Thursday, March 19, 2015

Palestine Massacre: The forgotten pogrom: Safed 1834

Modern historical myths propagated by Palestinian Arabs tell us that that Jews and Arabs lived in peace and harmony in the land until the Zionists arrived. This was not so. The tiny Jewish communities in Safed, Tiberias and Jerusalem were subject to routine prejudice and persecution. These were punctuated by pogroms or "events." Such "events" (Meora'ot in Hebrew) were regarded more or less as natural occurrences like earthquakes, and were used to mark time: "It happened on Purim, three years after the me'oraot was not uncommon. This is the story of a pogrom or massacre that took place in Safed in 1834. It is sometimes erroneously portrayed as just the work of bandits, but it is not so.

The motivation, along with greed, was clearly anti-Semitic. From a contemporary traveler, we learn that:
...the Jews of the place, who were exceedingly wealthy, had lived peaceably in their retirement until the insurrection which took place in 1834, but about the beginning of that year a highly religious Mussulman called Mohammed Damoor went forth into the market-place, crying with a loud voice, and prophesying that on the fifteenth of the following June the true Believers would rise up in just wrath against the Jews, and despoil them of their gold and their silver and their jewels...When that day dawned the whole Mussulman population of the place assembled in the streets that they might see the result of the prophecy. Suddenly Mohammed Damoor rushed furious into the crowd, and the fierce shout of the prophet soon ensured the fulfilment of his prophecy. Some of the Jews fled and some remained, but they who fled and they who remained, alike, and unresistingly, left their property to the hands of the spoilers. The most odious of all outrages, that of searching the women for the base purpose of discovering such things as gold and silver concealed about their persons, was perpetrated without shame. The poor Jews were so stricken with terror, that they submitted to their fate even where resistance would have been easy...When the insurrection was put down some of the Mussulmans (most probably those who had got no spoil wherewith they might buy immunity) were punished, but the greater part of them escaped. None of the booty was restored, and the pecuniary redress which the Pasha had undertaken to enforce for them had been hitherto so carefully delayed, that the hope of ever obtaining it had grown very faint.
... The tale of Tsfat was repeated many times before and after, on a greater or larger scale. The cries of "Israeli apartheid" and "Zionist Racism" heard so often today are rather ironic against this background.

This account by Dvar Dea tells the story. 

Ami Isseroff 

(also at Fresno Zionism)
How many people know that there was a pogrom against the Jews of Safed, (Tzfat in Hebrew) in 1834?

How many know that it was far worse then the famous massacre of the Jews of Hebron in 1929? It lasted for 33 horrific days.

I suspect few people know the first fact, and even fewer if any know the second. I only discovered it after some research.

This pogrom is known in Jewish history as ‘The great plunder of Safed’ and it lasted from the 15 of June 1834 to the 17 of July of that year. This pogrom had been forgotten because this whole era of pre – Zionist Palestine, (or the Land of Israel prior to the emergence of the Zionist movement) has been cast aside by more powerful events that happened later, namely the beginning of the Zionist enterprise.

Now it is been rediscovered; mostly by people from the Israeli right, because for them anything that puts the Arabs and Moslems in a bad light is welcomed. But their motives don’t mean that this event should be forgotten again.

It needs to be remembered, first because it happened, second because it has direct relevance to the current situation between Israel and the Palestinians, especially after the recent bombing in Eilat. Slightly more then 172 years after this pogrom, the forces of hate and bigotry still run high in Palestinian society. Except for one important change, the added factor of denial, of playing the sole victim in this conflict and putting all the blame on the Israeli side.

It is a mix where the suicide is the obsession with victimhood as the butcher portrays himself as the victim, while the deliberate murder of civilians is a continuous line from the past, from a time when words like ‘Zionism’ and ‘the state of Israel’ were unheard of and unknown. The killing of unarmed Jews existed and was practiced in many parts of the Muslim world including what is known now as Palestine/Israel. While it is true that there were times and places in the Muslim world where Jews were treated well, the 18th and 19th centuries were not that era. And one of the places where such good treatment was especially rare was Palestine. Another such place that made it to the news recently was Yemen.

When faced with Zionist resilience, this brutality morphed but never ceased. From old fashioned pogroms in the 1920’s it turned into gang violence in the 30’s. In 1947 it was apart of a massive ethnic cleansing attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish population, but with devastating results to the Palestinian population, and that despite the armed support of neighboring Arab states. In the 50’s and 60’s there were the fidayeen raids against Israeli citizens and property, and in the 70’s and 80’s it was the terrorism of planting bombs in public places, attacking Israelis and Jews abroad, and taking civilians as hostages. The 90’s added a new twist, the suicide bombing, now so strongly associated with this conflict. But all these had the same dominant feature that has not changed since the 19 century, and even from earlier times: the deliberate attacks on unarmed civilians.

This forgotten pogrom was a regular pogrom, a dreadful yet familiar experience to Jews in both the Islamic world and in Christian Europe. Like all pogroms it was an act of senseless brutality, where the victims were totally helpless. It had no political agenda or motive behind it. There was no ‘Zionist entity’ whose existence served as an excuse to murder civilians. It was unleashed out of pure greed and anti-Semitism.

