Tuesday, December 06, 2022

I saw once again today the assertion, in an academic paper, that Arabs and Jews lived quite well together in the late 19th century in Palestine. I looked at the footnote and it refers to a 2014 paper by Menachem Klein, which brings an impressive amount of evidence for cooperation between the  Jews of Palestine and the Arabs, including Arabic words that became part of Palestinian Yiddish and Yiddish words that became part of Arabic, as well as evidence of the groups working together, even politically, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Whenever I read this sort of thing, I wonder how this jives with anecdotal evidence of derision and insults from Arabs to Jews in the 19th century. For example, John MacGregor published in 1870 that "Men in Palestine call their fellows 'Jew' as the very lowest of all possible words of abuse."  

In an 1824 letter from Rev. W. B. Lewis to the London Society, he writes, "Jerusalem is truly miserable, groaning under the tyranny of the oppressor. Jews...are subject to daily insults, and are shamefully and inhumanly oppressed." He then gives page after page of examples of Muslims treating Jews like garbage, stealing from them, the Ottoman authorities falsely accusing Jews and their Rabbinic leaders of petty crimes and torturing them and extorting obscene sums of money as fines. (See below)

James Finn, the British consul to Jerusalem from 1846-1863, says that Jerusalem Jews were forced to bury their dead at night: - "the usual practice is to pay the gate-keeper to let them out of the town in the middle of the night, and this from fear of having the dead disinterred by Moslems or Christians."

There were pogroms against Jews in 1834 in Hebron and Safed, in 1837 in Safed again, and in 1847 a Jewish boy was accused of a blood libel in Jerusalem.

How can we reconcile the stories of Arab abuse of and attacks on Jews in Palestine with the academics who claim that Jews and Arabs lived so cooperatively?

It appears that before the 1840s, the Jews were indeed treated like dirt. Then things started changing. The reason is that the increasing number of European Jews could appeal to their own governments for protection, starting in that decade. Different European powers even competed for influence in the Ottoman Empire and protecting Jews gave them more power. Oddly, in 1848 the Russians told their Jewish subjects that they would no longer be protected, and the British consul stepped in to be their protector. This protection made it much harder for Jews to be routinely harassed by the Arabs - being backed by European powers suddenly gave the Jews powers they hadn't had beforehand.

Only after the Jews came under the protection of European states did the Arabs start to treat the Jews with more respect. The Ottoman leaders were no longer able to mistreat most of their Jewish subjects out of fear of creating an international incident.

It is an old story: Arabs respect power. When Jews were powerless, Arabs treated them like garbage. Only when they had some protection did the Arabs start to "live with them together in peace." Did the Arabs suddenly become philosemitic? Of course not. But they were practical: The Jews couldn't be attacked with impunity anymore.

And that is the story of Israel in a nutshell. When Israel acts weak, it invites Arab (now, Palestinian) derision and attacks. Acting strong is the only formula for peace. It isn't a peace based on love or friendship, but a peace based on respect. 

It is no different now than in was 200 years ago.

(Some information here comes from Arabs and Jews in Ottoman Palestine: Two Worlds Collide, by Alan Dowty.) 


Here are excerpts of the 1924 letter from W. B. Lewis with many examples of Arab oppression of Jews, most first-hand:

LETTER PROM THE REV. W. B. LEWIS. THE Rev. W. B. Lewis in a letter dated Aintoura, February 23d, 1824, gives the following statement of the present condition of the Jews at Jerusalem :—

 Jerusalem is truly miserable, groaning under the tyranny of the oppressor. Jews...are subject to daily insults, and are shamefully and inhumanly oppressed. Their firmans are disregarded, and they know not where to apply for relief or protection, for the power of the consul does not extend to Jerusalem, and the European ministers at Constantinople are at too great a distance to protect them ; but I will describe some of their grievances more particularly. 

Those Jews who endeavour to obtain a livelihood by the work of their hands, are frequently forced to give up their time, and to work for the ungrateful Turk without payment. Sometimes a mere trifle is thrown to the Jew, but in either case if he attempts to reason with the Turk, he is threatened with the bastinado, and I know not what. 

