Posts Tagged ‘Jaffa’


Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Behind the Arab-Israel conflict a yawning ideological dichotomy separates Zionists and Arab Palestinian nationalists, each adopting a divergent historical interpretation of the socio-political landscape in pre-1918 Palestine.

Zionists assert that prior to their immigration, Palestine was desolate and under-populated and that much of the arable land in the plains remained untilled while other areas were malarial swamp. With backbreaking labour and overcoming malarial disease they started to drain the swamps and convert abandoned land to being highly productive.

In contrast Arab Palestinian nationalists assert:

  • Palestine was not desolate and without population;
  • Indigenous Arabs occupied and worked the land from time immemorial;
  • Jewish immigration and land purchases pushed Arab fellahin off the land and forced them to move to the towns where they were compelled to change their lifestyles and find alternative employment if they were so able.

Neither scenario is devoid of some element of truth.

Geography, politics and demographics of the region all undoubtedly shaped the outcome of the struggle being played out between the opposing Jewish and Arab interests but other influences operating internationally influenced the local scene.

In addition, cultural differences between Jews and Arabs began to play a highly significant role in generating the animus and hostility which characterised the emerging political landscape.

To enable readers to weigh and evaluate the respective claims and counterclaims, a clearer understanding of the various factors which bear on their validity is an essential prerequisite, and they are here summarised:

Settled Population Affected by Topography and Marauders

The coastal plains being ipso facto vulnerable to marauding Bedouin tribes were more or less desolate and unproductive:

  • The Northern coastal plain  – was swamp-like and malaria-ridden as was the land around the Hula lake and the Lake of Galilee;
  • The Southern coastal plains – were inundated with sand dunes
  • To the extent that such land was capable of being cultivated, wild marauding Bedouin tribes present in the area discouraged any permanent rural settlement or agricultural development.

As a consequence:

  • Arab urban and rural settlements were to be found mainly in the hill country west of the Jordan River in Judea and Samaria and parts of the Galilee, avoiding the coastal plain.
  • Jews, prior to acquiring and developing the barren coastal plains, had a significant urban presence in and around Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safad and Jaffa and in other smaller towns.

This subject is examined in greater detail in Section 1 below

Aside from these conditions there were a number of other factors external to Palestine which also contributed to the complex dynamics of the region.

Egyptian Population Migrations into Palestine – increased the indigenous Arab population beyond its natural birth rate.

The migrants included:

  • those fleeing from compulsory military service 1839 – 1849 in the Egyptian army;
  • deserters from the Egyptian army following its the withdrawal from Palestine after a ten year military occupation; and
  • those seeking to avoid forced labour in the construction of the Suez Canal 1861-1871.

Section 2 below expands this point

Foreign Diplomatic Political and Economic Pressure on Ottoman Independence

The Ottoman government, (seated at the ‘Sublime Porte’ or entry to the Sultan’s Palace in Constantinople – now Istanbul) referred to by Europeans as the ‘Porte’, was subject to strong European pressure and influence. This was exerted through:

  • exploitation of the ‘Capitulations’ – provisions in international agreements between European states and the Ottoman government granting trade preferences and customs concessions – extended well beyond their originally intended scope. The term ‘Capitulations’ is derived from the Italian ‘capitula’ meaning a chapter or paragraph in the agreement

(see Section 3.a below); and

  • restructuring the financial loan arrangements for the repayment of the enormous Ottoman debts owed  to the Europeans incurred by the former in fighting the Crimean War and the suppressing of ethnic uprisings in the Empire. (Section 3.b)

European Political and Financial Pressure Induced Changes in Ottoman Internal Policy

These changes included

  • the opening of its domestic markets to foreign investment in general;
  • reform of its land ownership, registration and land taxation systems. (Section 3.c.ii); and
  • modernisation of its civilian administrative structure and military organisation (Section 3.d).

all of which caused changes in the loci centres of power of the Palestinian Arab elites’ and brought social and economic consequences in the welfare of the fellah (See Section 4. below)

Internal Changes within the Ottoman Empire  Created Further Opportunities for European Intrusion.

These changes resulted in Non-Ottoman citizens being permitted to acquire land freely without obtaining a special permit. This stimulated Christian religious institutions to acquire property in the Holy Land (see Section 5.a). Religious European and Yemenite Jews were also drawn to return to Eretz Yisrael by their ethnic, cultural and religious roots and their belief of an immanent messianic appearance (see Section 5.b).

However, the most powerful force leading to a Jewish return to Eretz Yisrael lay in European anti-Semitism. In Rumania and Russia, this was overtly violent (pogroms) and in Western Europe, notwithstanding the removal of legal obstacles to Jewish assimilation in France and Germany, was covert and discriminatory; in the Dreyfus affair there was even a conspiracy.

These latter events and Jewish attempts to convert them into a positive force supporting Jewish nationalism in the Zionist movement are examined in Chapter V.

1. General Topography and Population

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Several adverse characteristics prevailing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries shaped the economic and social conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean region: under-population, marauding Bedouin clans, poverty, malarial sickness and lack of investment in efficient and scientific land utilisation.

