This chapter is replete with excerpts from historical observations of the life of the Jews in Palestine in the middle ages through to the rule of the Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1918.
These excerpts demonstrate that Jews have always maintained a presence on the land that is now the State of Israel, but their lives were subject to the hardships of discrimination, injustice, and sporadic violence against them due to their status as Dhimmi*. Although Christians were in a similar position in the land that was then known as Palestine, at times in history they enjoyed greater protections than Jews by virtue of their diplomatic ties to Christian nations. Most powerful are the similarities underscored in this chapter between the plight of the Jews in Palestine and the status of African Americans in the southern United States prior to the civil rights movement. The chapter is meant to refute the claim that was made by Yasser Arafat, and before and after him by others, that violence “only began against Jews with the 1948 rebirth of Israel”.–Anonymous
* From the Arabic meaning blameworthy, to blame; rebuke, censure. It’s a special status accorded People of the Book (in the main Jews and Christians), ironically translated as a free non-Muslim subject living in a Muslim country. Dhimmis were forced to pay an often-exhorbitant poll tax with a slap in the face as the receipt. Their very lives and fortunes were dependent upon the Muslim ruler’s whim—Editor
Ms. Peters introduced this chapter, as many others, with contemperaneous quotations to succintly capture its essence.
The first is by a J.R. Chancellor, British High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief in Palestine (1929):
I have learned with horror of the atrocious acts committed by bodies of ruthless and blood-thirsty evil-doers, of murders perpetrated upon defenseless members of the Jewish populations, regardless of age or sex…acts of unspeakable savagery…
The second is by the Grand Mufti Haj al Amin alHusseini (1937):
[The Jews] always did live previously in Arab countries with complete freedom and liberty, as natives of the country. In fact, Moslem rule has always been known for its tolerance…according to history Jews had a most quiet and peaceful residence under Arab rule.
Husseini’s quote is an example of turnspeak, cynical inverting or twisting of the truth. It has been used to cast the actual victims of the Arabs for millenia, the Jews, as the oppressors, and Muslims the victims.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Jews were recorded in nearly every town in Palestine that is today (1984) considered to have been “purely Arab”. As far back as 1491, one finds the following quote from a Bohemian pilgrim about Jerusalem: “There are not many Christians, but there are many Jews, and these the Moslems persecute in various ways”.
Despite the terrible conditions Jews still immigrated to the Holy Land. Two Christian pilgrims (1479) outlined the circuitous route Jewish immigrants had to travel there from Germany—if they were lucky enough to have arrived at all. Extrapolating from the stated route and the time to complete various stages, it would have taken almost three months to reach Jerusalem.
When the Turks conquered the land in 1516, “Not only were governors at all times vexatious in their demands, but the Muslims were often hostile to their Jewish neighbours”. (reference 20) In the sixteenth century, particularly in Jerusalem and Safed, the Jews were persecuted with zeal, as suggested by this quotation, “The community gradually withered; of seven hundred Jewish widows in Jerusalem, six hundred died of hunger”. In the sixteenth century, Safed “contained as many as 15,000 Jews”, who spoke Arabic as well as Hebrew, and who were “exposed to the raids of marauding tribesmen.” The population generally declined .
From the early seventeenth century comes this quote, “Life here is the poorest and most miserable that one can imagine.” The Jews, “pay for the very air they breathe” (reference 29). In 1660, the Jewish community of Safed was massacred. In 1775, the anti-Jewish blood libel was spread throughout the holy Jewish city of Hebron, inciting mob violence.
The nineteenth century ushered in an even lower ebb to the perilous existence of Jews in Palestine. They continued to suffer the same discriminatory practices as other non-Muslim “infidels”, which, “in many places throughout Syria and Palestine meant oppression, extortion and violence by both the local authorities and the Muslim population”.
In 1834, the Jews of Hebron were massacred. Life for Jews was intolerable, as described in 1839 by British Consul Young, “Like the miserable dog without an owner, he is kicked by one because he crosses his path and cuffed by another because he cries out. To seek redress he is often afraid, lest it bring worse upon him”.
A Jewish visitor who made a pilgrimage to Palestine in 1847 reported, “They do not have any protections and are at the mercy of policemen and the pashas who treat them as they wish…Their lives are precarious and subject to daily danger of death”.
From 1848-1878, scores of incidents involving anti-Jewish violence, persecutions and extortions filled page after page of documented reports from the British consulate in Jerusalem. As an example, an entry from October 1853 reads, “The Jews in their Quarter of the city have had to suffer many insults of late from town’s people of which I hear only some time after their occurrence, as the subjects of the violence are afraid to acquaint me with the circumstances, lest they should draw upon themselves greater injuries by way of revenge after the Consul has obtained revenge after the Consul has obtained redress”.
The chapter ends with a remark made by a Muslim in Hebron, when he was confronted with the theft and vandalism of Jews in 1858, that “his right derived from time immemorial in his family, to enter Jewish houses, and take toll or contributions at any time without giving account”. At the time this book was written, Ms. Peters considered this prevailing attitude to be the most powerful factor in the Middle East conflict. In her opinion, most galling to the effendi (Turkish—from the Greek—term for elite or ruling class) leadership was the Jew who would settle the land, no longer cowering to survive, as in Arab lands–but a person who commanded equal treatment. This is the basis of the assertion that “Arab nationalism is inextricably interwoven with antagonism to the Jews”, and Ms. Peters’ contention that the myth of “harmony among Jews and Arabs” within a Muslim, Arabic-speaking Palestime had been invented as a means to an unequal end.