Monday, June 24, 2019

I am pleased that the amazing tweeter American Zionism agreed to write an occasional article for EoZ.


Arab/Muslim Immigration to the Holy Land

Part 1 - Bosnia, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt

We know a lot about Jewish immigration to the Holy Land because the Ottomans and then the British did such a good job at keeping Jews out that it became global news. But what about Arab/Muslim immigration to the Holy Land during the same period. The usual narrative you will read online is that the Jews arrived in the late 19th & early 20th century, but that the “Palestinians” had been there since the beginning of time. Is that true?

If you have ever spent time on social media talking about Israel, you may have come across this quote from Robert Kennedy

“The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs, in the 12 years between 1932-1944, came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state …”

Kennedy, a young, recent college graduate and wise beyond his years, made the remark after a trip to the Holy Land in March of 1948 -  after the UN partition of Mandatory Palestine and on the precipice of the Israeli War of Independence, which began in May. The quote appeared in the Boston Post, in a series of articles about his experiences on the trip. Kennedy was a supporter of the nascient state of Israel and of the Jewish people and it is what eventually lead to his assassination in 1968.

I’ve often thought about that quote. I’ve even referred to it on social media. But, I haven’t seen much in the way of  support for that statement. Did Arabs really immigrate to Palestine to take advantage of the improved living conditions thanks to the Zionists enterprises? Did they immigrate to Palestine at all? Could I find any proof of Arab/Muslim immigration to the Holy Land in the 19th or early 20th centuries?  I began studying historic documents to see if Jews were the only people that immigrated to the land of Israel or if they were joined by Arabs. As conditions in the Holy Land improved, Arabs/Muslims did indeed come from around the Mediteranean, other parts of the Levant, Egypt, and even from Europe at the same time as the Jews. They immigrated, built colonies, and eventually became a component of the people that would go on to call themselves Palestinians. Here are some of those stories. This article is part one of what I discovered.

A Bosniak Muslim Colony in Caesarea

Murray's Handbooks for Travellers were among the oldest and most respected travel guides in Europe. Their guides were well researched and revised as needed. Their first guide on Syria and Palestine appeared in 1858. In the 1903 edition, they report that a colony of Bosniak Muslims settled in the ancient seaside city of Caesarea in 1883 (page 202). Later it states that the Bosniak colonists were engaging in building operations (Page 205).

  It certainly doesn’t sound like they were planning on going anywhere. They were building a society. One question remains from the passage. Murray’s guide mentions that the colony was ravaged by malaria and that it might become extinct. Did it become extinct because of malaria?

If you have ever taken a tour in Europe or looked for a tour from Europe, chances are you’ve dealt with Thomas Cook. One of the most well known travel agencies in the world, dating back nearly 200 years, Thomas Cook is a name that people trust. They also happened to produce travel guides in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1907, four years after the Murray guide, they published Cook's Tourists' Handbook to Palestine and Syria. In the section under Ceasarea, they also mention that Bosnian immigrants lived in Caesarea and “have houses among the ruins” of the ancient city ( page 169).

Baedeker is known around the world for their travel guides. They are so ubiquitous with international travel that the name Baedeker came to mean “guidebook” in the dictionary. In the 1912 edition of Baedeker’s Handbook for Travellers Palestine and Syria, on the section about Caesarea, they mention that “Bosnians have been settled here since 1884 and can supply rough nightquarters in case of need.” (page 237) This was nine years after Murray mentioned them and five years after Cook.

Not only were they still in Caesarea, but they were the only group mentioned that supplied sleeping arrangements in the city. Obviously, the Bosnian colony did not become extinct and most likely grew, eventually to be absorbed into the community that would go on to call themselves Palestinians.

