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Temps et espaces en Palestine

Roger Heacock

II. Racines

Territorial Awareness In the 1834 Palestinian Revolt

Khaled M. Safi

Entrées d'index

Mots clés :

identité, territoire, révolte

Géographique :


Texte intégral

1Palestine was, until the end of the First World War, the southwestern part of Bilad al-Sham (Greater Syria) in the Ottoman Empire. When we speak of Palestine today, the British Mandate zone within the boundaries of 1923-48 appears before us as a flint axe between Egypt (on the African side) and Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon (on the Asiatic side). Hence it is understandable that we tend to think of this territory when we deal with the history of Ottoman Palestine prior to World War I. Indeed, when the borders of Palestine were drawn, they were not the arbitrary, artificial, drawing-board product of the colonial powers. Rather, “Palestine” had slowly taken shape in the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries in the consciousness of both its inhabitants and its central government.Moreover, the Ottoman authorities established an administrative entity with borders practically identical to those of Mandate Palestine on three brief occasions during the 19th century: 1830, 1840, and 1872. On the other hand, one may assume that in the second half of the 19th century the image of Palestine as a unit (the “Holy Land”) was more precise and more strongly formed among Europeans (Schölch 1993, p. 9-17) than it was among the local population and the Ottoman administration.

In classical Islam the name Jund Filastin was given to the former Roman province of Palestina Prima. This province stretched from the Sinai Desert in the south to a line connecting Beisan (Beit Shean) to an unknown point on the Mediterranean somewhere south of Acre. This concept of Jund Filastin was no longer used by the Mamluk and Ottoman states. Palestine under the Ottoman Empire never constituted one bureaucratic entity (Gilbar 1998, p. 565).

2This may well be true, but it can also be deduced that a rough territorial picture had been constituted through the ages. Beginning in the 16th century, and with some fluctuations, Palestine was divided into five sandjaks: Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Lajjun, and Safed, under the umbrella of the province (wilayat) of Damascus. Around the middle of the 17th century, the province of Saida was established, encompassing the sandjaks of Safad and Beirut (Rafeq 1966, p. 3-4).

Territorial Awareness among ‘ulama in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

  • 1  One example is the manuscript of Timartashi (d. 1644-1645), Al-khabar al-tamm f¡ dhikr hudud al-ar (...)

3Islam and the Ottoman Empire were the broadest and most meaningful socio-cultural and political entities, but there developed a type of proto-national sense regarding Filastin, as it was termed, from the seventeenth century on. Al-Ramli, a member of the intellectual elite of the region, used the term Filastin in many fatwas written down in his book (al-Ramli 1311 Hijra). He did not define the term, since all people concerned knew what he was taking about. Likewise, the concept itself was never the subject of discussion. This means that on the popular level, the term was continuously employed. Once again, this denotes a clear sense on the part of al-Ramli and other members of the elite,1 as well as those people he was addressing, of the relevance of the geographic area of Filastin and although it was not an official designation, the ‘ulama and the people employed it.

Territorial Awareness through the Rule of Zaher al-Umar

4Political-territorial awareness certainly crystallized further as a result of the actions of Zaher al-Umar in the eighteenth century. He did in fact successfully establish an autonomous “little kingdom” as Hourani called it, in much of Palestine for more than a quarter of a century (Hourani 1961, p. 42). He tried to extend his rule to Jaffa and Gaza in 1765 but was frustrated in that respect by the Ottomans (Manna 1999, p. 61). Nevertheless, between 1770 and 1775, Zaher, with the help of Ali Bey al-Kabir, extended his control over the entire Palestinian territory. In a very real sense, therefore, under his rule Palestine witnessed the first application of the concept of the territorial proto-state (Hourani 1961, p. 35-70). He tried to establish a local administration for his domain, appointing his sons as his deputies in different key towns, indicating his probable wish to establish a ruling dynasty (Safi 1997, p. 127).

