Safed Plunder


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The British author Alexander William Kinglake became famous for his history of the Crimean war, but earlier, in 1844, he had published an account of his travels in the Middle East in the 1830s. He was in Safed during the first pogrom that took place there in 1834. From his account and others we can get some idea of the uneven and uncertain position of Jews in the "holy land" at the time. It was a time of lawlessness in the area, but most of the time there was lawlessness in the holy land. The Jews lived there, as in other Muslim countries, as second class citizens - dhimmi. In theory, they were protected. In practice, they were defenseless and often the victims of violence, for they could not bear arms in their defense and usually could not get a fair trial. It is noteworthy not only that the authorities afforded no protection against the bandits, but also that they afforded no redress of grievances or reparations even after a "special commissioner" had been appointed.

Most of the violent events described here apparently took place in 1834, and that is the date assigned to this document by Norman Stillman (The Jews of Arab Lands p 340) but  the negotiations for return of property after the pogrom (or plunder) took place some time later, and there was apparently at least one other plunder, done by Druze raiders in 1838, not directly related to this one.

The text of this version is taken from the 1906 edition of Eothen.

Further information on the "Safed Plunder of 1834" as it is also called, is given here: Safed Plunder of 1834

Ami Isseroff

January 17, 2010

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Safed Pogrom

For some hours I passed along the shores of the fair Lake of Galilee : then turning a little to the westward^ I struck into a mountainous tract, and as I advanced thenceforward, the features of the country kept growing more and more hold. At length I drew near to the city of Safet. It sits proud as a fortress upon the summit of a craggy height ; yet, because of its minarets and stately trees, the place looks happy and beautiful. It is one of the holy cities of the Talmud; and according to this authority, the Messiah will reign there for forty years before he takes possession of Sion. The sanctity and historical importance thus attributed to the city by anticipation render it a favourite place of retirement for Israelites; of these it contains, they say, about four thousand, a number nearly balancing that of the Mahometan inhabitants. I knew by my experience of Tabarieh [Tiberias] that a ' holy city ' was sure to have a population of vermin some-what proportionate to the number of its Israelites, and I therefore caused my tent to be pitched upon a green spot of ground at a respectful distance from the walls of the town.

When it had become quite dark (for there was no moon that night), I was informed that several Jews had secretly come from the city, in the hope of obtaining some help from me in circumstances of imminent danger; I was also informed that they claimed my aid upon the ground that some of their number were British subjects. It was arranged that the two principal men of the party should speak for the rest, and these were accordingly admitted into the tent. One of the two identified himself as the British Vice-consul, and he had with him his consular cap ; but he frankly said that he could not have dared to assume this emblem of his dignity in the day-time and that nothing but the extreme darkness of the night rendered it safe for him to put it on upon this occasion. The other of the spokesmen was a Jew of Gibraltar, a tolerably well-bred person, who spoke English very fluently.