Colonies from North Africa

The Maghrebins of Jerusalem

In the 1876 edition of Baedeker’s Handbook for Travellers Palestine and Syria, regarding the population of the city of Jerusalem, it states “Among the Muslim Arabs is also included a colony of Africans (Moghrebins).” (page 162) The Maghrebs are Muslim of North Africa, mostly Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, and are either Arabs or Berbers. They were previously referred to as Moors by Europeans. In the 1894 edition of Baedeker, eighteen years later, it repeats the same statement about the Maghreb colony and mentions that out of 40,000 residents of Jerusalem, 7560 are Muslims including that community. 

The 1907 edition of  Cook's Tourists' Handbook to Palestine and Syria it lists the population of Jerusalem at 50,000 with 12,000 Muslims and among them “a colony of African’s from Morocco”. (page 65)

The 1912 edition of Baedeker’s also mentions North African Maghrebins located near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, only this time they’ve graduated from a colony to residents of the city.

If the colony existed at minimum 36 years and the members were absorbed into the population at large, there is a good probability that they eventually became part of the future Palestinian people.

The Algerians of Palestine

Emir Abdelkader was an amazing man. He was an Algerian religious and military leader who staged a rebellion against the French occupation of Algeria in the mid 1800s. He eventually failed and was forced to flee with his supporters to Turkey and then eventually settled in Damascus, Syria where he lived out the rest of his days. In the 1907 edition of Cook's Tourists' Handbook to Palestine and Syria on Page 286, it mentions that part of the population of Safed in northern Galilee, one of the four holy cities of Judaism in Israel, contains a large number of Muslims, including Algerians who followed Abdelkader into exile after the failed rebellion. This episode is interesting for two reasons. The first is that we have written proof that there were North Africans who had a community in Safed. The second, is that since Abdelkader went from Algeria to Turkey to Syria, it would logically follow that those that settled in Safed came over from Syria. We know from history books and other travel journals that the Ottoman occupiers of the Holy Land restricted the number of Jews who could immigrate and live in the Holy Land, while the same restriction did not apply to other populations and the border was open to them. This entry supports that claim.

The 1907 Cook handbook lists two other Algerian colonies in the Galilee. The first was the village of Kafr Sabt, which is described as an “Algerian colony” (page 274). Kaft Sabt is often noted as a Palestinian village on the Internet, but in 1907 it was cleary a strictly Algerian colony.

The third reference to Algerians in the 1907 Cook guide can be found on page 287 and mentions an Algerian settlement near the village of Ain ez Zeitun.

So far the only references to Algerians immigrants is in the 1907 Cook guidebook. Are there any other references? In the 1912 edition of  Baedeker’s Handbook for Travellers Palestine and Syria, it references the village of Kafr Sabt as being “a village inhabited by Algerian peasants” (page 251) corroborating the account in the Cook guidebook.

That is at least three separate Algerian colonies in the Galilee that came from at least two different areas in the Middle East (North Africa and Syria) and were established in the late 19th century at the same time as Jews were settling in the area. We can draw some conclusions. The first being that the Algerian communities did not return to Algeria. There is no record to suggest it. They undoubtedly  became part of the Palestinian people. They were not a group of people who originated in the Holy Land and whose ancestors had lived there for thousands of years, but recent North African immigrants. The second is if it’s true that there were Arab/Muslim colonies established by Algerians at the same time Jews were establishing colonies, then if you call Jews “colonists” you have to also call the Palestinians colonists, since part of the Palestinian collective was composed of recent immigrants that estabilised colonies and settlements. As we will see, these weren’t the only Arab/Muslim colonies.

Gaza’s Egyptian Character and  the Galilee’s Egyptian Colony

In 2012, Hamas’ Minister of the Interior and National Security, Fathi Hammad, speaking from the Gaza Strip, declared on video that “half the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other Half are Saudis”. Was he just trying to get money from the Egyptian government when he said it, or did some Palestiians actually immigrate from Egypt? Gaza is on the border of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and the connection between Egypt and Gaza goes back a thousand years or more, including the Egyptian Mamluk occupation of Gaza in the 14th century and Modern Egypt’s occupation of Gaza between 1948 and 1967. Gaza has served as a major stop in the trade route between Syria and Egypt, so it would make sense that over the long history of the two, Egyptians would have settled in Gaza. But do we have any historical proof to back it up?