5The three pillars of Ottoman rule, according to Albert Hourani, were: “first: the political supremacy of Moslems over the Christians; secondly, the existence of an Islamic orthodoxy of which the Sultan was defender; and thirdly, the primacy of religious over ethnic or other loyalties” (Hourani 1961, p. 50). Under Zaher’s rule all three pillars were severely shaken. His rule also represented a very important phenomenon proper to the 18th century. As Hourani pointed out,

since the central Government could no longer control the Empire, it could no longer serve as the focus of loyalty and solidarity. Thus we can observe in the course of the eighteenth century a strengthening of the communal loyalties which had always formed the basis of Ottoman society, and a regrouping of the peoples of the Empire around those authorities which could give them what the Imperial Government no longer gave: a defense against disorder and a system of law regulating the relations of man and man (Hourani 1961, p. 40-41).

6Thus it was that Zaher succeeded in regrouping the people of northern Palestine around his power and in winning their loyalty, which really reflected some changes in the political structure of Palestine. One can say that most of changes which took place under Egyptian rule (1831-1840), had their roots in the initial steps taken in Zaher’s era, which, as Hourani points out, corresponded to developments elsewhere in the Fertile Crescent (Hourani 1961, p. 35-70). The early turning point in the modern history of Palestine is thus to be located at the time of Zaher’s rule. Palestine, under his control, entered a new era, opening avenues towards the major changes of the 19th century. In other words one might call the changes that took place under Zaher’s rule “an early modern” era in Palestine. Egyptian rule accelerated the process of change, but did not create it (Safi 2004, p. 275).

7The 18th century paved the way for the radical changes of the 19th. One should also keep in mind the fact that these changes happened gradually. Based on these introductory considerations, it can be seen that we need to interrogate and revise our historical understanding of the role of both internal and external factors in modern Palestinian history (Safi 2004, p. 275-280).

The French Expedition and Territorial Awareness

8When the French army marched into Palestine under the command of Napoleon in February 1799, it faced powerful and unexpected resistance from the inhabitants of Jabal Nablus under the command of their local leaders. They attacked the French army while it was marching towards Acre, especially near the valley of Azzun, taking part in the battle of Tal-Tabur. The participation of the inhabitants and local leaders of Nablus in the struggle against Napoleon reflects a territorial sense in resistance to a foreign army. Ihsan al-Nimr wrote in this regard that “the truth is that [Bonaparte’s] morale was weakened around Jabal Nablus, in the valley of Azzun, Qaqun, and al-Marj … he headed for Acre with disappointment and without determination” (al-Nimr 1961, p. 223-224). They fought for their homeland and interests. Sheikh Yussuf Jarrar wrote a poem asking the inhabitants, especially the prominent families of Jabal Nablus, to march towards Acre in order to fight the French. (Al-Nimr 1961, p. 210-211). In Doumani’s words, the poet exposes “the cohesiveness of this reign’s social formation and the shared sense of identity among its inhabitants versus the factionalism of multiple territorially based centers of power … The most striking aspect of this poem is what it does not say. Not once in its twenty-one verses does it mention Ottoman rule, much less the need to protect the empire or the glory and honor of serving the sultan” (Doumani 1995, p. 16-17).

Territorial Awareness during the Revolt of 1834

9Although many factors contributed to the outbreak of the 1834 anti-Egyptian uprising, including religious, political and economic ones, the two principal motives among insurgents were conscription and disarmament, which specifically account for the outbreak of the Palestinian revolt in April 1834. Ibrahim Pasha had initiated in Palestine a dual policy of conscription and disarmament. His plan was to apply these principles (disarming the local population and subjecting them to military conscription) simultaneously in Jerusalem, Damascus and Aleppo. He explained his father’s orders to this effect at a meeting in Jerusalem with the local leaders of Jerusalem, Nablus, and Hebron on April 25th. A contemporary account of this meeting revealed the aims of Ibrahim Pasha and the reaction of the local leaders as follows:

“therefore, [he stated], it is necessary for you, if you are true Moslems and wish the welfare of the nation, to send in your men from every city and from every village, so that they may learn from their youth the art of war and be trained in it, and so be ready in case of need.”
Silence fell upon the meeting and for a long time they thought of how to reply: “Your order be upon our heads, but there is no need for us to give up our boys and young men for war. When the enemy of our religion enters our country, all of us, young and old, will go out and fight and willingly shed our blood for our faith and our fatherland.”
The Pasha replied: “How do you expect to wage war if you know not the art thereof?”
They replied: “This art of war, known to our grandfathers, who withstood the enemy and defended their country until now, is also known to us, and as they once did, so we also hope to do in the future.” (Spyridon 1938, p. 90).

