Chapter VII


1. Ottoman Political Reform – The Young Turk  Revolution 2. Impact of the Young Turk Revolution on Arab Nationalist Movement | 3. Palestinian Identity 4. Palestinian Press and Politicians | 5. Ottoman Government Administration | 6. Ottoman Central Government Policy Towards Zionist Aspirations

Around the turn of the twentieth century, the influx of a further wave of Jewish immigration, described as ‘the Second Aliyah’, added a new dimension to the Arab-Jewish conflict at that time. This event, essential to the understanding of the Arab-Jewish conflict of that time will be examined in the next chapter, but as an essential preliminary to the forthcoming examination of the Second Aliyah this present chapter VII describes the background and political framework within which that Aliyah behaved.  It reviews the changes which occurred in the Ottoman political structure during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries resulting in opportunities for both the growth of Arab nationalism and, after years of dispersion. Although official Ottoman governmental policy and its inconsistent administration in practice retarded this renaissance, its progress (to be discussed in Chapter VIII) could neither be suppressed nor dissociated from the wider context, namely, the Young Turk Revolution and Arab nationalism described in this Chapter. Ottoman Government autocracy and corruption created a simmering discontent which led to the emergence of the Young Turk Revolution and Arab nationalist awakening. These factors greatly influenced Ottoman government policy and impacted directly on Jewish migration and land acquisition.
Readers wishing to pursue scholarly works on the modern history of Turkey and the role of the dominant political party of the time, Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in Turkey’s political evolution should refer to the following works:

Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2002;
Niyazi Berkes, Development of Secularism in Turkey, Routledge, New York, 1998;
M. Sukru Hanioglu, A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2008; 
The Young Turks in Opposition, Oxford University Press, 1995; 
Preparation for Revolution, The Young Turks 1902-1908, Oxford University Press, 2001; 
Andrew Mango, The Young Turks, Vol. 8 (1972) Middle Eastern Studies, 107;
Feroz Ahmad, The Young Turk Revolution, Vol. 3 (1968) J. Contemporary History, 19. 

An important work which deserves more exposure is that of Y. Porath, The Emergence of the Palestine-Arab Movement 1918-1929, Frank Cass, London, 1974.

1. Ottoman Political Reform – The Young Turk Revolution  

The personality and character of the then reigning Sultan strongly influenced the political orientation of the Ottoman Government and its bureaucracy. Although ostensibly a ruler exercising full sovereignty, in practical terms, with a weak and incompetent sultan the bureaucracy was quick to exploit the situation, devising methods of accumulating property and securing their sons' access to office. Nepotism and corruption was rife such that it was often the Grand Vizier, the principal minister of the Sultan [], who wielded almost absolute power [] and held the real reins of government, not the Sultan. Matters were not that much different even when the Sultan was of strong character. While he could still act autocratically, having little regard to the political views and aspirations of his subjects, the palace bureaucracy could thwart the implementation of policy.

However, during the last three decades of the nineteenth century European democratic principles were beginning to penetrate the Ottoman Empire. Influenced by such Western thinkers as Montesquieu and Rousseau and the French Revolution, an Ottoman liberal and nationalistic movement began to emerge composed of a number of secret societies, advocating Liberty Equality Fraternity with the addition of Justice. The movement grew from within intellectual circles as well as from the military and administrative bureaucracy. Both advocated constitutional, parliamentary government instead of the traditional centralised autocratic rule by the Sultan, rule which caused political and social upheaval within the Empire.

In the 1870's there was turmoil in the Balkan provinces, an insurrection in Bosnia and Herzegovina which spread to Bulgaria, mounting ill feeling against Russia for its encouragement of the rebellions, a crop failure in 1873, heavy investment in the imperial navy and lavish expenditures by the Sultan in building new palaces. Added to these expenditures, were the outstanding debts incurred by the Empire in fighting the 1853-6 Crimean War, all of which provoked considerable public discontent. As a consequence, Sultan Abdulaziz was deposed by his neo-Ottoman ministers on May 30, 1876 and was replaced by his uncle, Murad V. The latter, after failing to deliver the Constitution that his supporters had sought, was also deposed after 90 days reign. He was succeeded on August 31, 1876 by Sultan Abdulhamid II whose supporters expected him to hold liberal ideas; but this was not to be the case.

The Ottoman government's inability to control its fragmenting empire and the cruelty employed by the regime in stamping out the Bulgarian rebellion, gave the European Powers the opportunity to intervene in Ottoman domestic affairs. They convened an international conference in Constantinople towards the end of 1876, which put pressure on the Ottoman administration into accepting a constitution prepared by the leadership of one of the Turkish secret societies.

