New Perspectives for Jerusalem’s Late Ottoman and Mandate Social History

by Falestin Naili

The round-table entitled “New Perspectives for Jerusalem’s Late Ottoman and Mandate Social History: Sources and Resources in Jordan” was held on the 24th of November 2014 at the Ifpo Amman. Supported by the Ifpo and the ERC-financed research project “Opening Jerusalem Archives: For a Connected History of ‘Citadinité’ in the Holy City (1840-1940)”, this round-table was conceived and organised by Falestin Naili, research associate at the Ifpo Amman and member of the ERC project. It brought together four members of the ERC project with their colleagues of the University of Jordan in order to present and discuss their respective research in relationship to the ERC project’s aim of overcoming the segmented historiography of Jerusalem by opening and interconnecting the city’s archives and laying the framework for an urban history approach to Jerusalem.

The round-table was welcomed by Vanessa Guéno (Ifpo Amman), who underlined that the Ifpo is currently relaunching the Ottoman studies and who emphasized the possibilities of future synergies between the Open Jerusalem Project and Ifpo Research Programs.

Vincent Lemire, executive director of the ERC Open-Jerusalem Project, briefly presented the scope, the scientific framework and the global schedule of the ERC project (2014-2019). He underlined the importance of Jordan’s archival sources and institutional actors dealing with Jerusalem’s history. Hence, he explained that the ERC project team was eager to meet their colleagues from the Center for Manuscripts and Documents and the Committee for the History of the Bilad Al Sham of the University of Jordan in Amman.

In her presentation entitled “Jerusalem, Amman, Beirut and beyond: moving from the Jerusalem municipal archives to the collective memory of Ottoman Jerusalem in search of citadinité (urban citizenship)”, Falestin Naili presented the first results of her analysis of the Arabic minutes of Ottoman Jerusalem’s municipal council for the period from 1892 – 1917, which account for about 45% of this rare primary source. These hand-written minutes document the decisions and announcements of the council (founded several years before the Ottoman Provincial Law on Municipalities of 1877) and offer a wealth of information and many glimpses of daily life issues in Jerusalem. About two-thirds of the members of the municipal council were elected and one third were ex officio members. Muslims, Christians and Jews were among the members and the Ottoman government chose the mayor among the elected members. After a short digression into the material and palaeographic aspects of the minutes, Falestin Naili gave examples of the issues dealt with in the municipal minutes, emphasizing that revenue-generating activities were an important preoccupation of this urban institution spearheading Jerusalem’s development of modern infrastructures and services. As an interconfessional interethnic urban institution interacting directly with the citizens and the imperial authorities, the municipality was probably the most important mediating structure for Jerusalem’s urban society, translating imperial impulses into local activities and relaying local realities and initiatives back to Istanbul. This new picture of Jerusalem’s society at the end of the Ottoman period should be complemented by several other sources, such as court registers, local press, imperial documents and, last but not least, autobiographical writings and collective memory narratives from this period.

Yasemin Avci, Associate Professor at the University of Pamukkale and member of the ERC team, presented her analysis of the Ottoman language minutes (about 55% of the total text) of Jerusalem’s municipal council for the period from 1892 – 1917 and their link with the imperial level of governmentin a paper entitled “Jerusalem Municipal Archives and Istanbul Imperial Archives: how to interconnect the two levels”. She explained that the resolutions of the municipal council are in a rough draft format, since they were for the internal use of the council itself. Nonetheless, they could occasionally be inspected by central government authorities. She then placed the municipal council back into the new governmental structure created as a result of the Tanzimat reforms, which signified the development of a legal authoritarian regime in the Ottoman Empire. Within the pyramidal structure extending from Istanbul to the provinces and sanjaks, the municipal council was at the bottom as a means of connecting urban administration to the imperial center. Although the objective of the creation of municipalities was not democratic, the municipal councils could at times nuance, circumvent and even subvert imperial intentions in their desire to assert varying degrees of autonomy.

amman

Abdul-Hameed Al-Kayyali, associated researcher at Ifpo Amman and member of the ERC project, presented the first results of his ongoing research on Jerusalem’s Hebrew press in a paper entitled “The Hebrew newspaper Ha-Zvi: a mirror of Jerusalem’s public affairs at the turn of the century”. The Hebrew press, and in particular Ha-Zvi (later called Ha-Or) for the period between 1840 and 1940 (available online www.jpress.org.il) provides some specific information which cannot be found in the minutes of the Jerusalem municipal council, such as the names of candidates for municipal elections. Furthermore, they provide many detailed accounts of daily life (schools, hospitals, transport, water etc.) in Jerusalem, mainly from the perspective of the city’s Jewish inhabitants. The work on Ha-Zvi is relatively easier than that on other newspapers, since (as a publication directed by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the «father» of Modern Hebrew) it contains a simpler Hebrew with less Talmudic and Yiddish terms than other newspapers of that period.

Nufan Al Sawariah, Professor in the History Department of the University of Jordan, presented a paper entitled “Water and its resources in Jerusalem: The Registers of Jerusalem’s mahkame shar‘iyya as a source of study”. He emphasized that the sijill shar ‘i has to be considered as an important mirror of life in Jerusalem, reflecting a large number of people’s everyday preoccupations. One of the most important daily life issues in Jerusalem was the regular cutting of water which sometimes even amounted to a complete halt. The sijillat contain many details about the extent of people’s suffering due to lack of water and about the efforts of the imperial and local government to resolve these problems. The registers also contain much information about the water infrastructure in and around Jerusalem, including public fountains, reservoirs and aqueducts, which were regularly supervised and repaired by government employees.

Abla Muhtadi, who is a researcher at the Center for Manuscripts and Documents of the University of Jordan, offered a rare insider perspective on the sijillat mahkame shar‘iyya in her presentation entitled “Jerusalem’s court registers as a source for social history”. In fact, although the prerogatives of the shari‘a courts diminished as a result of the reforms of the judiciary system in the second half of the 19th century, these courts remain an extremely valuable source on the daily life of Jerusalemites. Even after the separation of civil courts according to confession, Christians and Jews at times opted for appearing in front of the qadi instead of turning to the courts of their confessional group. The sijillat contain much information about the holders of public offices, about teachers and schools, shops, restaurants, hospitals and hotels, to name just a few categories of public spaces. In Abla Muhtadi’s words, the sijillat are the “living memory” of the city and its inhabitants, providing the texture of daily life.

The discussions in English and Arabic were stimulating and full of promising perspectives for further connections between different local archives, namely the court registers and the local press in Arabic, Hebrew and Ottoman. Mahmoud Yazbak (Professor of History, University of Haifa) who attended the round-table, offered much valuable advice based on his own work on the sijillat for Haifa and Jaffa and urged the participants to pay special attention to continuities between the period preceding the Tanzimat and the actual reform period. Vanessa Guéno shared her insights about the effects of the judiciary reforms from her work on Ottoman Homs. All the participants agreed that a larger event should be organised next year at the Center for Manuscripts and Documents, whose Director Mohammed Adnan Al Bakhit, has expressed his wish to host such an event.

Photo: two excerpts from the municipal minutes of 1910 (1326 hijri),
the first one being a public bid for meat for the municipal hospital,
the second an announcement of a public sale of tax-farming rights
according to the iltizam system


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