10This discussion reflects the discursive preparedness of the local leaders to defend their country. After an explanation of the orders of his father, Ibrahim Pasha called for a levy of 3000 men from the districts of Nablus, Jerusalem, and Hebron, and 200 from the Holy City itself. Diplomatically, the representatives in the meeting accepted this plan and asked for permission to go back to their districts in order to enforce these orders. Some notables from the Nablus and Hebron regions had already determined to revolt against the Egyptians, and Ibrahim’s demands in the meeting hardened their resolve (Divine 1994, p. 57). Large numbers of people, notably Muslims who would be subject to the levy, were disturbed. Some of them decided to revolt, saying: “it is far better to die with our arms in our hands than to give our beloved children to everlasting slavery without the hope of ever seeing them again” (Spyridon 1938, p. 90). The notables of Safad justified their opposition to conscription by saying “the son is the core of the heart, and naturally no one can leave his son without the sacrifice of life itself” (Rustum 1934, p. 54). Qasim al-Ahmad, who led the revolt, wrote the following to the local leaders of the Jerusalem and Hebron districts: “Fight bravely for your homes and your honor, for your rights and especially for your beloved children of whom he is thinking to deprive you for military service” (Safi 2004, p. 189). Peasants, who had fought under the command of their local leaders in skirmishes, or against the walis, had no motivation to fight for the Egyptian government, so they were not ready to sacrifice their children and subject them to military service. The words of Qasim al-Ahmad reflect the feelings of the local inhabitants towards Egyptian rule. They considered it as an imposing foreign rule, inimical to their interests. Egyptian policies were seen as interfering into their affairs in unprecedented ways (Bazili 1989, p. 161). Most sectors were negatively affected, including peasants, townspeople and Bedouins, but also local leaders such as ‘ulama, traders and artisans. Elements from all these sectors participated in the revolt. But the sector most affected was that of the peasants, since the policies of conscription and disarmament would principally fall on them. The ensuing uprising extended from Safad in the north to Gaza in the south. The principal remaining question is why the revolt so closely coincides with, and was also limited to, the approximate territory of historical Palestine. Why did the leaders of Safad send their letter to Qasim al-Ahmad in Nablus, not to the leaders of south Lebanon, even though there were many causes for revolt in south Lebanon? This despite the fact that Safad had been a sandjak in the wilayat of Saida since 1660. In the same way, the other Palestinian sandjaks were part of the wilayat of Damascus.

11Gabriel Bear thought that the “local notables of the hilly areas in Palestine resisted conscription decreed by the Egyptian government, because this would have undermined the patron-client relationship between them and their fellahin.” For him, in other words, it was a revolt of local leaders at the head of their fellahin against impositions of the centralized government (Safi 2004, p. 189). The fact of the matter is that local populations massively decided to resist the Egyptian policies of conscription and disarmament. Mountain fellahin, all of whom possessed firearms, were accustomed to participating in local fighting. When the occasion arose, subordinate chiefs mobilized their followers and joined their higher leadership. In most cases local forces were used in the local struggle for power or in protecting the mountains from Bedouin raids. Sometimes the chiefs backed the Ottoman government; other times they resisted Ottoman walis who tried to restrict the autonomy of the mountain district. As we mentioned above, in 1799 they had fought against the French expedition to protect their country (Abu-Izziddin 1929, p. 162-163). In all these skirmishes they fought side by side with their brothers, relatives, friends, neighbors, and chiefs. They fought one day or a few days and returned to their families and lands because they were first of all peasants having a strong connection with their land. But the Egyptian conscription was something different. The peasants’ families would lose their members, who could therefore no longer cultivate the land, and both their lands and their income would suffer. In addition the peasants had concrete interests in fighting alongside their chiefs but no such interest in fighting on the side of the Egyptians (Abu-Izziddin 1929, p. 108, 117). The local population thus had a great fear of military service and decided to resist it.

12Moreover, the peasants’ refusal to be disarmed may have been even stronger than the resistance to conscription. They had been carrying guns generation after generation, the weapons being handed down from father to son in order to protect themselves, their lands, their country, and their interests. In their view the call for giving up their weapons did not only imply that they were being deprived of traditional power, it also wounded their dignity and pride. Katafaku pointed out that “it’s easier for them to hand over their wives than their guns” (Katafaku 1937, p. 41). The chiefs too were proud of their men who carried guns as they stood beside them (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 397; Abu-Izziddin 1929, p. 165). The gun is the symbol of power.

