Posts Tagged ‘Ramla’

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.)
    Ummayads
    The rule of the Ummayads (661-750 C.E) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umayyad) 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.

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

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbasid) 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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abd_al-Malik#Art_and_Architecture) 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.
    Fatimids
    The 10th Century brought further political upheaval in the Middle East. The Abbasids lost power to Fatimids (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatimid ) 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.

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.

6. Jewish Presence in Palestine Under the Ottomans

Monday, September 8th, 2008

The early sixteenth century saw the Ottoman capture of Palestine by Sultan Selim. The Ottoman regime was to last 400 years until its defeat at the hands of the British at the end of World War I in 1918. Throughout this period, Jewish life was maintained in four main urban centres: Jerusalem, Safad, Tiberias and Hebron. Bahat notes:

    The largest community, numbering about 10,000 Jews was situated in and around Safad,; most of them were refugees from Spain, from which they were expelled in 1492. The Jews of Safad were reported as trading in spices, cheese oils, vegetables and fruits. Many Jews Jews were engaged in weaving.  Amongst the prominent leaders of the community in the 16th century was…R. Joseph Karo, compiler of the ‘Shulhan Arukh’  [and] the Cabbalist R. Isaac Luria.  During this century Safad was the centre of Jewish mysticism” (p.50)

According to official censuses, in the second quarter of the 16th century the number of Jews in Jerusalem varied between 1,000 and 1,500, living in three quarters coextensive with the present Jewish Quarter of the city, while William Biddulph, an English priest who visited Palestine in 1600 commented in his book “The Travels of Four Englishmen and a Preacher ” that Tiberias is entirely occupied by Jews.

In 1631, the Christian writer Eugene Roger records that there were approximately 15,000 Jews were living in various parts of the country, including Jerusalem, Hebron, Gaza, Haifa, Ramla, Nablus, Safad, Acre and Sidon.

They were subject to the whims of the local rulers who in many cases had purchased their posts at great cost [from the Ottoman Government] and attempted to recoup this money during their period of rule. (Bahat p.54)

Bahat’s research provides information regarding the visit of George Sandys, son of the Archbishop of York who visited the Holy Land in 1611. He states in his Travailes,

    “And in their Land they (the Jews)live as strangers, hated by those amongst whom they dwell, open to all oppression and deprivation, which they bear with patience beyond all belief, despised and beaten. In spite of all this, I never saw a Jew with an angry face.”

The writings of a Dutch scholar, Olf Dapper who collected data mostly from travellers to the Holy Land in this period summed up his findings in 1677 with the statement:

    “There are Jews all over Syria and the Holy Land, especially in Acre, Sidon, Damascus, Jerusalem, Hebron and Gaza. No transactions take place without the knowledge of the Jews and even the smallest dealings pass through their hands.”  (Bahat p.54)

Despite the economic and cultural decay of the Ottoman Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries, Jewish immigration to the Land continued even though life became increasingly difficult. Jewish communities began to organise themselves and agricultural settlements such as Kfar Yasif were established in the Galilee. On the other hand, with the increasing impoverishment of the Ottoman Empire, the non-muslim inhabitants of Palestine bore an increasing burden of taxation. Such were the human and natural disasters that it is estimated that during the first half of the 19th century the total population of the country did not exceed 250,000. In Jerusalem, however, travellers Richardson, Carne and Scholte reported in 1820-21 that Jews constituted the largest religious group in the city. This is confirmed by the first official census for Jerusalem held in 1844, which showed the population to be composed of: 7120 Jews, 5760 Muslims and 3390 Christians

By 1874, the American consul in Jerusalem, de Haas, reported that the city’s population numbered 30,000 of whom, 20,000 (two thirds) were Jews. (Eliyahu Tal, Whose Jerusalem? p.274)

In concluding this brief survey of the evidence of the uninterrupted presence of Jews in the Holy Land from the year 70 C.E. it is worth while presenting Behat’s extensive references to the official and institutional reports. These attest to the increasing significance of the Jews in the urban centres of Palestine, particularly in Jerusalem, as well as the first Jewish agricultural institutions and settlements, culminating in the waves of European immigrants who arrived on the shores of the Holy Land at the turn of the 20th Century.

