"..... A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds... a silent mournful expanse.... a desolation.... we never saw a human being on the whole route.... hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 361-362)
This quote has been widely circulated in Israeli text books, media outlets, and many Jewish communities around the world as FACTS about Palestine. As we will prove below, this quote was taken out of context to portray Palestine as "empty, destitute, and a barren desert", of course until Israeli and Zionist Jews "made" its desert bloom.
Before we analyze what Mark Twain wrote, the following facts should be taken into considerations:
Palestine's arable land is under is 17% of its total area, click here to view Israel's profile at CIA's Worldfact Book.
Mark Twain's visit occurred during the middle of the hot Mediterranean summer.
Mark Twain visited the region soon after the end of hostilities between Christian and Muslim Druze at Mount Lebanon, where over ten thousand Christian Arabs (mostly Maronites) were massacred in 1861, and that should explain his blatant racist remarks in respect of the Turks, Arabs, and Muslims in general.
Mark Twain's visit was brief by all accounts, which encompassed the areas that were only cited in the Bible.
Mark Twin provided no statistical data whatsoever about Palestine's agriculture and demographic make up. So his statements should not be taken as if they were written by an authoritative body.
Pre-Nakba Picture showing Palestinian harvesting wheat in Beisan (Baysan), 1938Mark Twain often compared Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon to the fertile lands in the United States of America, which is clearly unfair. Both are in separate parts of the world, have different environments, different governments, ... etc.
Quotes from "The Innocent Abroad"
Mark Twain did not just describe Palestine as a barren desert, he also extended this description to Greece, Lebanon, and Syria. He stated:
"From Athens all through the islands of the Grecian Archipelago, we saw little but forbidden sea-walls and barren hills, sometimes surmounted by three or four graceful columns of some ancient temples, lonely and deserted---a fitting symbol of desolation that has come upon all Greece in these latter ages. We saw no ploughed fields, very few villages, no trees or grass or vegetation of any kind, scarcely, and hardly ever an isolated house. Greece is a bleak, unsmiling desert, without agriculture, manufactures, or commerce, apparently." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 203)
"Damascus is beautiful from the mountain. It is beautiful even to foreigners accustomed to luxuriant vegetation, and I can easily understand how unspeakably beautiful it must be to eyes that are only used to the God-forsaken barrenness and desolation of Syria. I should think a Syrian would go wild with ecstasy when such a picture bursts upon him for the first time." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 262)
"We saw no ploughed fields, very few villages, no trees or grass or vegetation of any kind,"
On the other hand, he contradicts himself on the exact same page. He stated:
"The nation numbers only eight hundred thousand souls." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 203)
By any standard, it's really surprising how Mark Twaindescribed the St. Sophia Church (which was converted to a mosque by the Turks), one of the the architectural marvels of the old and the new worlds. He described the church as follows:
"I do not think much of the Mosque of St. Sophia. I suppose I lack appreciation. We will let it go at that. It is the rustiest old barn in heathendom. I believe all the interest that attaches to it comes from the fact that it was built for a Christian church and then turned into a mosque, without much alteration, by the Mohammedan conquerors of the land." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 208)
"[In Constantinople,] Mosques are plenty, churches are plenty, graveyards are plenty, but moral and whisky are scarce. The Koran does not permit Mohammedans to drink. Their natural instinct do not permit them to be moral. They say the Sultan has eight hundred wives. This almost amounts to bigamy. It makes our cheeks burn with shame to see such a thing permitted here in Turkey. We do not mind to see such thing in Salt Lake City, however." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 210-211)
"Greek, Turkish, and Armenian morals consist only in attending church regularly on the appointed Sabbath, and in breaking the ten commandments all the balance of the week. It comes natural to them to lie and cheat in the first place, and then they go on and improve on nature until they arrive at perfection." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 212)
"Everybody lies and cheats----everybody who is in business, at any rate. Even foreigners soon have to come down to the custom of the country, and they do not buy and sell long in Constantinople till they lie and cheat like a Greek. I say like a Greek, because Greeks are called the worst transgressors in this line." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 212)
"....I never dislike a Chinaman as I do these Turks and Arabs, and, when Russia is ready to war with them again, I hope England and France will not find it good breeding or good judgment to interfere." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 268)
"The Syrians are very poor, and yet they are ground down by a system of taxation that would drive any other nation frantic. Last year their taxes were heavy enough, in all conscience----but this year they have been increased by the addition of taxes that were forgiven them in times of famine in former years." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 256-257)
As Mark Twain entered the cities of Nablus and Jaffa, he stated:
"The narrow canyon 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." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 322)
"We came finally to the noble grove of orange trees in which the Oriental city of Jaffa lies buried." (The Innocents Abroad, p. 360)
Mark Twain is a renowned American author whose contribution to American literature is immense. On the other hand, what he wrote is filled with dangerous stereotypes, racism, antisemetism, and in many cases contradictions. It's misleading to quote him, and to make him an authority about the region based on his brief trip. Israelis and Zionists are the best operators in spinning events to their advantage, and quoting Mark Twain out of context is a classic example of this. Ironically, those same Zionists who propagated this myth omit many of Mark Twain's anti-Semitic remarks, and selectively quote what furthers their political agenda, he stated in 1898:
"Concerning the Jews, the Jewish race [as having an] unpatriotic disinclination to stand by the flag as a soldier . . . If the concentration of the cunningingest brains in the world was going made in a free country . . . . , I think it would be politic to stop it. It will not be well to let that race find out its strength." It should be noted that Mark Twain was not ashamed of such talk; he was proud. Click here for on this subject.