Rabbi Solomon P ** is an engraver of seals. In the open street he was accosted by a Turk, who produced a large stone, and told him to cut out a seal. Solomon replied it was not in his power, for he only knew how to engrave, not to cut and prepare the stone ; the Turk thereupon laid hold of him by his beard, drew his sword, kicked him, and cut and struck him unmercifully. The poor man cried, but there was no one to assist him. Turks in the street passed by unconcerned, and the wounded Jew afterwards sought redress in vain from the officers of justice. 

Rabbi M. Bolter (now dead) with three or four of the Sephardim Jews, was thrown into a dungeon under pretence of their having sold wine to a Turk ; for Jews and Christians are not allowed in Jerusalem to make wine for Turks, but only for their own private use. Although the charge could not be proved, instruments to bastinado and to torture him were produced, to force money out of him for the governor; the man in his fright, and not able to speak Arabic, made a sign with three fingers, meaning to signify, as he said afterwards, that he would give three hundred piastres to be released, but the governor interpreted the sign as a promise to give three burses (or fifteen hundred piastres,) and he demanded that sum accordingly from each of the other Jews in prison for the same pretended crime, and ordered the house of the foreign Jew to be rifled, and himself detained until the sum was paid. The man was not in possession of half the money, and when he had been in confinement for some time, and dragged about the streets among his brethren as a criminal with a chain round his neck, an order was sent to the chief of the Askenazim Jews to appear before the governor. The old Rabbi was ill in bed, but this was no excuse, he was compelled to rise, and was placed on the back of an ass, supported by two men; the governor told him that he should be considered responsible for the money due from the Jew in prison, and on the Rabbi's remonstrating, he told him that he should likewise be sent to prison. The young man who accompanied the Rabbi as interpreter, said, that it was contrary to the Turkish laws, thus to imprison the chief Rabbi, upon which the young man himself was ordered to prison, put in chains, and kept with his brother Jew in a dark, dirty dungeon, until the avarice of the governor was satisfied. 

The Jews at Jerusalem, (I speak even of European Jews) are liable to be stopped by the lowest of the country, who, if he pleases, may demand money of them as a right due to the mussulman ; and this extortion may be practised on the same poor Jew over and over again in the space of ten minutes.

The Jews are fond of frequenting the tombs of their forefathers, especially on particular days, to read their prayers of remembrance of the dead. Here advantage is taken of them again. They are rudely accosted and pilfered, and if resistance is made, they are beat almost to death, and this not by common highwaymen or Bedouin Arabs, but by men they may have been in the habit of seeing and talking with every day. 

The Jew is always known by the manner in which he wears his hair. In my visit to Hebron, I was accompanied by a Jew, the same now with me in Amtoum ; I had the utmost difficulty in protecting him on the road, as well as in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem ; the Turks would have forced from him the chaphar, though under the wing of an Englishman. This same young Rabbi on his way to me one morning in Jerusalem, was laid hold of by soldiers, who were going to yoke him with another Jew to one of the heavy cannons they were drawing out against Bethlehem. Had he not been fortunate enough to escape, 200 piastres which he was bringing to me for Hebrew Scriptures, would, in all probability, have been seized upon by the soldiers, as well as a gold watch which I had desired him to get repaired for me. 

Rabbi Israel, also a foreign Jew, and chief Rabbi of the Parushim in Safet, was setting out for that place from Jerusalem, when the animals he had hired for the journey, and which he had actually paid for, were taken sans are-monis., for the use of the Cadis of Mecca and Cairo, who were to proceed to Damascus in a few days. This is a common Turkish trick, and it may afford a good picture of despotism, united with fanaticism, and in full exercise. Horses, camels, mules, &re. are considered as made for the exclusive use of the haughty followers of Mahomed, as well as the inferior animals of the man kind, so that he may seize and use or torture them at his will. But to add to the unpleasantness of the trick in the present instance, the Turkish muleteer refused to return the money paid by the Rabbi for the journey, and in vain the Jew asked for justice, until having applied to me, I interfered and succeeded in obtaining for the Rabbi his money through Omar Effendi. 