“During the 19th century, immigration increased, as the English missionary, W.H. Bartlett, records in his book, Jerusalem Revisited, London 1855, that the Jewish community in Jerusalem numbered over 11,000. This is confirmed by the second British consul in Jerusalem, James Finn, in his book Stirring Times, London 1878. Mary Elisa Rogers writes in her book, Domestic Life in Palestine, London 1862, that there was an active Jewish community in Haifa. She lived there with her brother, the British vice-consul, from 1850 to 1859. The English missionary, Andrew Bonar, who visited the Holy Land in 1839, mentioned the synagogue of the Jews in Nablus besides that of the Samaritans (Narrative of a Mission of Enquiry to the Jews … Edinburgh 1846). The American officer W.F. Lynch who arrived in the country in 1848 describes the Jewish community in Jaffa in his Narrative of the U.S.’s expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, London 1852. All these communities were urban in nature and attempts by Jewish philanthropists abroad to establish rural villages

In 1870, the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School was founded near Jaffa. This was followed almost immediately by the establishment of villages in Motza (Jerusalem) and, in 1878, in Petah Tikvah.

The rise of nationalism in Europe and the Russian pogroms of the 1880′s led to a new wave of immigration. The names given by these immigrants to the villages which they founded reflect the vision and ideals represented by them – Rishon LeZion (the First in Zion), Nes Ziona (the Banner of Zion), Yesud HaMa’ala (the Start of the Ascent) and Rosh Pina (Cornerstone). The deterioration in economic conditions in the Land of Israel adversely affected settlement and threatened the total collapse of agricultural enterprises! The Jews of the Diaspora and the Jewish philanthropists, particularly Baron Edmond de Rothschild, came to the rescue.

In 1904, the second great wave of immigration, known as the Second Aliyah, began. This, too, was ideologically motivated, being based on the principles of Jewish labour, independent agricultural settlement and the brotherhood and equality of men. Subsequently the revolutionary forms of settlement we know today – the kibbutz (collective settlement) and the moshav (cooperative small-holders’ village) – were established. The Hebrew language, long relegated to liturgical or literary usage, was revived as a spoken tongue.

The World Zionist Organisation began to create the necessary tools for consolidating Jewish settlement, such as the Workers’ Bank, the Jewish National Fund, whose task was to purchase land for the nation, and many other institutions dedicated to the mission of national revival.

As will be discussed later, the Balfour Declaration, issued by the British in 1917 recognising the right of the Jews to a national home in Palestine, and the subsequent Mandate for Palestine, in which the League of Nations incorporated this aim, served as the international recognition of what was to become the State of Israel in 1948.” (Behat pp 64-65)

One must also bear in mind that Zionism is not a modern phenomenon imitating other nationalistic movements prevalent in the 19th century. While a spiritual longing to return to Zion has long existed ever since Jewish expulsion by the Romans in the first century, there has been a constant physical Jewish aliya -“going up” – or return to Israel driven by the age old messianic dream of medieval times which started well before the early Zionist aliyot (plural  of aliya) in the 1880’s. The relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is a basic element in Jewish consciousness. For some historians, notably Benzion Dinur, Israel’s Minister of Education from 1951-1955, the driving force behind the aliyot of the medieval and early modern periods was the “Messianic ferment” that cropped up in Jewish communities which, together with the appearance of charismatic leaders heralding the end of days, precipitated the organisation of groups to return to Israel in order to hasten the Redemption.

(see Arie Morgenstern, Dispersion and the Longing for Zion 1240-1840, Vol 12 Azure, Winter 2002; Joseph Farah “The Jews took no one’s land” www.WorldNetDaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=27338 )

“First Photographs of the Holy Land” http://www.eretzyisroel.org/~dhershkowitz/index2.html ; also Photographs of Early Zionist  in Palestine http://www.zionism-israel.com/photos/Historicphotos1.htm ;

The purpose of this Section has been to refute any argument that the Jewish connection with Palestine is one of relatively recent origin. It also serves to bring to the readers’ attention the factual basis upon which the Palestine Mandate document was able to declare in no uncertain terms in the third paragraph of its Preamble as follows:


“Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country”