13To sum up, Egyptian rule, which at the beginning had been well received by certain elements of the local leadership and people, became most unpopular within a few years. The whole Muslim population of Palestine turned against the direct and ever increasing interventions of this rule in the internal affairs of the people. Although the Egyptian government had done some things in favor of the population, it was now depriving them, not only of money, but also of properties, guns, and sons. The revolt that broke out in the country was therefore general and popular. Perhaps some local leaders placed their hopes in the possibility of aid being extended from the Ottoman Empire and European powers (Divine 1994, p. 58).

The Revolt

14An outbreak in Salt, the Transjordanian center of influence of the Tuqan family, was the first reported incident of peasants and bedouins joining forces against Ibrahim. Signs of unrest were displayed in the region of Hebron at the beginning of May 1834. Then Palestine witnessed a real fight between the fellahin and their leaders against Egyptian troops in most cities, such as Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramla, Safad, and Gaza (Safi 2004, p. 191-195). Neither Christians nor Jews appear to have participated in the revolt because, first of all, conscription and disarmament would not apply to them, and also because Egyptian rule actually improved their situation, giving them more rights than previously. They thus became a target for the rebels.

15The Egyptian troops faced the most serious defeat in the north of Palestine. The Nineteenth Regiment was defeated in the Plain of Esdraelon (Marj Ibn ‘Amir) by the peasants. Their commanding officer, Mustafa Bey, was wounded and only two of his higher officers reached Acre with him. Out of 1200-strong army, only 300 managed to escape to Haifa, naked and exhausted. These soldiers were transported by boat to Acre because they could not go there overland, as the rebels spread out almost everywhere outside the city walls (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 408, Doc. 3486).

16It is clear that this rebellion was not spontaneous in its outbreak or conduct, but coordinated by the leading notables of the cities of Jerusalem, Nablus and Hebron. Unfortunately, we have no documentary evidence of the planning that went into the first large-scale rebellion against the Egyptian administration.

Muhammad Ali Arrives in Person

17By the end of June 1834, almost every part of Palestine, except the cities of Gaza, Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Acre, had fallen into the hands of the rebels. They dominated the territory, from inland to the gates of the coastal towns. Germanus Bahri in his report to Egypt about the situation in Jaffa pointed out that “since the defeat of the 19th Regiment, we have been moving from bad to worse. All the villagers, up to the very gates of Jaffa, have risen in rebellion. Daily acts of violence occur at the very gates of this city, and no one dares go out to stop them” (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 407, Doc. 3484). The defeat of the Egyptians in many parts of Palestine weakened the soldiers’ spirits. (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 448, Doc. 3665).

18Finally Muhammad Ali decided to come in person to Palestine. He sailed from Alexandria at the head of more than 15000 soldiers and arrived at Jaffa on June 30 (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 417, Docs. 3524, 3527). Ibrahim Pasha had succeeded before in defeating the fellahin in a number of battles, before finding himself under siege in Jerusalem. But he sought a truce with the rebels before his father’s arrival at Jaffa, because of his difficult situation and his lack of ammunition. On the other hand, concerned about the impending arrival of Muhammad Ali with an army of fifteen thousand new troops, the local leaders sought also to arrange a truce with Ibrahim Pasha. He agreed to hold by this truce with the rebel leaders through the mediation of the mufti of Jerusalem, Tahir Efendi, and Husayn Abd al-Hadi. He accepted their demand that he abolishes conscription. But he insisted that the inhabitants pay the badal (1000piastres per man). Ibrahim Pasha also agreed to grant a general amnestyand pardon tothe rebels. They in turn asked for the withdrawal of the Egyptian army fromthe region. Ibrahim Pasha insisted maintaining a garrison in the citadel of Jerusalem to be supplied by the inhabitants. He appointed Qasim al-Ahmad as the governor of the region (Nablus, Hebron, and Jerusalem).After reaching the truce, the fellahin began to withdraw from the highways. Ibrahim Pasha moved to Jaffa, where he met his father (Spyridon 1938, p. 105-107).

