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Emet m'Tsiyon

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pierre Loti on Hebron circa 1895

Pierre Loti, the famous French writer, came to Israel near the end of the 19th century. We have already quoted and translated part of his description of Jerusalem here and here. He also visited Hebron, one of the four holy cities of the Jews according to Jewish tradition. A sizable Jewish population lived there [sizable in proportion to the town's total population] until 1929, when Arabs made a pogrom and massacre against the Jews there. This pogrom was conducted with British acquiescence, if not British approval and encouragement, even instigation.

Here we quote from a published translation into English of Loti's book:
. . . Hebron is still without hotels; it remains indeed one of the most fanatical Mussulman towns of Palestine and will scarcely consent to lodge a Christian under its roofs [Pierre Loti, Jerusalem (trans. W P Baines; London: T. Werner Laurie, n.d.), p10]
Arabs and Jews move in a crowd about the streets . . . Hebron is one of those towns that are not marred by a building of modern or foreign appearance.[p 12]
In regard to the Cave of Machpelah [Makhpelah] or Tomb of the Patriarchs, he writes:
. . . To Christians and Jews the mosque itself [Muslims call the tomb Masjid Ibrahimi = Mosque of Abraham] is proscribed [= forbidden]; influence, stratagem, gold, are powerless to gain them admittance to it -- and when, some twenty years ago, it was opened for the Prince of Wales on a formal order from the Sultan, the population of Hebron was on the point of armed revolt [p 14]
Almost on a level with the ground, there is a fissure through which Christians and Jews are allowed to pass their heads so that, crawling, they may kiss the holy stones. And this evening some poor Israelite pilgrims are there, prostrate, stretching out their necks like foxes running to earth, in an effort to touch with their lips the tomb of their ancestor; while Arab children, charming and mocking, who are allowed within the enclosure, watch them with a smile of high disdain.
This place is one of the most ancient venerated by mankind and there has never been a time when men have ceased to come and pray here. [p15]
And this surely is a thing unique in the annals of the dead: the sepulchre, originally so single, which reunited them all [= the Patriarchs and Matriarchs], has never ceased to be venerated -- while the most sumptuous tombs of Egypt and Greece have long since been profaned and empty. [p16]
Loti recognizes that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is a Jewish tomb taken over by Muslims, by Arabs. The tomb in its present form was built by King Herod in the late Second Temple period, although there are some Crusader and Muslim additions that mar the structure's simple beauty. The attribution to Herod is because he was a great builder of monumental buildings, including the Temple destroyed by the Romans and their auxiliary troops, including Arabs [see here]. Certain similarities of construction with the remnants of Herod's Second Temple are also evident. Jews were allowed by Muslim rulers to enter the Tomb and pray inside until Baybars the Mamluk forbid Jewish entry --as Loti describes-- in the year 1263, approx. After the Six Day War, Jews were again allowed to enter and pray in the Tomb, after the passage of slightly more than 700 years!!
The pogrom/massacre of 1929 has been described in many publications in Hebrew and other languages. Those who want a non-Jewish perspective could consult the reports of the famous journalists [at that time], Pierre van Paassen and Albert Londres. For Van Paassen, see Forgotten Ally, Days of Our Years, and other works. For Londres, see --in French-- Le Juif errant est arrive'. Note that the Arab-Muslim children show disdain towards the humiliated Jews, no doubt this is what they were taught. Jews and other non-Muslims in Muslim states [Dar al-Islam] were kept in a state of humiliation according to Islamic law [for instance, see Qur'an 9:29 (verse numbers vary in some editions)] and called dhimmis [See previous posts on this blog on dhimmis].

- - - - - -
Coming: more on peace and its follies, carter/baker and their follies, Jews in Jerusalem, etc.


  • Eliyahu shalom,
    Thank you for this post. Where is there a translated version of Loti's book? Would be very interested to be in contact with you.
    B'vracha from Hebron,
    David Wilder

    By Blogger David Wilder, at 8:22 PM  

  • David, Shalom,
    I found this book some years ago in the open stacks in the Judaica section of the National Library on Giv`at Ram in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, forgot to copy down the year of publication. I believe that the French original came out in 1896, so the English version probably came out later. Look under Pierre Loti. You could also check the online catalogue of the HU university library.
    Best Wishes, Shabbat Shalom

    By Blogger Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, at 11:00 PM  

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