A HUMANITARIAN AND EARLY ADVOCATE OF CHRISTIAN ZIONISM
John Henry Dunant was a man of ideas and ideals whose strong humanitarian beliefs led to his founding of the International Red Cross and an inspiration for the framing of the First Geneva Convention on the rules of war, among many other worthy causes that he either initiated or backed during his lifetime. So crucial was his role in promoting a better world for all humankind that he was named a co-laureate of the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.
Less known generally than his other endeavors, this remarkable 19th century Swiss businessman was also a key figure in his time in the fermentation of the Christian Zionism movement to restore the Jewish people to their homeland in then Ottoman-occupied Palestine. His advocacy was inspired by his staunch Protestant Christian belief in the Bible.
Labeled a Christian Zionist by Herzl
It was said that Dunant was the first to be labeled a “Christian Zionist,” so designated by Theodor Herzl. the founder of the international Zionist movement. Indeed, it was in 1866, long before Herzl began to push for a Jewish homeland, that Dunant appealed for the founding of the International Society for the Renewal of the Orient.
His plan outlined the establishment of a colony in Palestine that would in due course become a place of settlement for the Jews, and ultimately a small Jewish homeland that would aid in the liberation of the Holy Land from the Ottoman Empire. This plan, Dunant felt, would be formulated under the auspices of France and its ruler, Napoleon III. Unfortunately, Dunant’s strategy came to naught.
But Dunant did not give up. So great was his determination to further the cause of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, that he founded the Association for the Colonization (or Resettlement) of Palestine in 1867. Because of his Zionist beliefs, Dunant was invited by Herzl to accompany him to the First World Zionist Congress, one of only a handful of gentiles to be invited.
Dunant continued to strive for renewal of life in the Holy Land. He promoted development of large areas of the coast of Palestine and strived to ensure that Jews immigrated there. Although Dunant again failed in efforts to enlist the aid of numerous highly visible public figures, his zeal for bringing the Jews home to Palestine never wavered.
Dunant celebrated in Jerusalem
His life was celebrated in Israel when a section of the Jerusalem Forest was dedicated to his memory. Its shady groves provide places for children to play and families to picnic just below Mount Herzl. The spot, quietly reminiscent of Dunant’s beloved Swiss Alps, is a tangible demonstration that the Jewish people and Christian Zionists have not forgotten Dunant’s passion for the restoration of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland.