Sunday, November 27, 2016

Opinion: Horror and Carnage in the Middle East - In Historic Context

A New Perspective on the Balfour Proclamation

By Lenny Ben-David

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on November 27, 2016. Space limitations would not allow the pictures that originally accompanied the column.

The human toll of the Middle East war was horrific.

Disease and famine pandemic. Orphans wandering in the streets. Unspeakable atrocities described only by the bravest critics. No red lines. Emergency deliveries of aid essential.


For God’s sake, would at least one person of international stature speak out? 



Thankfully, yes, but that was 99 years ago, and his name was Lord Arthur Balfour. No one of his stature today has so proclaimed the need to provide shelter for the millions suffering in Syria under the barrage of Assad’s troops, Iran and Russia.

The Palestinian leadership today threatens to sue Great Britain because of the Balfour Declaration issued in November 1917, which declared, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people....”

Detractors of Israel held a quackathon in the House of Lords on October 25, 2016, squawking about the declaration’s evil colonialist intentions and demanding an apology. To them, the Balfour Declaration was no birth certificate for the Jewish nation; it was confirmation of a bastard colonial creation. None of the detractors complained about the modern-day Russian and Iranian colonialists or the mass destruction in Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Damascus.

The Balfour Declaration is condemned today by Israel’s detractors and hailed by Israel’s friends as a great historic document establishing the principle of a Jewish state – almost on par in its significance with the Magna Carta, the American Declaration of Independence, or the Emancipation Proclamation. Yes, it deserves its place in the pantheon of Jewish history.

But Balfour’s 120-word declaration must also be seen in the context of the horrifying events in the Levant during World War I. The catastrophes were so crushing that the Jewish leadership in Palestine, Britain and the United States warned about the threatened eradication of the indigenous Jewish community in Palestine. They correctly expressed a sense of urgency.

Many Jews of Jerusalem depended on the chaluka, charity funds that came from Jewish communities in Europe.

With the onset of the war, Turkey prohibited the funding from its enemies.

On August 31, 1914, the American ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, sent an urgent telegram to the New York Jewish leaders: “Palestinian Jews facing terrible crisis.... Serious destruction threatens thriving colonies...Support families whose breadwinners have entered army [forced conscription].”

Amb. Morgenthau requested aid for the Jews of Palestine
On October 6, 1914, the first of 13 U.S. Navy ships anchored in Jaffa and delivered money, food, medicine and aid to the Jews of Palestine.

The Jews “would have succumbed had not financial help arrived from America,” the Zionist Organization of London reported in 1921. “America was at that time the one country which through its political and financial position was able to save [Jewish] Palestine permanently from going under.”

In December 1914, the Turks expelled 6,000 Jews of Russian origin from Jaffa. With Russia at war with Germany and Turkey, Russian Jews were seen as the enemy. They were evacuated by US Navy ships to Alexandria.

Expelled Jews arriving in Alexandria, Egypt, in late 1914, early 1915 on the USS Tennessee

Calamities had befallen the Jews of Palestine almost a year before the massacre of Armenians by the Turks. The Armenian atrocities, begun in April 1915, were witnessed with great trepidation by the Jews of Palestine. Some perceived signs of Turkish preparations to replay the brutal expulsion of Armenians, and some witnessed actual acts of mass murder. In response, several Jews organized the NILI spy ring to assist the British in the war in Palestine.

Ultimately, German commanders in Palestine blocked the Turkish expulsion plans.

A severe locust plague hit Palestine in April 1915. The New York Times reported on April 23, 1915: “Distress in Jerusalem, Many Deaths from Starvation Reported – Plague of Locusts. [Alexandria] – Seventy Jews who arrived yesterday from Jerusalem on an Italian steamer...describe the economic situation as terrible. Flour costs $15 a sack. Potatoes are six times the ordinary price. Sugar and petroleum are unprocurable and money has ceased to circulate. Many deaths from starvation have occurred.”