The many descriptions of the region provided by travellers and foreign consuls at the time were generally not grounded on hard data or academic research. They failed to take into consideration that conditions which prevailed in some parts of Palestine did not pertain in others. In examining its economic and political development, Palestine must be divided into

  • four longitudinal regions paralleling the Mediterranean Sea: (i) the coastal plain, (ii) the hilly region (the Negev and the south) (iii) Judea and Samaria in the central region and (iv) the Galilee in the north;
  • the Jordan Valley which lies to the east of the Galilee and includes the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) which forms part of the Great Rift Valley;
  • the hills of Transjordan.

(see Y. Karmon, Israel: A Regional Geography, John Wiley & Sons London, 1981)

These regions differed from one another in respect of the ethnic origin, population growth and decline, agricultural development and economic vitality.

  • To the extent that land in the coastal and other plains was capable of being cultivated, wild marauding Bedouin tribes present in these areas discouraged any permanent rural settlement or agricultural development. Consequently the lower flat lying areas were more or less desolate and unproductive. In addition:
  • the Northern and central coastal plains were swamp-like and malaria-ridden as was the land around the Hula lake and the Lake of Galilee;
  • the Southern coastal plains were inundated with sand dunes;
  • Consequently, Arab urban and rural settlements tended to avoid the coastal plains and were to be found mainly in the hill country west of the Jordan River in Judea and Samaria and parts of the Galilee,
  • Jews, prior to acquiring and developing the barren coastal plains, had a significant urban presence in and around Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, Safad and Jaffa and in other smaller towns.

a.  The Land and Its Indigenous Rural Population

For many centuries, travellers to Palestine described it as sparsely populated, poorly cultivated and widely neglected – an expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts and malarial marshes. European consuls located in Jerusalem and Cairo during the 18th and 19th centuries confirmed these opinions.

Mark Twain, who had visited the Holy land in 1867, described it as

“[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse… Desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action… We never saw a human being on the whole route…there was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country” (Twain “Innocents Abroad” cited in Bard Myths and Facts AICE 2001, p. 30)

The Report of the 1937 Palestine Royal Commission quotes what it believed to be a truthful and unbiased description of the Maritime Plain as it existed in 1913:

”The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts…no orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached [the Jewish village of] Yabna [Yavne]….Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen….The ploughs used were of wood….The yields were very poor….The sanitary conditions in the village were horrible. Schools did not exist….The western part, towards the sea, was almost a desert. . . . The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria, many villages were deserted by their inhabitants”. (Cmd. 5479  p. 233)

The Report also drew on contemporary descriptions of the economic situation in Palestine, written in the 1830s and supplied to the Commission by Lewis French, the British Director of Development:

We found it inhabited by fellahin who lived in mud hovels and suffered severely from the prevalent malaria…. Large areas…were uncultivated… The fellahin, if not themselves cattle thieves, were always ready to harbour these and other criminals. The individual plots…changed hands annually. There was little public security, and the fellahin’s lot was an alternation of pillage and blackmail by their neighbours, the Bedouin”. (Cmd. 5479  pp. 259-260)

Meyer Levin, the American writer (1905 -1981) recounts in “My Search” that it was impossible to travel directly northwards from Tel Aviv to Netanya, some 25 km away without deviating a considerable distance inland because of the intervening marshland. The present-day route of the “old” Tel Aviv – Haifa road still reflects this.

Derived from the reports of foreign travellers and early settlers (Oliphant), cartographers (Van de Velde), and foreign exploratory expeditions (Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF)), Arie Avneri, in a detailed study provides a description of the topographical and demographic conditions prevailing in the various regions of Palestine immediately prior to Jewish settlement.

(Arie L. Avnieri, The Claim of Dispossession- Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948, Yad Tabenkin, Efal, Israel 1982 “Avnieri”)

For example, he notes the fertility of the soil but the sparseness of population and lack of agricultural development in the valleys of the Hula, Kinorot, and the Kishon, owing to their marshy and malarial conditions.

In the valleys of Beit-Shean, Jezreel, and Zevulun, located on the trade routes and where permanent human habitation was possible, Bedouin raids on the settlements – especially in drought years – discouraged any permanent Arab settlement.

Mount Carmel was also waste land. Development was ruined by foreign and local wars and its western slope was malaria ridden, all of which contributed to the abandonment of seventeen villages before Jewish settlers arrived in 1882
(Avnieri pp 49-50).

The coastal area of Samaria (Shomron) starting at the foot of Mount Carmel and stretching south to the Sharon Plain was in a state of desolation and completely ravaged after the military campaigns of Napoleon and Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt (see Section 2 below).

The coastal Sharon Plain was poorly cultivated owing to the sandy nature of the soil and marshlands created by the Alexandra River and further south by sand dunes. Those villages which did exist, described in 1874 by C.R.Condor, were miserable and half in ruins, the villagers downtrodden and browbeaten by money–thirsty absentee landlords (Avneiri p.53).

The Mountain Regions were varied in their population. Parts around Tulkarm were relatively well populated, providing a refuge from malaria and protection against Bedouin raiders. Nevertheless, internal feuds between village clans caused many villages to be destroyed, although their inhabitants tended to remain in the area. The lack of security, however, inhibited the fellahin from investing much effort in improving the soil conditions.

Villages lower down the mountain and closer to the sea, such as Auja, Sidna Ali, Ramadan, Kabani and Hadera, were scattered and thinly populated, because of the sandy soil, punctuated by swampy stretches.

