- Book Review Index
Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine, by Michelle U. Campos. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011. 343 pp. $70.00.
During the last decade, scholars working on Palestinian history have opened new doors to our understanding of late Ottoman Palestine—more specifically, the pre-World War era and the subsequent transition from Ottoman to British rule. The recent works emerging on this period present realities which offer an innovative way to approaching the roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and shine light on a period before Jews and Arabs were locked in violent competition. In Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth Century, Michelle U. Campos provides a study of Palestine’s different religious communities, not as separate, but rather as united in their support of the Young Turk revolution and as Ottoman citizens.
Ottoman Brothers rethinks inter-communal relations between Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Ottoman Jerusalem and challenges preconceptions about the Jewish-Arab conflict in its early years. Campos believes scholars need to look beyond the conflict and focus on the phenomenon of what she terms “civic Ottomanism,” a “grassroots imperial citizenship project that promoted a unified sociopolitical identity of an Ottoman people struggling over the new rights and obligations of revolutionary political membership” (p. 3). This work in facts transcends Palestine and provides a model that will perhaps be useful in understanding the Empire’s other multi-ethnic/religious cities, such as Izmir, Salonica, and the Ottoman capital, Istanbul.
The author is particularly enlightening in demonstrating the ties between Muslims, Christians, and Jews by looking at such networks as the Freemasons and members of the Committee of Union and Progress, the ruling party of the Young Turks. As she suggests, Freemasonry rapidly took hold in Ottoman Palestine’s urban centers, with its membership almost equally divided among the three religious groups, a trend which was widespread throughout the Ottoman Empire. It was especially attractive to the Young Turks. Beyond these intellectual fraternities, Campos draws a captivating picture of Jerusalem as a shared urban space. She focuses on how the municipality worked to create a modern city for all of its citizens, developing projects such as streetcars, running water, and proper sewage facilities. Furthermore, Jews worked together with Muslims and Christians, concluding business deals and creating economic networks.
One point on which Ottoman Brothers leaves ample space for future research is the community she actually dedicates the bulk of her book to, the Jewish community. In her chapter on Ottomans of Mosaic Faith and elsewhere in the book, Campos poses important questions regarding the parameters of Zionism and divisions within the Jewish community, whether Sephardi/Ashkenazi, or Zionist/anti-Zionist, and how these groups perceived the future of their mutual spiritual homeland. It is this point, however, that I find problematic, since the division of the Jewish community into “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist” does not necessarily correlate with their perceptions of their roles as Ottoman citizens. In my view, more research is needed on Zionist Jews, such as the members of the Second Aliyah, who together with the local Jews of Palestine abandoned organized European Zionism for cultural Zionism. These included Gad Frumkin (who she briefly focuses on) and David Ben-Gurion, who formed the Hebrew Students Society in Istanbul following the 1908 Young Turk revolution. Furthermore, while many Sephardic Jews of the Ottoman Empire may have expressed their opposition to Zionism, they still openly supported Jewish migration to their homeland.
Likewise, questions concerning early Palestinian identity need to be further scrutinized, such as how the majority of the Arab population fit into the picture of “civic Ottomanism,” as this seems only to have captured the attention of specific groups of urban intellectuals. Further, more light needs to be shed on the fact that parallel to this newfound brotherhood she presents between Muslims, Christian, and Jews, among the urban intelligentsia under discussion, new bonds were being created between Muslims and Christians together with the peasantry, with an exclusive sense of Palestinianism emerging that did not include the Jewish community. By the same token, the local Jewish community never forged bonds with the Palestinian peasantry or imagined any sense of bond with them. While Campos discusses this in her final chapter, it seems to me that this was much more of a substantial phenomenon than addressed in the work, and was more widespread than the urban elite’s vision of a mutual Ottoman identity.
Ottoman Brothers is a real gem of a work, posing new challenges to scholars of Palestine. Michelle Campos has not only raised the bar on the study of Palestine and the Jewish Yishuv, but has also posed interesting questions that can be applied to other Ottoman urban and political historians of the Young Turk era. These include questions about the parameters of citizenship and the dynamics of multi-ethnic/religious relations throughout the Ottoman lands. Simply put, Ottoman Brothers is a must-read for students of Israeli, Palestinian, and late Ottoman history.
City University of New York