With major battles taking place in Gaza, on April 6, 1917, the eve of Passover, the Turks ordered the expulsion of approximately 8,000 – 10,000 Jews from Jaffa and Tel Aviv. An estimated 20 percent of the expelled died from hunger and contagious diseases.

On October 31, 1917, Australian light horsemen captured Beersheba, opening the way for Jerusalem’s capture in December 1917. At the major Turkish base in Beersheba, scores of Jewish forced laborers were employed by the Turks in construction, milling, tailoring, railroad work, cutting wood, and as teamsters. They fled as the Australians and British approached. Many others died from disease, flash floods and British aerial attacks.

It was at this point of history that the Balfour Declaration was declared on November 2, 1917. And on December 9, 1917, the British army liberated Jerusalem.

In 1918, even after the liberation, poverty was still crushing.

Balfour received in Tel Aviv, 1925
The first British military governor, Roland Storrs, reported finding “many ladies of doubtful reputation [presumably not all Jewish]... On our entry into Jerusalem we had found no less than 500 such women living in a special quarter.” Thousands of orphans were living in the streets.

For the indigenous Jews of the Holy Land, Arthur Balfour was no less a hero and savior than British commander Edmund Allenby. When Balfour toured the Jewish communities in Palestine in 1925, he was tumultuously received by appreciative throngs of Jews who had survived hardships and punishments of truly biblical proportions.

Whatever the intent, the Balfour Declaration was a humanitarian proclamation as much as a political/diplomatic announcement.



The writer is the author of the forthcoming book US Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs (Urim Publishers). He is now writing World War I in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs. He is director of publications at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why Were 19th Century Photographers so Interested in Peasants' Plowing?

"Native ploughing with his wife and donkey, Palestine" (original caption)
(Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, California Museum of
Photography at UCR ARTSblock, University of California, Riverside)

"Thou shall not plow with an ox and an ass together."
לא תַחֲרֹשׁ בְּשׁוֹר וּבַחֲמֹר יַחְדָּו
Deuteronomy 20 (Library of Congress, circa 1890)
For Jews in synagogue tomorrow, the answer is found in the Torah portion.

Virtually every vintage collection that we've analyzed contains a picture of an Arab farmer in Palestine plowing with a rudimentary plow pulled by an ox and an ass.

Why? 

"Thou shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing"
לֹא תַחְסֹם שׁוֹר בְּדִישׁוֹ
Deuteronomy 25 (circa 1900)


We suggest that the photographers, many of whom were well-versed in the Old Testament, focused on agricultural prohibitions found in the Bible.  The photographs, slides, and postcards were usually sold to a Bible-reading public.




"Plowing with an ox and an ass" (April, 1929, Torrance
Collection, University of Dundee)





The photographers illustrated the prohibition "Thou shall not plow with an ox and an ass together" (Deuteronomy 20) and provided pictures of the prohibition "Thou shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing"(Deuteronomy 25).
 
The photograph above in the UCR collection went one step further, showing an Arab farmer using his ass and wife to pull the plow.


Plowing with a cow and and an ass (circa
1900) See also here (Library of Congress)


Peasant plowing (circa 1900)
(New York Public Library)

















 
 

"Plowing with an ox and ass" -- the original caption.  (Credit: RCB Library, 1897)
 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Jordan River Water Was Shipped to the U.S. in 1906 and May Have Flushed an Anti-Semitic U.S. Diplomat Out of His Job



The International River Jordan Water Company was launched by Col. Clifford E. Naudaud of Covington, Kentucky, in 1906.  He secured "the sole right of shipping the water of the Jordan River from the banks of the stream in Palestine to all parts of the world for baptismal and other purposes," according to a Kentucky newspaper, The Bee, published in Earlington, KY.

The water was "shipped in casks bearing the seals of the Turkish Government and the American Consul," according to The Bee. "The water will be bottled in the United States in bonded warehouses."

