One of the most significant changes in Ottoman internal policy which impacted on foreign interests generally and sectarian concerns in particular (both Christian and Jewish), related to the acquisition of land in Eretz Yisrael- Palestine.
As explained earlier the sale of land to Christians and Jews under 1858 Ottoman land reformation legislation was generated not by a new liberalism per se. On the contrary, the internal economic exigencies associated with the costs of the Ottoman centralisation of its public administration and discharging its foreign indebtedness made the Porte more vulnerable to foreign influence, brought to bear by respective foreign consuls.
a. Christian Land Acquisitions.
Events in Europe in the latter half of the nineteenth century and first two decades of the twentieth brought a degree of Christian interest in developing their holy sites. The objective of these acquisitions was to gain and maintain control over distinctive and separate Christian holy places in Palestine and to establish religious institutions.
For the Christians, these purchases were motivated by missionary, humanitarian, philanthropic, social and political objectives. Other, private, individual investors were also encouraged by the Ottoman government to acquire and develop land, especially if they surrendered their European citizenship and assumed that of the Ottomans.
France gave its support to the Roman Catholic acquisition in Nazareth (and to the Maronite Christians), Russia supported the Eastern Church in Jerusalem and Germany supported the Templar settlements in Jerusalem and Haifa. Britain extended its protection to the Anglicans and also to the Jews.
According to Professor Kark, the churches and the missions were the most active land purchasers among the Christians in the second half of the nineteenth century. Prominent among them were the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Anglicans, German Evangelist Community and smaller churches, including Ethiopians, Copts, and Greek Catholics. In the aggregate, the Christian Churches acquired both directly and indirectly through Ottoman nominees extensive urban property interests in and around Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Haifa, Beit Jalla, Acre and large rural holdings in areas that were sparsely populated, such as the Coastal Plain, Jezreel Valley, Galilee, Beit Shaan, and Jordan Valley. This activity provided a purchasable (fluid) inventory of relatively empty and inexpensive lands. (Kark p. 362).
Kark also makes particular reference to The Temple Society founded in Germany during the mid-nineteenth century, whose members believed in the importance of settling in Palestine. It established centres in Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem, as well as a number of small villages. On the eve of World War I, the Society’s population in the cities amounted to some 1,400 persons, in addition to 624 persons in the villages (Kark p.365)
Initiatives by private investors in land development were also forthcoming from European entrepreneurs, amongst whom were Emil Bergheim, a banker who established a farm near Tel Gezer managed on European principles and equipped with modern machinery, Swiss-born Johannes Frutinger – both of whom were German subjects, and British-born Lawrence Oliphant.
In addition to establishing their own religious institutions, a number of influential Christians writers, notably Alexander Keith of the Church of Scotland, writing in 1843, English social reformer, Lord Shaftsbury, in his 1853 correspondence with Foreign Minister, Lord Palmerston, and William Eugene Blackstone, an American Christian, writing in 1881 on his return to the United States after a visit to the area, saw for themselves the extent of human habitation in Palestine or, more accurately, the relative absence of it, and advocated the restoration of a Jewish population to Palestine as an essential part of their respective belief systems.
b. Religious Jewish Land Acquisition
i. Expansion of Existing Urban Settlement.
Religiously motivated Jewish migration from Europe (and also from Yemen) in anticipation of the coming of the messianic millennium succeeded in encouraging only a very limited Jewish migration to Palestine.
The faith of religious Jews in Palestine was sorely tested by political-sectarian violence and by natural and human disasters.
Politically, between 1831-1841, Muslim authorities and the local Arab population encouraged Arab fellahin to rebel against the rule of Egyptian Muhammed Ali’s son, Ibrahim Pasha, during his occupation of Palestine. In the process, they rampaged against the Jews of Safed and other towns, looting their property; destroying their homes; desecrating their synagogues and study-houses; raping, beating and, in many cases, killing Jews.
In 1837 an earthquake killed more than two thousand Jews in the Galilee; the Messiah failed to appear in 1840, contrary to the predictions of the Kabalists; and plagues raged throughout the region.
Despite these setbacks, Jewish religiously motivated urban migration continued to grow but at a low rate. It must be borne in mind that the religious Jewish urban communities were not self-sustaining. Their male population did not engage in agriculture, manufacturing or commerce, but were, in the main, committed to the performance of religious precepts, the study of Jewish religious texts and the philosophic evolution of religious thought (including Kabbalah). It was the Jewish woman who, in addition to caring for their husbands and households, engaged in ‘trade’ and marketing. The communities relied upon the distribution (‘halukah’) of financial donations sent voluntarily by Jewish communities in the diaspora or collected by Jewish emissaries sent from Palestine for that purpose.
(see Andrew G. Bostom, Under Turkish Rule, FrontPage magazine July 27, 2007 (Part I) http://frontpagemagazine.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=68314118-6D77-4E06-B4D5-282AF4285BC9 and Part II August 3, 2007 http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=3CA6CAE4-04C9-4AC6-BA1C-08B047719A1A
In 1855, English missionary W.H. Bartlett records in his book, ‘Jerusalem Revisited,’ that the Jewish community in Jerusalem numbered over 11,000. James Finn, the second British consul in Jerusalem, confirms this fact in his book Stirring Times, published in 1878. Other writers, notably, Mary Elisa, Andrew Bonar and W.F. Lynch, confirm in their respective books and reports during the 1840-1860’s an increased Jewish immigration and active Jewish communities and institutions in Haifa, Nablus and Jaffa, respectively. (see Behat)
Notwithstanding the danger to life and limb from Bedouin raids, pillage and general banditry in the region, Jewish residents of the Old City of Jerusalem were compelled, by reasons of overcrowding and insanitary conditions prevailing there, to seek the aid of Sir Moses Montefiore in establishing Jewish urban settlement outside the walls of the City.
