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Emet m'Tsiyon

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


The town of Jenin in northern Samaria was much in the news [or novae fabulae] a few years ago. Five hundred years ago, Francesco Suriano, a monk living in Jerusalem, had some savory encounters with the gentle folk of Jenin. By the way, the original Hebrew name of Eyn Ganim (עין גנים) was corrupted when pronounced by the Arab invaders.

Suriano's account of how Jews were treated in David's capital in his time [circa 1500] appeared in a previous post. The Jews were at the bottom of the social ladder. Another post described how the Arabs treated the monks when the Christian powers had limited influence in the Holy Land. This entry will display Suriano's rousing meetings with the gentle Jenin folk.

Fr Bellarmino Bagatti writes in his preface to Suriano's book, that:
"on his return [when Suriano came back from Damascus to Jerusalem] he had trouble in Jenin which sought revenge on the Friars for having diverted the pilgrim traffic from Galilee to Judea following difficulties on the former route on which taxes were high and robbers frequent. Once a Guardian [custos], Fr Giovanni Tomacelli, of a noble Neapolitan family . . . [custos from] 1478-1481, was cruelly beaten, imprisoned, and fined [in Jenin]. This brought intervention from the Mamluk army, which severely chastised the village" [of Jenin]. [p 8]
Note that the folk of Jenin were interested in the income that they received from the passage of Christian pilgrims through their neighborhood. Because Suriano had stopped that revenue, apparently because they were taking too much, they were angered at him and sought to punish him. This means that they did not recognize his right or freedom to decide even which route the pilgrims under his charge should take to get to Jerusalem.

The Mamluk state imposed a travel tax [gafir] in Israel, which was higher for non-Muslims [dhimmis] than for Muslims. Abraham David reports:
"Another tax was the highway duty, the gafir, collected at special customs stations along the main roads. . . Whereas a small sum was collected from Muslims, a much larger one was levied on Christians and Jews."[p 207]
Local officials, strong men, or bandits might impose their own "taxes." Fr Tomacelli was imprisoned by inhabitants of Jenin apparently before Suriano's first trip to the East [1481-84], in any event, years before Suriano was permanently assigned to the Franciscans' Jerusalem establishment. The Mamluk state may have been subject to some pressure for Tomacelli's release from the Kingdom of Naples and other Western powers. Or maybe the Mamluks did not want non-official locals to cut into the pie, to steal the golden eggs laid by the Christian pilgrims. For whatever reason, the Mamluk army "chastised" the village. We can only imagine what "chastised" meant in practice. For more on this era in Israel, see Abraham David,"The Mamluk period" in A. Shinan, Israel -- People, Land, State (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi 2005).

Suriano himself was imprisoned in Egypt by the Mamluks after their defeat by the Portuguese and the Knights of Rhodes (1510). Suriano and his fellow monks from Jerusalem spent two years in jail. They were only released through Venetian diplomacy (the Venetians were sometime allies, sometime rivals of the Knights of Rhodes, later known as the Knights of Malta).

In the Cairo jail, Bagatti writes:
"The Guardian [custos] Fr. Bernardino del Vechio of Siena was barbarously treated and the other Friars did not fare much better. One can only imagine what Oriental prisons were like at that time and the extent of hatred and fanaticism of the jailers." [p 8].
Here we note that the monks were incarcerated because of what their co-religionists, the Portuguese and Knights of Rhodes, had done, although they did not make policy for Portugal or the Knights, nor were they their agents. Further, according to Bagatti, the monks were punished as revenge for a defeat. In other words, the Mamluks did not recognize a defeat as an unfortunate political-military event but as an injustice to be avenged.

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Coming soon: Santine on the Jerusalem population before 1860


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