Anatomy of a forgotten pogrom: Safed, 1834

Dvar Dea recalls the forgotten 1834 pogrom against the Jews of Safed, sparked by a war between the Turks and the Egyptians. In many ways it was typical of the pogroms that erupted from time to time against the Jews living in the Muslim world in the 18th and 19th century (via Zionation-Zionism).

“While it is true that there were times and places in the Muslim world where Jews were treated well, the 18th and 19th centuries were not such a time. And one of the places where such good treatment was especially rare was Palestine (another such place that made it to the news recently was Yemen).

“When faced with Zionist resilience this brutality morphed but never ceased. From old-fashioned pogroms in the 1920’s it turned into gang violence in the 30’s. In 1947 it was part of a massive ethnic cleansing attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish population, but with devastating results to the Palestinian population, and that in spite of the armed support of neighboring Arab states.

“In the 50’s and 60’s there were the fidayeen raids against Israeli citizens and property, and in the 70’s and 80’s it was the terrorism of planting bombs in public places, attacking Israelis and Jews abroad, and taking civilians as hostages. The 90’s added a new twist, the suicide bombing, now so strongly associated with this conflict. But all these had the same dominant feature that has not changed since the 19th century, and even from earlier times: the deliberate attacks on unarmed civilians.

“The forgotten pogrom in Tzfat was a regular pogrom, a dreadful yet familiar experience to Jews in both the Islamic world and in Christian Europe. Like all pogroms it was an act of senseless brutality, where the victims were totally helpless. It had no political agenda or motive behind it. There was no ‘Zionist entity’ whose existence served as an excuse to murder civilians; it was motivated by pure greed. The Palestinian Arabs of the Eastern Galilee took advantage of a regional crisis, the war between Egypt and Turkey, to attack their Jewish neighbors and strip them of everything they had, clothes, property, houses, and the like. In the process people were beaten in the streets, many times to death, synagogues destroyed and holy books desecrated.

“An entire community of 2000 souls (English traveler Alexander William Kinglake says 4000) was forced into hiding for 33 days, in caves, ruins, inhospitable mountaintops, and cellars. In that mayhem there were good Arabs who saved lives, like the people of the village of Ein Zeitim and a few individuals, Muslims and Christians from Tzfat itself, but there were also the double-crossers who promised to help for a large sum of money, only to hand the Jews over to the rioting mob outside the hideout. For 33 days the lives of the Jews of Tzfat had practically no value, and any of them who showed his or her face in public was at risk of been beaten to death, sometimes by neighbors or business associates.

“Like all cases of mass racial violence, it had inciters and a government unwilling to do anything about them. In this case, according to Kinglake, there was an inciter, a self-proclaimed prophet by the name of Muhammed Damoor who ‘prophesied’ the plunder he agitated for.

“Like all other pogroms it demonstrated the helplessness of the Jewish condition prior to the formation of the state of Israel.”

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