A response to Haaretz: Jews and Ottomans in Jerusalem - ZEKERIYA KURŞUN

A response to Haaretz: Jews and Ottomans in Jerusalem

In the early months of last year, Israel wanted to collect tax from the businesses of churches in Jerusalem. Perhaps for the first time in history, numerous churches, and primarily Kamame Church, closed its doors of worship in protest of this decision. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended this decision based on reactions around the world – but he did not cancel it entirely. According to recent reports, certain deep-rooted Muslim families in East Jerusalem who are exempted from paying tax are facing a similar threat. Of course, though this is not an easy decision, taking into consideration everything Israel has done to date, it is not very unlikely.

In its Jan. 24 edition, the Israeli state’s mouthpiece, the Haaretz daily, mentioning the tax practices to which a ruling family in the Ottoman era exposed Jews, is significant in terms of the timing. Frankly, the article discusses an administrative period of a few years only. But it uses an ironic headline: “Like Father Like Son: The Ottoman Governor Who Tortured the Jews of Jerusalem.”

A lie with a touch of truth

The story begins with Muhammed Ibn Faruk being appointed in the early 17th century as the lieutenant governor of the Jerusalem sanjak (an administrative division of the Ottoman Empire). The story based on a father and son, who ruled between 1621 and 1626, collecting excessive taxes from Jews, contains a series of errors that require correction. Even the claim that 3,000 Jews lived in Jerusalem in the 17th century is on its own a lie. Just as there are not enough records on this topic, this figure not having reached even 10,000 three centuries from this date is sufficient to show this is not the case.

It would not be right in the name of history to say anything precise regarding the practices of the Ibn Faruks (it should be Ibn Ferruh) mentioned in the article without going through the relevant archives. However, the practices claimed by the article, and the Ottoman-based administration intervened for about five years, being presented as though it covered the entire 17th century, is nothing other than indicting centuries of Ottoman rule through historical lampooning and implication.

Despite the implication throughout the article when talking about the father and son Ibn Faruks, the author could not hide the truth and confesses that the period in question is an exception by saying:

"During the four centuries of Ottoman rule, Jerusalem saw no lack of corrupt and problematic rulers, who were hard on the Jews and occasionally demanded exorbitant fees, forcing the Jews to seek loans and grants from Jews in the diaspora or to pawn their goods."

Whether it be a confession of surrendering to the truth, this statement shows that it can never be withheld, and that those writing about history can only produce lies, not history.

Everything else said aside, this confession made in Haaretz confirms once more our claim that the future of Jerusalem can only be determined by taking lessons from Ottoman legacy.

Outcome of YTB and Palestine platform

The archival efforts undertaken by the Palestine Platform under the coordination of the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), have resulted in outcomes that constitute a response to Haaretz - in addition to numerous very important topics that changed perceptions. Hundreds of stories have been found showing that no member of any religion or sect in Palestine and Jerusalem witnessed any persecution under the four-century Ottoman rule. It is not that there were no incidents from time to time that led to unjust treatment due to certain stakeholders or tyrants' miserliness. However, the system allowed those who faced even the slightest injustice to reach get their voices heard at the palace. As soon as the news of unjust practices reached Istanbul, orders were given immediately through new regulations, and victims' rights would be safeguarded.

For example, a complaint that was sent to Istanbul on Sept. 5, 1743, shows one of the standard practices back at that time: When two Jews, who were tenants of the Sahratullah foundation in Jerusalem, were pressured by some trustees with an excuse to raise the rent, even though they were paying their house rent regularly, they wrote to Istanbul. With an order the sultan sends to Jerusalem's Qadi, he immediately orders the trustees through the court to prevent them from increasing the rent on the basis of their "pure miserliness." In one other example: In Jerusalem, while Jews are able to grind their wheat at any mill, it is shown that Istanbul took action again upon some attempting to make mills specific to them. The Jerusalem Qadi and administrative chief was sent strict orders including harsh statements with respect to this matter as well. Since Jews can use any mill they want like in the past, those who were harmed as a result of this matter, if any, were ordered to be compensated for their losses, preventing Muslim-Jew discrimination.

There are hundreds of records among the documents found in the Ottoman archive about requesting nothing other than legal taxes from the Jews of Jerusalem, treating Jews that visit Jerusalem kindly, the protection of the poor, et cetera. None about preventing Jews from reading the Torah or worshipping at their homes, nor about preventing their trade practices that are in line with the laws.

Even if there is no ill-will behind Haaretz bringing up the story in question, our intention with respect to this article is to benefit from historical experiences. The Turkish saying, attributed to Yunus Emre,"He who prospers through oppression cannot escape a miserable future," should not be forgotten.

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