I formed this man's acquaintance through the means of Achmet Bey of Damascus, who gave me a letter of introduction to him, and he (Omar Effendi) made high professions of friendship. He desired me to apply to him as often as I stood in need of his services, and I was punctual. in doing so as often as I wished to interfere in behalf of the European Jews. This shows very strongly the necessity of an European resident protector in Jerusalem, and I am more and more confirmed in the persuasion that the residence there or in Damascus, as headquarters, of a person entrusted with the authority of consul, and who could feel for the suffering Jews as well as Gentiles, would be productive of great advantage. 

The facts I have mentioned may be substantiated, if necessary, by documents from the Jews themselves ; and to shew more fully the nature of Jewish grievances in Jerusalem, I might accumulate many such instances of barbarity on the part of the Turks of all classes, towards this people. One instance more of -shameless barbarity must suffice, and I will state it fully although I may be tedious, as it took place very lately, and will serve to shew how the governors and rulers in this part of the world manage their business without law, judge, or jury, and without respect to age, country, learning, or religion. The name of Mendel is well known to the Committee through the journals of Mr. Wolf, he is chief Rabbi of the Askenasim Jews in Jerusalem, an European, and an inoffensive old man. He is considered the most learned of the Jews in Syria, and in his religion lie lives in the strictest sense a Pharisee; he has a zeal for God, we must bear him record, though not according to knowledge. He was in bed, when, at a late hour of the night, he was disturbed by a loud knocking outside his door; he returned no answer, supposing robbers had entered. In a few moments the door was burst open, and in rushed a large party of soldiers. They approached the Rabbi with drawn swords, and seized and teal-treated the poor old man. His wife screamed, and the other Jews in the house came up. Young Rabbi Isaac, who speaks Arabic, demanded the cause of their unexpected visit. It is because the street door was found open, replied the soldiers, and one of you must go down to the governor, who is below. The young man accompanied the soldiers to the passage, and the governor asked him why the door was left open. Isaac said that Rabbi Mendel's daughter was near her confinement, that according to the custom of the country at this particular time, they had received company, and he supposed one of the visitors had forgotten to close the outward door. This was a simple answer, and the governor affected to be satisfied, and the Rabbi concluded the affair was over, excepting that they might be expected to pay a few pares, (about one penny English money,) usually levied upon houses where the street door is found open at night. 

In the morning, however, they were surprised by the appearance of soldiers, who informed them that the governor desired to see both the old and young man at the palace : they went accordingly, and on the way were joined by two other Jews, Rabbi Nathan, a native of Austria, and Rabbi Jacob, of Prussia, but of English parentage or connexions, as I understood. These were likewise under an escort, and repairing to the for they were also charged with the crime of leaving the outdoor of their house open ; but Nathan and others assured me this accusation was unfounded. However, the four Jews were ushered into the presence of the governor, and of Omar Effendi, &c., and being accused of the crime in question, they attempted to make a defence; but no defence would be taken ; the governor said he heard the old Rabbi (Mendel) exclaim that be had a firman, and feared not the governor. It was answered that the Rabbi was unable to speak the Arabic. " Will you say then," replied the governor, " that I tell you an untruth?" The Jews were therefore obliged to be silent, and after a short time were told to go away. They thought to direct their steps homewards, but no, they were ordered to walk into another room, and were decoyed under various pretences from one chamber to another, until they found themselves at one of the dungeons. Here they were shut up in darkness, and told they must pay the governor ten burses, and that unless this money was forthcoming, hot irons would be applied to their heads the following day, and sharp nails driven through the palms of their hands, &c., modes of torture, amongst others, used, as I am told, in Jerusalem to extort money from these unhappy people.

The Jews without, soon heard the sentence which had been passed on their afflicted brethren in confinement; they lost no time therefore in doing every thing possible to hasten their deliverance, and though they succeeded with the governor in bargaining to pay four and a half burses instead of ten, still these poor people were obliged to strip even poverty itself to raise the sum required, and were even obliged to pledge their clothes. 

This affair may give the Committee an idea of the indigent and oppressed state of the European Jews residing in Jerusalem. For the pretended offence of two doors having been left open at night, a sum little short of £60 sterling was wrung from a few miserable people, whose existence is supported by pittances sent to them chiefly by their brethren in foreign parts: and this is not a story made up by the Jews.

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