On October 1, 1917, Turkish troops surrounded the Jewish settlement of Zikhron Ya’akov located in the vicinity of Haifa. Shortly before this, the Turks had uncovered the activities of the underground Jewish organization NILI whose purpose was to assist the British troops in the conquest of Palestine.
Many NILI activists were arrested and tortured by the Turks.
A number of historical documents in Hebrew cite a statement by the Turkish governor in which he threatened the Jews with reprisals similar to the ones committed against the Armenian people two years earlier.
Recently, Turkish sources addressing those events were discovered as well, among them telegrams sent by the Governor of Beirut (which governed Zikhron Ya’akov) to the Minister of the Interior Nazar Talaat.
The telegram, in particular, reported: “In the village of Zamrin [Zikhron-Yaakov] in the Haifa district, the governor told the locals that if they did not extradite the spy Yosef Lishansky [a famous member of NILI], they would share the fate of the Armenians.”
For almost a hundred years, Turkey has not recognized the Genocide of Armenians. However, the telegram cited indicates that the fact of reprisal against the Armenian population was indeed known in the empire.
In his response, Minister Nazar Talaat asked the governor to investigate the torture of the arrested members of NILI: “Residents of the village Nissan Rotman, Fishel Aaronson, and the daughter of the latter, Sarah, were tortured. Said girl Sarah died in torture. It is necessary to investigate what has happened as soon as possible and inform me of the results.”
Yuval Ben-Bassat, a historian from the University of Haifa, discovered this correspondence during his research. The full results of his research will soon be published in a special issue of the Israeli historical journal Zmanim (The Times) dedicated to WWI.
For the past ten years, Ben-Bassat has been actively working in the Turkish government archive in Istanbul where he has studied thousands of documents, most of which had previously remained outside of the interests of professional historians and had been out of scientific circulation.
“Israeli historians have always worked with either Zionist or Arab sources. Turkish documents most often did not fall into the field of view of our researchers. However, we must remember that until 1917, Palestine had belonged to the Ottoman Empire and had been ruled from Istanbul,” Ben-Bassat told Haaretz in an interview.
In his previous works, the historian has examined the letters of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine to the Sultan where they shared their concerns about the activities of the Zionist Yishuv and the increase in the Jewish population.
Ben-Bassat’s latest article is dedicated to the correspondence between Istanbul and Palestine during WWI. According to the findings of Ben-Bassat, there have been serious disagreements between the Istanbul government and the local authorities in Palestine.
Ahmed Jemal Pasha, the Turkish governor of Syria and Palestine, considered his task to be the prevention of the invasion of his governed territories by British troops. He thus actively fought against espionage, and among his tools was torture. At the time, the Istanbul authorities were concerned about their reputation in the international arena and therefore objected to the torture and execution of civilians practiced by the governor.
In March 1917, Jemal Pasha issued a decree expelling the Jewish population from Tel Aviv. In the face of a possible British invasion, Jews were seen as the “fifth column” sympathetic to the enemy. The central government in Istanbul was concerned about the international response to these actions.
“Tell us about the conditions in which the deportees are living and whether they are receiving medical care,” the Turkish Minister of the Interior wrote to local authorities in Palestine.
The documents promulgated by Yuval Ben-Bassat shed light on the personality of Jemal Pasha who in 1915-1917 was actually the sovereign ruler of Palestine. Both Zionist and Arab sources describe him as a decisive statesman who brutally suppressed the national liberation movement that posed a threat to the Turkish authorities.
In one of his documents, Jemal Pasha proposed actions aimed to neutralize the activity of the Jewish Yishuv. The governor came up with the idea to completely stop Jewish immigration to Palestine, ban Jews from cultivating land, and forbid foreigners (most likely, representatives of Baron Rothschild were implied) to manage Jewish settlements and create secret organizations.
However, already in December 1917, the territory of Palestine was captured by British troops, and Jemal Pasha fled to Istanbul. In 1922, he was killed by Armenians who avenged him for his complicity in the genocide.
Original Russian post by Robert Berg, jewish.ru