Southern Judea and the Negev, although not plagued by malaria, were no better for agricultural use or permanent settlement. These regions lacked rain and were frequently drought ridden, and the soil was sandy, being often invaded by sand dunes.

By way of contrast, Gaza in 1886 was a town with a population of some 20,000 inhabitants (but see section 2 as to their place of origin). Its people were poor and lived mostly from trade with the Egyptians. In the narrow strip between the coastal sands and desert interior, some fellahin were found to be growing fruit, watermelons and vegetables.

b.  Lack of Security for Persons and Property

During the first three decades of the 19th century, Palestine, like the remainder of the Ottoman Empire, was in a general state of decline and stagnation. Despite the ten years of Egyptian military occupation of Palestine between 1831-1841 which brought in its wake significant Egyptian migration (see section 2 below), the total indigenous population of the area did not exceed 250,000.

Under Ottoman rule the Arab male fellahin were extremely insecure both in their person and economically, being eligible both for military conscription while at the same time suffering Egyptian and Bedouin incursions into their homesteads.

Bedouin terror prevented any significant permanent settlement in the principal plains of Palestine – the coastal plain and the Plain of Esdraelon – and compelled the Arab fellahin to retreat to the hill country of Judea and Samaria, which was more secure but less productive.

“According to Turkish registration books from 1596, it seems that the [coastal plain] served as home to Bedouins (Arab nomads) and Turkish and Kurdish nomads. In the eighteenth century, according to tradition, the amir (chief) of the Hawara Bedouins, who hailed from Bilad Hareth …in Eastern trans-Jordan, occupied part of the coastal plain by force. Hawara Bedouins did not cultivate the land; rather they occupied themselves with brigandage and inter-tribal wars. The outcome of their predatory activities was that Wadi Hawarith was described in the nineteenth century as abandoned, swampy, and malaria-ridden and that its passage was dangerous. The lands of the Wadi were described by the Ottoman governor of the Jerusalem region (1906-7) as abandoned lands that were sparsely inhabited by Bedouins”…

“Thus only a small part of the country was being used for agriculture.  The towns of Palestine at the beginning of the last [19th] century are best defined as large villages each built on a small area and possessing a limited economic base and a small population of up to 10,000”

(Ruth Kark, Changing Patterns of Land Ownership in Nineteenth-Century Palestine, (1984) 10 J of Historical Geography, 357, 374 ; ‘Landownership and Spatial Change in Nineteenth Century Palestine in Transition from Spontaneous to Regulated Spatial Organisation’ Inst. of Geography and Spatial Organisation, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, 1983 (“Kark 1983”) pp 185-187

Even by 1895, after the rural population had descended from part of the hilly areas and had begun to settle in plains, only ten per cent of the total area of Palestine was under cultivation, (Kark 1983 p. 189) notwithstanding that Arab urban entrepreneurs and absentee landlords had begun to assemble large tracts of land for resale, following the Ottoman land reform legislation (see section 3.c.ii. below).

c.    Fellah’s Economic Situation

Economically, the fellah was generally in a state of chronic poverty and indebtedness to his absentee landlord, seed suppliers and money lenders, owing to a number of interrelated causes: poor soil, lack of water, poor means of communication with the towns, unsuitable marketing arrangements, frequent crop season failures, and an antiquated land system. Even before the first modern Jewish settlement, established in 1855, Palestinian Arab society was already socially fragmented between the peasantry and landowning interests. This became exacerbated after the Ottoman land reform in 1858.

(Haim Gerber, The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East, Lynne Rienner, London, 1987, p.75  (‘Gerber).

Thus, while Palestine as a whole cannot be said to have been desolate and without population as claimed by the Zionists, its people were certainly not thriving. In the hilly areas, the Arab population, while not poverty stricken, was barely self-sustaining. In the plains and the valleys the travellers’ descriptions were a true reflection of the situation – vast desolate expanses devoid of permanent population, malaria infested and subject to the uncontrolled power of the nomadic Bedouin.

Aside from these environmental conditions there were a number of other factors that also contributed to the complex dynamics of the region.

2. Egyptian Population Migrations into Palestine

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Palestinian Arabs have long argued that they have been indigenous to the area for generations- indeed some claim from time immemorial. This may be true for a segment of the population living in the hill country but in the remainder of Palestine, the reality is otherwise: there were considerable Egyptian and other Arab population movements into and out of Palestine taking place.

The indigenous population of the plains, such as it was, was migratory in character. In addition to the insecurity created by marauders, the environmental, physical economic conditions of the area were hard. Fellahin would come, settle for a short time and move on when living conditions became intolerable. In particular, other than in the hills, rural settlement was threatened by Turkoman devastation. However the Arab population increased beyond its natural birth rate due to significant migration into Palestine from Egypt fleeing from compulsory military service 1839 – 1849 or forced labour on the Suez Canal construction 1858-1869.

a.   Inward Arab Settlement of Palestine pre 1918

Inward migratory settlement came from both Ottoman (Turkish) and Egyptian sources:

i.    Ottoman Grant of Asylum to Muslim Refugees

The Ottomans granted asylum to Moslem refugees fleeing from their homelands for political and religious reasons:

  • After the French conquest of Algeria in 1830, many Algerians settled in Lower and Upper Galilee.  This region also attracted other immigrant Moslem Arabs from Damascus, and Kurds from Syria;
  • In 1878, the Ottomans permitted Circassian refugees fleeing from Christian-Russian rule in the Caucasus to settle in cis- and trans-Jordan;
  • Turkoman tribes from the mountains of Iraq were allowed ultimately to settle on the slopes of Mount Carmel;
  • In 1908, Arabs from Yemen settled in Jaffa.

ii.      Egyptian Émigrés

One of the most important Arab migrations into Palestine came from Egypt during the early and min-nineteenth century.

