Monday, December 17, 2018

  • Monday, December 17, 2018
  • Elder of Ziyon


According to the 1883 book Egypt, Palestine, and Phoenicia: A Visit to Sacred Lands, by Félix Bovet, throughout the 19th century Palestine was not really under the real authority of the Ottoman Empire, but with some exceptions the towns acted independently.

So how did the Palestinian Arabs act when they had a decent measure of autonomy?

Not at all like a people. In fact, they acted the opposite of how a people would act - they only fought each other and identified with their tribes and towns, not at all as Palestinians.


 The Turkish Government is not absolutely without power in Palestine, but it is without authority. Its power extends as far as the range of a pistol-shot or the reach of a bayonet. It has not that sort of ascendency which, everywhere else, and even in other Ottoman provinces, adds to the real power of a government, and makes it respected or feared even in the absence of its agents. The pacha is obeyed when he is present; they send to him from Damascus, to stay with him during the Easter festivities, a reinforcement of 800 soldiers, to enable him to protect the pilgrims, and to save him from the recriminations of the French and Russian consuls. While he keeps his troops, order reigns in Jerusalem, and even, to a certain extent, in the immediate neighbourhood of the city; but when the 800 soldiers have returned to Damascus, the pacha can no longer answer for anything.

In a word, though the Turks are, it is true, one of the powers that rule in Palestine, there are many others by the side of it. Each tribe preserves a sort of independence, and carries on its affairs on its own account; there are whole villages which pay taxes, not to the pacha, but to some Bedouin emir, and there is many a district of Palestine in which the representative of the Porte could not adventure himself without as much certainty of being robbed as any chance comer. During my stay in Palestine, notwithstanding the presence at that time of the Turkish soldiers, the Arab tribes were fighting with each other at Hebron, and some caravans of pilgrims returning to Jaffa were robbed at a few hours' distance from Jerusalem.....
We, with our customs, can scarcely imagine such a state of things. It seems to us as if a society could not exist in a condition of complete anarchy, and that the inhabitants of Palestine would, in a short time, have either destroyed each other, or else submitted themselves to some one tyrant more powerful than the rest. This conclusion would be logical, if we were speaking of a country as thickly inhabited as the European states, and in which the necessities of existence were of a nature less simple than they are in the East. But this condition of things, which, besides, differs but slightly from that which has prevailed over almost the whole of Europe during some part of the middle ages, is not new in Palestine. This country finds itself once more in very much the same condition as in the time of Abraham. We do not see there, in that distant age, any state of much extent, but only towns absolutely independent of each other, each with its king or scheikh, entering into alliances or carrying on war with each other, according to the circumstances of the moment. Then, as now, between the towns belonging to the different tribes, other nomad tribes pitched their tents on the plains and on the sides of the hills, wandering from north to south, with their huge flocks, and no other possessions under the sun, but a few wells dug by their fathers and some caves in which to bury their chiefs ;— possessions often attacked, occasions of contention, of mutual accommodation, and of wars. ....The East never grows old; institutions and empires come into existence and fall into ruins, but manners and customs are unchangeable. The race of Abraham is of a vigorous fibre; Israel, it is well known, never bent its stiff neck; || the iron sceptre of Rome broke, without subduing, it; dispersed among the nations, like a ball driven far by the wind, it mingled among them without ever losing its distinctness. As to Ishmael, I doubt whether those who have observed his race could define better than is already done in Genesis the indocile and defiant character which it has retained even to our own day, and to which indeed it owes the persistence of its nationality. "Ishmael will be a wild man, his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him."*
At least in 1883, there was clearly no "Palestinian people." It was just a bunch of towns and villages who would fight or ally as necessary, with no sense whatsoever of national unity or pride. And certainly none of these people self-identified as "Palestinian."



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