Zionism in Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), where Tom observes that there there’s nobody in the Holy Land but a bunch of “paynims,” who can be driven out in good conscience. “Paynims” is an archaism for “pagans,” and specifically, the Muslims of chivalric romance. Tom is drawing off his reading of Sir Walter Scott’s medieval romances. Twain hated Scott with a passion: the derelict steamboat containing the body of the no-count racist Pap Finn is “The Sir Walter Scott.” And Twain blamed Scott for the Civil War itself: what he called the “Sir Walter Scott disease” infected Southern readers with a dream of reactionary aristocratic glory. And of course, that dream never died, as we can see in the Jacobite regalia and icons of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

In this little-read sequel to Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, bourgeois Tom Sawyer sounds awfully like Herzl, Jabotinsky, Peters, and Dershowitz, in his belief that nobody who isn’t organized in a proper nation state has any right to the land. Just living on and working the land isn’t enough. Poor white Huck and poor black Jim, on the other hand, immediately identify with the Palestinian peasantry, who just want to be left alone on their farms. Jim even seems to have an intuition about Palestinian hospitality: “Ef we wuz to go ‘mongst ‘em, jist we three, en say we’s hungry, en ast ‘em for a bite to eat, why, maybe dey’s jist like yuther people. Don’t you reckon dey is? Why, DEY’D give it, I know dey would, en den—“

Twain is thinking about the contemporary First Aliyah, (1882-1903), which brought thirty thousand European Jews to what was then Ottoman Palestine. In 1896, two years after Twain wrote, Theodor Herzl invoked some Crusader rhetoric in The Jewish State to describe a Zionist state as “a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism.” More recently, in his infamous 2002 Haaretz interview with Ari Shavit, Benny Morris first mocks Yasser Arafat for seeing Israel “as a Crusader state.” Then, Morris morphs into Crusader Tom: “Yes. I think that the war between the civilizations is the main characteristic of the 21st century. I think President Bush is wrong when he denies the very existence of that war. It’s not only a matter of bin Laden. This is a struggle against a whole world that espouses different values. And we are on the front line. Exactly like the Crusaders, we are the vulnerable branch of Europe in this place.”

Back to Twain. Tom does his best to bully Huck and Jim into submission, but Huck’s backwoods humanism carries the day: “But I didn’t care much. I am peaceable, and don’t get up rows with people that ain’t doing nothing to me. I allowed if the paynim was satisfied I was, and we would let it stand at that.” And finally, Huck is a better reader of Sir Walter Scott than Tom is: “I took the book and read all about it, and as near as I could make it out, most of the folks that shook farming to go crusading had a mighty rocky time of it.”

From Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), the Gutenberg edition

Well, we went out in the woods on the hill, and Tom told us what it was. It was a crusade.

“What’s a crusade?” I says.

He looked scornful, the way he’s always done when he was ashamed of a person, and says:

“Huck Finn, do you mean to tell me you don’t know what a crusade is?”

“No,” says I, “I don’t. And I don’t care to, nuther. I’ve lived till now and done without it, and had my health, too. But as soon as you tell me, I’ll know, and that’s soon enough. I don’t see any use in finding out things and clogging up my head with them when I mayn’t ever have any occasion to use ‘em. There was Lance Williams, he learned how to talk Choctaw here till one come and dug his grave for him. Now, then, what’s a crusade? But I can tell you one thing before you begin; if it’s a patent-right, there’s no money in it. Bill Thompson he—“

“Patent-right!” says he. “I never see such an idiot. Why, a crusade is a kind of war.”

I thought he must be losing his mind. But no, he was in real earnest, and went right on, perfectly ca’m.

“A crusade is a war to recover the Holy Land from the paynim.”

“Which Holy Land?”

“Why, the Holy Land—there ain’t but one.”

“What do we want of it?”

“Why, can’t you understand? It’s in the hands of the paynim, and it’s our duty to take it away from them.”

“How did we come to let them git hold of it?”

“We didn’t come to let them git hold of it. They always had it.”

“Why, Tom, then it must belong to them, don’t it?”

“Why of course it does. Who said it didn’t?”

I studied over it, but couldn’t seem to git at the right of it, no way. I says:

“It’s too many for me, Tom Sawyer. If I had a farm and it was mine, and another person wanted it, would it be right for him to—“

“Oh, shucks! you don’t know enough to come in when it rains, Huck Finn. It ain’t a farm, it’s entirely different. You see, it’s like this. They own the land, just the mere land, and that’s all they DO own; but it was our folks, our Jews and Christians, that made it holy, and so they haven’t any business to be there defiling it. It’s a shame, and we ought not to stand it a minute. We ought to march against them and take it away from them.”

