by Jerrold L. Sobel

For those unfamiliar with the term "pogrom," it is a word of Yiddish derivation formulated by Jews living in a segregated area in what was once Tsarist Russia. To Jews suffering under its consequences pogroms meant massacre, rapine, loss of homes, personal property, and desecration of Synagogues in areas where they lived. A particularly vexing period of time spanned four decades between 1881-1922. Researching this era, as I'm oft to do, my attention diverted to another time and place and a little known incident called, "The Forgotten Pogrom of 1834."

The pogrom occurred in Safed Israel, a city located to the north of Jerusalem and an important hub of trade during the 19th century. As such, it had long been a bone of contention between the Ottoman empire and Egypt, particularly during this time frame. What captivated my interest was not so much the debauchery itself since a search of Jewish history could easily produce other occasions of greater personal and material loss. But the fact that this pogrom occurred at all flies in the face of modern Arab propagandists and their sympathizers which claim, if not for Zionism and the re-creation of the state of Israel, native Jews and Palestinians existed in harmony for hundreds of years; a prevarication proven to be without merit.

"The Great Plunder of Safed," as historians also refer to it was a tug of war for hegemony in Palestine and Syria between the Wali of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, and Arab clans affiliated with the Ottoman empire. Wishing to rid themselves of Egyptian dominance, the clans united in revolt against Ali. In conjunction with other issues, forced conscription into the Egyptian army was the main catalyst leading to the insurrection. Led by a dismissed Egyptian administrator, Qasim al-Ahmad, the rebels quickly occupied southern Syria and ancient Jewish cities, Nablus, Hebron, and Jerusalem. By the end of May 1834, Muslim clans from Nablus attacked and wrested Jerusalem from Egyptian control killing many Christians and Jews during the siege.

To re-establish his control, Ali raised a huge army and sent his best general, his oldest son, Ibrahim Pasha who ruthlessly retook all the cities occupied by the rebels, hanging Qasim and massacring hundreds before withdrawing his army back to Egypt.

Safed was a hotbed of rebel activity during the revolt and Pasha, with great vengeance and cruelty, laid waste to the city's Muslim inhabitants before leaving. Prior to this carnage approximately 2000 mostly retired wealthy Jews resided in Safed, for them the real devastation was yet to unfold.

Characteristic of other pogroms throughout history, despite Jewish support, the rebels scapegoated the Jews of Safed for their losses. Not long after Pasha's departure, hordes of Arabs began descending upon Safed, the plunder of the Jews had begun.

The initial incitement was engendered by a self described Muslim prophet named Muhammad Damoor, who the previous year prophesied a massacre of the Jews to occur exactly one year hence. To the day, on June 15, 1834, he fulfilled his own prophesy. Rushing into the market place he instigated the pogrom screaming, "true Believers rise up in just wrath against the Jews, and despoil them of their gold, and their silver, and their jewels." Which they did.

For 33 days and nights the most despicable outrages were committed against the Hebrew community of Safed. Both men and women were raped, beaten, and robbed. Children, grasped from the arms of their mother's were tortured, many dismembered having their eyes gouged out before being put to death in front of their parents. Ancient Synagogues were torched along with congregants seeking refuge inside. Those lucky enough to escape suffered great deprivation hiding out in the fields and mountains surrounding the city. During the pogrom, famed English traveler, A.W. Kingslake was passing through the holy land and gave the following first hand account which can be found in his intriguing collection of adventures entitled, "Eothen." (See here.)

"The most odious of 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 his whole family."

In fairness, there were reportedly instances of Arab neighbors hiding Jews because of past relationships or for money but in most instances during this month of havoc the Muslims were duplicitous. They would send out messages that the violence had ended and allow the Jews to come out of hiding, only to attack and ravage them once again.

Facing great personal danger many Rabbis tried appealing to Muslim elders to stop the bloodbath and lost their lives for their efforts. Rabbi Israel of Shklov sent letters clandestinely to foreign consulates in Beirut from his mountain hideout describing the slaughter being inflicted upon the Jews of Safed. He based his pleas for help on the fact that many in the city were foreign nationals. Finally, diplomatic pressure hastened Pasha's return to Safed and on July 17, 1834 the pogrom was conclusively repressed.

When the dust eventually settled, an estimated 500 Jews were murdered during the pogrom. Amongst the dead were many esteemed Rabbis. Along with the deceased, hundreds were wounded and maimed for life. Thirteen Synagogues containing ancient Torahs were burned to the ground. Most Jewish homes were stripped to the foundation by looters seeking what was left behind by those killed and those which were able to flee.

Desolate but always resilient, the Jews of Safed began rebuilding their lives only to be set upon twice more within three years; first by the great earthquake of 1837 and yet again by another pogrom the following year. Soon it became too much to bear, the entire Jewish community in the area was all but destroyed.

It took several decades, and only due to the efforts of famed philanthropist, Sir Moses Chaim Montefiore, were Jews once again able to re-establish in Safed at the dawn of the 20th century.


EPILOGUE TO THIS SORDID TALE: Besides exposing the myth "if not for the state of Israel, Jews and Arabs lived peacefully," the great plunder of 1834 was not the first or last time Jews of Safed were victims of Muslim pogroms; the first being in 1660 and in more recent history, one hundred years later in 1934.

Replete with all the standard attributes common to pogroms both in Europe and in Arab lands where they lived in dhimmitude, the Jews of Safed were stateless in their own homeland. They were second class citizens lacking political recourse and were easy prey to the whims of local populaces and their leaders; Even in Israel, "The Forgotten Safed Pogrom of 1834" is is oblivious to most. It may however be a bit of history Israelis today might be wise to relearn.


This was published today in the IsraeliAdvocate.

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