In the late 1800s, a potent nationalist movement was forming among European Jews: Zionism. Zionist ideology called for a Jewish state to be established in their ancient homeland, Palestine. Although European Jews were dispersed throughout Europe, the unique financial and political power of numerous Jewish families was able to make Zionism a major force in the late 1800s.
Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, personally requested from Abdülhamid II special permission to settle in Palestine, in exchange for 150 million pounds of gold, which could have helped the Ottomans repay their enormous debts. Herzl’s aims were not to settle there and live under Ottoman authority, he clearly wanted to establish a Jewish state carved out of Muslim lands (as of course happened in 1948). Abdülhamid realized that his role as caliph required him to protect the sanctity and sovereignty of Muslim land, so he responded to Herzl with the following:
Even if you gave me as much gold as the entire world, let alone the 150 million English pounds in gold, I would not accept this at all. I have served the Islamic milla [nation] and the Ummah of Muhammad for more than thirty years, and never did I blacken the pages of the Muslims- my fathers and ancestors, the Ottoman sultans and caliphs. And so I will never accept what you ask of me.
He further prevented the purchase of tracts of land within Palestine by Zionist organizations, ensuring that their attempts at establishing a foothold there were futile. Ultimately, the Zionists were allowed to purchase land and settle in Palestine after the reign of Abdülhamid II, when the Young Turk movement was in charge of the Ottoman Empire.