Under this first constitutional government, the Sultan retained the power to appoint only the Grand Vizier and the ''Sheikh-ul-Islam.'' The Grand Vizier was empowered to make all the other cabinet and ministerial appointments. The Constitution also provided for the establishment of a parliamentary "Chamber of Deputies" or House of Representatives (''Meclis-i Mebusan'') having power to confirm the Grand Vizier's ministerial nominees. Comprising of 115 members, the first elections reflected the distribution of the ''millets – ''(religious communities officially recognised within the Empire and exercising jurisdiction over matters of personal status) - 69 Muslim millet representatives and 46 other-millet representatives (Jews, Greeks, Armenians). Unlike European modern constitutional governments, Ottoman Government Ministers were not drawn from elected members of the House of Representatives to whom they were responsible, but were outside appointees accountable only to the Grand Vizier in performing their ministerial duties.

The first constitutional government lasted only two years. Assisted by a number of close palace advisors, Abdulhamid prorogued Parliament and governed the Empire autocratically until the revolution in 1908, giving an opportunity to participate in political life only to a limited few. Such government was unstable and its policy discontinuous since ministers were changed at will. During Abdulhamid's 30 years reign, there were 28 changes in the Grand Vizierate. This was exacerbated by the activities of the various European diplomats and consuls accredited to the Porte who involved themselves in Ottoman domestic affairs, avowedly protecting the personal and commercial interests of non-Ottoman citizens resident within the Empire. (Freoz Ahmad, ''The Young Turk Revolution,'' Vol. 3, (1968) J. of Contemporary History, 19)

During this period, a number of secret societies opposed to Abdulhamid's autocracy began to coalesce, the most significant of which was established in 1889 in Salonika by a small number of medical students as the Committee of Ottoman Union. Other societies aligned with it, ultimately transforming themselves into a political party in 1906 under the umbrella name of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). In 1909, the Committee had 60 Arabic, 25 Albanian, 14 Armenian, 10 Slavic and 4 Jewish representatives, in addition to the Turks.The CUP did not have any particular political programme to implement other than that of eliminating governmental corruption and inefficiency. 

To this end, its leaders, supported by the junior officers of the Ottoman Third Army, stationed in Salonika, forced the Sultan to recall Parliament on 3 July 1908 in what later became known as the Young Turk Revolution, and to resurrect a second constitutional government. Having achieved its objective, the CUP appeared to have lost momentum. However, in March 1909, the Sultan, while retaining his symbolic titular role, attempted to regain power in a countercoup, which the CUP, with military assistance, succeeded in suppressing. In the process it reinvigorated the party, imbuing it with a new sense of political direction -- ultimately in turkification.

  • It deposed the Sultan Abdulhamid and replaced him with Mehmed V who fulfilled the role of titular head of state until his death in July 1918. Governmental power was effectively wielded by "the three pashas", also known as the "dictatorial triumvirate": Minister of Interior Affairs Mehmed Talat, Ismail Enver, Minister of War- who as a military officer suppressed the countercoup and Ahmed Cemal (Djemal) influential in the CUP department of military issues and who later became Minister of the Navy. 

  • The countercoup brought to a head a dispute between the Turks and the Arabs within the CUP over control over the Caliphate which led to the CUP's outlawing of the Arab societies and the closure of some extremist Islamic Arab journals and newspapers.

For the Arabs, the recovery of the Caliphate which they lost to the Ottoman Turks in 1517, would not only have enhanced their self-esteem and honour among non-Arab Muslims, but would become a foundation stone in their aim to create a united Arab nation.

The CUP demanded the wholesale dismissal throughout the Empire of corrupt and incompetent ministers, senior bureaucrats and diplomats, most of whom held their posts through nepotism and added little if anything to efficient government.

The CUP leadership, however, lacked executive experience. Unable to undertake the acts of government themselves, they were forced to rely on the experience of those of the Sultan's conservative advisors whom they considered to be untainted by corruption. The CUP never actually took the reins of government, but exercised power without responsibility from behind the scenes, either presenting its own candidates for high office or considering whether the Grand Vizier's nominees justified their support. The Cabinet, headed by Grand Vizier Kamil Pasha, thus became politically accountable to the CUP leadership rather than to the Sultan and Parliament.

After demanding and partially achieving the dismissal of corrupt officials, in both central and provincial government administration, CUP's interests became sharply divided into two camps. The liberal majority -- composed mostly of Turkish nationalists - sought strong centralised government and the turkification of the Empire. The minority groups in the Empire, especially the Arabs, sought decentralisation and greater local autonomy as did the Jews, while still wishing to remain under Ottoman imperial umbrella. (Aykut Kansu, ''The Revolution of 1908 in Turkey'', Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, 1997).

2. Impact of the Young Turk Revolution on the Arab Nationalist Movement

In the wake of the Revolution, the majority of the CUP tended towards greater governmental centralisation and turkification of the Empire. However, the Ottomans treated the Arabic-speaking Middle East as substantially one unified unit, their administrative provinces being superficial and unimportant barriers, mentally no less than physically. Therefore it is not surprising that a number of Arab dissenting nationalist and reform-oriented groups began to be formed in Greater Syria, Palestine, Constantinople, and Egypt. These societies provided the nucleus and the organisational basis of what was later to become the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in the course of World War I and constituted the seeds of the "Arab Awakening"; an awakening which after 1918 was to create ambivalence between country-based nationalism (Syria, Iraq, Egypt, etc.) and ethnic pan-Arabism.

