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Emet m'Tsiyon

Sunday, July 31, 2005

An AMERICAN Among JEWS in HEBRON, 1836 - Part 8

This is the eighth and last instalment of passages from John Lloyd Stephens' book on his travels in the Levant in 1836, in which he gives an account of his stay in Hebron with Jews in their ghetto in David's first capital.

"I had nothing now to detain me in Hebron; my mules and a kervash provided by the governor were waiting for me, and I bade farewell to my Jewish friends. I could not offer the old rabbi with money for his hospitality, and would have satisfied my conscience by a compliment to the servants; but the son of the good old man, himself more than sixty, told Paul that they would all feel hurt if I urged it. I did not urge it; and the thought passed rapidly through my mind that while yesterday the children of the desert [the Arabs] would have stripped me of my last farthing, today a Jew would not take from me a para [small Ottoman silver coin]. I passed through the dark and narrow lanes of the Jewish Quarter, the inhabitants being all arranged before their houses; and all along, even from the lips of maidens, a farewell salutation fell upon my ears. They did not know what I had done or what I proposed to do; but they knew that I intended a kindness to a father of their tribe, and they thanked me as if that kindness were already done. With the last of their kind greetings still lingering on my ears, I emerged from the Jewish Quarter, and it was with a warm feeling of thankfulness I felt, that if yesterday I had an Arab's curse, today I had a Jewish blessing."

Notes: When Stephens writes of "a kindness to a father of their tribe," he is referring to bringing a letter from the rabbi, originally from Venice and a Venetian subject, to the Venetian consul in Beirut. The letter requested a new passport since his previous one had been lost.

One of the points made throughout the eight parts of Stephens' account is that conditions improved for the Jews of Hebron during the period of rule of Muhammud Ali of Egypt. However, many things were still very wrong. The oppression was alleviated. It did not go away. Indeed, Muhammud Ali's government persecuted the Jews of Damascus (the Damascus Affair) in 1840 on the false charge of murdering a priest to use his blood for baking matsoh. In this persecution, the pasha governing Damascus was encouraged by European consuls in the city, French, British and Austrian. Eventually, the Austrian consul, an Italian, came around to helping the Jews, whereas the French consul took direct part in torturing the Damascene Jews. In Hebron, conditions for Jews improved again later in the 19th century as the Ottoman Empire was under pressure of the European powers to liberalize the conditions of non-Muslims [dhimmis]. Yet, it was precisely under a European power, Britain, that the Arabs massacred Jews in Hebron in extremely cruel fashion, with tacit British encouragement, in 1929. And the British saw to it that the Jewish population was removed from Hebron. Apparently, the British did not want Jews too close to the Jewish holy place there, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

It is no secret that our age is a time of immense lies, of huge rewriting of history, that is, of falsification. In particular, there is a political interest in lying about Jewish-Arab relations, and about Jewish-Arab relations in the Land of Israel especially, as well as about Jewish history in Israel before Zionism. We hope that John Lloyd Stephens' account can enlighten some benighted minds.

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