“Why, it does seem to me it’s the most mixed-up thing I ever see! Now, if I had a farm and another person—“

“Don’t I tell you it hasn’t got anything to do with farming? Farming is business, just common low-down business: that’s all it is, it’s all you can say for it; but this is higher, this is religious, and totally different.”

“Religious to go and take the land away from people that owns it?”

“Certainly; it’s always been considered so.”

Jim he shook his head, and says:

“Mars Tom, I reckon dey’s a mistake about it somers—dey mos’ sholy is. I’s religious myself, en I knows plenty religious people, but I hain’t run across none dat acts like dat.”

It made Tom hot, and he says:

“Well, it’s enough to make a body sick, such mullet-headed ignorance! If either of you’d read anything about history, you’d know that Richard Cur de Loon, and the Pope, and Godfrey de Bulleyn, and lots more of the most noble-hearted and pious people in the world, hacked and hammered at the paynims for more than two hundred years trying to take their land away from them, and swum neck-deep in blood the whole time—and yet here’s a couple of sap-headed country yahoos out in the backwoods of Missouri setting themselves up to know more about the rights and wrongs of it than they did! Talk about cheek!”

Well, of course, that put a more different light on it, and me and Jim felt pretty cheap and ignorant, and wished we hadn’t been quite so chipper. I couldn’t say nothing, and Jim he couldn’t for a while; then he says:

“Well, den, I reckon it’s all right; beca’se ef dey didn’t know, dey ain’t no use for po’ ignorant folks like us to be trying to know; en so, ef it’s our duty, we got to go en tackle it en do de bes’ we can. Same time, I feel as sorry for dem paynims as Mars Tom. De hard part gwine to be to kill folks dat a body hain’t been ‘quainted wid and dat hain’t done him no harm. Dat’s it, you see. Ef we wuz to go ‘mongst ‘em, jist we three, en say we’s hungry, en ast ‘em for a bite to eat, why, maybe dey’s jist like yuther people. Don’t you reckon dey is? Why, DEY’D give it, I know dey would, en den—“

“Then what?”

“Well, Mars Tom, my idea is like dis. It ain’t no use, we CAN’T kill dem po’ strangers dat ain’t doin’ us no harm, till we’ve had practice—I knows it perfectly well, Mars Tom—‘deed I knows it perfectly well. But ef we takes a’ axe or two, jist you en me en Huck, en slips acrost de river to-night arter de moon’s gone down, en kills dat sick fam’ly dat’s over on the Sny, en burns dey house down, en—“

“Oh, you make me tired!” says Tom. “I don’t want to argue any more with people like you and Huck Finn, that’s always wandering from the subject, and ain’t got any more sense than to try to reason out a thing that’s pure theology by the laws that protect real estate!”

Now that’s just where Tom Sawyer warn’t fair. Jim didn’t mean no harm, and I didn’t mean no harm. We knowed well enough that he was right and we was wrong, and all we was after was to get at the HOW of it, and that was all; and the only reason he couldn’t explain it so we could understand it was because we was ignorant—yes, and pretty dull, too, I ain’t denying that; but, land! that ain’t no crime, I should think.

But he wouldn’t hear no more about it—just said if we had tackled the thing in the proper spirit, he would ‘a’ raised a couple of thousand knights and put them in steel armor from head to heel, and made me a lieutenant and Jim a sutler, and took the command himself and brushed the whole paynim outfit into the sea like flies and come back across the world in a glory like sunset. But he said we didn’t know enough to take the chance when we had it, and he wouldn’t ever offer it again. And he didn’t. When he once got set, you couldn’t budge him.

But I didn’t care much. I am peaceable, and don’t get up rows with people that ain’t doing nothing to me. I allowed if the paynim was satisfied I was, and we would let it stand at that.

Now Tom he got all that notion out of Walter Scott’s book, which he was always reading. And it WAS a wild notion, because in my opinion he never could’ve raised the men, and if he did, as like as not he would’ve got licked. I took the book and read all about it, and as near as I could make it out, most of the folks that shook farming to go crusading had a mighty rocky time of it.

Jim Holstun
About Jim Holstun

Jim Holstun teaches world literature in the Department of English, the University at Buffalo.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

20 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    January 9, 2014, 11:45 am

    Good old Mark Twain. What a beautiful exposition of Tom explaining what a Crusade is and Huck seeing no sense in it.

  2. eljay
    eljay
    January 9, 2014, 12:40 pm

    >> “You see, it’s like this. They own the land, just the mere land, and that’s all they DO own; but it was our folks, our Jews and Christians, that made it holy, and so they haven’t any business to be there defiling it. It’s a shame, and we ought not to stand it a minute. We ought to march against them and take it away from them.”

    Tom Sawyer: The perfect Zio-supremacist.