The first of these nationalist groups to be organised was the Arab-Ottoman Brotherhood (''Al-Ikha'') Society, established in Istanbul in 1908. It called for equality between Ottoman nations, but as a result of Turkish indifference it lasted for only eight months. A year later the ''Al-Qahtaniya'' Society was established. It called for decentralisation and creation of an Arab kingdom within the Ottoman Empire. Then in 1911 the Arab Youth (''Al-Fatat'') Society was established initially in Paris; it later moved its operations to Beirut in 1913, then to Damascus in 1914. Its membership was composed of civilian Muslim Arabs who called for the independence of the Arab homeland from Turkish control. 1912 saw the establishment in Cairo of yet another society, Ottoman Administrative Decentralization (''Al-Lamarkaziya'') Party, which in conjunction with the Arab Youth called for the convening of the First Arab Congress to be held in Paris, June 18-23, 1913.

The creation of a formal organisation committed to developing an Arab nationalist movement also provided the impetus to the Zionist Organisation to seek an opportunity to hold discussions with politically responsible Arab leaders concerning their future political co-existence. Prior to the opening of the Arab Congress in Paris in 1913, Jewish and Arab representatives held a series of preparatory meetings to determine whether their respective constituencies had any discernible commonality of political interest that could be encompassed within the liberal Decentralisation Party platform which was to be unveiled during the coming Arab Congress. 

Sami Hochberg, owner of the ''Le-Jeune-Turc'' newspaper together Victor Jacobson, representing the Zionists on the one side and the leadership of Cairo-based Decentralization Party together with the anti-Ottoman Beirut Reform Society, on the other side, reached an ''entente verbale''‚ which assured Jews equal rights with other citizens in the event that the outcome of the next general election would result in a government committed to decentralisation. The Zionists had been assured that the ''entente verbale'' would receive formal approval expressed in a resolution to be passed in the Congress, and to which Hochberg and Jacobson were invited, the latter, officially as the Zionist Organisation's representative. In discussions held in what would today be described as fringe meetings, a number of delegates expressed their receptiveness to the Zionist aspirations. 

Although the Congress attracted only 25 'official' participants plus many unofficial representatives of other reform societies, it was taken seriously enough by the CUP to send its emissaries to Paris to negotiate with its leaders. Congress' attention was thus diverted by the presence and participation of the CUP representatives who brought proposals designed to satisfy Arab minority interests. They and the message they brought naturally became the centre of attention such that the ''entente verbale'' with the Zionists remained just that, and no formal resolution favouring equal rights for Jews was ever passed by the Arab Congress. Following the Conference and to forestall an Arab political revolution within the CUP, the Government announced in July 1913 that it had reached an agreement with the Arabs which provided ''inter alia'':

  • the Arab provinces would gain a measure of autonomy;

  • at least three Cabinet ministers were to be Arabs;

  • in time of peace army conscripts were to do their military service in their own locality;

  • in regions where the majority of the population spoke Arabic, that language was to be the medium of instruction in all schools;

  • all officials in Arab provinces must be acquainted with Arabic as well as Turkish.

While Arab independence was not directly alluded to, some Arab notables nonetheless opposed the Paris Congress as being unpatriotic, undermining the Empire and aimed at destroying the Caliphate, Islam, and the Muslims. Nevertheless, having obtained governmental assurances that their minority interest would be protected, the Arabs conveniently forgot the ''entente verbale ''with the Zionists which, in any case, became rendered ineffectual by outbreak of World War I.

Thus it would appear that the origins of Arab nationalism dates from the crucial years between 1908-1918 that witnessed both the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the build-up of tension surrounding Zionist immigration to Palestine and Arab reaction to it. Arab nationalism was by no means invented by the ‘colonialism’ of the Allied Powers after 1918.

(see Gerber, H. (2004), The limits of constructedness: memory and nationalism in the Arab Middle East. Nations and Nationalism, 10: 251–268. doi: 10.1111/j.1354-5078.2004.00166.x)
(Elie Elhadj,  Arab Revolt Against Istanbul, October 2009, accessed 16.10.2011; Z. N. Zeine, The Emergence of Arab Nationalism, Caravan Books, N.Y. 1976, p. 83; Arab Congress of 1913 ; Abd al-ʻAzīz Dūrī,  The Historical Formation of the Arab Nation, Centre for Arab Unity Studies and Croom Helm Ltd., Beckenham, Kent, UK 1987;
Neville Mandel, Attempts at an Arab-Zionist Entente:1913-1914, Vol. 1 (1965) Middle Eastern Stud. 238
Mitchel Bard, Pre State Peace Efforts, Jewish Virtual Library,

3. Palestinian Identity: The Theory

It is clear that by 1908, there existed among Arab leadership a positive desire to gain a high degree of independence from the Ottoman Turks, whether within the Empire or independent of it. 