In the 1894 edition of Baedeker’s Handbook for Travellers Palestine and Syria (page 156),  it gives a description of Gaza as having a “semi-Egyptian character”, that the veil of the Muslim women “closely resembles the Egyptian”, and that the bazaar too “has an Egyptian appearance.”

All three of those descriptions allude to the area being inhabited by people who came over from Egypt. The 1906 edition of Baedekers repeats the description of Gaza as having a semi-Egyptian character.

In the 1822 travel journal Travels Along The Mediterranean Vol.2 by Robert Richardson, a Scottish physician and travel writer, he writes that the southern half of Gaza below the town of Deir al Balah (Dair), including Khan Yunis (Hanoonis), pays tribute not to the Pasha of Acre or Jerusalem, but to the Pasha of Egypt (pages 195-196). Not only does it seem like Gaza was a distinctly Egyptian area in feel, but part of it may have actually been part of Ottoman Egypt.

That’s all fine, but it could be argued that the Gazan’s adopted the looks and customs of the Egyptian traders and that who they paid tribute to doesn’t reflect who they were. Even if they were Egyptians, who is to say they didn’t come over during the Mamluk conquest 500 years prior and remain? Is there any proof that Egyptians came as immigrants during the time Zionists were cultivating the land? In fact there is, and they didn’t only settle in Gaza.

In the 1903 edition of Murray's Handbooks for Travellers it states that Ibrahim Pasha established a colony of Egyptian peasants in the year 1840 in the ancient city of Bethshan now called Beisan (page 213). It even states that the village is almost exclusively made up of the Egyptian colony. What is interesting about this account is the location of Beisan. It is not located in Gaza or even along the coast. Beisan is in the Jordan Valley in the North close to the Jordanian border. 

The Odd Case of the Al-Simalni Tribe

The most fascinating story of immigration from Egypt might be the story of the Al-Simalni Bedouin tribe in the Galilee. In 1924 the Mukhtar of the tribe announced that they were secretly Jews and wanted to officially convert to Judaism. The British were skeptical and determined that it was probably not true and mostly likely motivated by economics. Whether or not they went through with the conversion is unknown at this time. What is known and more important in the context of this article is the background of the Al-Simalni.

On August 30, 1924, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) ran a story about the Al-Simalni tribe, including an interview with their Mukhtar Shiekh Mustapha. When asked why they wanted to convert to Judaism, he explained that the founder of the tribe, Simlon was of Jewish origin and came to Palestine from Egypt 80 years ago. He married a woman from Transjordan (Jordan) and had six children. The tribe emerged from that union. What is not clear is whether he came from Egypt with other Bedouins or he came alone.

What is clear however is that it was a Bedouin tribe in the Holy Land that was not there since “the time of Abraham” as is often sensationalized in books and articles about the history of the region, but one that came from Egypt and Jordan in the mid 19th century! It’s always possible that they were descendants of a Jew. That we will never know. What we do know is they were Arab Muslims who came from Egypt and Jordan and became part of what is know known as the Palestinians.

The story of the Al-Simalni also appeared in the August 31, 1924 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

This by no means is an exhaustive list of Arab/Muslim immigration to the Holy Land during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These are just a few examples of Arabs/Muslims that settled in the Holy Land at the same time as Jews and who became part of the people we now know as Palestinians. These were not people who had lived on the land from the beginning of time or biblical time that converted to Islam as so many claim. These were immigrants who established colonies and built communities just like the Jews, whether for economic reasons to take advantage of the advances and technologies brought by the Zionists or for other reasons. You probably didn’t know about this wave of Arab/Muslim immigration because while Jewish immigration was restricted, Arab/Muslim immigration was not, so it wasn’t  noteworthy and rarely reported. Not all is as it seems in the news and social media. It is important to search deeper.

In Part 2, we will discuss more settlements of Arabs/Muslims in the land of Israel from the Middle East, including World War I refugees and unauthorized immigration. 


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