By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Dr. Nai’la al-Wa‘ri’s book “Jerusalem: The Political and Spiritual Capital of Palestine 1908–1948,” published recently, is a new addition to Palestine studies, especially those focused on Palestinian history in the first half of the 20th century.
The 567-page medium-sized ِArabic book, published by the Arab Institute for Studies and Publishing in Beirut, leverages a wide range of original and unpublished primary sources, focusing on the civilizational roots of Jerusalem that allowed it to be one of the leading cities in Palestine and southern Bilad al-Sham (i.e., Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon), being an advanced administrative center and a political capital in the period covered by the study. This is not to mention its great and central position in the hearts of Arabs, Muslims and the followers of monotheistic religions.
Readers of the book will notice the great effort made by the Jerusalemite researcher and historian Nai’la al-Wa‘ri, especially in making use of unpublished sources including the records of Ottoman Shari‘ah courts in Jerusalem, Jenin, Haifa, Hebron, Jaffa, Nablus, and Nazareth; the records of the Ottoman municipality of Nablus; logbooks of the Ottoman army; Ottoman land registry books (tabu); the records of the Ottoman Awqaf Directorate; and the records of the Jerusalem notary, etc. She also made use of 18 newspapers published during that period, such as al-Ittihad Al-Othmani, al-Liwa’, al-Kawkab, al-Jami‘ah al-Islamiyyah, al-Jami‘ah al-‘Arabiyyah, al-Jihad, al-Difa‘, Filastin, and others. Al-Wa‘ri also benefited from large numbers of Arab and foreign sources and references, including published documents, memoires, travel logs and academic studies. This gave this book qualitative advantages, and provided a lot of new information for those following the subject. Ultimately, this effort also contributes to preserving the Arab and Islamic identity of this blessed holy city.
The author sought to address this city’s civilizational dimension, shedding light on issues that have not received due attention. The book is divided into nine chapters, where the first deals with the geography of Jerusalem, which distinguishes it from the southern cities of Bilad al-Sham. For it combines a beautiful landscape, availability of transportation links, and a topography that helps in the defense of the city. The chapter also dealt with its physical and moral limits.
The second chapter deals with the physical and moral fortifications of Jerusalem, including walls, towers, trenches, tunnels, military bases, security centers and supply depots, highlighting its regional depth.
The third chapter deals with the urban fabric of Jerusalem, noting the establishment of its municipality in 1863, as the second municipality to be established in the Ottoman State after the municipality of Istanbul. The chapter tackles the urban expansion witnessed by the city, and the expansion of its masterplans to include neighboring villages or parts of them, such as the villages of Lifta, Silwan, al-Issawiya, ‘Ain Karem, al-Malha, Beit Safafa, al-Tur, Sur Baher and al-Walajah. The chapter chronicles the emergence of new Arab neighborhoods, as well as Jewish neighborhoods, whose growth accelerated under British occupation, where the area of Jerusalem increased fourfold during the British occupation period.
The fourth chapter discusses the city’s population fabric, birth and death rates, the effects of immigration, and Zionist and foreign colonial penetration, noting how the population was about 50 thousand in 1918, then grew to 244 thousand in 1948.
The fifth chapter covers the formations of the city’s Ottoman, British and then Jordanian administrative structures, while the sixth tackles the command and control centers, in terms of the administrative levels that ruled the city and implemented instructions. It also discusses how the relations were controlled between the central government bodies in Istanbul, London, Amman, on one hand, and the administration in Jerusalem, on the other hand. The chapter also deals with the role of the Ottoman governor and the command of the Fourth Army, the British military governor, the British high commissioner, and the Jordanian administration, with its military and civilian formations. It also discusses the Supreme Islamic Council and its great patriotic role under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Hussaini.
As for the seventh chapter, it analyzes the state of the local Palestinian popular consensus on Jerusalem, including efforts to care for the city, organizing expeditions, endowments and donations, and confronting aggressions. The eighth chapter deals with the state of Arab and Islamic consensus on the city of Jerusalem, expressed through visits and solidarity actions, and the mobilization and resistance to support the city, whereas the ninth chapter reviews the international position towards Jerusalem, and its relations and positions towards Ottoman Jerusalem and towards Jerusalem during the British occupation. Al-Wa‘ri begins this exploration from 1831, when the Egyptian campaign seized Jerusalem, the subsequent interest in the city, the events and activities related to obtaining concessions, purchasing land, establishing commercial headquarters, consulates, and the development of the movement of pilgrims and visitors, among others.
At the end of this valuable volume, al-Wa‘ri presents the results of her study, followed by appendices containing an important set of maps, documents and images, then a rich list of references, and finally, an index of the prominent figures and sites mentioned in the book.
One must congratulate the researcher, Dr. Nai’la al-Wa‘ri, for this important work, and for her service to Jerusalem in filling a gap in the historical studies related to Jerusalem.
Like with any work, there are always some notes to be made. Perhaps one of the most prominent observations is that the researcher did not benefit from British official documents that covered the period of her study, especially during the British occupation of Palestine 1917–1948. Specifically, the British documents kept in The National Archives, or what was previously known as the Public Record Office. It would have helped her to complete the whole picture of the city, especially since the documents of the British Foreign Office (F.O.), Colonial Office (C.O.), War Office (W.O.), and others contain important materials, given that the city was under the direct control of the British occupation. The book lacks input from many official British reports on the same period.
We also note that when the researcher explored Jerusalem as a center of local popular consensus, especially during the British occupation, it was not examined as a revolutionary center for the Palestinian people. Al-Fida’iyyah and Al-Ikha’ wa al-‘Afaf Associations were not explored as indicators of the beginnings of the resistance to the occupation since 1919, nor did the scholars and leaders of Jerusalem, who were behind them, receive adequate or sufficient discussion. The same applies to the first uprising in Palestine, which is the Jerusalem Uprising or the uprising of Mawsim al-Nabi Musa 1920, then the uprisings of al-Buraq 1929, the 1933 Intifadah and demonstrations, the role of Jerusalem in the Palestinian Revolt 1936–1939, and the 1948 War. Moreover, when the book addressed the Arab and Muslim consensus, it did not discuss critical milestones such as the convening of the General Islamic Conference in Jerusalem in December 1931, and the tremendous interaction it received on the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic levels. Perhaps one excuse for the researcher in that she focused more on the urban and demographic aspect of the city first and foremost.
Despite the huge range of references cited, other important references were worth reading, especially the Arabic book of Prof. Dr. Muhammad Issa Salhiyyah, Jerusalem: Population and Land 1858–1948, published in Beirut in 2009, which covers topics that are at the heart of her study. The same can be said about the volume, Studies on the Cultural Heritage of Jerusalem (in Arabic), which was prepared with the participation of 14 experts, published in Beirut in 2010; both books are published by the Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations.
Finally, the qualitative value of this study remains high, and it deserves to be in the hands of all those interested or specialists in the Palestine studies, and in all university libraries and study centers specialized in the Palestine issue.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 12/5/2022
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