Preferred Citation: Doumani, Beshara. Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700-1900. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.

The Meanings of Autonomy

1. The Meanings of Autonomy

The inhabitants of Nablus are governed by their own chiefs. . . . They are a restless people, continually in dispute with each other, and frequently in insurrection against the Pasha [governor of Damascus]. Djezzar never succeeded in completely subduing them, and Junot, with a corps of fifteen hundred French soldiers, was defeated by them.

Nablus, being the center of a rich district, and, as of old, the gateway of the trade between the northern and southern parts of the country, as also between Jaffa and Beirut on the one hand, and the trans-Jordanic districts on the other, becomes, of necessity, the mart of an active traffic. The consequence is that the inhabitants enjoy a greater amount of the comforts of life than those of any other town in Palestine.

Napoleon’s brief military adventure in Palestine in 1799 ended in failure and did not carry in its wake any significant repercussions. But the military and cultural mobilization that took place in response reveals the meanings of the autonomy in Palestine within the context of Ottoman rule. That year Shaykh Yusuf Jarrar, the mutasallim of Jenin District (sanjaq),[1] wrote a poem in which he exhorted his fellow leaders in Jabal Nablus to unite under one banner against the French forces, which were then laying siege to Acre.

Shaykh Yusuf’s poem unwittingly exposes the two major sets of tensions that informed the political life of Jabal Nablus at the turn of the nineteenth century. The first was the bureaucratic construction of Jabal Nablus from above by the central Ottoman government in Istanbul versus the dynamics of self-rule developed from below. The second was the cohesiveness of this region’s social formation and the shared sense of identity among its inhabitants versus the factionalism of multiple territorially based centers of power.

Shaykh Yusuf began his poem by expressing how the letters he received bearing the news of the invasion have brought fire to his heart and tears to his eyes. “The infidel millet [non-Muslim religious community],” he exclaimed, “are storming our way, intending to obliterate the mosques.” He then located the ruling urban households and rural clans of Jabal Nablus at that time by praising the courage and military prowess of the Tuqan, Nimr, Rayyan, Qasim, Jayyusi, At‘ut, Hajj Muhammad, Ghazi, Jaradat, and Abd al-Hadi families (in that order), beginning:

House of Tuqan, draw your swords
    and mount your precious saddles.
House of Nimr, you mighty tigers,
    straighten your courageous lines.
Muhammad Uthman, mobilize your men,
    mobilize the heroes from all directions.
Ahmad al-Qasim, you bold lion,
    prow of the advancing lines.[2]

The most striking aspect of this poem is what it does not say. Not once in its twenty-one verses does it mention Ottoman rule, much less the need to protect the empire or the glory and honor of serving the sultan. Rather, Shaykh Yusuf casts the impending danger entirely in terms of the threat to Islam and to women, and his appeal stresses local identification above all else (“Oh! you Nabulsis…advance together on Acre”). Even though all the leaders of Jabal Nablus, including Shaykh Yusf, were inundated with firmans from Istanbul announcing the invasion and calling for soldiers and money,[3] the poem leaves the origin of the letters intentionally vague, saying only that they came “from afar.”

“From afar” aptly describes the relationship between Palestine and the central government, which, except for token garrisons in Jerusalem and some of the coastal towns such as Jaffa, did not maintain a permanent military presence in this area.[4] It is not difficult to understand why. Although Palestine constituted a natural land bridge connecting Asia and Africa—and hence had strategic value, as clearly demonstrated by the 1799 invasion—it was of no exceptional material importance. Palestine did not contain any large cities that were entrepôts for international trade, such as Cairo, Damascus, or Aleppo, and its size, population, and productive capacity were all relatively small. True, Palestine, especially Jerusalem, was of special religious and symbolic significance; but Palestine was also a “frontier” region difficult to control because of its terrain and its location; it served as a buffer zone against bedouin migration from the deserts in the east. Indeed, the Ottoman authorities had such a troublesome time collecting taxes in this area that a tax-collection practice (somewhat similar to ones in North Africa) came into existence: the tour (dawra).[5] Every year starting in the early eighteenth century, the governor of Damascus Province or his deputy would, a few weeks before the holy month of Ramadan, personally lead a contingent of troops into a number of predetermined points as an aggressive physical reminder of the inhabitants’ annual fiscal obligations to the Ottoman state. Even then, taxes were rarely paid fully or on time.

