WITH THE TURKS IN PALESTINE
Edited by ROBERT PASCOE
History Matters Series No. 2
Pages: 115 pages
Jews and Arabs on the frontier of the Ottoman Empire: The days when the world of Palestine was wide:
‘[We] had tears in our eyes when we saw those fleet, daring horsemen into whom our young trouser-salesmen can be transformed. Hedad! they cried, and dashed away cross-country on their little Arab horses. They reminded me of the Far-West cowboys of the American plains…’ (Theodor Herzl, Diaries, 29 October 1898)
In this, the centenary year of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British promised the world’s Jews ‘a national homeland’, it is important to recall what Palestine then was, and might one day be again: a ‘magically benign’ place.
From the foreword:
This pithy 18,000-word book, unashamedly propagandistic, began life as a pair of Atlantic Monthly articles published in New York in July and August 1916, during the middle year of the Great War. The United States was still neutral in this War. The Western Front was a bloody quagmire, with neither side able to press an advantage. And the Ottomans were squaring off against the British in Palestine. The original title for this pair of articles was ‘Saïfna Ahmar, Ya Sultan!’, a traditional Turkish war-cry which literally translates as, ‘Our swords are red, O Sultan!’ It is an ironic reference, as the text is an indictment of the Ottoman leadership in the war, fighting on four fronts, and its government of Palestine, then a backwater of the Empire. Of course, the Sultan had lost his power during the Young Turks revolt of 1909, and the Empire had been at war since 1912, when it lost the Balkans.
In 1915 the Ottoman authorities had unleashed the massacre of the Christian Armenians for fear of them being a fifth-column in their war against the Russians. But the main purpose of this small book was to bring the plight of the Palestinian Jews to the attention of the American reading public. At the time, the Holy Land was no more than an exotic travel destination.