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Thursday, September 03, 2009

The inhabitants of Palestine, 1851

I just found this survey of Palestine's inhabitants by Geroge Henry Taylor in a geography textbook published in 1851. It has the usual bigotry of Christian-written books of the period, but it is still interesting, especially in terms of how Jews were treated under Muslim rule (contrary to the propaganda spouted nowadays of how well Muslims and Jews lived together before Zionism):

I wish now to give you some notion of the modern inhabitants of Palestine. If you look at the table attentively you will soon perceive that Palestine has been conquered and possessed by many different nations, and, consequently, you may expect to find the results of these conquests in a strange mixture of various nations in the inhabitants. The following list will comprise all the more important classes and races of men who now inhabit Palestine :

1. Turks. 4. Maronites.

2. Greek Christians. 5. Arabs.

3. Druses. 6. Jews.

1. Turks. First, of the Turks. These are the last conquerors of the country and are, consequently, the most numerous. All the towns of greatest importance are occupied by them. The Turks are all followers of Mahommed, and the Koran is their Bible. Under their rule Palestine must ever remain a poor and miserable country. Extortion prevails everywhere. The poor Arab is ground to the dust. All agriculture languishes. Hundreds of acres at this moment lie barren and uncultivated. None like to risk their labour and their money in such pursuits; for when the crops are ripe the tax-gatherer comes and seizes just as much as the pasha requires, taking sometimes nearly the whole of the produce. In consequence of this extortion many of the inhabitants of Palestine prefer to drag out a miserable existence in the towns. Hence poverty, idleness, dirt, want, and disease are common all over the country.

2. Greek Christians. The Greek Christians are numerous, and are to be found in all the large towns, where they possess one or more convents. At present they enjoy an ample share of toleration, and by their activity in trade have increased in numbers and wealth.

3. Druses. Of the Druses I have spoken to you before. They reside chiefly in the mountainous district of Lebanon, and are a very peculiar sect, seeming to regard all kinds of religious worship with equal indifference. They are, however, a brave and hardy people, remarkable for their love of independence and unbounded generosity. Their number is estimated at 120,000, and though the greater portion resides at Libanus individuals are found scattered all over the country.

4. Maronites. Of the Maronites I have also spoken before. They are in connexion with the Romish Church, though they have some peculiar rites and ceremonies of their own. Their patriarch dwells at Carobin, in Syria. According to all accounts they are a frugal, economical, and industrious people. They inhabit the mountains of Syria, though numbers of them are found in Palestine.

5. Arabs. Now we come to the Arabs. The Bedouin Arabs wander in considerable numbers over the plains of Palestine. They have no fixed place of abode, and live, as of old, by pillage and violence. Throughout the deserts the Arabs reign supreme, and life and property are maintained only by the sword. The dress of the Arabs is very simple, consisting of a long, blue, cotton shirt, which reaches down to the knees. Their legs and feet are sometimes naked, and sometimes covered either with buskins or sandals. " A small turban, or rather a dirty rag, is bound across their temples, one corner of which, sometimes fringed with strings in knots, is allowed to hang down." The Arab women seem to delight in making themselves look ugly. " Their faces, heads, and arms are tattooed and covered with hideous scars ; their eye-lashes and eyes are always painted with some dingy black or blue powder; their lips of a deep and dusky blue; their teeth jet black; their nails and fingers brick red ; and their wrists as well as their ankles laden with large metal cinctures studded with sharp knobs and bits of glass. A small button studded with pearl, or a piece of glass, or any other glittering substance, is fastened by a plug and thrust through the cartilage of the nose." According to our notions of beauty this must make the Arabian women very ugly indeed, but I have no doubt that they think such ornaments very great improvements. The mountains and deserts of Syria, Arabia, and northern Africa, are the haunts of the wandering Arabs. Here, uncorrupted by foreign influences, they retain their primitive manners. A true Arab disdains to cultivate the soil. His must be a life of unrestrained freedom. To be an expert robber is an object of ambition. Mounted on their beautiful horses with the speed of the wind they fly through the desert pillaging caravans, and sometimes taking prisoners, for whose release they require a large ransom. The presence of this peculiar people contributes no little to the insecurity of life and property in Palestine. The cultivator of the soil may see in a moment all his fair prospects blighted by an incursion of mounted Arabs, who will strip a field in the twinkling of an eye, and scamper off with the same expedition to their homes in the desert.

6. Jews. We now come to the Jews. Latterly they have increased in numbers in the ancient city of Jerusalem ; but everywhere throughout the Turkish dominions they are a despised, degraded, and a persecuted race. Denied all civil privileges, tyrannized over and trampled upon, their character is just what such treatment is calculated to make it. Of all the inhabitants of Palestine none are so poor and so wretched-looking as the Jews. Those who possess wealth are obliged to keep it secret lest the persecuting Turks should render their exactions more oppressive. It is not uncommon for the traveller to find the outside of a Jew's house dirty and miserable-looking, and the inside well- furnished with all that contributes to comfort and happiness. Jerusalem is still the Holy City of the Jews ; and when wandering far away in the various countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and struggling against a common persecution and oppression they feel the bitterness of their servitude, thitherward they cast their eyes, and a transient gleam of hope that a brighter day will yet dawn upon Israel, affords a momentary but delusive gladness.