Within Palestine the extent of autonomy differed from one region to another. Soon after the onset of Ottoman rule, Jabal Nablus developed a reputation for being the most difficult region to control.[6] One need only compare the divergent responses to the sultan’s firmans requesting assistance. Heeding the call for soldiers (the first firman, dated December 21, 1798, claimed that “the number of men and heroes in the mountains of Nablus and Jerusalem and their outlying parts is estimated to be 100,000 fighters”[7]), the leaders of Jabal al-Quds and Jabal al-Khalil trekked to the premises of the Islamic Court in Jerusalem. Facing the judge, each leader personally pledged a certain number of fighters, under pain of paying a large fine if he failed to deliver.[8]

In contrast, the leaders of Jabal Nablus treated the firmans as opening bids in a lengthy negotiation. Instead of dispatching fighters, they sent consecutive petitions requesting that Jabal Nablus’s share, including that of Jenin District, be reduced: first to 4,000, then 3,000, then 2,000, and finally 1,000.[9] Almost two years later the matter had still not been settled. In mid-November 1800, a firman was sent to the leaders of Jabal Nablus reminding them of the “atrocities” of the “infidel” French and, more to the point, setting a clear deadline for their contribution:

Previously we sent a…firman…asking for 2,000 men from the districts of Nablus and Jenin to join our victorious soldiers…in a Holy War. Then you signed a petition excusing yourselves, saying that it was impossible to send 2,000 men due to [the need for] planting and plowing. You begged that we forgive you 1,000 men…and in our mercy we forgave you 1,000 men. But until now, not one of the remaining 1,000 has come forward…and since the armies had to depart quickly [to Egypt]…we will accept instead the sum of 110,000 piasters. . . . As soon as this order is received, you have until Shawwal 8 [February 22, 1801] to deliver the sum of 40,000 piasters…and to mid-Shawwal for paying the rest.…If you show any hesitation…you will be severely punished.[10]

Despite repeated threats that the Ottoman armies upon their return from Egypt would punish them for their “insubordination,” “corruption,” and “stupidity,” as another angry missive from Istanbul put it, the leaders of Jabal Nablus never sent the money, at least not in full.[11] Quite the contrary, some of them looted and burned three caravansaries along the Damascus–Cairo highway—Khan Jaljulya, Qalanswa, and Ayn al-Asawir—in which supplies were stored by the mutasallim of Nablus by the orders of the central authorities, in anticipation of the Ottoman armies’ march back from Egypt.[12]

These actions, about which more will be said below, were not meant as a challenge to Ottoman rule: all of the leaders operated willingly within the framework of the Ottoman political system. An important element of their power was the legitimacy conferred on them by the central government, which annually renewed their appointments as subdistrict chiefs and district governors. Nor did they welcome the French invasion or fail to take it seriously: Nabulsi fighters handed French troops their first defeat in Palestine during one of several skirmishes. According to Nimr, they also sneaked through the enemy lines surrounding Acre and entered the besieged city, to the loud cheers of the local population and Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar’s soldiers.[13] Rather, they interpreted the invasion and the Ottoman response in terms of their own local dynamics and behaved within the boundaries of the wide autonomy they had enjoyed for generations. The Nabulsi leaders had no intention of handing their fighters over to Ottoman military commanders or of joining the expedition to Egypt: their primary concern was to protect Jabal Nablus. As Shaykh Yusuf’s poem indicates, Jabal Nablus had a cohesive economic, social, and cultural identity which claimed the loyalties of its inhabitants in the face of external threats.