  • Egyptian Army Conscription
  • Muhammad Ali, (aka Mehemet Ali) the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt between 1805-1849, instituted a number of administrative reforms within his territory. Most significantly he established a standing army by means of conscription in 1829. As a consequence, many Egyptian peasants fled to Palestine to avoid such service. This was to be of little avail, because Ali’s son, Ibrahim Pasha, invaded and occupied Palestine between 1831-1841 and they again came under his control. During this period he ‘imported’ more Egyptian labourers into Palestine in addition to those who were already there.
  • Ultimately, Ottoman forces supported by the European powers – especially Britain – forced Ibrahim Pasha to withdraw. In the process, however, his army suffered considerable desertion from its ranks, and those who escaped remained in Palestine, hiding in small settlements. British intelligence estimated that the number of troops reaching Cairo in the withdrawal approximated some 33,000, compared with 125,000 before the retreat, leaving 92,000 unaccounted for.
  • In the 1860’s over 1.5 million Egyptian labourers were conscripted for the construction of the Suez Canal, of whom 120,000 died in the process. This, too, may also have created an impetus to flee Egypt and to settle in Palestine. (Arieh L. Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession Jewish Land- Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948, Yad Tabenkin, Efal, Israel, Herzl Press, New York 1982 (hereinafter  ‘Avneri’);  Interview Prof. David Grossman 28.07.08)
  • Employment Opportunities on Public Works Projects

Inward migration to Palestine was also stimulated by new employment opportunities. The Ottoman government commenced railway, road and port construction projects in Palestine, most of which was financed from Europe. These works created increased commercial traffic through the ports of Jaffa and Haifa and the general economic boom that attracted Arab labour from Egypt, Syria and Trans-Jordan, as well as the indigenous Palestinian fellah.

Egyptian settlers particularly were scattered among many urban and rural points, appropriating large tracts of land and lending variety and numbers to the existing population. The Ghawarna and Arab ez-Zubeid Bedouin tribes and other Egyptian immigrants settled in the Hula (near the Sea of Galilee) and Beit-Sheaan Valleys; members of the Arab el-Ufi and ed-Damair tribes settled respectively in Wadi Hawarith (near Tulkarm) and in the vicinity of Hadera;  while other Egyptian migrants settled in and around Jaffa.

The assimilation of the Egyptians with the indigenous Arab population was a drawn-out process. After his visit to Palestine in 1917, Philip Baldensperger relates that the existing population of Jaffa, although essentially Arab, contained at least twenty five different nationalities, most of them Palestinian and Egyptian Arabs (Avneri p.14).

b.   Outward Arab Migration Caused  by Personal and Property Insecurity Within Palestine

Although Arab migration into Palestine increased, the total Arab population in the nineteenth century rose only slightly, because of internecine strife leading to internal instability which caused significant emigration:

i.  numerous and incessant village and factional internal wars:

  • between “Quais” and the “Yaman” villages located near Jerusalem (see Ruth Kark and Michal Oren-Nordheim, Jerusalem and its Environs, Quarters Neighbourhoods Villages , 1800 -1948, Wayne State University Press, 2001, pp 232-234)
  • in Nablus, between the pro-Egyptian Abd el-Hadi faction and pro-Turkish Tuqan faction;
  • along the ridge of Mount Carmel seventeen Druse villages were destroyed in the chaos which followed in the wake of the Egyptian retreat from Palestine;
  • during the late 1830’s, 1860’s and 1870’s, Bedouins ousted  fellahin from  the Jordan Valley, the Sharon Plain, Beit Shean and the Jezreel Valley, leaving the land desolate and uncultivated; (Avneri, pp 20-22)
  • in the Hebron region during the late 1890’s, between the Bedouin ed-Dulam and fellahin of Yatta village.

ii.  Marauding Bedouins uprooted settled fellahin, stimulating their emigration.

The nature and extent of Bedouin attacks have been discussed earlier and they were a prime factor in creating outward migration

iii  Arab emigration to North and South America
Palestine experienced significant Arab emigration by those who perceived  a better life in the New World.  Avneri quotes Arthur Ruppin, a contemporary sociologist, as stating:

There is emigration from the Christian districts, such as Bethlehem, Beit-Jala and Ramallah to North and South America, even though in smaller numbers than in Lebanon…. The American Consul in Jerusalem (Daily Consular Trade Reports 6-6-14) estimates the emigration from the Jerusalem District at 3000 annually, of whom 30% are Christians, 35% Moslems and 35% Jews. Thus from the Jerusalem District alone, 2000 Arabs emigrated annually (pp. 25-26)

A similar population exodus occurred from the north of Palestine in the area of Safed.

iv. Escapees from Turkish Army Conscription

During World War I many young Arab men fled from Palestine in order to evade Turkish military conscription.