19Ibrahim’s aim in concluding the truce was to put an end to the siege under which some of his troops had been placed, and thus gain time to go to Jaffa to meet his father, reorganize his troops, and bring in reinforcements. According to Neophytos, “this was done first to gain time, and secondly as a political ruse” (Spyridon 1938, p. 106). Katafaku remarked that “the truce was only a war trick” (Katafaku 1938, p. 47). Al-Baytar pointed out that Ibrahim broke his promise after he had new reinforcements (al-Baytar 1963, p. 25-26)

20In fact, Muhammad Ali did not want to make any compromise because of his ambitious regional goals. He therefore decided to restore order by force (Rustum 1934, p. 67). He and his son thus decided to give no time to the fellahin, so as to subdue them as quickly as possible (Spyridon 1938, p. 108). He then ordered Salim Pasha to march at the head of some troops to Lidd and Ramla in order to restore order in the region (Rustum 1934, p. 68). At the same time, he received Amir Amin, the son of Amir Bashir, discussed the general situation with him and commissioned him to go back to Lebanon and tell his father to move in the direction of the region of Safad (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 414, doc. 3513; p. 421, doc. 3541). Muhammad Ali Pasha dispatched his son at the head of more than 20 000 troops against the rebels (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 421, doc. 3541; p. 422, docs. 3544, 3546).

21When Qasim al-Ahmad learnt of the attack, he wrote to the leaders of Jerusalem and Hebron districts as follows :

Be it known to you all that the peace made between the deceitful Ibrahim Pasha and you and me was not a true one, but a trick by which he might escape the immediate danger, for he was then at our mercy. But now, when reinforcements have come to him, he disregards the peace and the oath, and behold, he has already set out to destroy us. Take you, therefore, your arms and use them courageously against the tyrant. Fight bravely for your homes and your honor, for your rights and especially for your beloved children of whom he is thinking to deprive you for military service. Strike now not against the unbeliever, but against your fellow-Moslems (Spyridon 1938, p. 108).

22In analyzing the letter, we find that Qasim al-Ahmad behaved here as the leader of the revolt, giving orders to the others. His words carry a sense of territorial awareness in the face of the Egyptians who represented a threat to the land, home, and children. Just as important was Qasim al-Ahmad’s appeal to the leaders and fellahin to fight for their rights, in the face of what he clearly recognized to be the foreigners imposing Egyptian rule.

23On July 11, 1834 Ibrahim Pasha left Jaffa and attacked the rebels in the Nablus area. Having defeated the Qasims, Jarrars, Jayyusis and Barqawis, Ibrahim Pasha passed through Arraba, the stronghold of his allies, the Abd al-Hadis, and entered Sanur, the famous fortress of the Jarrars.He then moved in the direction of Nablus and occupied it on 16 July 1834 without any opposition. Husayn Abd al-Hadi’s men fought on the side of Ibrahim in these battles (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 424, doc. 3555).

24Ibrahim then spent twenty days collecting the arms of the fellahin as well as the levy of young men. He warned the Nabulsis that if in the future a gun, a sword, or a dagger was found on anybody, death would be the punishment (Spyridon 1938, p. 111-112). From Nablus he dispatched troops to occupy Jenin and Nazareth while he proceeded to Jerusalem where the peasants surrendered (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 425, doc. 3562). In the meantime, Qasim al-Ahmad and his sons Muhammad and Yusuf, and the other notables went to Hebron and agreed with the shuyukh there to continue their armed resistance (Qar’aly 1927, p. 44).

25In the region of Safad, there were no serious encounters between the soldiery and the peasants. In response to the orders of Muhammad Ali Pasha, Amir Bashir advanced at the head of a few thousand Lebanese to the northern border of Palestine. He then issued one or two proclamations to the inhabitants of Safad, announcing his arrival and warning them of the consequences of their rebellion. In reply, the notables of this town authorized Shaykh Salih al-Tarshihi to go to the camp of the Amir and begin negotiations. Bashir then invited the notables of Safad to meet him at Bint Jubayl. Upon their arrival, the notables tendered their submission to the Egyptian government and begged for mercy. While he was in Safad, the Amir also received the submission of the surrounding districts (Katafaku 1937, p. 47; Rustum 1940-1942, p. 430, doc. 3585).