At the same time, however, there were political divisions and rivalries within Jabal Nablus. Power was shared by a number of territorially based rural and urban families, each of which controlled a section of the hinterland and was capable of mobilizing a peasant militia. In 1799 Jabal Nablus was also embroiled in an escalating internal power struggle between two well-defined camps, one led by the urban Tuqan household and the other by the rural Jarrar clan. The burning and looting of supplies was not a protest against Ottoman rule but a calculated act designed to embarrass and undermine the power of the current Nablus mutasallim, Khalil Beik Tuqan.[14]

It was within this local context that Shaykh Yusuf Jarrar wrote his poem. In it, he presented a constructed version of reality that best fit his purposes. By initiating the call to action, Shaykh Yusuf projected himself as first among equals and claimed local leadership in the fight against external forces that threatened Jabal Nablus and its way of life. As the leader of the faction that violently opposed the Tuqan’s drive for centralization of political power in Jabal Nablus, his poem pointedly celebrated political decentralization by giving equal praise (though in ranked order) to a large number of factions, even though some of them had little actual power. His poem also advanced an alternative framework to centralization: unity through cultural solidarity and local identification, not through political hegemony—especially not that of an urban family.

The Jarrars’ concerns were not unfounded. Since the second half of the seventeenth century, Jabal Nablus had been undergoing internal integration characterized by the city’s creeping domination over its hinterland economically, culturally, and politically. This process was driven largely by the increased importance of commercial agriculture as the primary source of wealth and upward mobility in Jabal Nablus. Accompanying changes, such as the proliferation of a money economy and credit relations, as well as commoditization of land in the countryside were, in turn, outcomes of two larger economic dynamics. The first was the flourishing of local, intraregional, and interregional trade networks emanating from Nablus under the umbrella of Ottoman rule. The second dynamic, which began during the eighteenth century, was the incremental incorporation of Palestine, including Jabal Nablus, into the European economic orbit as expressed in the commercial production of cotton for export to France.

By the time Napoleon set foot in Palestine, therefore, Jabal Nablus was already in the midst of slow and uneven transformation from a politically fragmented and economically segmented cultural unit into an increasingly integrated one internally, regionally, and internationally. The timing, causes, and inner workings of this transformation are detailed in the following chapters. But at this point, it is necessary to set the stage by exploring the structural and political contexts that defined the meanings of autonomy under Ottoman rule. The first section of this chapter sketches the basic topographical, demographic, and economic features that imparted to Jabal Nablus its autonomy and distinctiveness as a discrete social space. The second section analyzes the watershed events in the political development of Jabal Nablus from the sixteenth to the late nineteenth century; that is, the critical junctures that helped shape this region’s internal political configuration and its relationship to regional powers and the central Ottoman government. This section also contrasts the official administrative boundaries and status of Jabal Nablus with its actual development as a social space.

Jabal Nablus as a Social Space

Ever since its origins as a Canaanite settlement, the city of Nablus has been locked into a permanent embrace with its hinterland. Over the centuries the multilayered and complex interactions between these two organically linked but distinct parts generated a cohesive and dynamic social space: Jabal Nablus. The material foundations of the autonomy of Jabal Nablus were the deeply rooted economic networks between the city and its surrounding villages; and the cultural fountains of its identity were the social and political dynamics of urban-rural relations, especially between merchants and peasants. It was this combination of material and cultural transactions that made Jabal Nablus recognizable to outsiders as a discrete entity and, more important, made it feel like home to its residents by inculcating in them a sense of regional loyalty. In the words of Reverend John Mills, “The inhabitants [of Nablus] are most proud of it, and think there is no place in the world equal to it.”[15]

In this general sense, Jabal Nablus was similar to many others that existed under the umbrella of Ottoman rule, and the centuries-long existence of these social spaces explains the strong regional identifications that are still an important part of popular culture in Greater Syria.[16] For example, one can talk about Jabal Lubnan (Mount Lebanon), Jabal Amil (also known as Bilad Bishara), in what is today southern Lebanon; Jabal al-Druze (Hauran), in today’s Syria; and Jabal al-Khalil and Jabal al-Quds, whose urban centers were Hebron and Jerusalem, respectively.