The American Consul granting his seal for the commercial venture may have cost the veteran diplomat his job. His departure was a blessing for the Jews of Palestine. The Consul-General was undoubtedly the nastiest anti-Semite to ever hold that post.

Details on the U.S. diplomat and his legacy in the American foreign service are discussed in the forthcoming book, American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs.  Order it here now.

19th Century Paintings of Jerusalem Found in the Ottoman Imperial Archives

We pay tribute again to archivists and librarians who digitize their historical treasures. Pictures of these two paintings were found in the Ottoman Archives.


The first painting is by German artist Johann Martin Bernatz (1802-1878) who traveled in the Holy Land in 1836.


Jews Praying at the Wailing Wall by Johann Martin Bernatz. The Ottoman Archives provided a date of 1868.
(Author's digital photograph collection)
 




 

The second painting is by another German artist, Gustav Bauernfeind (1848-1904).

Jews Praying at the Wailing Wall by Gustav Bauernfeind. The Ottoman Archives provides a
date of 1888. (Author's digital photograph collection)

Bauernfeind moved to Jerusalem in 1898. He is buried in the German Templar Cemetery in Jerusalem. In 2007, his oil painting of the Wailing Wall sold for 4.5 million Euros at Sotheby.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

When President Calvin Coolidge Hosted the Chief Rabbi of Palestine in the White House, 1924

The caption reads "Rabbi Dr. Abraham I. Kook, 4/15/24"
Where was this picture taken?
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), one of the most influential rabbis of the 20th Century, was a renowned Talmud scholar, Kabbalist and philosopher. He is considered today as the spiritual father of religious Zionism, breaking away from his ultra-Orthodox colleagues who were often opposed to the largely secular Zionist movement.


September 6, 2016 corresponds with his yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) on the Hebrew date of the third of Elul.



Born in what is today Latvia, Rabbi Kook moved to Palestine in 1904 to take the post of the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa. 




The picture above has appeared in various Israeli publications in recent years, but few know it was taken in Washington D.C. on the day Rabbi Kook met with President Calvin Coolidge in the White House.  The picture was found in the Library of Congress archives.



What was Kook's mission, what messages were exchanged?




The details on Rabbi Kook's visit to Washington D.C. and the White House will be available in the forthcoming book, American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs.  Order it now here.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Who Was the 19th Century American Preacher Mendenhall John Dennis?
Actually, He Was a Jerusalem Watchmaker Named Mendel Deniss, Jerusalem's First Photographer

Mendenhall John Dennis in the center surrounded by his family in 1885. After 1860
he lived in Ohio, Massachusetts and Washington. Before 1860 he was Mendel
Diness of Jerusalem  (With permission of Special Collections, Fine
Arts Library, Harvard University)
In 1988, John Barnier visited a garage sale in St. Paul, Minnesota.  There he found and purchased eight boxes of old photographic glass plates.  Fortunately, Barnier is an expert in the history of photographic printing.

He had little idea that he had uncovered a historic treasure. Later, he viewed the plates and saw that they included old pictures of Jerusalem.  He contacted the Harvard Semitic Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, known for its large collection of old photographs from the Middle East.

On some of the plates they found the initials MJD. Until then the name Mendel Diness was barely known by scholars.  It was assumed that with the exception of one or two photos his collection ....

Thank you for your interest in Mendel Diness. The full article is available in the forthcoming book.  Order it now here.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

July 22: Anniversary of the Bombing of the British Military Intel HQ in the King David Hotel 70 Years Ago

King David Hotel 1946
On July 22, 1946, the Irgun resistance organization blew up a section of the King David Hotel, killing 91 British, Arabs and Jews.  The Library of Congress - Matson collection includes several pictures of the bombing's aftermath.


Those photographs pretty much marked the end of the Matson Photo Service's  65 years in Jerusalem.  According to the Library, "In 1946, in the face of increasing violence in Palestine, the Matsons left Jerusalem for Southern California." 

King David Hotel 1946
The attack still raises the question of the involvement of the Jewish underground in terrorism. 