These men informed me that the Jews of the place, though exceedingly wealthy, had lived peaceably and undisturbed in their retirement until the insurrection of 1834 ; but about the beginning of that year a highly religious Mussulman called Mohammed Damoor went forth into the market-place, crying with a loud voice, and prophesying that on the fifteenth of the following June the true Believers would rise up in just wrath against the Jews, and despoil them of their gold, and their silver, and their jewels. The earnestness of the prophet produced some impression at the time, but all went on as usual, until at last the fifteenth of June arrived. When that day dawned, the whole Mussulman population of the place assembled in the streets, that they might see the result of the prophecy. Suddenly Mohammed Damoor rushed furious into the crowd, and the fierce shout of the prophet soon ensured the fulfilment of his prophecy. Some of the Jews fled, and some remained but they who fled and they who remained alike and unresistingly left their property to the hands of the spoilers. The most odious of all outrages, that of searching the women for the base purpose of discovering such things as gold and silver concealed about their persons, was perpetrated without shame. The poor Jews were so stricken with terror, that they submitted to their fate, even where resistance would have been easy. In several instances a young Mussulman boy, not more than ten or twelve years of age walked straight into the house of a Jew, and stripped him of his property before his face and in the presence of hst whole family. When the insurrection was put down, some of the Mussulmans (most probably those who had got no spoil wherewith they might buy immunity) were punished, but the greater part of them escaped; none of the booty was restored, and the pecuniary redress which the Pasha had undertaken to enforce for them had been hitherto so carefully delayed, that the hope of ever obtaining it had grown very faint. A new Governor had been appointed to the command of the place with stringent orders to ascertain the reel extent of the losses, to discover the spoilers, and to compel immediate restitution. It was found that, notwithstanding the urgency of his instructions, the Governor did not push on the affair with any perceptible vigour ; the Jews complained; and either by the protection of the British Consul at Damascus, or by some other means, had influence enough to induce the appointment of a special Commissioner — they called him the Modeer — whose duty it was to watch for and prevent anything like connivance on the part of the Governor, and to push on the investigation with vigour and impartiality. Such were the instructions with which some few weeks since the Modeer came charged; the result was that the investigation had made no practical advance, and that the Modeer, as well as the Governor, was living upon terms of affectionate friendship with Mohammed Damoor, and the rest of the principal spoilers. It was after the interview which I am talking of, and not from the Jews themselves that I learnt this fact.

Thus stood the chance of redress for the past, but the cause of the agonizing excitement under which the Jews of the place now laboured was recent, and justly alarming: Mohammed Damoor had again gone forth into the market-place, and lifted up his voice, and prophesied a second spoliation of the Israelites. This was grave matter; the words of such a practical and clearsighted prophet as Mohammed Damoor were not to be despised. I fear I must have smiled visibly, for I was greatly amused, and even, I think, gratified at the account of this second prophecy. Nevertheless, my heart warmed towards the poor oppressed Israelites, and I was flattered, too, in the point of my national vanity at the notion of the far-reaching link by which a Jew in Syria, because he had been born on the rock of Gibralter [sic], was able to claim me as his fellow-countryman....[ellipses in original]  It seemed to me that the immediate arrest of Mohammed Damoor was the one thing needful to the safety of the Jews, and I felt sure (for reasons which I have already mentioned in speaking of the Nablous affair) that I should be able to obtain this result by making a formal application to the Governor. I told my applicants that I would take this very step on the following morning; they were very grateful, and were for a moment much pleased at the prospect of safety thus seemingly opened to them, but the deliberation of a minute entirely altered their views, and filled them with a new terror. They declared that any attempt or pretended attempt on the part of the Governor to arrest Mohammed Damoor would certainly produce an immediate movement of the whole Mussulman population, and a consequent massacre and robbery of the Israelites. My visitors went out, and remained I know not how long consulting of their brethren, but all at last agreed that their present perilous and painful position was better than a certain and immediate attack, and that if Mohammed Damoor was seized, their second estate would be worse than their first. I myself did not think that this would be the case, but I could not, of course, force my aid upon the people against their will, and moreover the day fixed for the fulfillment of this second prophecy was not very close at hand; a little delay, therefore, in providing against the impending danger would not necessarily be fatal. The men now confessed that although they had come with so much mystery and (as they thought) at so great risk to ask my assistance, they were unable to suggest any mode in which I could aid them, except, indeed, by mentioning their grievances to the Consul-General at Damascus. This I promised to do, and this I did.

My visitors were very thankful to me for my readiness to intermeddle in their affairs, and the grateful wives of the principal Jews sent to me many compliments, with choice wines and elaborate sweetmeats.

The course of my travels soon drew me so far from Safet that I never heard how the dreadful day passed off which had been fixed for the accomplishment of the second prophecy. If the predicted spoliation was prevented, poor Mohammed Damoor must have been forced, I suppose, to say that he had prophesied in a metaphorical sense. This would be a sad falling off from the brilliant and substantial success of the first experiment,



Related readings: Jews in Arab lands: Introduction and readings

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