This is not to say that these social spaces had clear and unchanging borders, nor that the nature of interaction between city and hinterland was everywhere the same. For instance, the urban centers of Jabal Nablus, Jabal al-Quds, and Jabal al-Khalil occupied different points along the spectrum of possibilities during the Ottoman period. Hebron was largely an extension of its hinterland, its economic life for the most part focused on agricultural pursuits and on providing essential services to the surrounding villages. Jerusalem, in contrast, stood somewhat aloof from its hinterland primarily because of the external infusions of economic and political capital that its religious, symbolic, and administrative significance attracted. Nablus lay somewhere between the two: its connections to the hinterland were absolutely vital, but it also contained a large manufacturing base and was a nexus for substantial networks of regional trade. Its hinterland, moreover, contained some of the richest agricultural lands in Palestine, as well as the largest and most stable concentration of villages and people. The city of Nablus did not possess the glamour or drama of Jerusalem; nor did it suffer from the relative sleepiness and obscurity of Hebron. Rather, it served, at least during much of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century, as the economic and, occasionally, political center of Palestine. Not surprisingly, Jabal Nablus—often referred to as jabal al-nar (mountain of fire)—played a leading role in the 1834 revolt against the Egyptian forces, in the 1936–1939 rebellion against British rule, and in the Palestinian uprising (intifada) against Israeli occupation that exploded in 1987.

The City of Nablus

“The immediate vicinity of Nabloos is remarkable for the number of its trees, and its luxuriant vegetation; it is, indeed, one of the most beautiful and fertile spots in all Palestine.”[17] Practically every visitor to Nablus—from Muslim travelers in the Middle Ages to young Englishmen in search of adventure in the nineteenth century—described the appearance of the city in similarly flattering terms.[18] Embedded between two steep mountains in a narrow but lush valley and surrounded by a wide belt of olive groves, vineyards, fruit orchards, and a sprinkle of palm trees, the ancient city of Nablus has long been described as resembling, in the words of Shams al-Din al-Ansari (d. A.H. 727, A.D. 1326–1327), a “palace in a garden” (see Plates 1–3).[19]

The secret was water—the primary reason why Nablus was able to support a large population and a wide range of manufacturing establishments. Its twenty-two gushing springs were channeled into the city’s public fountains, mosque courtyards, gardens, tanneries, and dye and pottery establishments, as well as the private homes of the rich.[20] Water was also carried down into the 1,220-meter-long valley that widened westward via aqueducts that fed irrigation canals and powered the large, round stones of grain mills. In the summer heat, evaporated water formed a thin blue mist that enveloped the city and accentuated its charms: “Its beauty can hardly be exaggerated.…Clusters of white-roofed houses nestling in the bosom of a mass of trees, olive, palm, orange, apricot, and many another varying the carpet with every shade of green.…Everything fresh, green, soft, and picturesque, with verdure, shade, and water everywhere. There is a softness in the colouring, a rich blue haze from the many springs and streamlets, which mellows every hard outline.”[21]

The phrase “Little Damascus,” which its inhabitants commonly use to describe Nablus, sums up the look, feel, and essence of the city. The similarities between the two were, in fact, striking. Both were blessed with water and surrounded by greenery, both were “dry ports” located in the interior of Greater Syria, both had strong manufacturing sectors, and both functioned as the commercial hubs for numerous surrounding villages. Finally, in both cities cultural life was dominated by conservative and entrenched merchant communities and characterized by the persistence of family politics.

Of course, Nablus differed from Damascus in some important respects. In contrast to the religious and ethnic diversity of the latter’s population, that of Nablus, like that of Hebron, was homogeneous. Except for the small Christian and Samaritan communities, which together numbered no more than a few hundred, virtually all the inhabitants were Sunni Muslims.[22] The largest minority were Christians; most worked as artisans and merchants.[23] Most of the Christians were Greek Orthodox. The rest became Protestants around the mid-nineteenth century in response to the evangelical activities of Reverend Bowen from the Church Missionary Society, who, over a twelve-month period, opened a day school and initiated a number of other projects, such as the purchase of a modern loom and an iron oil press.[24]

The Samaritans numbered 150 to 200 throughout the nineteenth century. Unlike the Christians, they were a tightly knit community living in their own neighborhood in the Yasmina quarter. A few worked as scribes and accountants to the governors of Nablus and some of its rich merchants, but most were relatively poor retailers or artisans.[25] Because the Samaritan community was virtually nonexistent outside Nablus, it became an object of great curiosity for European visitors and scholars, especially during the nineteenth century.