The following appeared in Myths and Facts, 1989, written by the publisher of Israel Daily Picture.


The King David Hotel was the site of the British military command and the British Criminal Investigation Division.  Two events led the Irgun commanders to choose the British military headquarters as a legitimate target.  On June 29, 1946, British troops invaded the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem and confiscated large quantities of documents.  Simultaneously, over 2,500 Jewish leaders from all over Palestine were placed under arrest.  Not only were the documents of crucial importance to the Jewish liberation movement, but papers on Jewish agents in Arab countries were also confiscated, endangering vital intelligence activities.  The information was taken to the King David Hotel.  


King David Hotel 1946

One week later, Palestinian Jewish anger against the British and their blockade of Palestine grew.  Word arrived of the massacre of 40 Jews in a pogrom in Poland; 40 Jews who might have been saved had the doors to Palestine been opened for the survivors of Hitler's concentration camps.
On July 22, the Irgun planted bombs in the basement of the hotel. Several calls were placed warning the British to evacuate. They refused.  For decades the British denied that they had been warned. In 1979, however a member of the British parliament introduced evidence that the Irgun had indeed issued the warning.  He offered the testimony of a British officer who heard other officers in the King David Hotel bar joking about a Zionist threat to the headquarters.  The officer who overheard the conversation immediately left the hotel and survived.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The U.S. Navy Evacuated 6,000 Jews from Jaffa in 1914/1915

The book is moving forward, so we cannot publish new pictures and essays at this time.


But, here are two never-before-seen pictures from the book showing Jews boarding and disembarking from the USS Tennessee after their expulsion by the Turks in 1915. 


Stay tuned for information on the book's publication.
Jewish refugees boarding and registering in Jaffa.

Jewish refugees disembarking in Alexandria Egypt.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Jewish Festivals - Shavuot
The Book of Ruth Recreated 100 Years Ago
This feature is one of our most popular posting

Reposting a popular feature
Photo portrait of "Ruth the Moabitess" (Library of Congress)
Ruth said, "Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from
following you, for wherever you go, I will go...
Your people shall be my people, your God my God"
And Naomi and Ruth both went on until they arrived at Bethlehem
The Jewish holiday of Shavuot - Pentecost is celebrated this week.  The holiday has several traditional names: Shavuot, the festival of weeks, marking seven weeks after Passover; Chag HaKatzir, the festival of reaping grains; and Chag HaBikkurim, the festival of first fruits.  Shavuot, according to Jewish tradition, is the day the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  It is also believed to be the day of King David's birth and death.



Ruth came to a field that belonged to Boaz who was
of the family of Naomi's deceased husband
The reading of the Book of Ruth is one tradition of the holiday.  Ruth, a Moabite and widow of a Jewish man (and a princess according to commentators), gave up her life in Moab to join her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, in the Land of Israel.  She insisted on adopting Naomi's God, Torah and religion.


A central element of the story of Ruth is her going to the local fields where barley and wheat were being harvested so that she could collect charitable handouts.  She gleans in the fields of Boaz, a judge and a relative of Ruth's dead husband (as such he had a levirate obligation to marry the widow).  The union resulted in a child, Obed, the grandfather of King David. 



Boaz said to his servant, who stood over the reapers,
"To whom does this maiden belong?"

 The members of the American Colony were religious Christians who established their community in the Holy Land.  They were steeped in the Bible and photographed countryside scenes that referred to biblical incidents and prohibitions.






Boaz said to Ruth, "Do not go to glean in
another field...here you shall stay with my maidens"


















Boaz said to her at mealtime, "Come here and partake
 of the bread..." He ordered his servants "Pretend to 
forget some of the bundles for her." 
Ruth carried it to the city and Naomi
saw what she had gleaned





We have matched the pictures with corresponding verses from the Book of Ruth.

We present a few of the dozens of "Ruth" photographs found in the Library of Congress' American Colony collection.   See more of the pictures here.