26About 28-29 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1250 / August 6, 1834 Ibrahim Pasha was already on his way to Hebron. After a brief clash at one hour’s distance from Hebron, the rebels retreated to the town to defend it against the Egyptians. A fierce battle followed in the streets of the town. The inhabitants and the fellahin fought bravely and desperately, but they suffered severely from artillery fire (Spyridon 1938, p. 113). As a result the Egyptians reoccupied the city at the cost of 260 casualties, among whom were three commanders, seven captains, and a few other officers (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 435, docs. 3611, 3613).

27In the Gaza district, the Bedouin tribes Awawna and Jubarat scouted out the Egyptian army. Egyptian Bedouins of the tribes of Awlad Ali, al-Jamaiyat, alJahma, and al-Fawayd were sent in June to Gaza to follow the rebels, plunder their properties and destroy their homes. This part of the rebellion hadbeensnuffed out and according to the British consular report the Bedouins lost about seventy men (among them was their shaykh, Salim al-Atawna) and some prisoners (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 429-430, doc. 3584; Gilbar 1990, p. 329).

28After subduing the whole of Palestine, Ibrahim Pasha followed his enemy at the head of 4000 infantry and 2000 cavalry. Leaving Hebron on Rabi’ al-Thani 8, 1250 / August 14, 1834 Ibrahim Pasha moved towards Transjordan and its castle, Karak. Having failed to make a stand in the face of Ibrahim Pasha at Hebron, Qasim al-Ahmad and his supporters had crossed the Jordan River to take refuge in Karak. Relying on the support of their Bedouin clients and on the distance that separated them from the Pasha, the leaders of the revolt thought they could take refuge in Karak and wait for another opportunity (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 439-441, docs. 3625, 3630, 3635).

29Upon his arrival at Karak, Qasim al-Ahmad besieged it. After a short resistance, the town surrendered (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 445, doc. 3653 ; p. 446-447, doc. 3661). As a measure of last resort, Qasim al-Ahmad, ‘Isa al-Barqawi and their sons took refuge with the Anazah Arabs. Fear of the vengeance of the Pasha, however, made the chief shaykh of this tribe, Duwaykhi al-Samir, deliver his refugees into Egyptian hands (Katafaku 1937, p. 49 ; al-Nimr 1938, p. 258). Qasim al-Ahmad and ‘Isa al-Barqawi were immediately put to death in Damascus; Qasim’s two sons and others were sent to Acre and beheaded there (Rustum 1934, p. 81-82; al-Nimr 1938, p.258,274).

The Results of the Revolt

30The modern weaponry used by the Egyptian troops produced relatively high casualties. The large number of casualties indicates the gap between the performance of the rebels, lacking military experience, and the Egyptians, especially in open battles against regular troops with cannon. The Egyptian troops were also better equipped and organized than any local force. This large number of casualties, however, also reflects how peasants demonstrated strong resolution and readiness to make sacrifices for their choices. It also shows how aggressive Ibrahim Pasha was in subduing the rebellion. The weapons used by the peasants were not like those of the Egyptians. Firearms were common but they usually consisted of antiquated matchlock rifles (barouda) often handed from father to son. A large assortment of swords was used, from the long sayf to the short shibriyya (dagger). Nomad horsemen employed long spears, while fellahin were rarely seen without a club of some sort, javelins, nabbut, dabbus, or matraq. Pistols (tabanja) were of greater effectiveness in the town and it is there that they appeared most frequently (Divine 1994, p. 51).

31The number of Egyptian soldiers killed is unknown but it was at least several thousand according to official reports (Manna 1999 p. 154; Mishaqa 1955, p. 123). This would seem to indicate that given the disparity between quality of weapons, the rebels’ performance was not bad at all. They won many battles and this certainly encouraged them. Many of the leaders were killed or sent to jail in Acre to work in factories and quarries. Some were sent into exile in Egypt where they were also forced to work in quarries (Rustum 1988, p. 162-164).