Also unlike Damascus, Nablus was neither a large metropole nor the administrative capital of a province. The difficult, hilly terrain and its geographical location helped preserve its autonomy and protect it from imperial armies, but at the expense of making it unsuitable for international trade.[26] Historically, however, intraregional and interregional trade were far more important to the economy of Palestine, and Nablus was ideally situated for both. The narrow valley which bisects the central highlands and connects the desert with the fertile western plains was a natural corridor for goods heading in all four directions. Droves of Nabulsi merchants regularly traveled to nearby localities such as Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, and Gaza along the coast; to southern Lebanon, Nazareth, Safad, Jerusalem, and Hebron in the hill areas; and to Salt, Jabal Ajlun, and Hauran to the east and northeast.[27]

As for interregional trade, Cairo and Damascus were by far the most important destinations for Nabulsi merchants. This trade involved mostly bulk goods, not luxury items. During the Ottoman period, roughly three-quarters of Nablus’s soap was shipped to Cairo overland through Gaza and the Sinai Desert and by sea through the ports of Jaffa and Gaza (see Chapter 5). From Egypt, especially Cairo and Damietta (Dimyat), Nabulsi merchants imported, among other things, rice, sugar, and spices, as well as linen, cotton, and woolen textiles.[28] To Damascus they exported a large variety of products, the most important of which were cotton, soap, olive oil, and medium-grade textiles. From Damascus, they mostly imported silks, textiles of all kinds, copper, and some luxury items (see Chapter 2).

The longevity and relative stability of Ottoman rule, as well as the large political space it created, enhanced the advantages of Nablus’s fortuitous geographical location. Beginning in the early sixteenth century, the networks connecting Nablus to Damascus and Cairo were supplemented by the establishment of secure trading posts in the Hijaz and Gulf regions to the south and east, as well as in the Anatolian Peninsula and the Mediterranean islands to the north and west. Nablus also developed steady trade relations with Aleppo, Mosul, and Baghdad (see Chapter 3).

Closer to home, the constant and vigorous efforts by the Ottoman government to ensure adequate safety and funding for the annual pilgrimage caravan (qafilat al-hajj) from Damascus to the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina also benefited Nablus politically and economically.[29] Almost from the very beginning of Ottoman rule, pilgrimage caravans became the key variable in the fiscal and political relationship between Jabal Nablus and the central government. Indeed, for a brief period in the early seventeenth century, the governor of Nablus, Farrukh Pasha Ibn Abdullah, was appointed leader of the pilgrimage caravan (amir al-hajj).[30] He built an impressive commercial compound in Nablus for that purpose. The Wikala al-Farrukhiyya, as it was still called in the mid-nineteenth century, became one of the city’s prime commercial properties (see Map 1).[31]

More important, the taxes levied on Jabal Nablus and on most of Palestine were specifically earmarked for meeting the costs of the caravans.[32] Jabal Nablus, for example, contributed more than did any other Palestinian region to the financing of pilgrimage caravans during the first half of the eighteenth century.[33] These moneys filtered back to the merchants and artisans of Nablus in the form of payments for locally produced provisions for the pilgrims, as well as for armed escorts and transport. Part of the taxes from the peasants of Jabal Nablus, therefore, never left the city’s treasury. Instead, as receipts registered in the Islamic court show, these moneys were used to pay the leaders of the various artisan guilds who produced provisions on commission.[34] From this perspective, Nablus’s relationship with pilgrimage caravans established a fairly routine transfer of rural surplus into the city’s manufacturing, trade, and transportation sectors.