Montefiore had already received a firman from the Sultan allowing for the reconstruction of a synagogue in the Old City. In the process he took the opportunity of purchasing a tract of land to the west of the city as the site for almshouses, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, for Jerusalem’s Jewish population overflow. In 1859, however, implementation of the project was suspended under orders of the local Ottoman authorities, who were no longer willing to classify it as a business or trade or even to consider it as philanthropy (which would have been permissible). It took a year of considerable effort to persuade Fuad Pasha, the Ottoman Foreign Minister, to grant Sir Moses an ‘exceptional permission’ to proceed with the construction of housing (which without the special permission would have been prohibited) for twenty families. The project was completed and dedicated in 1861. (Friedman, 1977, p. 36)
The continuing growth of the Jewish urban population in Eretz Yisrael put pressure on the community to create a second urban settlement outside Jerusalem’s walls. In 1880, Mea Shearim was established by a building society comprising 100 shareholders, who pooled their resources to acquire a tract of land a little farther away from Mishkenot Sha’ananim. Constructed by both Jewish and non-Jewish workers, 100 apartments were ready for occupancy by October 1880. Development continued, such that, by the turn of the century, the suburb had 300 houses, a flour mill and a bakery.
However, the existing Jewish population could barely sustain itself – let alone expand – being downtrodden, poverty stricken and lacking local resources. Support – financial, human and spiritual – had to come from the European Jewish Diaspora. But even this was not achieved without difficulty.
- Indeed one of the main fears lying in the hearts of the existing Jewish urban settlements was that the haluka on which they relied would be reduced if demands for other purposes were made on Jewish philanthropists in the Diaspora. It was this fear that led a number religious Jews to oppose the settlement in Eretz Yisrael of poverty stricken Jewish migrants fleeing from East-European anti-Semitism.
- It must also be remembered that, in general, the Ottoman authorities were opposed to any settlement in Palestine by persons who claimed foreign consular protection. Even individual Jews who were born in the Empire and inherited property but claimed to be under foreign jurisdiction were told that unless they renounced their consular protection their title deeds would be invalidated.
ii. Early Attempts at Establishing Jewish Agricultural Settlement
During the second half of the nineteenth century, there were also attempts at establishing a Jewish agricultural settlement. In 1859 a Baghdadi Jew, Shaul Yehuda, with the aid of British Consul James Finn, purchased farmland on the outskirts of Jerusalem in Motza, from the nearby Arab village of Colonia, for agricultural and industrial purposes (a tile factory). Unfortunately, legal complications prevented the construction of the settlement for some considerable time, although a travellers’ inn was established at the site in 1871.
While rural settlement close to Jerusalem may have been blocked for the time being, as was earlier noted in Chapter the Jewish messianic impetus to bring about a Jewish return to agricultural work still continued.(see Arie Morgenstern, Dispersion and Longing for Zion 1240-1840 in Azure, 2002, Winter Issue, Shalem Center, Jerusalem, (hereinafter ‘Morgenstern’ http://www.azure.org.il/article.php?id=264 )
Although the Jewish migration to Palestine grew out of the messianic dream, it was an obscure orthodox Sephardi rabbi, Rabbi Judah Alkelai from Belgrade, who began to promote the necessity for establishing Jewish agricultural settlements in Palestine as a prelude to the Redemption. By the 1870’s he succeeded in attracting only a small group of followers to settle together with him in Palestine, before his death in 1878, but his extensive writing stirred others to consider doing likewise.
Contemporaneously, other rabbinical figures in Poland with substantial followings, such as Rabbis Zvi Hirsh Kalischer and Eliyahu Guttmacher, believed that the Jewish people would be redeemed only after they first returned to the land of Israel, worked the land and observed the commandments relating to the land. Instead of waiting passively for the Messiah, redemption could be achieved by natural means – self help. Jews should purchase land in Palestine, establish agricultural settlements and send poor Jews from Europe to be farmers, so as to colonize Palestine without delay.
Only when many pious and learned Jews volunteered to live in Jerusalem, Kalischer explained, would the Creator hearken to their prayers and speed the Day of Redemption. Prayers would not suffice. Kalischer urged the formation of a society of rich Jews to undertake the colonization of Zion; settlement by Jews of all backgrounds on the soil of the Holy Land; the training of young Jews in self-defence; and the establishment of an agricultural school in the Land of Israel where Jews might learn farming and other practical subjects. Far from undermining the study of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), “the policy we propose will add dignity to the Torah …. ”
(Howard M. Sachar A History of Israel From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, Alfred A. Knopf, 2nd ed. New York 2003 (Sachar- History ) pp.7-8
To implement their ideas, Guttmacher and Kalischer made appeals to European Jewry to raise money for Jewish settlement in Palestine and participated in a conference in Thorn (Torun, Western Poland) in 1860. This laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Society for the Settlement of the Land of Israel.
However, Jewish religious efforts to return to Eretz Yisrael in significant numbers had to await the occurrence of East European (Rumanian and Russian) Anti-Semitic Violence and the failure of Western European secular ‘Haskala’ (Enlightenment) movements to eliminate Anti-Semitism in order to produce a combined Jewish religious and secular response expressed in practical, cultural and political Zionism.