The Exposition Universelle de Bruxelles 1935 was the first world expo organized under the aegis of the Bureau Intenational des Expositions. The fair bore the twin themes of transportation and colonialism and transformed 300 acres of land on the Heysel Plateau, providing several permanent civic buildings and a considerable economic boost to Brussels at the height of the Depression. By the time the fair closed on November 3, 1945, 20 million visitors had attended.
Belgian architects, F. Blockx et de Lange, designed the building for the Palestine Pavilion, called “Israel in Palestine,” in a quasi-levantine style. Aryeh Elhanani designed the interior, which he divided into three halls: one lined with frescoes of his own design, illustrating Biblical quotes and scenes ranging from the time of Abraham, through the Babylonian exile and the Middle Ages and up to modern times; one, a gallery with photographs, portraying the work and lives of people across the land, and the main hall, concerning the work of the Jewish National Fund and allied organizations, the Palestine Land Development Company and the Keren Hayesod.1Le Livre d’Or de l’Exposition Universelle de Bruxelles 1935. Cairos’s Aurore noted:
The National Funds will exhibit a series of large diagrams, drawn by the young painter Ismar David, showing the activity and development of the Funds, the growing movement of immigration as well as the development of Jewish agriculture.2 L’Aurore , Journal d’information juives. Cairo, Egypt. Thursday, May 30, 1935, p. 3.
Mayor of Brussels Adophe Max spoke at the opening of the pavilion on June 27, 1935. A hero of Belgian resistance to German occupation during World War I and a supporter of universal and women’s suffrage, he declared Belgian support for Israel:
Few openings seem to us as eloquent as this one of the Pavilion of Israel. Israel in Palestine, it is the realization of a long-cherished dream, the return of a people to the home of their ancestors from which they have been exiled for centuries. Perhaps no one can understand this joy that follows misfortune better than we do. We, too, have seen our villages sacked, our houses of religion desecrated, our people fleeing on the paths of exile, like long ago in Jerusalem.
In its long history, Belgium has suffered too much from religious wars not to have learned great tolerance. It prides itself on its liberal traditions in both business and ideas. It is ready to pursue economic relations with Palestine, the development of which can only have positive effects. As part of this Universal Exhibition, [Belgium] welcomes a participation that it interprets as a pledge of friendship and trust. It is proud to see one more flag fluttering in the bouquet that already brings together the colors of so many other nations.3Avenir Illustré , Révue Juive Nord Africaine, Casablanca, Morocco, year 10, number 240, June-July 1935, p.18.