A definitive expression of that desire had, however, to await the initiative from Husseyn, King of Hejaz in 1915, whose indecision stemmed from his dilemma about whether or not it was tactically preferable to support the Allies or the Central Powers in World War I.

The question which does arise at this stage is whether the Arabs residing in that part of southern Syria known as ''Filistin'' (Palestine) considered themselves as having an identity distinctive from that of other Arabs in Syria and were similarly viewed by the rest of the Arab world and by common consensus of foreign powers.

        a. External Perception 

From a foreigner’s perspective, Eretz Yisrael - Palestine - the Holy Land - Filistin, had great religious significance for all Judeo-Christian religions, which held Jerusalem as as central to their belief.  For Moslems, Mecca and not Jerusalem, was and still remains the focal point for Islam whereas a special spiritual connection with the Holy Land was and still is maintained by Christians as is Eretz Yisrael by Jews. By the end of the nineteenth century all the major European powers and a number of the smaller ones had established consulates in Jerusalem- initially to protect their nationals on pilgrimage- but later as the area developed, to advance their respective political and commercial interests; some also maintained offices in Jaffa and Haifa.

For the Ottoman central government, Palestine did not appear to receive any special consideration until Arab opposition to increasing Jewish migration and land acquisition was brought to its attention. In 1887, the status of the region around Jerusalem was raised from that of Sanjak, to that of a semi-independent Mutesarriflik, whose governor was directly accountable to the central government in Constantinople. The jurisdiction and powers of the Mustarriff (governor) were more or less equal to those of a vali (the governor of a vialet) and as such, his administration was subjected to less political interference from above.

Thus, even during late Ottoman times, although Jerusalem and its environs was distinguished from the rest of Syria administratively, it does not follow that it and its population had a separate and different cultural character or political identity from the larger territory and population of which it formed a constituent part. The fact that Governments and other institutions of power and wealth failed to recognise an indigenous local identity, does not mean that such identity has no internal nationalistic significance for the population living within the region.

Nationalism is a relatively modern development and most modern nation states are based on ethno-linguistic historical origins that predate the process of industrialisation.

“One cannot ignore the persistence of ethnic ties and cultural sentiments in many parts of the world, and their continuing significance for large numbers of people….  Modern political nationalisms cannot be understood without reference to these earlier ethnic ties and memories, and, in some cases, to pre-modern ethnic identities and communities.” (Anthony D. Smith. Nationalism and Modernism. Routledge London 1998, 361)

The existence of such antecedents, however, has to be established empirical sociological and documentary research. In the case of the Palestinians, according to Prof. Haim Gerber, this has yet to be demonstrated. He asserts that Israel’s “New Historians” such as Prof. Benny Morris, (and the Israeli politician Golda Meir) who claimed that the Palestinians had no identity separate from that of the Syrians failed to examine the matter empirically from original documentary sources;  whether residents of Southern Syria – Falistin- perceived themselves as having had a separate and identifiable social, cultural and political identity different from the remainder of the Syrian population before 1948 or earlier, even during Ottoman rule. (see H.Gerber, ‘Zionism, Orientalism and the Palestinians’ J. Palestine Studies, vol. 33 (2003) 23-41.

        b. Self Perception

Gerber highlights the point that the area designated by the Ottoman administration as Southern Syria was, even before 1250, regarded internally by its own residents as Filastin. The fact that both the Marmaluk rulers and the Ottomans who succeeded them in 1570 ceased to refer to the territory by that name, does not mean that its residents ceased to refer to themselves by their old nomenclature. While official designations may change, the history, culture and social structure of an indigenous population remains generally unaffected.

For example the author of a book written in the late fifteenth century used the term “Falastin” to describe his place of residence. In Gerber’s view, “it stands to reason that if the term “Palestine” was known to the population two and a half centuries after it ceased to be used officially, one can assume that it might have survived another five centuries as the name commonly used for the country by its inhabitants in the early twentieth century.”

In support of his argument, Gerber refers first to a collection of 17th century fatwas in which the term “Palestine” is used by the writer when responding to the people of the area who sought his rulings. Other less significant indications of an early Palestinian identity Gerber gleans from the writing of two important 18th and early 19th century jurists who refer to Khayr al-Din al-Ramli as the “great scholar (“alma”) of Palestine.”

Testimony to the existence of a nascent Palestinian self-perceived identity has been derived from documents of the time which reveal the existence of a stable and localised, non-nationalist identity forged in the 17th Century and confined to Jerusalem and the Judean Hills, composed of townspeople and villagers, most of whom worked the land as fellahin.