In addition to those fleeing from conscription, the Ottoman central military authorities concluded that the presence of Arabs and Jews in coastal plains constituted a security threat. However the regional military commander applied a discriminatory policy of expulsion. Arabs were left undisturbed. Jews on the other hand were expelled from the port areas of Jaffa and Haifa. But for the intervention of the German government, they would also have been expelled from the coastal lands which they had developed agriculturally.
(see Isaiah Friedman, Germany, Turkey and Zionism 1897-1918, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977,pp.—)

Thus, in summary and contrary to contemporary Palestinian claims, a very large percentage of Arab settlers in Palestine were neither indigenous nor had they worked the land from time immemorial. Like the Jews, they too, were immigrants who settled only a generation or two prior to the start of significant Jewish immigration.

4. Changes in the Loci of Arab Elite Power Bases: From the Land to the Towns and the Metropolis

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Traditionally internal power and patronage of the Arab elites was traditionally centred in the local village and relied upon land ownership. External factors – particularly the financial predicament in which the Porte’s found itself in the latter half of the nineteenth century were to change this.

To manage its heavy public debt burden more efficiently, the Porte attempted to centralise and assert greater administrative control over the population and territory under its jurisdiction. The Young Turks, after their revolution against the rule of Sultan Abdulhamit II in 1908, propelled this movement and tendency towards the centralisation of power with greater enthusiasm.

Prior to World War I The Ottoman administrative structure placed Palestine in the regional Wilayet (Wali) of Beirut and the independent Sajak of Jerusalem. The wilayet themselves were subdivided into administrative subunits- sanjaq – which were further subdivided into local qaza . The local qaza of Palestine consisted of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth, Sefad, Tiberius, Jenin, Tulkarm, Beersheba, Gaza, Hebron, Jaffa and Jerusalem. As will become apparent in Chapter V, the appellation of administrative wilayet within which Palestine lay became a central issue in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence over the alleged conflicting promises Britain gave to the Jews and to the Arabs over the disposition of Palestine following World War I.

Kenneth.W. Stein, The Land Question in Palestine 1917-1939, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1984, (hereinafter Stein) p 9

If the Ottomans were to extract themselves from their economic plight and dependency on external influences, their government re-organisation now demanded a more highly trained and centralised bureaucracy. However, since it was hard to recruit qualified candidates, the reforms which the Porte wanted to institute failed to be realised for the most part. Instead, the bureaucratic structure which they established created many new official positions. These presented elites with opportunities to serve on local councils, committees, boards and commissions, often holding more than one administrative position at the same time and over an extended period, as exemplified in sanjaqs of Acre and Nablus.

The administrative reorganisation coupled the exploitation of the land reform legislation – discussed earlier in Section 3.c.ii – permitted the elites to accumulate both property and power and enabled them to place their tribal kinsmen at pivotal points in the administrative structure. The qaza level of administration required numerous civil servants to support the local councils, tax and finance commissions, courts of first instance, agricultural and commercial committees, chambers of commerce, education committees, land registry, military transportation commissions, telegraph and postal services and the local police. The appointed incumbents of the official positions and their supportive staff, each in his own sphere and in the exercise of his authority, were thus enabled to generate considerable ‘emoluments,” and advancement in social status. (see Stein pp 7-8)

As a consequence, small town patrons who previously had wielded power and garnered their wealth based on land holdings, now saw the larger urban centres as the arenas in which to operate for their own advancement and that of their kinsmen. Accordingly, Arab elites migrated from the villages to the larger towns and from the latter to Istanbul, Damascus and Beirut directing their attentions and efforts to wider horizons.

This shift in the locus and system of patronage from that based on local land ownership left the fellah under the control of a lower status kinsman or at the mercy of an indifferent agent, and bereft of his traditional patron to whom he could turn in times of trouble. Consequently, when Jewish settlements began to appear, it naturally created tension between Jews and Arabs, as one group intentionally or otherwise interfered with the land resources claimed by the other. Cultural and language barriers between the two probably exacerbated the issues of contention.

Furthermore the middle-ranking official and bureaucratic supportive Arab staff employed at all levels of public administration later provided Arab-Palestinian nationalists with unexpected political and administrative leverage in their subsequent dealings with the local British military and civil governments in Palestine after 1919.
(see Donna Robinson Divine, Politics and Society in Ottoman Palestine: The Arab Struggle for Survival and Power, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO, 1994

2. Jewish Population of the Holy Land Under Early Islamic Conquest and Occupation

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Muslim rule over the Holy Land, began just four years after the death of the Prophet. Caliphs ruled first from Damascus, then from Baghdad and Egypt.

The Muslim conquest of the Holy Land in 638 CE was initially favourable to the Jews. They resumed settlement in Jerusalem and were appointed guardians of the Temple Mount in return for their aid to the conquering Arab army. In Hebron Jews and Muslims appeared to cooperate in the protection and development of the Holy Sites there.