Ruth came to the threshing floor and Boaz said, "Ready the shawl you are wearing and hold it," and
she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley....
A major effort was made by the photographers to re-enact the story of Ruth, probably in the fields near Bethlehem.  "Ruth," we believe, was a young member of the American Colony community; the remaining "cast" were villagers from the Bethlehem area who were actually harvesting, threshing and winnowing their crops.

Unfortunately, we don't know when the "Ruth and Boaz series" was photographed, but we estimate approximately 100 years ago.


Click on the pictures to enlarge.
 Click on the caption to view the original.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Long History of Jewish/Israeli Ties with Jordan

History books provide glimpses of nearly a century of ties between Hashemite rulers and Jewish leaders, starting with the pre-state of IsraelDr. Chaim Weizman of the Zionist Organization met with Emir Faisal in January 1919 and signed an agreement of understanding. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) was the interpreter for the meeting, but it is not certain to this day just how much of an "agreement" it was. Nevertheless the acts of meeting and dialogue were monumental.
Weizmann - Faisal meeting, 1919 (Syrian Times)
Days before Israel's declaration of independence in May 1948, Golda Meir travelled to Jordan disguised as an Arab peasant to meet with King Abdullah to urge him to stay out of the pending Arab attack on the soon-to-be state. (He didn't.)

On September 25, 1973, Abdullah's grandson, King Hussein of Jordan, secretly visited Israel to warn Prime Minister Golda Meir of imminent attacks on Israel by Egypt and Syria. (Tragically, his warnings were not given their due seriousness.)

These two photographs, however, fill in some of the years. The first shows Emir Abdullah's personal bodyguards in 1922 -- armed Jewish Yemenite warriors from the Habani tribe. The three men were brothers -- Sayeed, Salaah, and Saadia Sofer. Notice their traditional side curls (peyot). The men of the Habani tribe were known as tall, muscular and fierce warriors.
Hashemites also used Circassian bodyguards.
Emir Abdullah with his Jewish bodyguards (1922, Bible Discovered)
In 1932, King Abdullah was again in close relations with the Jewish Yishuv when he inaugurated the major hydro-electric power plant in Naharayim located on the Transjordan side of the Jordan-Yarmuk Rivers confluence. The Jewish project was headed by Pinhas Ruttenberg, the founder of the Palestine Electric Company. The joint project required security cooperation between the two sides to protect the plant and power lines. 

More information on the power plant can be found here, The Great and Electrifying Pinchas Ruttenberg. 
Ruttenberg watches Emir Abdullah start the turbines at the Naharayim power plant. (1932, Library of Congress) Is that one of Abdullah's bodyguards watching on the right?
  
 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Passover: Whoever Is Hungry, Come and Partake of this Yemenite Seder

Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals mentioned in the Bible along with Sukkot and Shavuot.  Historians and rabbinic literature refer to hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who filled the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem, bringing sacrifices to the Temple.

The Temple Institute's depiction of a Passover seder at
the time of the Temple. Note the pascal lamb on the table.
Today as well, Jews from all over the world and from all over Israel make their pilgrimages to the holy city.

The Library of Congress photographic collection includes a series of photographs of Yemenite residents of Jerusalem celebrating their Passover seder in 1939.  Note their low table and compare it to the painting of a Seder during the time of the Temple, taken from the Passover Seder Haggadah of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem.

In 1882, the Christians of the American Colony adopted a wave of Yemenite Jews who arrived in Jerusalem penniless, hungry and sick. The Colony believed the Jews were from the lost tribe of Gad. For decades the American Colony photographers continued to take pictures of the Yemenite community.





Yemenite Passover Seder: Drinking wine in the Kiddush ceremony. Note the table is covered at that point,
and all men are leaning to their left as prescribed. (Library of Congress)


Yemenite Passover Seder, eating the bitter herbs  (1939)
Washing hands during the Seder. Note the children's involvement and wonderment. A major theme of
the Seder is to teach the children about the Exodus from Egypt.




