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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Jewish relations with Christians in Palestine in the 1840s - 50s

(Part 1 here.)

Many Christians in Palestine were at least as hostile to Jews as the Muslims were, as we see from these extracts from "Stirring Times: Or, Records from Jerusalem Consular Chronicles of 1853 to 1856" , which include blood libels:
In 1839, Lord Palmerston's direction to his first Consul in Jerusalem was ' to afford protection to the Jews generally.' The words were simply those, broad and liberal as under the circumstances they ought to be, leaving after events to work out their own modifications. The instruction, however, seemed to bear on its face a recognition that the Jews are a nation by themselves, and that contingencies might possibly arise in which their relations to Mohammedans should become different, though it was impossible to foresee the shape that future transactions might assume on the impending expulsion of the Egyptians from Syria.

Then came the atrocities of Passover, 1840, in Damascus, inflicted on the Jews there for the alleged crime of eating or drinking the blood of the Capuchin Friar, Thomas — cruelties and murders that were hounded on by the French Consul, Eugene Bore — and this was during the Egyptian regime. In the summer of that year the Jewish deputation from Europe, consisting of Moutefiore, Cremieux, and Luwe, arrived in Syria for investigation of those deplorable occurrences. A few months later came the bombardment of Acre and restitution of Syria to the Turks. Then our Government at once brought before the consideration of the Porte the condition of Jews already settled, or who might afterwards settle themselves in Palestine.

In April 1841, Lord Palmerston forwarded a circular to his agents in the Levant and Syria, which began by stating that, as far as documents could avail, the law of Turkey had by that time become all that might reasonably be expected for toleration of the Jews, but that the difEculty remained as to enforcing an honest administration of that law. The Porte, however, had declared its determination that the law should be righteously administered, and had even promised Her Majesty's Ambassador that ' It will attend to any representation which may be made to it by the Embassy, of any act of oppression practised against the Jews.'

The Consul was, therefore, to investigate diligently all cases of oppression exercised upon Jews that might come to his knowledge, and report to the Embassy, and although he might only act officially in behalf of persons actually as of right under British protection (by this time there was a French Consul in Jerusalem), the Consul was on every, suit able occasion to make known, to the local authorities, that the British Government felt an interest in the welfare of Jews in general, and was anxious that they should be protected from oppression. He was also to make known the ofler of the Porte to attend to cases of persecution that might be reported to the Embassy. Accordingly, in 1842 a bad case was thus represented as occurring at Hebron, on the part of Shaikh Baddo and others.

In 1847 it seemed probable that the Christian pilgrims, instigated by the Greek ecclesiastics, were about to reproduce the horrors enacted at Rhodes and Damascus in 1840.

A Greek pilgrim boy, in a retured street, had thrown a stone at a poor little Jew boy, and, strange to say, the latter bad the courage to retaliate by throwing one in return, which unfortunately hit its mark, and a bleeding aukle was the consequence. It being the season of the year when Jerusalem is always thronged with pilgrims ( March), a tumult soon arose, and the direst vengeance was denounced against all Jews indiscriminately, for having stabbed (as they said) an innocent Christian child, with a knife, in order to get his blood, for mixing in their Passover biscuits. The police came up and both parties were taken down to the Seraglio for judgment ; there the case was at once discharged as too trivial for notice.

The Convent Clergy, however, three days afterwards, stirred up the matter afresh, exaggerated the state of the wound inflicted, and engaged to prove to the Pashk from their ancient books that Jews are addicted to the above cannibal practice, either for purposes of necromancy, or out of hatred of Christians, on which His Excellency unwisely Buffered the charge of assault to be diverted into this different channel, which was one that did not concern him ; and he commanded the Jews to answer for themselves on the second day afterwards. In the interval, both Greeks and Armenians went about the streets insulting and menacing the Jews, both men and women, sometimes drawing their hands across the throat, sometimes showing the knives which they generally earn» about with them, and, among other instances brought to my notice, was that of a party of six catching hold of the son of the late Chief Rabbi of London (Herschell) and shaking him, elderly man as he was, by the collar, crying out, ' Ah! Jew, have you got the knives ready for our blood ! '

On the day of the Seraglio-hearing, the scene in the Mejlis was a most painful one. The Greek ecclesiastical party came down in great force, and read out of Church historians and controversial writings of old time the direct and frequent accusations levelled against the Jews for using Christian blood in Passover ceremonies. The Moslem dignitaries, being appealed to, stated that in their sacred books such charges against the Jews are to be found indirectly mentioned, and therefore the crime may be inferred as true : it was possible to be true. The Rabbis deputed from the Chief Rabbi, pale and trembling argued from the Old Testament, and all their legal authorities, the utter impossibility of the perpetration of such acts by their people, concluding with an appeal to the Sultan's Firman of 1841, which declares that thorough search having been made into this matter, both as to Jewish doctrine and practice, the people of Israel were entirely innocent of that crime advanced against them.

On this the Pasha required them to produce the Firman on the second day afterwards, the intervening day being Friday, the Moslem Sabbath. I then arranged with the Pasha, that I should be present at the meeting, and early on Saturday went down to the Seraglio ; but earlier still His Excellency was happy (he said) to acquaint me that the Firman had been produced, and on his asking the accusers and the Effendis in council if they could venture to fly in the face of that document, they had, with all loyalty, pronounced it impossible ; he therefore had disposed of the case by awarding a trifling fine for medical treatment of the wounded ankle.

No other Consul took part in the business, except that the Sardinian assured me in private conversation that there could be no doubt of Jews using Christian blood in the Passover rites whenever they could get it ; or at any rate that they did so in the Middle Ages.

On the other hand, the Protestant missionaries to the Jews, during the time of the dispute, offered to the Chief Rabbi their aid by testifying that, whereas they were all learned in Jewish matters, and some of them Jews by birth and education, the charges respecting the use of blood were entirely false. It did not, however, seem necessary to accept their friendly offer. The Pasha doubtless by this time perceived that the case was likely to prove more troublesome than was expected. (The Pasha perceived that the case was being carefully watched by the British Consul, who would report any injustice done to the Jews - ED.)

...About this time a Jew was set upon by the crowd of fanatic Christian pilgrims, and nearly killed, for having crossed the farthest side of the open square which is in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre ; he, being newly arrived from Europe, was unaware of the city custom which restricts that passage to Christians, who, however, admit the Moslems because they dare not shut them out. Redress was sought through the English Consulate, although the man was a Russian or an Austrian subject, because he had no Consul of his own. I appealed to the Pasha. The Greek ecclesiastics pleaded before him that the passage was not a public thoroughfare, but part of the Sanctuary of Christianity, and only used for transit upon sufferance. They even dared to send me word that they were in possession of an ancient Firman which fixed the ' Deeyeh,' or blood-fine, to be paid by them if in beating a Jew in that vicinity for trespass they happened to kill him, at the sum of ten paras, about one half-penny English. However ridiculous or wicked such a message might be, it was nevertheless a duty to report it at Constantinople, with a view to an authoritative contradiction of the statement. As might have been expected, the official reply was that no such document ever existed. Thus that mischievous untruth was silenced, but the incident shows the disposition of the high convent authorities towards the Jews. It may be that they themselves believed there was such a Firman: if so, what degree of pity or liberality could one expect from the multitude of brutal pilgrims ? The Pasha said that he knew of no such Firman as that referred to, but that Greeks, Latins, and Armenians, all believed a Jew might be killed with impunity under such circumstances.