    • “But when the Arabs who came to Hebron marvelled at the strength and beauty of the wall [that surrounded the Cave of Machpelah, [burial place of the Patriarchs] and at the fact there was no opening through which it was possible to enter, some Jews who had remained under the Greek rule approached them, saying, “Protect us so that we may live under like conditions amongst you and permit us to build a synagogue in front of the entrance to the cave, and we will then show you at what place you should install the gate and so it was done.”
    • (Canonici Hebronensis Tractatus de Inventione Sanctorum Partriacharum Abraham, Ysaac et Jacob.)
    The rule of the Ummayads (661-750 C.E) ( was a peaceful time for the Jews in Palestine. Indeed the Holy Land became a place of Jewish inward migration. Jews who were expelled from various other Arab areas, journeyed across what is now Jordan and settled in Jericho.

    The mid 8th century saw the Ummayads supplanted by the Abbasid Caliphite

    ( who founded Baghdad, making it their capital.
    It was only during this period that Jerusalem started to became an important centre for Islam

  • Between 687-691, Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock mosque to compete with the beautiful Christian churches ( and to provide a centre of pilgrimage closer to Baghdad than Mecca, but subordinate to it. Shortly afterwards (715) yet a further Islamic shrine, Masjid al-Aqsa, was built on the site of the Temple Mount (Har Habyit in Jewish appellation)
  • During this period (8th and 9th centuries) various travellers and pilgrims make reference in their reports to a continuing Jewish presence in Palestine:

    • Michael the Syrian relates that 30 synagogues in Tiberias were destroyed in the earthquake of 748 CE. This event is verified by St Willibald, a pilgrim from Britain who visited all of the holy places, an account of which was written by his relative, a nun of Heidenheim.
    • During the 8th century Jews were among those who guarded the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, in return for which they were absolved from paying the poll tax imposed on all non-Muslims.
  • However with the rise of the Abbasids, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims (both Jews and Christians) deteriorated.  Non-Muslims had to wear a special badge on their clothing.  Increasing discrimination – social and economic – against non-Muslims caused many Jews to move to Fustat, Egypt, to establish a new community there.
  • In 772 C.E., when Caliph al Mansur visited Jerusalem, he ordered a special mark should be stamped on the hands of the Christians and the Jews. Over-taxed and tortured by the tax collectors, the dhimmi villagers went into hiding or migrated into the towns. Many Christians fled to Byzantium in the face of the fiscal oppression which devastated both the Jewish and Christian peasantry.  Bat Ye’Or, quoting from a detailed chronicle completed in 774 by an eighth century monk, states:
    • The men scattered, they became wanderers everywhere; the fields were laid waste, the countryside pillaged; the people went from one land to another.
  • A mosaic synagogue floor from this period located in Sussiya, South Judea contains an inscription which attests to the continued Jewish presence in Palestine at this time. The inscription reads:
    • Should be remembered for good and blessing our Master, His Holiness, R(abbi) Issi the Cohen, the Respected, the son of Rabbi who has donated this mosaic and plastered and whitewashed its wall as he promised at the banquet of his son, R(abbi) Johanan the Cohen, the Scribe.  Peace be upon Israel.
  • During the 9th century a listing of Jewish communities shows over 40 towns and villages in Galilee and Golan, several in the Jordan valley, and a handful across the Jordan.  Other towns with Jewish communities  include Jerusalem, Jaffa, Kfar Kasem, Kfar Saba, Bnei Brak, Lod (Lydda), Emmaus, Ekron, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ein Gedi, Jericho, Shilo, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
    The 10th Century brought further political upheaval in the Middle East. The Abbasids lost power to Fatimids ( ) who founded a new capital for their empire at al-Q?hirat (Cairo) in 969. After conquering Egypt, they continued to conquer the surrounding areas and Egypt became the centre of an empire that included North Africa, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. While Egypt flourished under the Fatimids , they nevertheless persecuted and imposed heavy taxation on the Jews in Palestine compelling them to leave their rural communities and move to the towns.
  • Arab geographer, Al Muqaddasi, writing in 985 CE complains in his “Knowledge of Climes”, that in Jerusalem
    • “…Learned men are few and the Christians numerous, and the same are unmannerly in public places… Everywhere the Christians and the Jews have the upper hand, and the mosque is void of either congregation or assembly of learned men.”
    He also notes that the Jews were employed as official money-changers, dyers and tanners.  Those who lived near Lake Hula, in the north, wove mats and ropes.  In Tiberias, the Jews specialised in the traditional manner of reciting, cantillating and interpreting the Scriptures.
    These were not the only activities in that city. Al MuQadassi also reported the residents of the town “led a life of decadence — dancing, feasting, playing the flute, running around naked, and swatting flies.”
  • At this time there was a continuous flow to Jerusalem of Jews from various countries, seeking shelter. A letter sent at the end of the 10th century from the Karaite Sahal ben Mazzli’ah to the Egyptian Diaspora, states:
    • “And know that Jerusalem at this time is a sanctuary to all who seek shelter, and gives rest to all who mourn, and comforts all who are poor and in want, and all the servants of the Lord come into her from every family and from every city, and amongst them women weeping and wailing in the holy tongue and in the Persian tongue and in the tongue of Ishmael.  Men and women dressed in sack-cloth and ashes… and they go up to the Mount of Olives all who are heavy of heart and in pain.”
    Unfortunately, Jerusalem did not remain a haven for Jewish refugees for long. Fatimid ruler, Caliph Al-Hakim (996-1021) destroyed both synagogues and churches, banished Christian priests and emptied Jerusalem of Jews. Although he eventually rescinded some of these restrictions, nevertheless the Jewish academy of Jerusalem had to move to Ramla. However in 1033 earthquake in the region forced the Jews to abandon the town temporarily. They returned some later.