Passover meal.  Note the square matza












The Yemenite community has a tradition of a soft matza, similar to Middle East pita or laffa bread, which they bake daily during Passover.  

Discussing the local Yemenite matza, an ancient traveler to Tza'ana in Yemen quoted his Yemenite host, "There is no requirement that the matzos be dry and stale because they were baked many days before Pesach.  Every day we eat warm, fresh matza. "

The traveler reported, "I enjoyed their special kind of matza -- it was warm, soft and didn't have the usual burnt sections which was present in every matza I had ever eaten until then."

Unfortunately for the 1939 Yemenite family, it appears that the only matza available to them was the square and stale machine-made matza.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Time to Get Ready for Passover.
The Matza Factories Are Hard at Work

A reprint of a special Passover feature
With Passover just weeks away, Jewish households around the world are purchasing or making their matzot (unleavened bread) for the festival.

One of Judaism's oldest customs, the baking of matza goes back to the Jewish exodus from Egypt.  Ever since, Jews often went to great trouble to bake their cracker-like bread. Jewish communities in Europe and the Arab world faced "blood libels" for making their matza. Ancient synagogues in France built matza bakeries under their synagogues. Jews in Nazi concentration camps risked being shot to bake their Passover "bread." In the former Soviet Union, Jews baked their matza in secret, lest they be discovered and sent to the Gulag.  During major wars, armies made sure to provide matza to their Jewish soldiers.

A matza factory in Haifa.  The signs on the left read "For the purpose of the commandment of matza" -- a reminder to the workers to keep their intentions on the commandment.  The signs on the right, in Hebrew and French,
 read "No smoking" and "No Spitting"  (from the "Cigarbox Collection" provided by Othniel Seiden, circa 1925)
 

"No smoking or spitting"
'Keep in mind the matza commandment"


 
Children baking matza in kindergarten in the Holy Land. The teacher is in the center, and it appears there 
 is a tiny oven in front of her.   (Harvard/Central Zionist Archives, circa 1920)

Special feature: 
Matza baking in the "New World" 150 years ago


Caption: "General view of preparations and baking matzot, the unleavened bread for the Passover" (Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper, New York, April 18, 1858, Library of Congress)  Note the rabbi watching.


  
The Library of Congress Archives has preserved several 150-year old engravings of Jewish customs in New York from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.  [See Purim celebration] 

The story we bring today is unusual because of the writer's attempt to describe the New York Jewish community and the Passover holiday.  The first element, rich in Faginesque imageries,  would be considered anti-Semitic by today's standards.  The second element, a description of the holiday customs, is woefully full of mistakes.  Excerpts below:

Any one taking a morning walk through Chatham street will meet enough men whose low stature, shining black eyes, crisp laky hair, stooping shoulders, and eager movements proclaim them of the Hebrew race, to convince him that Jews are prevalent in our city in large numbers.  Exactly how many thousands of the Hebraic people have their present sojourning in New York we have no means of ascertaining, but the number is very considerable, and is on the rapid increase.
Weighing and kneading of the flour with the rabbi
 The Israelitish race preserve to this day their peculiar characteristics as strongly marked, and their national prejudices is as full force as in the days of Darius, King of Persia.  They exist among us, a distinct race, preserving an identity of their own... but whilst constantly intermingling in trade and business with the Gentiles, keeping themselves as separate from the uncircumcised dogs in all social and religious intercourse....They could not keep themselves more apart if they were walled out from the Christian world....
The eating of the unleavened bread for the seven days of the Passover is obligatory on all of the Jewish faith, and it is observed with the most punctilious exactitude by all, old and young, and no matter how poor or rich.  During the seven days this unleavened bread is the only sort permitted to be used, no meat is allowed, and no drop of wine or spirits or fermented liquors.  Fish and some kinds of vegetables are eaten sparingly....

 Click on pictures to enlarge.

Click on captions to view the original pictures.

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