Know Your History: James Finn’s Observations In The Holy Land 1846-1856
A series where I bring to you news from the newspaper archives and historical documents to debunk common misconceptions about the Middle East conflict.
Back in 1845, James Finn, British Consul in Jerusalem, arrived in the Holy Land. He and his wife were devout Christians (his wife was actually a missionary, while he denied doing so during his years in Jerusalem). They were very sympathetic to the plight of the local Jews, persecuted by the Muslims.
Finn wrote some accounts that help us gain insight into life there at the time. Such as his 1868 book Byeways in Palestine, in which he details his travels in the land, which are interspersed with relevant verses from the Bible.
The book is further proof of a Jewish presence in the land before the First Aliyah which began in 1882, the desolation of the land, the Muslim inhabitants not being indigenous to the land, as well as evidence of the strong Jewish connection to the land and its holy places. For instance:
- Preface – Finn talks about passing by “desolated villages” and the land being cursed “in its want of population”
- Page 9 – mentioning that the Arabs “buy slaves to sow and reap for them” (he meets one of the slaves on page 155, and mentions “slave-traffic in Gaza” on page 174)
- Page 107 – speaking about numerous Jews residing in Safed
- Page 144 – mentioning that the name “Palestine” came from the ancient Romans
- Page 227 – mentioning that the “population fluctuates according to the invasions or retiring of tyrannical strangers”
- Page 231 – speaking about the Turkomans living in a part of the land, “a race of people not to be mistaken for Arabs”
- Page 243 – mention of a small Jewish community in Shefa ‘Amer, nowadays an Arab city in the North District of Israel, consisting of 30 families but “their numbers had formerly been more considerable”
- Page 244 – mention of the Jews “whiling away the time by recitation of their evening prayers on horseback, and conversing in the Hebrew language about their warrior forefathers of Galilee.”
In his later book Stirring Times: Or Records from Jerusalem Consular Chronicles of 1853 to 1856 Vol 1 (1878), Finn speaks of the plight of the Jews in the Holy Land (from pages 101-132).
The whole section is fascinating, but in particular, note the following:
- Page 101 – Finn mentioning there being about 10,000 Jews in Jerusalem
- Page 102 – In 1853, the Jewish population being “entirely congregated within their four holy cities” (Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed)
- Page 103 – referring to “these native Jews”
- Pages 106-109 – mention of the Damascus blood libel and its impact on the Jews of the Holy Land
- Pages 110-113 – other examples of Jewish persecution in the Holy Land at this time
- Pages 118-119 – dues paid by the Jews to the Muslims, which I will reproduce below
The Jews are humiliated by the payment, through the Chief Rebbe pays pensions to Moslem local exactors, for instance the sum of £300 a year to the Effendi whose house adjoins the ‘wailing place’ or fragment of the Temple enclosure, for permission to pray there; £100 a year to the villagers of Siloam for not disturbing the graves on the Mount of Olives; £50 a year to the Ta’amra Arabs for not injuring the sepulchre of Rachel near Bethlehem, and about £10 a year to Sheikh Abu Gosh for not molesting their people on the high road to Jaffa, although he was highly paid by the Turkish Government as Warden of the Road. All these are mere exactions made upon their excessive timidity, which it is disgraceful to the Turkish Government to allow to be practised.
- Page 123 – Finn writing “The intense attachment of a believing Israelite to the Holy Land can be but faintly appreciated by others.”
- Page 128 – In Jerusalem, Hebrew being “a living tongue of every day utility.”
- Page 129 – Finn detailing persecution of the Jews of Hebron (well before even the 1929 riots)
- Page 130 – Finn speaking of experiencing “many acts of kindness from Jews in the Holy Land”