In Gerber’s view, the self-perception of the people living in the region at the time was that they inhabited an area called Palestine - not Southern Syria; that they were collectively referred to as Palestinians and that their ethnicity was Arab. He contends further that the authors to whom he referred all spoke the language fully known to the people in their vicinity. Had the term “Palestine” died out “it is inconceivable that it would have been reinvented before the full flowering of nationalism.”

Some support for Gerber’s position can be seen from an examination of the clan structure in Palestine, the politicians and the local press.

        c. Palestinian Identity:  Actual- Territorial and Familial - Clans

The hilly ground around Jerusalem and Nablus was inhabited by two factional camps: the Yamins, who originated from Yemen and the Qais, who migrated from the northern part of the Saudi peninsula. Some villages were inhabited almost exclusively by one faction or the other while other villages accommodated members from both factions.  The factions identified themselves by colours and banners – Qays, red and Yamanis, white - which were reflected in their respective clothing and even in the colours of their fighting cocks. Failure to abide by the custom of the colour code would often result in fighting which sometimes ended in bloodshed. Even a bride on her way to her wedding had to change the colour of her outer garments if she travelled through the territory controlled by the other faction!   

The leading families of each faction engaged in constant internal warfare. However, when confronted by a common enemy they tended to band together as they did in 1834 to defend themselves against the Egyptian invasion. It was only after Ibrahim Pasha’s conquest of Palestine and Syria and his eight year occupation that the outward expressions of violence were subdued and the warring factions disarmed –more or less. Despite their bellicose internal interactions, political alliances did not remain restricted to the clan or the camp to which members belonged or to their religious affiliation. Rather, changes of allegiances were dictated by whichever family gained control over the elected local councils of the towns and villages situated within the Jerusalem and Nablus sub-districts (nahiya).

Although these councils were ‘elected’, the franchise was limited to those who owned high value property. Thus, in practice the councils were controlled by the urban notables - A’yans- who maintained hierarchical patrilineage “blood” connections to one another within extended families or clan (ham¢ula)

Celia E. Rothenberg, “A Review of the Anthropological Literature in English on the Palestinian ham¢ula and the Status of Women” Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies

In and around Jerusalem we find: the Abu Ghosh (Yaman), Husseini, Samhan (Qays) and Lahham (split between both Yaman and Qays); in Hebron and Southern mountains, the al-Amru and  Ka’abina (split); and in Nablus, the Tuqan (Yaman), Jarrar,(split) ‘Abd al-Hadis and al-Namir (Qays) clans.
(see Miriam Hoexter, Qays and Yaman Factions in Local Political Divisions, Asian and African Studies, vol. 9, pp. 249-311; Baruch Kammerling, The Process of Formation of Palestinian Collective Identities: The Ottoman and Colonial Periods, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 36, pp 48-81. 

4. Palestinian Press and Politicians

Perhaps of greater significance in the emergence of a recognizable Palestinian political consciousness is seen in the publication of two local newspapers in 1911: the first emanating from Jaffa entitled “Falistin” and the second from Haifa entitled “al-Karmil.” Both demonstrated a political awareness of Zionism as presenting a danger to Arab rather than Palestinian nationalism thereby acknowledging the existence of a definable Palestinian entity and identity. However, this occurred at a time when the issues being debated publically related to the CUP’s “turfikation” of the Empire pitted against the Arab nationalists who supported the decentralization of Ottoman governmental authority and power.
In this connection, it should be noted that after the emergence of the CUP party, three of its component decentralisation groups:  al Fatat, al’Ahd and the Decentralisation Party had a combined membership of only about 126 by October 1914 of whom 12 were known to be Palestinian activists. From this it might be inferred that for the most part, the majority of Arab Nationalists either had little or no contact with the Zionists in Palestine or if they did, they did not perceive them as a threat to Arab nationalism. Their main concern was Arab independence from Turkish rule
(See Neville Mandel ‘Attempts at a Arab Zionist Entente 1913-1914’ Vol. 1 Middle Eastern Studies, 238 at 240)

There is little doubt that before the ‘Arab Awakening’ there appears to have existed a localised Palestinian collective social identity with glimmerings of some political awareness among the elites of the villages and towns around Jerusalem and Nablus. Such collective Palestinian identity as distinct from that of Syria, Mesopotamia and Saudi Arabia was a necessary but an insufficient precondition to the emergence of a full political identity. Arab identity did not develop into “Arab Nationalism” until it was confronted with Zionism whose political objective had the potential of realisation only after World War I.

Until that event, and regardless of whether the CUP was in power or not, Jewish migrants still had to contend with pre-existing Ottoman government inconsistent policy and its incompetent and administration.