  3. Hostage
    Hostage
    January 9, 2014, 12:59 pm

    What isn’t so well known is Twain’s hilarious satire of Christian and Jewish Zionism in Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894)

    I read it as a child and got the message loud and clear. I always bring it up whenever someone tries to cite Twain’s satirical parody of a travelogue in Innocents Abroad as if it were serious non-fiction. Most Zionists just don’t grasp the fact that Twain was lampooning the cherished myths of Zionism and American Manifest Destiny by pointing out that the Holy Land had never been “all it was cracked-up to be” by the authors of the Bible.

  4. David Doppler
    David Doppler
    January 9, 2014, 1:31 pm

    Great to still be hearing from Twain, and using the Huck/Big Jim team to ponder on what’s right and moral, and with appropriate deference to their betters, more than a century after his death. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.

    “It ain’t no use, we CAN’T kill dem po’ strangers dat ain’t doin’ us no harm, till we’ve had practice . . . . ”

    Compare Irving Kristol in Commentary in 1984, urging American Jews to drop liberalism and instead support interventionism:

    “If American Jews truly wish to be noninterventionist, they have to cease being so concerned with Israel, with Jews in the Soviet Union, or indeed with Jews anywhere else. To demand that an American government be interventionist exclusively on behalf of Jewish interests and none other—well, to state that demand is to reveal its absurdity. Yet most of our major Jewish organizations have ended up maneuvering themselves into exactly this position. They cannot even bring themselves openly to support the indispensable precondition for the exercise of American influence on behalf of Jewish interests in the world: a large and powerful military establishment that can, if necessary, fight and win dirty, little (or not so little) wars in faraway places. It is the winning or losing of such wars that will determine the kind of world our children inherit—not striking pious postures or exuding moralistic rhetoric.”

    See marc b.’s comment a year ago: http://mondoweiss.net/2013/01/where-kristol-vietnam.html and the link to Commentary there.

  5. annie
    annie
    January 9, 2014, 2:51 pm

    and brushed the whole paynim outfit into the sea like flies

    wow. thank you for the great read Jim Holstun.

  6. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    January 9, 2014, 3:29 pm

    RE: “Huck and Jim vs. Herzl and Morris: Mark Twain on Zionism and the first aliyah”

    SPEAKING OF TWAIN, THIS IS FROM STEPHEN WALT (05/25/11):

    [EXCERPT] Mark Twain once described members of Congress as having “the smallest minds and the selfishest souls and the cowardliest hearts that God makes.” Twain’s mordant assessment provides a parsimonious explanation for the predictably rapturous reception that Bibi Netanyahu received there yesterday. All one can say about the vast majority of our courageous elected officials is that they aren’t genuine friends of Israel, because every burst of applause was another nail in the coffin of the Zionist dream.
    Why? Because Netanyahu’s central message yesterday was an emphatic rejection of a genuine two-state solution.
    While professing to be willing to make major sacrifices for the sake of peace, his lengthy list of preconditions made it abundantly clear that he thinks Israel is entitled to rule the Palestinian population in perpetuity-even when it becomes numerically larger than Israel’s Jewish citizens — and that the United States should back this effort no matter what. And even though the only alternatives to a two-state solution are 1) further ethnic cleansing, 2) a binational, one-state democracy, or 3) permanent apartheid, Congress is just fine with that. . .

    SOURCE – http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/05/25/the_smallest_minds_and_cowardliest_hearts_is_congress_clapping_for_apartheid

  7. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    January 9, 2014, 4:13 pm

    ● RE (from above):

    • HUCK FINN: “It’s too many for me, Tom Sawyer. If I had a farm and it was mine, and another person wanted it, would it be right for him to—”
    • TOM SAWYER: “Don’t I tell you it hasn’t got anything to do with farming? Farming is business, just common low-down business: that’s all it is, it’s all you can say for it; but this is higher, this is religious, and totally different.”
    • HUCK FINN: “Religious to go and take the land away from people that owns it?”
    • TOM SAWYER: “Certainly; it’s always been considered so.”
    • JIM: “Mars Tom, I reckon dey’s a mistake about it somers—dey mos’ sholy is. I’s religious myself, en I knows plenty religious people, but I hain’t run across none dat acts like dat.”

    ● SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL (1937):

    I do not agree that the dog in a manger [i.e., the Palestinians/Arabs – J.L.D.] has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of American or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” ~ Winston Churchill to the Peel Commission in 1937

    ● SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL (following the assassination of Lord Moyne in 1944):

    If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of an assassin’s pistol, and the labours for its future produce a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, then many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past”.

    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Guinness,_1st_Baron_Moyne

    P.S. Here is a photo of Churchill’s ancestral home & birthplace.
    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blenheim_Palace

  8. DaveS
    DaveS
    January 9, 2014, 5:19 pm

    I first read this a few years ago in an Alex Cockburn column. It is a gem!