32Ibrahim imposed a burdensome penalty on the inhabitants to compensate the sums which he had expended in his military expeditions against the rebels (Spyridon 1938, p. 110). He implemented the conscription and the disarmament after the subjection of the revolt. More than 9000 young men were captured, conscripted and sent to Egypt and other places. Some young men from Jerusalem were placed in the cavalry regiment. Ibrahim used harsh and tyrannous measures to frighten the inhabitants so that they do not repeat their rebellion (Rustum 1940-1942, p. 442, doc. 3644; p. 448, doc. 3665). Coercion became the dominant feature of Egyptian rule. Instances of violent and arbitrary action by Egyptian troops increased, in particular during conscription campaigns.

33Nevertheless, local leaders played a significant role in winning battles and in defining the political consequences of an Egyptian victory. The Egyptian policy of disarming the local population and collecting weapons could never be fully implemented. The revolt forced the Egyptians to collect the revenue only from those who were entirely without any political clout. Conscription also became optional for the sons of local leaders and tended to be directed at those with marginal standing in society such as the peasants and artisans. The Egyptians implemented the conscription very irregularly in time and in place, and without any system. The Egyptian authorities used oppressive and cruel measures in seizing young men where they were found, in the streets and markets or returning from the mosques (Mishaqa 1955, p. 122-123; Bazili 1989, p. 161-162).

34In his letter to the Sublime Porte dated Rabi’ al-Awwal 6, 1250 / July 13, 1834 Qasim al-Ahmad had asked the Ottoman Empire to send governors and troops to seize Acre and other Palestinian cities. On the other hand, the truce between the leaders of the revolt and Ibrahim indicates that the leaders of Nablus and Jerusalem headed by Qasim al-Ahmad had not intended to fight “until victory” and the end of the occupation but to restore their position (Qasim al-Ahmad for example) and to abolish the deleterious policies of the Egyptian administration. As Divine states,

peasants not only pursued the war more vigorously than notables, but they were also unwilling to abide by compromise agreement that relieved besieged Egyptian forces and extended support to them. In marching against the Egyptians, peasants girded for absolute battle. Why did the local notables find war a compelling strategy? Having failed to stall the process of centralization, war in past decades had taught an important political lesson. Imperial forces could be compelled to accommodate local interests. In short, war had previously predisposed imperial authorities to accommodation and created a powerful motive for reconciliation (Divine 1994, p. 59).

35In the light of what we have shown, we are led to reevaluate our view of the role of the peasants, who in most studies are depicted as traditional, backward and conservative. Being considered as completely dominated by the local ruling class, the peasants are characterized as incapable of taking political initiatives. They have therefore tended to be excluded from the historical narrative (Doumani 1999, p. 12-13). In view of their dominant role in the revolt, one can only conclude to their considerable capability to respond to the new challenges of Egyptian rule. They thus need to be inserted into the history of Palestine in that period and their particular roles and overall agency recognized. In addition, the participation of the Bedouins in the revolt points, contrary to traditional accounts, to a more or less permanent connection (in this instance, alliance) between the peasants and the Bedouins, who did not hesitate to pool their resources and fight side by side in defense of their interests in the face of Egyptian rule.

36When the tide turned in Egypt’s favor, making peace resulted in the fragmentation of local forces as much as (or more than) waging war had done. Local leaders easily made peace with the new political conditions. The 1834 revolt launched a degree of hostility that could be temporarily stopped by Egyptian military superiority. Each party deeply distrusted the other. Ibrahim had to reinforce the military presence in those towns that had been the principal centers of revolt such as Safad, Nablus, and Hebron. He also stationed a series of garrisons in other places to impose security (Thomson 1985, p. 647). It is true that Ibrahim, by employing the tools of brutality and duplicity, had succeeded in subduing the rebellion brutally, not only in the towns but also in the rural areas, but his policy left a legacy of indignation among “an embittered” people ready to rise at any moment against the Egyptians (Cunningham 1966, p. 78).

37Egypt did not make radical changes in the political system. The Egyptians killed and exiled the leaders who did not cooperate, and who resisted their policies of conscription and disarmament. But they allowed the other leaders who were ready to cooperate with them to continue in their positions, the outstanding example being the Abd al-Hadis, whose position and influence increased after the revolt of 1834 because of their cooperation with Egyptian authority. Indeed, Ibrahim allowed the Abd al-Hadis to keep their local militia (Bazili 1989, p. 170).