5. Ottoman Government Administration

The economic burden of the national debt on the Ottoman Government, its impact on taxation, land tenure reform and changes in the Arab social structure and Jewish migration prior to the 1880’s has already been briefly discussed in Chapter IV, Sections 3, 4 and 5. These factors continued to influence both Ottoman policy and Arab attitudes towards to the Jews of the Second Aliyah. Nevertheless, it becomes necessary to examine in a little more depth the structure of Ottoman administration and of its personnel inasmuch as the conduct of officials both at the imperial and local levels of government impacted directly on Jewish immigration and land acquisition and on the relations between Arabs and Jews.

        a.Ottoman Administrative Structure

The dilemma of the Ottoman government in reforming its administration was how to maintain centralised government control over policy while giving sufficient latitude and discretion to local officials for efficient and expeditious implementation. Simultaneously it needed to institute reform in its methods of tax collection. To achieve this balance, The Vilayets Law, promulgated in 1864, apparently modelled on the French Prefet system, reorganised the administrative structure and boundaries of its Empire.

  •     The largest region was the Province –vialyet - governed  by a vali who was responsible to the Minister of Interior in Istanbul. 
  •       Provinces were subdivided into Districts (sanjak) whose governors were accountable to the vali. In the case of Jerusalem, however, by reason of its increasing interest and concern to foreign governments, its status was raised to that of a Mutesarriflik in 1887, a status falling between that of a Province and Sanjak and its governor made directly accountable to Istanbul. 
  •       Sanjaqs and the Mutesarriflik were further subdivided into local communes and villages (qaza and nahiyes) administered by local sheikhs, to be supplanted later by a muhtar and supported by an advisory administrative council.
  •       District Administrative Councils (majlis idara) were elected on the basis of a very narrow suffrage. Each council was to have a religious (mufti) and a judicial (kadi) figure acting ex officio together with eight other ‘elected’ officials. The latter each had to pay an annual direct tax of at least 500 piastres. Since this was beyond the financial ability of the large majority of the population, the law merely entrenched those who already exercised power and excluded those who previously owned or worked the land - especially the fellahin.

(Walter F. Weiker,  The Ottoman Bureaucracy: Modernization and Reform,  Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3, (Dec., 1968), pp. 451-470)

In Palestine three levels of provincial and local administration operated, comprising thirteen local qazas/ nahiyes, which fell within the jurisdiction of either the Sanjaqs of Acre and Nablus which accountable to vali of Beirut or the Mutasariflik of Jerusalem whose governor was directly responsible to the Minister of Interior in Constantinople.

        b. The Wielders of Power  

The valis (governors), being state functionaries appointed by Istanbul, were usually chosen carefully for their administrative capabilities. They were granted a wide scope for independent action and a large measure of responsibility to enable the Ottomans to gain optimum efficiency in ruling the provinces so as to advance greater centralisation of power throughout the empire. 

The holders of the top-ranking administrative posts in the sanjaqs (districts), generally Turks, were all filled by direct appointment from either Istanbul or the province's vali.
In order to prevent the governor of a valiyet or sanjak from becoming identified with local interests, his period of tenure and those of the senior bureaucrats were generally very short, although there were exceptions. This made for inconsistent supervision over the governmental functions performed by the lower administrative sub-districts comprising urban and rural qaza and nahiyes. As a result, for the effective or ineffective implementation of central government policy the higher units of the Ottoman administration had to rely upon the local knowledge and connections of the personnel appointed, elected or employed in the lower units of the Ottoman Administration.

In Palestine, these elected urban notables and locally appointed officials were Arab rather Turkish, a differentiation which would become significant after World War I when the British Mandatory Government took power.

Palestine Administrative Structure 1915  Stein, The Land Question

6. Ottoman Central Government Policy Towards Zionist Aspirations

From the 1880’s, Ottoman policy towards Jewish migration had been fairly settled and continued almost without change even after the Young Turk Revolution. Immigrants were welcome in the Empire, but not in Palestine. They could settle elsewhere in small groups provided that they assumed 

    (i) Ottoman nationality and relinquished their earlier nationality;
    (ii) waived all rights of protection extended by  foreign consuls;
    (iii) complied with all Ottoman legislation and obligations towards the Empire, including compulsory military service.

This policy was based on two premises:

     (1) the concentration of yet another cohesive cultural-religious group within a closely confined and settled area would give rise to a nationalist movement and create a culture of secession similar to that already experienced in the Balkans and Greece; 

    (2) an increase in the number of foreigners residing within the empire to which they owed no allegiance coupled with their acquisition of land therein, gave increasing power and influence to foreign consuls. The latter, by virtue of the Capitulations, were able to extend their legal protection to their respective nationals and exercise political influence on both Ottoman internal and external governmental policy.

However, both before and after the Young Turk Revolution, the implementation of Ottoman policy towards Jewish immigration vacillated and was inconsistent. Although Jewish immigrants brought with them their intellectual skills, a positive attitude to modernity and a potential inflow of capital which the Empire desperately needed to discharge its foreign debt burden, most of the migrants, with the assistance of the consuls, insisted on retaining their foreign citizenship, forcing the Porte to relax its opposition to Jewish immigration and land purchases.

