Empire to Empire: Jerusalem between Ottoman and British Rule
Abigail Jacobson's From Empire to Empire: Jerusalem between Ottoman and British Rule (2011) looks at much more than what is typically seen in books on Palestine during the First World War. While the majority of those books focus strongly on the British and their military campaign, Jacobson's book delves deeply into the other aspects of the city and how it moved through the pain and strife that the war caused it. These aspects of the war are generally ignored, even when a book specifically focuses on Jerusalem during that time period. This would indicate that most historians see Jerusalem as a place that was affected by British rule, and that saw the fall of the Ottoman Empire. However, these same historians see little else, in that Jerusalem appears to only matter in the context of who was controlling it or marching into or out of it, as opposed to being significant simply as a location in and of itself. There was much taking place in the city at that time, and Jacobson (2011) has captured a significant amount of it throughout the book.
Jacobson (2011) wrote the book largely to address a gap in the literature, between the Ottoman Empire's rule of Jerusalem and the takeover that lead to British rule. The history that Jerusalem has (and had during that time) is one that speaks strongly of conflict in a number of ways. Strife was simply a part of the way things were during the First World War, and that strife has continued to show itself throughout the many different issues that Jerusalem has faced as history has unfolded. The tensions between Israelis and Palestinians are at the heart of the ethnic difficulties seen in Jerusalem, both in the WWI period and today (Cline, 2004). Additionally, the visions and narratives held by those who lived in the city and those who wanted to control it were both very different. That clash of visions often kept the community from advancing or evolving in any way, and pulled Jerusalem in a number of directions (Sebag Montefiore, 2011). The tug-of-war that was at the heart of Jerusalem's history during the WWI time period is portrayed in the book by Jacobson (2011) as one that struck to the very core of the city and its people.
In December of 1917, the Ottoman Empire was replaced by British rule in Jerusalem (Jacobson, 2011). It was not only a shift in government and control, but an extremely radical change in belief system for those who inhabited the city during that time. Dramatic moments and significant changes took place during the period in which the ruling body was defeated and a new one came to power. There was more to the equation, but many books overlook that and simply focus on the change of "ownership" of the city based on who was ruling it. The change of ruling bodies was, of course, highly significant in shaping Jerusalem during WWI and beyond, but simply addressing that a new empire was in power did nothing to get to the heart of daily life in the city or how that life was affected by the adjustment in government. The Ottoman Empire and the British were vastly different in their handling of nearly everything from a governmental standpoint, which had a serious and significant affect on the people who lived in Jerusalem during the change.
Both ethnic and temporal dichotomies are challenged in the book, through a discussion and explanation of how Jerusalem and its people changed from the Ottoman Empire to British rule. They were not transformed overnight by the fact that they suddenly had a different government with different rules and goals. There was a period of growth and change that is often ignored in other writings on the subject. This was why Jacobson (2011) chose to take on the task of addressing that growth and change. It accounted for a significant gap in the literature, into which many beliefs and opinions would fall without being properly considered and without the information to be properly formed or understood. Until and unless a person has all the facts, making a decision or forming an opinion about a particular point in history can be very difficult, and can lead to misunderstandings that can become difficult to correct at a later date, even with proper information.
By setting the issue straight and making the everyday life of Jerusalem during WWI more clear, Jacobson (2011) allows those who study the issue and are fascinated by history the opportunity to have more knowledge about a particular time period and aspect of what took place in Jerusalem in the past. Jews and Arabs living in Palestine are also addressed by Jacobson (2011) in the book, because how they interacted and how their lives and history was shaped was a large part of how Jerusalem continued to grow and evolve. The experiences of both of these ethnic communities are strongly linked, and must be addressed and analyzed as such. To examine one without the other makes little sense, and would not provide the same information as to how these communities and ethnic groups developed based on what took place in Jerusalem and how the change in rule affected everyone who was there at that time. By linking ethnic groups and bridging historical periods, Jacobson's (2011) book is able to fill in many gaps in the literature that are seen with other writings.
There is a tying-together that Jacobson (2011) does very well, and that allows the reader of the book to have a deeper understanding of the significance of the event, instead of just a glossed-over realization that the Ottoman Empire was defeated and the British gained control of Jerusalem. There is so much more to the story than just a change of "ownership," and Jacobson has set out to bring the rest of the story to life, to challenge what is already known about the issue and the time period, and to show the complexity of the alliances and emotions that were seen during that time. A large city with many different ethnic groups is a complex thing, and not just something that can be made into something else with a change of who is in power. The unseen changes that took place in Jerusalem were arguably more significant than the obvious changes that took place (Jacobson, 2011). The political and social alliances in Jerusalem, particularly, were significant during WWI and the change in rule from the Ottoman Empire to the British takeover.
These alliances were complex, and based on the context of the time. In other words, the kinds of alliances that were formed during WWI, both politically and socially, would not necessarily be the same kinds of alliances that would be formed at any other time (Wasserstein, 2002). They were created out of necessity to address the changes that were taking place, and how best to move those changes forward (Jacobson, 2011). Those who were significant in the community were able to exercise some control over those who were not significant, and that lead to opinions being held and decisions being made that could have been very different under another set of circumstances. The alliances that were formed then were driven by a purpose. The people and groups who got together did so because they saw that they could accomplish more that way than they could if they were apart or in disagreement with one another. (Jacobson, 2011). That did not mean, however, that the alliances that were formed were actually friendly, or would have occurred in another context.
Jerusalem, overall, was a city of strife, and that has not changed. The disagreements that are seen between ethnic groups there have been ongoing for decades, and do not appear to be close to resolution (Sebag Montefiore, 2011). That was also something Jacobson (2011) wanted to touch on, because those groups had to work together more during WWI than they did before and than they have since. This was facilitated by necessity, but also by intervention from international entities. Foreign governments and other foreign individuals who were non-governmental focused on Jerusalem at that time, and worked to ensure that the change of ruling bodies went as smoothly as possible (Sebag Montefiore, 2011). Even with all of that effort in one direction, the change was not easy for the people who lived there, or for those who were loyal to the Ottoman Empire and the way in which it governed the people. British rule was very different, and while that did not make it "bad," it did make it something to which people had to adjust. There were fights and flare-ups of resistance, most of which did not last long (Sebag Montefiore, 2011).
The changeover from the Ottoman Empire to British rule was a difficult time for Jerusalem and the people who called it home. One of the most complex issues the people of…