  9. Bumblebye
    Bumblebye
    January 9, 2014, 6:04 pm

    When Innocents Abroad was serialised, there was a character called Brown travelling with Twain. When the book was published, this character’s name was changed to Blucher. This particular Blucher was my Great Grandfather. He and Twain corresponded after the latter’s return to Denmark, and some of the letters were passed down in the family – sadly, they seem to have been lost in the last few years, as the cousin who had them moved several times due to MS, and her family appear to have misplaced them during one of those moves.

    • just
      just
      January 9, 2014, 7:18 pm

      wow.

      I hope that these letters are found– they must mean very much to you.

      • Bumblebye
        Bumblebye
        January 9, 2014, 7:51 pm

        It would be wonderful if they could be found, but it’s very unlikely. Cousin died a couple years ago, just as the youngest grew up, and the last few years were very hard for all of them. The letters were not a priority to them, and I didn’t even ask if they still had them until a few months ago. There’s no way I’d press the issue when they’re still putting their lives back together.

  10. talknic
    talknic
    January 9, 2014, 6:28 pm

    Long before Twain – Bayard Taylor in 1852 wrote of the Jezreel Valley “one of the richest districts in the world”

    Laurence Oliphant 1887, again of the Jezreel Valley “…was ‘a huge green lake of waving wheat, with its village-crowned mounds rising from it like islands; and it presents one of the most striking pictures of luxuriant fertility which it is possible to conceive’ “

    Twain himself – “The narrow canon in which Nablous, or Shechem, is situated, is under high cultivation, and the soil is exceedingly black and fertile. It is well watered, and its affluent vegetation gains effect by contrast with the barren hills that tower on either side”

    “Sometimes, in the glens, we came upon luxuriant orchards of figs, apricots, pomegranates, and such things, but oftener the scenery was rugged, mountainous, verdureless and forbidding”

    “We came finally to the noble grove of orange-trees in which the Oriental city of Jaffa lies buried”

    “Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side”

    “Every where about the Mosque of Omar are portions of pillars, curiously wrought altars, and fragments of elegantly carved marble–precious remains of Solomon’s Temple. These have been dug from all depths in the soil and rubbish of Mount Moriah, and the Moslems have always shown a disposition to preserve them with the utmost care. At that portion of the ancient wall of Solomon’s Temple which is called the Jew’s Place of Wailing, and where the Hebrews assemble every Friday to kiss the venerated stones and weep over the fallen greatness of Zion, any one can see a part of the unquestioned and undisputed Temple of Solomon, the same consisting of three or four stones lying one upon the other, each of which is about twice as long as a seven-octave piano, and about as thick as such a piano is high. But, as I have remarked before, it is only a year or two ago that the ancient edict prohibiting Christian rubbish like ourselves to enter the Mosque of Omar and see the costly marbles that once adorned the inner Temple was annulled. The designs wrought upon these fragments are all quaint and peculiar, and so the charm of novelty is added to the deep interest they naturally inspire. One meets with these venerable scraps at every turn, especially in the neighboring Mosque el Aksa, into whose inner walls a very large number of them are carefully built for preservation“

    Morons for Israel expansionism are cherry picking liars

    Mark Twain’s description of Palestine
    “we made the desert bloom”
    “Israel is the only democracy in the M East”
    “Israel treats gays better than the Arab states”
    “there was no state of Palestine”
    the number of Jewish Nobel prize winners
    Israel’s alleged invention of computer chips or the mobile telephone
    “most Palestinians would rather live under Israeli rule than Palestinian rule”
    and anything that happened prior to 00:01 May 15th 1948 (ME time)
    is completely irrelevant to:

    the legal status of Israel’s Internationally recognized sovereign extent and its rights and duties and obligations to territories “outside the State of Israel”.

    They are all nonsense. Non-arguments. Hasbara bullsh*t 101.

  11. just
    just
    January 9, 2014, 7:12 pm

    What a truly wonderful article. Many thanks, Professor. I’m going to revisit that great book.

    (your students are mighty lucky!)

  12. thankgodimatheist
    thankgodimatheist
    January 9, 2014, 7:37 pm

    What’s funny is that Mark Twain who also visited Greece found that it was “deserted” too.

  13. RoHa
    RoHa
    January 9, 2014, 9:08 pm

    “I am peaceable, and don’t get up rows with people that ain’t doing nothing to me.”

    Clearly doesn’t understand anything about international relations.

  14. lysias
    lysias
    January 13, 2014, 11:27 am

    You just have to read Twain’s Autobiography to realize what an enemy he was of imperialism and colonialism. He regarded with real disgust the conduct of the U.S. Army in the Philippines.

Leave a Reply