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Emet m'Tsiyon

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Prince of Wales Visits Hebron, 1862

In the aftermath of the Crimean War [1854] in which Britain and France had defended the Ottoman Empire against the Russian Empire, the British and French felt that the Ottoman state owed them favors. They wanted favors particularly in Jerusalem, perhaps because the ostensible reasons for the war had focussed on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher here. France received as a favor the ruins of St Anne's Church dating from the Crusades. This church is located inside the Lions' Gate on a street continuing into or becoming what Christians began to believe in the Crusader period was Jesus' Via Dolorosa. The St Anne's site also happens to sit on top of the remains of the Jewish Beyt Hisda [Bethesda] Pool dating from Second Temple Times. Bathing in the pool was believed to have healing powers and that's probably why the United States armed forces named a hospital outside Washington, DC, Bethesda.

Of course, the French received other favors as well, as did the British. The Prince of Wales, the British crown prince, was allowed to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs [Cave of Machpelah] in Hebron in 1862. Later on, other titled dignitaries were allowed to visit, although the Tomb was ordinarily banned to non-Muslims. The Mamluk sultan Baybars had established the ban on non-Muslims going into the Tomb circa 1263. Obviously, it had long been a favorite place of Jewish pilgrimage but Christians too visited the Tomb before Baybars' decree.
The entrance [to the Cave of Machpelah] is by a staircase, to which access is forbidden to Christians [and to Jews too of course], though we succeeded in running up and peeping in at dawn, without being detected. But this is a rash and rather dangerous experiment. It is only within the last few years that two or three royal and princely parties have been permitted to enter [Charles Wilson, ed., Picturesque Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt (London, 1882) vol 3, p 186; Also quoted in Bat Ye'or, The Dhimmi (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press 1985) pp 227-228]
The entrance to the mosque is most jealously forbidden by the Muhammedans to any but their fellow-worshippers; by special firman [decree] of the Sultan, an exception was made in favor of the Prince of Wales in 1862, the Marquis of Bute in 1866, the Crown Prince of Prussia in 1869, and the sons of the Prince of Wales in the present year, 1882.
Of these occasions the most noteworthy was the visit of the Prince of Wales, His Royal Highness was accompanied by the late Dean [of Westminster Cathedral, Arthur Penrhyn] Stanley, who thus describes the event: -- Before our arrival at Hebron, the Governor of Jerusalem, Suraya Pasha, had made every preparation to ensure the safety of the experiment. Accordingly, as the protracted file wound through the narrow valley by which the town of Hebron is approached, the whole road on either side, for more than a mile, was lined with soldiers. The native population, which usually on the Prince's approach to a town streamed out to meet him, was invisible, it may be from compulsion, it may be from silent indignation. . . We started on foot, two and two, between two files of soldiers, by the ancient pool of Hebron, up the narrow streets of the modern town, still lined with soldiers. Hardly a face was visible as we passed through: only here and there a solitary guard, stationed at a vacant window, or on the flat roof of a projecting house, evidently to guarantee the safety of the party from any chance missile. It was, in fact, a complete military occupation of the town. At length, we reached the south-eastern corner of the massive wall of enclosure, the point at which enquiring travellers, from generation to generation, have been checked in their approach to this, the most ancient and the most authentic of all the Holy Places in the Holy Land [vol 3, pp197-198]
This passage shows that the Ottoman authorities wanted to take no chances with the tolerance of their fanatical subjects for an important foreign dignitary, a non-Muslim most significantly. An earlier attempt to allow an important foreigner, another non-Muslim, less important than the Prince of Wales, had ended disastrously, as we relate below. Now, we continue with the British royal visit.
The shrine of Abraham, after a momentary hesitation was thrown open. The guardians groaned aloud. But their chief turned to us with the remark, "The Prince of any other nation should have passed over my dead body sooner than enter. But to the eldest son of the Queen of England we are willing to accord even this privilege." He stepped in before us, and offered an ejaculatory prayer to the dead patriarch: "O Friend of God [= Abraham], forgive this intrusion," We then entered. . . It was impossible not to feel a thrill of unusual emotion at standing on such a spot -- an emotion enhanced by the rare occasion which had opened the gates of that consecrated place, as the guardian of the mosque kept repeating to us as we stood around the tomb, "to no one less than the representative of England." [vol 3, p 199].
To be sure, the British Jewish philanthropist and proto-Zionist, Sir Moses Montefiore, had visited the Land of Israel in 1839 and had received permission from Muhammad Ali of Egypt, ruling Israel at the time, to go into the Tomb of the Patriarchs. This pasha, known to be more tolerant of dhimmis, including Jews, than previous rulers on the ground in Israel, had indeed given permission. However,
the Moslem authorities wished to let Sir Moses in, but they were prevented by the mob from carrying out their amiable intentions. [Israel Abrahams, The Book of Delight and Other Papers]
This attitude of the Muslim mob relates to the notorious intolerance of Hebron Arabs as discussed in previous posts on Hebron. The British crown prince, on the other hand, enjoyed the tremendous prestige of the British empire in the second half of the 19th century. Ironically, it was an arm of British power, the mandatory government in the Land of Israel, that encouraged --indeed incited [through the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini]-- and collaborated with local Arabs to massacre the Jews living in Hebron and remove the survivors from the city.
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Coming: More poems of Zion, Jews in Jerusalem, Hebron, peace follies, etc.


  • fascinating blog!

    I see that are interested in Jewish history. I think you may find my blog interesting http://www.ha-historion.blogspot.com.. Take care, Joel

    By Blogger Joels W. , at 1:03 AM  

  • What do you think of Madjadele's appointment?

    BTW, I am preparing a piece, a chapter in a book on the culture of war, which I would love to run by you for comment when it's done. Would you be willing, and can you give me an email to send it to?

    My name is Nanette Norris, and you can dogpile me. My email is nn.norris@sbcglobal.net

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:10 PM  

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