Posts Tagged ‘relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel’

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”