On the other hand, Arab nationalists, encouraged by the Young Turk Revolution, were strongly opposed to Jewish immigration and land acquisition.  When Jewish immigration increased noticeably, Arab pressure forced the Ottoman Government to prohibit the entry of additional migrants and to limit Jewish land purchases as they had done previously in 1884 and on three subsequent occasions 1887-8, 1890-1 and 1892-3.  

Although foreign consular pressure forced the Ottomans to remove these restrictions, the government vacillated in the wake of Arab counter pressures to re-instate those restrictions.  Arab opposition stemmed from the apprehension of the urban notables that Jewish immigration and land purchases:

  • were likely to destroy the socio-economic balance reached between the Arab elites on the one hand and the fellahin on the other hand, who worked the land which  produced the income upon which the elites were reliant upon for their life style; and
  • would deprive not only the Arab elites of their power base in the rural areas but also the fellah of his livelihood, encouraging the latter to move to the towns if he was unable find agricultural employment.

(see Ruth Kark, Changing Patterns of Land Ownership in Nineteenth Century Palestine:The European Influence, vol. 10 (1984)  J. of Historical Geography 357) 

A major defect in the Ottoman implementation of its policy towards Jewish immigration and land purchases was that no single Ottoman department of state appears to have been made responsible for dealing with these issues.  The local authorities corresponded with at least four central government departments whose co-ordination was weak such that the instructions issued and re-issued to provincial governors multiplied, modified and contradicted one another to the point where the local authorities were faced with insoluble administrative problems, a situation which created significant inconsistencies in the implementation of government policy towards Jewish immigration and land acquisition. For the Zionists, however, such inconsistencies could be turned to their advantage.

Even the Ottoman central government itself deviated from its own declared policy. For example, in the north of Palestine, the Jewish Colonisation Association (JCA), a non-Zionist organisation, whose resettlement policy was not exclusively linked to Palestine, began to interest itself in acquiring large tracts of land between 1896 -1904 from the Suraq family.  Notwithstanding the legislation prohibiting land sales to non-Ottoman Jews, the Council of Ministers in Constantinople ruled that under the 1867 Land Code the sale was permissible provided the purchaser gave an undertaking that it would not install foreign Jews on it. Accordingly the Council granted the JCA a concession. This transaction caused considerable alarm among local Arab fellahin when surveyors came on to the site to measure it for sale. Such was the scale of the opposition that the Central Government abrogated the JCA Concession in 1901 but not before the JCA had managed to acquire enough land for six colonies to be established in northern Palestine between 1899-1904

Neville J. Mandel, Ottoman Policy and Restrictions on Jewish Settlement in Palestine 1881-1908 Part I, 10 (1974 No.3) Middle Eastern Studies, 312-332; Ottoman Practice as Regards Jewish Settlement in Palestine: 1881-1908 11 (1975,No. 1)  Middle Eastern Studies  33-46
    1.Local Implementation of Central Government Policy in Palestine

        a.Local Administrative Councils  

Implementation of Ottoman policy at the regional and local levels towards Jewish migration from Europe into Palestine was also inconsistent. In the Sanjak of Acre for example, the administration was relatively benign towards Jewish immigration and land purchases were negotiated, completed and registered without much interference. 

In Jerusalem, matters were different. Apart from Reshad Pasha, who held the Mutasariff between 1889-1890, the Jerusalem administrative implementation of restrictions on Jewish settlement and land acquisition and its registration were enforced more rigorously, especially by Ali Ekrem Bey 1906- 1908. However, due to loopholes in the Ottoman administrative control over visitors to the region, as described below, neither he nor his successors were able to prevent Jewish immigration, nor indeed indirect land acquisition through nominees.

Apart from the bureaucratic ‘professionalism’ and political proclivity of the various Mutesarriflik and Sanjak governors, government officials at the lower levels were also open to bribery and corruption, facilitated by the corrupt practice of nepotism.  In exploiting their family connections, urban notables, especially in Jerusalem and Nablus exercised influence  over the local administrative councils and although these councils were ‘elected’, in practice they were controlled by the A’yans- who maintained hierarchical familial links within the same hamullah.  

        b. Influence of Tax Farming on Local Administration

Prior to the 1840’s, the Ottoman central government practised tax farming whereby the state auctioned the right of collection to private individuals. In rural areas local sheikhs and village elders generally acquired these rights. In the urban areas, the urban notables – the a’yan elites - fulfilled this function.

This led to abuse and corruption since in order to recover the price paid for the right to tax and to gain a profit, the urban notables and rural sheikhs squeezed as much as they were able from the local farmers on a variety of pretexts, many of which were illegal, resulting in farmers being placed in the tax collectors’ debt. 

