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Monday, October 27, 2008

The peaceful Palestinian Arabs, 1834

I just saw this account of a Muslim riot against Jews in 1834 in Safed in a book called Eōthen by Alexander William Kinglake published in 1846:
At length I drew
near to the city of Safet. It sits as proud as a fortress upon the
summit of a craggy height ; yet because of its minarets, and stately
trees, the place looks happy and beautiful. It is one of the holy
cities of the Talmud, and according to this authority, the Messiah
will reign there for forty years before he takes possession of Sion.
The sanctity and historical importance thus attributed to the city
by anticipation render it a favourite place of retirement for Israelites,
of whom it contains, they say, about four thousand, a number
nearly balancing that of the Mahometan inhabitants. I knew
by my experience of Tabarieh that a "holy city" was sure to have
a population of vermin somewhat proportionate to the number of
its Israelites, and I therefore caused my tent to be pitched upon
a green spot of ground at a respectful distance from the walls of
the town.

When it had become quite dark (for there was no moon that
night,) I was informed that several Jews had secretly come from
the city, in the hope of obtaining some assistance from me in
circumstances of imminent danger...These men informed me that
the Jews of the place, who were
exceedingly wealthy, had lived peaceably in their retirement until
the insurrection which took place in 1834, but about the beginning
of that year a highly religious Mussulman called Mahommed
Damoor, went forth into the market-place, crying with aloud
voice, and prophesying, that on the fifteenth of the following June
the true Believers would rise up in just wrath against the Jews,
and despoil them of their gold, and their silver, and their jewels.
The earnestness of the prophet produced some impression at the
time, but all went on as usual, until at last the fifteenth of June
arrived. When that day dawned, the whole Mussulman population
of the place assembled in the streets, that they might see
the result of the prophecy.

Suddenly Mahommed Damoor rushed
furious into the crowd, and the fierce shout of the prophet soon
ensured the fulfilment of his prophecy. Some of the Jews fled,
and some remained, but they who fled, and they who remained,
alike and unresistingly left their property to the hands of the
spoilers. The most odious of all outrages , that of searching the
women for the base purpose of discovering such things as gold,
and silver concealed about their persons, was perpetrated without
shame. The poor Jews were so stricken with terror, that they
submitted to their fate, even where resistance would have been
easy. In several instances a young Mussulman boy, not more
than ten or twelve years of age, walked straight into the house of
a Jew, and stripped him of his property before his face, and in
the presence of his whole family.* When the insurrection was
put down, some of the Mussulmans (most probably those who
had got no spoil wherewith they might buy immunity), were punished,
but the greater part of them escaped; none of the booty
was restored, and the pecuniary redress which the Pasha had undertaken
to enforce for them, had been hitherto so carefully delayed,
that the hope of ever obtaining it had grown very faint.

And later, we see that the author harbored a little empathy for Jews himself - but only a little:
Mohammed Damoor had again gone forth into the market place, and lifted up
his voice, and prophesied a second spoliation of the Israelites.
This was grave matter; the words of such a practical man as
Mohammed Damoor were not to be despised. I fear I must have
smiled visibly, for I was greatly amused, and even, I think,
gratified at the account of this second prophecy. Nevertheless,
my heart warmed towards the poor oppressed Israelites, and I
was flattered, too, in the point of my national vanity at the notion
of the far-reaching link, by which a Jew in Syria, who had been
born on the rock of Gibraltar, was able to claim me as his fellow-
countryman. If I hesitated at all between the "improprietry" of
interfering in a matter which was no business of mine , and the "
infernal shame" of refusing my aid at such a conjecture, I soon
came to a very ungentlemanly decision — namely, that I would
be guilty of the "impropriety," and not of the "infernal shame."
It seemed to me that the immediate arrest of Mohammed Damoor
was the one thing needful to the safety of the Jews, and I felt
confident, (for reasons which I have already mentioned in speaking
of the Nablous affair) that I should be able to obtain this
result by making a formal application to the Governor. I told my
applicants that 1 would take this step on the following morning;
they were very grateful, and were for a moment much pleased at
the prospect of safely which might thus be opened to them, but
the deliberation of a minute entirely altered their views, and filled
them with new terror; they declared that any attempt, or pretended
attempt on the part of the Governor to arrest Mohammed
Damoor would certainly produce an immediate movement of the
whole Mussulman population, and a consequent massacre and
robbery of the Israelites. My visitors went out, and remained I
know not how long consulting with their brethren, but all at last
agreed that their present perilous, and painful position was better
than a certain, and immediate attack, and that if Mohammed
Damoor was seized, their second estate would be worse than their
first. I myself did not think that this would be the case, but I
could not of course force my aid upon the people against their
will, and moreover the day fixed for the fulfilment of this second
prophecy was not very close at hand ; a little delay, therefore, in
providing against the impending danger, would not necessarily
be fatal. The men now confessed that although they had come
with so much mystery, and, as they thought, at so great a risk
to ask my assistance, they were unable to suggest any mode in
which I could aid them, except, indeed, by mentioning their
grievances to the Consul-general at Damascus. This I promised
to do, and this I did.

My visitors were very thankful to me for the readiness which I
had shown to intermeddle in their affairs, and the grateful wives
of the principalJews sent to me many compliments, with choice
wines, and elaborate sweetmeats.

The course of my travels soon drew me so far from Safet, that
I never heard how the dreadful day passed off which had been
fixed for the accomplishment of the second prophecy. If the predicted
spoliation was prevented, poor Mohammed Damoor must
have been forced, I suppose, to say that he had prophesied in a
metaphorical sense. This would be a sad falling off from the
brilliant and substantial success of the first experiment.
How peacefully they lived together when the Jews were dhimmis!