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> Letter from refugee Aida Camp, Bethlehem, 2008
> Salt of this Sea: Important announcement
> The End of Ottoman Rule as Seen by a Palestinian...
> Letter from the editing room Paris, December 2007
> Courtship in Ottoman Jerusalem: The Intimate...
> Occidental Obsessions: Diary of a Country Doctor
> Letter of Palestinian refugee from Beit Daras
> If tomorrow never comes
> The Short Life of Private Ihsan: Jerusalem 1915
> Letter Dheisha from Larissa Shaterian
> Mail Mazin Qumsieh: return to Palestine summer 2007
> Letter Sam Bahour's daughter, Ramallah
> Mary’s anger
> Once Upon a Winter Night
> Review of identity: a couple's conversation
> The Christmas Gate, Christmas in Bethlehem, 2006
> Letter Sam Bahour, on Israeli incursion into Ramallah
> The Tank Became a Dragon Education at home
> A night in heaven - essay by a girl at Friends'...
> Diary from Arroub: Islam Turk
Between Jerusalem and Damascus
The second volume of Khalil Sakakini’s diaries1 covers the final years of the Arab East’s Ottoman era, just before the four centuries of Ottoman rule (1516-1918) took their final curtain call. Despite the importance of this lengthy era, few studies have been published in Arabic on the history of Ottoman Palestine. The few items that are available in Arabic are academic studies whose audience is limited to specialists and researchers. As such, the overwhelming majority of the public form their ideas of the Ottoman era from oral histories about the days of Safar Barlek (conscription into the Ottoman army), the tyranny of Sultan Abdel Hamid and so on.
Those well-circulated books covering the modern history of Palestine suffice with passing references to the final years of the Ottoman era, or ‘Ottoman rule and its iniquity’, before moving on to Zionism and Palestinian resistance to it.2 Most of the historical writing that touches on the final years of the Ottoman era is replete with stereotypical generalizations that brand the four-century-long period as tyrannical, oppressive, corrupt and persecutory. Likewise, Ottoman rule and administration has been described, one generation after another, as backward and inferior, lacking any role for Arab residents in the government, economy, culture, or indeed any aspect of life.3
This type of nationalist writing, so overwhelmingly antagonistic towards Turks and Ottoman rule, grew out of the years of World War I and its miseries, the policy of Turkification following 1908, and the maltreatment of Arab Nationalist activists by Sultan Abdel Hamid II prior to that. Persecution of the leading personalities of the Arab Nationalist Movement reached its climax following the revolution of al-Sharif Hussein and his sons in 1916. Gallows were set up in Damascus and Beirut, and prisons were crowded with hundreds jailed for the most trifling of reasons.
During the years of the Great War, the general populace suffered from compulsory military recruitment and forced labor in the name of the war effort. The public also suffered from the spread of famine, epidemics, and locusts, as well as other catastrophes resulting from the war.4 These difficult times left their mark on the collective memory of Palestinians, just like other peoples of the Arab East. This memory was then fed by intellectual writings and nationalist historical studies that entrenched stereotypes and negative generalizations about the entire Ottoman era, without differentiating between one period and another.
These stereotypical and generalized writings about the ‘rule of the Turks’ and their tyranny over four centuries have not only precluded a close examination of the real history of the Ottoman era, but also a bold dialogue between the present and the past. Similarly, nationalist rhetoric has sometimes relieved twentieth century leaderships of responsibility for the Arab peoples’ circumstances since World War I, casting the burden of backwardness, occupation and Zionism upon the ‘Turkish occupation’ and its tyranny.
The Arab nationalist account of contemporary history suffers, like other nationalist and ideological narratives, from faults and shortcomings this article does not have room to address. Likewise, a deep and serious analysis of the reasons that led Palestinian intellectuals and historians to form a superficial and flawed account of the history of the entire Ottoman era is beyond the scope of this introduction to the second volume of Sakakini’s diaries. Still this subject remains worthy of serious critical research independent of Islamist or other ideological narratives.
Here, in this quick sketch, we suffice to point out that Sakakini’s diaries cover the final years of Ottoman rule, including their generally difficult conditions. They also cover the personal tribulations which led Sakakini to prison and exile - but which did not cause him to lose his balance or ability to document events with a rare evenhandedness and sincerity.
For the remainder of the article, see