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General History

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Freemasonry in Ottoman Palestine
submitted by Jerusalem Quarterly

Michelle Campos

Jerusalem Quarterly
Issue 22/23

In 1956, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Barkai (L’Aurore) Freemasonry lodge in Jaffa (today based in Tel Aviv), the all-Jewish lodge published a complete roster of its past members. According to the Masonic editor, the group sought to publicize the names of their former Jewish, Christian, and Muslim members “in the name of a pleasant memory and out of the hope that perhaps days of real peace between the peoples might return and those...[former brothers] can return to us.”1 Using language like “one family,”2 “the best of the country,”3 and the “best of Jaffa from the three religions,”4 the literature of the Israeli Barkai lodge invokes an idyllic non­sectarian past.

Certainly, one of the important ramifications of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution in Palestine was an increasingly active civic sphere. A rising Palestinian-Ottoman modernizing class emerged, not only from the notables and bureaucrats of the Tanzimat era, but (importantly) from the effendiyya social strata of the white-collar middle class. Having received liberal educations and belonging to the free professions, these Palestinians were attuned to the advances of the West and determined to forward the interests of their homeland.5 Christians, Jews, and Muslims of this stratum studied in similar schools (where they acquired tools such as foreign languages, accounting, geography), sometimes belonged to the same clubs, and worked and lived in close proximity to one another. Members of all three religions took part in creating a new social network which aspired to transcend communal boundaries for the economic, cultural, and political betterment of Palestine and the Ottoman Empire.

In this article, part of a broader work on late Ottoman Palestine, I will analyze the Freemasons in Palestine, their contribution to a ‘bourgeois’ civil society and its contours in the Ottomanist public sphere. Contrary to the ‘separate spheres’ model that still dominates much of the historical literature on the region, I will show that Muslims, Christians and Jews in Palestine were deeply interdependent. These relationships gradually weakened, however, as the political climate changed and sectarian differences gained prominence.

For the remainder of this article, see:

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