3. Jewish “Aliyah” Attempts to Return to Palestine – Frustrated by Christian Millenium Crusades (Phase I )

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

The  9th -11th centuries, saw the a rise in a Jewish movement to Palestine which believed that “aliyah” – “ascent” to the Land of Israel, would hasten the resurrection of Israel.

Jewish communities along the coast, such as those as Rafah, Gaza, Ashkelon, Jaffa and Caesarea flourished at this time and maintained cultural relations with Egypt.

  • A man from Rafa, living in Egypt, wrote a letter (discovered in the Cairo Genizeh) to the Rafah Jewish community in 1015.  It begins:

“To our beloved Rabbi Solomon, the Judge, may his soul rest in peace, and the elders and the rest of the holy community who dwell in Rafah, may God preserve them.”

  • In 1047 the Persian traveller, Nasir-i-Khusraw, wrote:

From Byzantium many Christians and Jews come to Jerusalem in order to visit the church and the synagogue there.”

However Jewish “aliya” movement to return to the Holy Land however was affected by the millennium of the 11th century.

Many people feared (or hoped) the world was coming to an end. Plagues, volcanic eruptions, crime and sin are fulsomely described by contemporary chroniclers. Barbara Tuchman in her seminal The Bible and the Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour (Ballantine Books, New York, 1988) describes the period as one of religious hysteria, in which the year 1000 was expected to bring the end of the world. It afflicted all of Western Europe like an epidemic. Hastening to the scene of man’s Redemption before the final awful moment of reckoning, “hordes”, according to some chroniclers, poured into the Holy Land, of whom a large proportion never returned.  Some died of want; some of plague; some were killed by marauding Arabs; some were lost at sea by storms or shipwreck or pirates.  Only the lucky or the well provided came back alive.

For the Jews the year 1070, the millennium since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, also brought reality to their fears of future events:


  • In 1071 Seljuks ( ) conquered Jerusalem from the Abbasids whose power had been on the wane for some time. The Seljuk Empire was very extensive, stretching from Anatolia to Punjab.Because that empire also included the Holy Land, it became the target of the First Christian Crusade to free Jerusalem from the control of the “Saracens” a term used initially in the Middle Ages for Fatimids and subsequently for all who professed the religion of Islam. ( the eyes of the Crusaders, both Jews and Muslims were viewed as “pagans. They therefore made no distinction between them: all were either put to the sword or burnt. In consequence upon a Crusader approach many Jerusalem Jews (and presumably others) fled south-eastwards to Ashkelon, which was fortified.

  • For the Crusaders, the Jews were viewed as the source of all the trouble in the Holy Land, especially for the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre by the Fatimids in 1009 ( of the chroniclers of the time, Ralph Glaber, in his Miracles de Saint-Benoit (from Migne, PL 142:655ff)( expressed his deep concern for the future and like many others he, too, expected the end of the world at the time of the Millennium.  As regards the Holy Land in general and Jerusalem in particular, Ralph was aware that “the prince of Babylon” was in command of Jerusalem, but placed the blame on the local Jewish communities in the Holy Land for all the mishaps that occurred to the Christians there:

At that time, moreover, that is in the ninth year after the aforesaid thousandth anniversary, the church at Jerusalem which contained the sepulchre of our Lord and Saviour was utterly overthrown at the command of the prince of Babylon.. . . After that it had been overthrown, as we have said, then within a brief space it became full evident that this great iniquity had been done by the wickedness of the Jews. When therefore this was spread abroad through the whole world, it was decreed by the common consent of Christian folk that all Jews should utterly driven forth from their lands or cities. Thus they were held up to universal hatred and driven forth from the cities; some were Slain with the sword or cut off by manifold kinds of death, and some even slew themselves in divers fashions; so that, after this well-deserved vengeance had been wreaked, scarce any were found in the Roman world. Then also the bishops published decrees forbidding all Christians to associate themselves with Jews in an matter whatsoever; and ordaining that, whosoever would be converted to baptismal grace and utterly eschew the Customs or manners of the Jews, he alone should be received. Which indeed was done by very many of them for love of this present life, and impelled rather by fear of death than by the joys of the life everlasting; for all such of them as simulated this conversion returned impudently within a brief while to their former way of life..[gma emphasis] . .


  • The Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem

Dating from the time of `Umar, ( the Quarter was located in the southern part of the city, near the gates of the Temple Mount and the pool of Siloam. An 11th century document briefly mentioned it as being located opposite the Temple and adjacent to ‘the Gate of the Priest’

In the eleventh century the southern wall line was abandoned, and the Jewish quarter, now without sufficient defence, moved to the northern part of the city.

A midrashic commentary, probably from an earlier period – the Song of Songs Rabba – cites that the phrase “There he stands behind our wall” (Song of Songs 2:9) is

a reference to the Western Wall of the Temple, since the Holy One Blessed Be His Name has sworn that this wall will never be destroyed; the Gate of the Priest and Hulda’s Gate have never been destroyed”. It seems …  that the Gate of the Priest was located in the Western Wall, and that the Jewish quarter extended from the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount southward toward the Zion and Siloam Gates.