38Although Muhammad Ali succeeded in destroying the Mamluks in Egypt, he failed to do anything analogous in Palestine and Syria and was made to retreat in the face of the powerful structure of the local leadership system. While the Egyptians certainly diminished the military power of the local leaders, they could not, in the aftermath of the revolt, install centralized, direct rule in Palestine. Nor, however, was there to be a return to local autonomy and decentralization (Divine 1994, p. 61-62). In such conditions, Ibrahim Pasha did his best to weaken the local leadership, attempting to contain the shuyukh and integrate them into the administrative bureaucracy in a rather subordinate role (Bazili 1989, p. 170). Some notables chose to adopt the government line, since it assured their survival and sustained part of their socio-economic interests and political ambitions. In short, the Egyptians did not destroy the local system, but reduced it, notably weakening the leaders who had taken part in the revolt, and who thus lost much of their influence and autonomy. It is to be noted that similar processes had taken place in the Galilee much earlier, in the era of Zaher al-Umar and al-Jazzar Pasha in the 18th century (Manna 1999, p. 157).

39Although the revolt spread all over the country, there was no general committee to lead it. True, connections were established between the collective leadership in Safad and the leaders of Nablus through an exchange of letters, but there is no historical evidence of an overall leadership or even regional coordination among those who led the uprising in the various districts. It is more than likely that Qasim al-Ahmad considered himself the general leader of the revolt. From all appearances it was he who reached the truce with Ibrahim Pasha, one to which the insurgents were committed. Then there is the fact that the Safad leaders sent their letter to the leadership in Nablus, which would indicate that that is where they thought the main leaders of the revolt were. It is clear at any rate that the most determined of the rebels were the chiefs of the Nablus district and their followers, all led by Qasim al-Ahmad and his sons (Qar’aly 1927, p. 43; Abir 1975, p. 310). This Nablus location reflected the historical roots of power in Palestine. Nablus was governed by native families, and had been continuously for most of the Ottoman period. It is no wonder that Nablus played a pivotal role in the 1834 rebellion (Doumani 1995, p. 19). Moreover, the spatial center of the revolt was in the central mountains of Palestine, signifying a decisive geographical position. The coastal areas were more vulnerable to attack and within easy reach of government troops. The mountains, in contrast, provided protection from physical danger. They constituted the backbone of the revolt.

40There is no specific information about mechanisms employed by the leaders of the revolt in their coordination or connections. Questions yet unanswered include whether there was a real and continued coordination or even ongoing connections between the regional leaderships. In the Hebron district the rebels were led by the Amrus. Around Jerusalem and Bethlehem the leadership was in the hands of the Abu-Ghoshes and the Sam’ans, supported by some of the Nablus chiefs. In Galilee, the Aghas of Hawwara joined forces with the remnants of the local leadership in the area. Safad suffered from the absence of single outstanding leaders or leadership families, unlike Nablus or Jerusalem. Its leadership therefore was a collective leadership, which consisted of different elements, mainly the religious elite and some military. On the coast Bedouins, helped by some of the important families from the surrounding villages, besieged the main Egyptian-held towns. In the Haifa district the revolt was led by the Madis, whose position was considerably undermined during Egyptian rule and were not able to rebuild again. As noted by Abir,

had it not been for the lack of co-ordination among the rebel chiefs and their disunity even in the face of the common enemy, they might have driven the Egyptians out of Palestine. Even so, it took most of Ibrahim’s army and the presence of Muhammad Ali himself, with whatever reinforcements he could muster in Egypt, to crush the rebellion of the Palestine chiefs, which seriously threatened the continuation of the Egyptian Government in the whole of Syria (Abir 1975, p. 310).

41It must be added that Palestine and Syria had often known oppressive rule by various pashas. When Ottoman authorities went too far, and especially when they infringed on local privileges, spontaneous revolts had occurred in different parts of the country. The rebellion of 1834 was something different. It had the blessing of the ‘ulama, it was general, and it was the most bitter rebellion of all (Abir 1975, p. 310). Finally and most importantly, as has been shown here, the revolt indicates the presence of an embryonic territorial, and therefore social and political awareness.


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1  One example is the manuscript of Timartashi (d. 1644-1645), Al-khabar al-tamm f¡ dhikr hudud al-ard al-muqaddasa wa Filastin wa-l-Sham.


Assistant professor of history, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza, Palestine.
Tél: 972-8-2555609.

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