As part of part of the Ottoman administrative  reorganisation under the Tanzimat reforms, the Ottomans attempted to change both the method of tax collection and expand the tax base. They replaced the multitude of taxes imposed on a large variety of goods and property and transactions by a relatively simple set of taxes: a standard head tax was applied in urban areas; a 10% tax (usur) payable in kind was imposed on the agricultural yield while head taxes placed on non-Muslims were divided into a number of classes according to wealth and ability to pay. Tax collection by tax farming was replaced by the appointment of government officials (mubasirs), who in return for a fixed salary, were employed to collect a predetermined amount of tax from each administrative area set by the central treasury.;

While the system worked in urban areas, it failed in rural areas due to the lack of competent professional personnel coupled with a lack of knowledge of local conditions. In addition they had to contend with opposition from the vested interests of local sheikhs and urban notables who hitherto had been in the tax farming business.

In 1841, after central governmental employees’ failed to collect taxes due on the agricultural yield directly from those in occupation of the land, the Ottoman central administration was compelled to revert to a modified system of tax farming. The Central Ottoman Treasury first determined how much tax was to be collected from each sub-district. It then passed the responsibility for its collection to Provincial Governors who, together with their respective provincial advisory councils (majlis al-idara) in turn resorted to and relied upon the power of the local administrative councils within the Sanjak or Mutesarriflik to sell the right to collect the tax by public auction.

The successful bidder, generally a member of a local a’yan family, paid the sum of the accepted bid to the central treasury, and was allowed to collect as much tax as he was able to extract from the village headmen and fellahin in kind or specie. In the process, the a’yan families in the urban centres accumulated more power, while both the local sheikh’s and the provincial governors lost power, the latter often having to have recourse to ‘short term’ borrowing – sometimes from Jewish financial institutions - to fulfil their immediate obligations to the Porte. In so doing the Ottoman governors became vulnerable to external pressure to relax the implementation of central government policy regarding Jewish migrants and land acquisition.

Although the sheiks retained their social standing in their communities, under the administrative reforms, the Local Administrative Councils now took effective control of the tax collection system. 

As shown earlier in Ottoman Palestine a relatively small number of influential families in Jerusalem, Nablus and in the other towns succeeded in maintaining control of the major municipal councils throughout successive generations or were members of it, while their relatives found influential executive and clerical employment in the many administrative offices which the system created. These included tax commissions, land registries, courts, agricultural committees, chambers of commerce. 

(Walter F.Weiker, The Ottoman Bureaucracy: Moderization and Reform, 13 (1968) Administrative Science Quart, pp 451-470; Stanford J. Shaw, The Nineteenth- Century Ottoman Tax Reforms and Revenue System, 6 (1975) Int. J. Middle East Stud 421-459; Stein,  The Land Question p 8)

Thus, in addition to the inconsistency displayed by the central Ottoman government towards Jewish immigration and land acquisition, the local Ottoman authorities were very much left to themselves as to the manner in which central government policy in relation to Jewish immigration and land acquisition was to be implemented, leaving bribery and corruption to play their part.

(see Neville J. Mandel, Ottoman Practice as Regards Jewish Settlement in Palestine:1818-1908, vol. 11 (1975) Middle Eastern Studies 33; David Kushner, ‘Ali Ekrem Bey, Governor of Jerusalem 1906-1908’,  Int. J. Middle East Studies, vol. 28 (1996) 349-362

    2. Loopholes in Ottoman Immigration Control and Land Registry Administration Benefitting Jewish Settlement

Regardless of the inefficiency or otherwise in the implementation of Ottoman governmental policy, immigrants could enter Palestine indirectly relatively easily by landing legally in Port Said or Constantinople and make their way overland or landing directly at Jaffa or Haifa under a variety of pretexts; pilgrimage being the most common. Rather than returning home after the expiration of their three months visa, Jewish migrants simply remained in Palestine. 

Due to uncertainty of the situation and fluidity in the local implementation of central government policy, Jewish non-Ottoman domiciliaries continued to acquire land indirectly as before, but depended on finding (a) qualified Jewish middlemen possessing Ottoman citizenship or even a local Arab to act - for a consideration- as a nominal purchaser and (b) a lax or corrupt local Ottoman administrator, dilatory in implementing the Ottoman legislation in respect of the residential status of the émigrés, requests for naturalisation and the registration of land transactions. 

Such matters lay in hands of the local officials who were employed by or appointed to the local administrative councils which the urban notables controlled. Even after successfully acquiring land, immigrants still faced a very different cultural environment in developing the land of Palestine from that previously experienced in Europe.


This chapter has attempted to outline the nature and character of the Ottoman central and local governmental policy makers and administrators and the extent of Palestinian nationalism as precursors to Chapter VIII which follows. 

This will deal with characteristics of the European Jewish immigrants participating in the 2nd Aliyah and their political and economic interests which, vis-à-vis, the Ottomans and the Arabs, differed from those of their Sephardi co-religionists. Although these interactions were to influence the future political direction of Jewish and Arab relations, the human interaction which lies at the basis of the Arab-Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish conflict today finds its roots in the their respective attitudes towards the acquisition of land and of the Jewish agricultural employers in preferring to hire the cheaper Arab labour offered by the fellahin rather than the more expensive offered by the Jewish immigrants.

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