The commentary states:

the kings of Ishmael treat us well and have allowed Israel to come to the Temple and build there a place of worship and study. All the Israelites in exile that live near the Temple make pilgrimage there on holidays and festivals and pray in it. (Rabbi Avraham Bar-Hiya, 1065-1135).

  • The Crusader Siege of Jerusalem

On 7 June the crusader army camped outside Jerusalem, described in “Chronicles of the Crusades” as “one of the strongest cities in the world.”

An attempt to storm the walls on June 13 failed, and the army settled in (in the baking heat) for a siege.
Fulcher of Chartres wrote:

During the siege we were so oppressed by thirst that we sewed together the hides of oxen and buffalo, which we used to carry water of a distance of about six miles… we were in daily distress and affliction for the Saracens used to lie in wait around the springs and water sources, and would ambush our men, kill them and cut them to pieces…”

After an all out attack, the Crusaders took Jerusalem on 15 July 1099.  The Gesta Francorum (The Deeds of the Franks), written circa 1100-1101, by an anonymous writer connected with Bohemund of Antioch  ( famously describes the scene:

Before we attacked Jerusalem, the bishops and priests preached to us, telling us to go in a procession in God’s honour around Jerusalem, and pray and give alms and fast…

…all the defenders of the city fled along the walls and through the city, and our men, following Lethold, chased after them, killing them and dismembering them as far as the Temple of Solomon.  And in that place there was such slaughter that we were up to our ankles in their blood.

At last the pagans were overcome and our men captured a good number of men and women in the Temple; they killed whomsoever they wished, and chose to keep others alive…  All our men came rejoicing and weeping for joy to worship at the church of the Holy Sepulchre


  • Nor was Jerusalem the only city besieged.  Albert of Aachen in his Book of Travels, refers to the conquest of Haifa by the Crusaders:

“And the city of Haifa… which the Jews defended with great courage, to the shame and embarrassment of the Christians.”

A later writer, Marcel Ladoire, a French priest (also an historian) who visited in 1719 wrote:

“And Haifa, although moderate in size, was strongly fortified, and perhaps because of this, for a long time it withstood the mighty onslaught of the Prince Tancred, who attacked it from the sea and also from the land, with the help of the Venetians.  Although the Jews fought with courage, they were overcome by the might of the invaders.”

Thus, a full thousand years after the fall of the Jewish state, there were still Jewish communities throughout the Holy Land, fifty of which are known including Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea and Gaza.

4. Effect of Crusader Control of Holy Land (Phase II) on Jewish Settlement

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

In the second phase the Crusaders gained a hold over certain towns and regions by means of treaties and agreements in which the Jews participated.  The destruction of entire communities ceased as the Crusaders were more interested in possessing living cities than in occupying desolate wastes.

Jews, however, sought refuge in Ashkelon, Rafah and El Arish ahead of the advancing Crusaders.  In more remote areas such as Galilee, the invasion was felt less.  Everywhere the Jews were treated by the Crusaders as were other non-Christian communities, except that they were not allowed to live in Jerusalem.

Travel between the Holy Land and Europe became easier and the number of Jews immigrating from France, England and North Africa increased as did the number of Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem; Yehuda Halevi in 1141, Maimonides in 1165 and Benjamin of Tudela, visiting between 1167 and 1169.

The renowned rabbi Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, 1135-1204) in the Preface to his Commentary on Tractate Rosh Hashana, written in 1165 notes:

    On the 4th day of Cheshvan (October-November) we departed from Acre to go up to Jerusalem at grave risk.  I entered the great and holy place (the synagogue on Temple Mount) and prayed there… and I departed from Jerusalem for Hebron to embrace the tombs of my forebears in the Cave and prayed there that day and gave thanksgiving to God for everything… And these two days I made an oath to celebrate for me and my descendants forever, may the Lord help me fulfil my pledges.

    And just as I was privileged to pray in the Land in its desolation, may I and all Israel live to see its speedy restoration.[gma emphasis] (Tal, p. 101)

Benjamin of Tudela found Jews living near David’s Tower in Jerusalem, despite the Crusader ban.  He noted the existence of Jewish communities in Acre, Tiberias, Caesarea, Jaffa, Ramla, Ashkelon and Hebron, as well as in the rural areas, mainly in Galilee:

    I saw in Jerusalem a numerous population composed of Jacobites, Armenians, Greeks, Georgians, Franks, and in fact of all tongues.  There’s a dyeing house rented yearly by the Jews, exclusively.  Two hundred of those Jews dwell in one corner of the city, under the Tower of David. (cited in Tal, p.102)

Benamin left a record of the number of Jewish inhabitants in towns and villages across the country. The relatively small numbers reflect the outcome of the destruction of entire communities by the First Crusade, half a century earlier.
Although the Crusaders massacred many Jews during the 12th century, the Jewish community rebounded in the next two centuries as large numbers of rabbis and Jewish pilgrims immigrated to Jerusalem and the Galilee. Prominent rabbis established communities in Safed, Jerusalem, and elsewhere during the next 300 years.