Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine

Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine

Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine

Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine

Synopsis

In its last decade, the Ottoman Empire underwent a period of dynamic reform, and the 1908 revolution transformed the empire's 20 million subjects into citizens overnight. Questions quickly emerged about what it meant to be Ottoman, what bound the empire together, what role religion and ethnicity would play in politics, and what liberty, reform, and enfranchisement would look like.

Ottoman Brothers explores the development of Ottoman collective identity, tracing how Muslims, Christians, and Jews became imperial citizens together. In Palestine, even against the backdrop of the emergence of the Zionist movement and Arab nationalism, Jews and Arabs cooperated in local development and local institutions as they embraced imperial citizenship. As Michelle Campos reveals, the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine was not immanent, but rather it erupted in tension with the promises and shortcomings of "civic Ottomanism."

Excerpt

In the spring of 1909, a young Jewish lawyer by the name of Shlomo Yellin addressed a gathering of Ottoman notables in Beirut. Born and raised in the Old City of Jerusalem, Yellin was the quintessential polyglot Levantine: he spoke Yiddish with his Polish father, Arabic with his Iraqi mother, Hebrew with his Zionist older brother, and Judeo-Spanish with his Sephardi Jewish neighbors; he wrote love letters in English to the schoolgirl niece he later married, and he jotted notes to himself in French. At the same time, the fez- and suit-wearing “Suleiman Effendi” was the perfect Ottoman gentleman: at the prestigious Galatasaray Imperial Lycée in Istanbul, he studied Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, and Persian language, literature, translation, and calligraphy; Ottoman and Islamic history; hygiene, math, science, philosophy, geography, and French literature. After a brief stint at a German university, Yellin graduated from the Ottoman Imperial Law Academy with certification in Islamic law, Ottoman civil and criminal law, and international commercial and maritime law.

On that spring day, Yellin’s Ottoman Turkish-speaking audience likely consisted of members of the local branch of the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP; the so-called Young Turks), the underground political party which had carried out the July 1908 Ottoman revolution. Yellin was a member of the Beirut CUP branch, and he later dedicated two pamphlets “in profound admiration” to the movement. Undoubtedly, some members of the audience also belonged to one of several local Freemason lodges to which Yellin had earlier submitted an application for membership while extolling Masonic support for the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Whatever their institutional affiliation, what is certain is that Yellin’s audience of white-collar effendis, or gentlemen, like himself—lawyers, doctors, businessmen, journalists, school teachers, clerks—were fellow Ottomans who were as committed to and concerned about the future of the “Ottoman nation” as he was.

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