The Palestinian Arabs of the Eastern Galilee took advantage of a regional crisis, the war between Egypt and Turkey, to attack their Jewish neighbors and strip them of everything they had: clothes, properties, houses, and the like. In the process people were beaten in the streets, many times to death, synagogues destroyed and holy books desecrated. An entire community of 2,000 souls (Kinglake says 4,000) was forced into hiding for 33 days, in caves, ruins, inhospitable mountaintops, and basements. In that mayhem there were good Arabs who saved lives, like the people of the village of Ein Zeitim and a few individuals, Muslims and Christians from the city itself, but there were also the double crossers who promised to help for a large sum of money, only to hand over the Jews to the rioting mob outside the hideout. For 33 days the lives of the Jews of Safed had practically no value, and anyone of them who showed his or her face in public was at risk of been beaten to death, sometimes by people they knew as neighbors or business associates.

As with all cases of mass racial violence, there were inciters and a government unwilling to do anything about them. In this case, an inciter, a self-proclaimed prophet by the name of Muhammed Damoor who, according to the English traveler Alexander William Kinglake, ‘prophesied’ the plunder for which he agitated.

Like all other pogroms, it demonstrates the helplessness of the Jewish condition prior to the formation of the state of Israel. Without it, Jews could not defend themselves, and cound not demand treatment as equals, thus the life of a Jew had no actual value. It may have been inevitable that the first Zionist settlers were not immigrants but natives of the land. People like Yoel Moshe Salomon from Jerusalem and Elazar Rokach of Safed and their followers, who saw the answer to their people’s plight outside their walled cities and founded Petah Tikvah and Rosh – Pinah in 1878, beginning what is known as practical Zionism.

This forgotten tragedy is an historical fact that proves three points cardinal to the understanding of the conflict: That the Palestinian claim that there were good relations between Jews and Arabs before the first Zionist settlers arrived, is unfounded and false; that the notion that Israel mistreatment of the Palestinians is the sole cause of the brutal Palestinian violence against unarmed civilians, is severely limited at best, and that the other part of the explanation, the forgotten one, is that long existing forces of hate and bigotry in Palestinian society also play a major role. Thirdly and most importantly, like all pogroms, it demonstrates painfully why the Jewish state of Israel is so important to so many Jews. Its existence is a matter of life over death to us, literally. To us it is an act of justice so fundamental that only a few Jews will give it up, a few self proclaimed cool Jews, cool as in capitulate – Obey – Obey – limitlessly and to the most brutal butcher of Jews around.

But it also has a fourth function, it points to the direction of the solution. Whether racism is the cause of the conflict or an aggravating factor, the solution is in getting away from it as far as possible. When Yoel Salomon founded Petah-Tikvah, ‘Opening of Hope’, and Elazar Rokach founded Rosh-Pinah, ‘cornerstone,’ they didn’t just adhere to a piece of land and dignity, but to life, the ability to demand it; to hold on to it; and to grow it – into what is the state of Israel and the Israeli experience. And peace is life, broad and all-encompassing life. Following the path of some elements in the Israeli right and creating our own Muhammed Damoors will not guarantee our survival; it will only aggravate the conflict beyond our ability to hold on. That, in turn, will only guarantee that both sides will lose devastatingly. See what endless wars did to Somalia, east Congo, and until not long ago, Lebanon. But holding on to life, by protecting it and respecting and protecting the others' right to it, is the only way to go.

Israel and the democratic way are the victory and fruits of the constant investment in life. But life cannot be invested in without respecting it as a high moral value, and respect cannot be partial. To continue the success of Israel, the lives of our enemies must equally be respected, no matter how murderers their path is. This is not lofty idealism; it is historically proven moral realism. Yes, realism can be moral, and morality can be realistic. Painful compromises between the two are often needed, especially when survival is at stake. But dumping one for the sake of the other is manipulative and deceptive. Is it moralistic to take the anti-Zionist path and submit to the racist ultra- nationalism of the other side and its proven murderous capabilities? Is it realistic to accept the gangster politics of the Israeli far right, so infuriatingly demonstrated in their 3% of Hebron?

No! - gangster’s politics is the Gaza Strip today – why would we become that? And submitting to murderers is becoming an accessory to murder. The fact that we are also the target of that murder doesn’t make it moral. Any step we take must be carefully constructed and thoughtfully conducted, and always, always within the framework of morality and reality - it has worked so far remarkably well. It is also the only true act of justice we can do to the victims of the Plunder and of other pogroms in our history, to hold on to life, not timidly in inhospitable hideouts, but openly and powerfully in everyday activities as Israelis.

There are only two accounts in English of The Plunder available on the internet: The Kinglake account, and my own translation of the Eliezer Rivlin article about The Plunder in Haaretz of 1934, which was based on Jewish sources from the time of the plunder. This translation was finished with the help of Ami Isseroff and Joseph Hocshtein and I thank them for that.

The Kinglake account:Kinglake on the Safed Massacre
The Rivlin article: The Safed Massacre

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