Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Jerusalem 1913

Jaffa Gate to the Old City during
the last decade of Ottoman rule.
I have just finished a fascinating book that looks at the Middle East problems by examining Palestine during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

Jews and Arabs have shared Palestine for generations with Muslims in control (excluding a few years of Crusader rule) from the seventh century. In the middle of the 19th century old Jerusalem was about 45% Muslim, 25% Jewish, and 30% Christian. Jews were less than five percent of all of Palestine.

The rise of Zionism in Europe changed that. By 1881 Jews were a majority in Jerusalem. Jewish settlements were springing up and blooming on land sold by Arabs who thought it worthless desert. As Zionists in Vienna began talking about building a Jewish homeland, Turks and Arabs grew concerned.
Early (1880's) settlers.
The Turks were concerned because the immigrants were not interested becoming Ottoman citizens. The Arabs foresaw a time when they would be driven out of a Palestine they considered their own.
We did not conquer this land from you (Jews). We conquered it from the Byzantines who ruled it then. We do not owe anything to the Jews. ~ Arab leader Ruli Khalidi, 1908
Exacerbating the problem was the Zionists tendency to isolate themselves. In a land where the official language was Turkish and the common tongue was Arabic, the Zionists taught themselves Hebrew. They refused to hire Arab farmhands or integrate themselves with surrounding villages. Many Zionists felt Arabs were a "cancer" on Palestine. Arabs, in turn, called these Jewish immigrants "dogs."
As petty violence between Arabs and Jews grew the Zionist settlements organized self-defense militia. The HaShomer (above) were mercenaries who hired themselves out to settlements that feared nearby Arab villagers.
It began as a simple brawl over the theft of a bunch of grapes. ~ Albert Antebi, Ottoman (non-Zionist) Jewish leader
In 1913, a Jewish settlement guard (probably HaShomer) caught an Arab teamster of eating grapes. Whether the grapes were stolen or from the Arab's own vines is a question that was quickly lost. The incident ended with one Arab dead and several villagers and settlers injured. As news spread conflicts broke out between Arabs and Jews throughout Palestine. 1913 saw the beginning of the Palestine Wars that are still being fought.
Five Arab hung outside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem.
But Turks still ruled Palestine and with the outbreak of World War I the Jews and Arabs had a common enemy in Pasha Ahmed Djemal, the governor of Syria and Palestine. Djemal was one of the leaders behind the Armenian Genocide. He was responsible for the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews from Palestine. As for the Arabs, those he would just murder. Any Arab suspected of disloyalty would be hung with the bodies left hanging to rot in the sun. Djemal was assassinated in 1922 in Soviet Georgia, revenge for his crimes against Armenians.

Only now do we get to the era most people know. The Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate, partition, and the State of Israel. But all of that history was defined by the history that occurred in the obscured last decades of Ottoman Palestine.

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