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EPISODE 2 - OTTOMAN TURKISH RULE OVER PALESTINE

There was a continuous Jewish community living in Hebron from the time of the Babylon exile in the 6th century BC until the British expelled them in 1929.  Other Jewish communities thrived for many centuries in places like Tiberias and Safed in the Galilee.  From the 4th century onwards the land that had been renamed as Palestine by the Romans was under the domination of the Byzantine Empire, when the Cardo here was built.  This was the main thoroughfare through Byzantine Jerusalem.  Jews throughout the empire were regarded as second-class citizens, including in Palestine, which was part of the province of Syria.  

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The fleet of the Romans setting ablaze the fleet of the enemies - from the Madrid Skylitzes illuminated manuscript

" There is no real Arab connection until the 7th century, maybe a little bit before that with the Nabateans, but basically what happens is in the 7th century – starting a couple of years after the death of Mohammed in 632 (AD), the Arab armies come in and they conquer the whole of Syria.  They go on to conquer the rest of the known world at the time."  Dr Denis MacEoin.

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The Madaba Map depiction of sixth-century Jerusalem

 

The invading Arabs brought with them a new religion – Islam – and the Byzantine Empire started to go into decline.  By the Middle Ages a Jewish community had been firmly re-established in Jerusalem.  Historical records show that there were massacres of both Jews and Muslims during the Crusades. From the early 16th century Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Turkish Empire.  It was the Ottoman Sultan, who was known as Suleiman the Magnificent, who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem as we see them today.

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Slave market in Constantinople

At its zenith, the Islamic Ottoman Empire dominated the whole of south-eastern Europe as well as much of North Africa and the Middle East.  However, by the mid-19th century the Ottoman Empire was well in decline and had become dependent on trade with European powers such as France, Germany and Great Britain, and also Russia, for its economic survival.  With this economic dependence came increasing influence by the European powers, especially when it came to the treatment of non-Turkish/non-Muslim minorities within the Ottoman Empire. 

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Ottomon Jews

"Britain, in 1839, began to establish a diplomatic relationship with the Turks, and this was part of a process of reforms in the 1800s called the tanzimat.  [It’s] very important to understand this, because the tanzimat gave to the European powers certain conditions.  It was already there from the capitulations. But now the European powers were saying ‘we want more autonomy for minority groups’.  Now under Islam the minority groups were known as the dhimmie subjects, whether they were Christians of various denominations, Jewish people, Armenians for instance, under Islam – and the Jewish people [were] at the bottom of the ladder. " Kelvin Crombie, Historian and author 

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Jewish pioneers

 

"Remember, the Ottomans were an empire – an empire built from many peoples.  Many people – different everywhere.  If they give any kind of autonomy, independence to one people then the others will come in and demand it. To say the Ottomans were not treating the Jews very well, they didn’t treat anybody very well, as a matter of fact. " Professor Haim Goren, Emeritus Professor of History, Tel Chai College

Jews in Ottoman Palestine

 

Great Britain was the first western nation to establish a Consulate in Jerusalem. The reason given for their presence here was for the protection of the Jewish people which, by the 1840s, was the largest single ethnic group in Jerusalem.

"Lands here were centred – in late 19th century – in the hands of big effendis. Almost all the villages there were neglected. They were almost uninhabited villages. And if they were inhabited they were around the valleys and not in the valley itself, and very small and very neglected villages. Now, if we talk about the whole population in Eretz Israel: the estimation in 1800 is 200,000; 1830, a quarter of a million; 1905, half a million; during World War I, 600,000, perhaps 650,000; 1922, the first Mandate census; 673,000. These are the numbers, not more than that." Professor Haim Goren of Tel Chai University.

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Jews praying at the Kotel in Ottoman Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem up to the mid-19th century was contained entirely within the city walls. There was no ‘West Jerusalem’ or ‘East Jerusalem’ in those days. There had been a resident Jewish community continually here since the Middle Ages at least, and by the 1860s the historic records show the overall majority of the population of Jerusalem was Jewish. The eye-witness accounts of people who travelled to the Holy Land in the 19th century, describe a land that was desolate and sparsely populated. The surveys undertaken by the Palestine Exploration Fund in the 1870s confirm that. There is absolutely no historic record of an Arab people who called themselves ‘the Palestinians’, let alone a Palestinian Arab entity whose capital city was Jerusalem. Palestine then was not a nation or even a state – it was an area of the Ottoman Empire ruled from Constantinople, also known as the Province of Southern Syria.

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Palestine's sparse population, outside Jerusalem

 

It is true, that the majority of western Palestine’s sparse population was ethnically Arab, many of whose ancestors originally came here with the Islamic occupation that began in the 7th century AD. But the historic fact is that the territory known as ‘Palestine’ has never – since the name ‘Palestine’ was first applied by the Romans – been an Arab nation, or designated to be an Arab nation. In other words, historically an Arab nation known as ‘Palestine’ never existed.

The eye-witness accounts of people who travelled to the Holy Land in the 19th century, describe a land that was desolate and sparsely populated. The surveys undertaken by the Palestine Exploration Fund in the 1870s confirm that. There is absolutely no historic record of an Arab people who called themselves ‘the Palestinians’, let alone a Palestinian Arab entity whose capital city was Jerusalem. Palestine then was not a nation or even a state – it was an area of the Ottoman Empire ruled from Constantinople, also known as the Province of Southern Syria.

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Map of Palestine 1870

"At the beginning of the 1870s it was decided that a proper map of Palestine of that time, or the Holy Land, needed to be made. The end result of this project, which lasted from 1871 all the way through to 1878 was that you had this map of the entire country, one inch to the scale. You also had a set of memoirs listing all of the archaeological sites which were visited, and with the discoveries that were made there. They really provided us with a very detailed picture of the demography of the land – who lived there, and what were the differences of those inhabitants within given villages and towns – Christians, Moslems and Jews." Dr Shimon Gibson, Visiting Professor of History and Archaeology, University of North Carolina

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