For example, the leather water-pouch makers (qirabiyyin) of Nablus and Hebron received commissions for thousands of leather pouches (qirab) annually from the water officer (saqa bashi) of the caravan.[35] These pouches, like the other types of supplies, were purchased, not collected as taxes-in-kind. That this business was fully subject to market forces is demonstrated by an exchange in 1853. At that time, the Nablus Advisory Council, in a letter to the governor of Jerusalem, noted that the qirabiyyin of Nablus were united in their demands that the price of each pouch be raised from 16 to 21 piasters. The reason, they continued, was that “there was heavy demand from Egypt for leather pouches, causing a healthy rise in the price of leather in these territories.”[36]

The advantages of Ottoman rule—an enlarged regional trading area and consistent attention to the pilgrimage caravan—were never wholly contingent on the strength of the central Ottoman government. Nablus was ruled by a relatively stable group of leading families from the late seventeenth century to the late nineteenth century, and it was home to an entrenched and influential merchant community that was reinforced by a strong socioreligious leadership. All were native sons.[37] This autonomy, when combined with the weakness of the central government (especially during the eighteenth century), probably encouraged rather than hindered economic growth because much of the surplus was reinvested into the local economy. In fact, it was precisely during the period of so-called Ottoman decline—that is, from the late sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century—that Nablus emerged as Palestine’s key center for regional trade, manufacturing, and the local organization of commercial agriculture. It also played a leading role in the growing trade with Europe, especially the export of cotton.

The city’s economic growth was most evident in the impressive increase of its population. According to Ottoman population counts (which constitute the best evidence available), the inhabitants of this ancient city multiplied from approximately 5,000–7,000 people in the mid-sixteenth century to more than 20,000 in 1850, making it the possibly the largest city in Palestine at the time.[38] The size of the city’s population during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is not known, but it is almost certain that growth took place steadily rather than in dramatic waves. This is because the demographic pattern of the hill regions, especially Jabal Nablus, was one of stability and of only incremental and sluggish response to the more volatile regional trends.[39]

Even more important than intraregional and interregional trade for the prosperity of Nablus was the core area of local trade and manufacturing. The essential character of Nablus remains defined by its role as the commercial, manufacturing, administrative, and cultural capital of the surrounding villages, and its economic health depended largely on its access to the rural surplus. Nablus’s dependence on its hinterland for most of its needs was most eloquently symbolized by the city’s vulnerable physical position. It lay at the mercy of two imposing mountains that pressed on either side, and it had no natural defenses to speak of. Its simple wall provided less protection than did the compact buildings and the large compounds of the leading families. Most often, it was the armed peasants and the fortified villages of powerful rural clans that bore the brunt of the fighting whenever the Nablus region was invaded by an external force or became mired in internal conflict.

The rhythms of urban life reflected the agricultural calendar of the peasant community. The hustle and bustle of tons of oil being deposited in the underground wells of huge soap-factory buildings after the olive harvest in the fall, for instance, were perhaps only surpassed by the commotion of raw cotton arriving in the city to be ginned and spun in the summer. Thus there were no sharp dividing lines between city and country. Indeed, Nablus was, in some ways, akin to a very large village: at sunrise many Nabulsis exited the city gates to work on the extensive olive groves, vineyards, and orchards that covered the terraced slopes, as well as in the fields, vegetable gardens, and grain mills that were scattered across the valley.

In a reverse flow, peasants poured into the city to sell their goods and to search for wedding clothes, work tools, cooking utensils, rice, coffee, and a host of other items.[40] For them, as for their urban counterparts, Nablus was (to use a common metaphor) the beating heart of the surrounding hinterland. Monitored by customs officials during the day and closed at night, the two largest “valves” were the eastern and western gates, through which long lines of peasants and traveling merchants entered, along with their pack animals. Many remained in the city for a few days and used the extra time to become further acquainted with the city. Most likely, visitors first walked along one of the two roughly parallel thoroughfares that stretched east–west (see Map 1). Hundreds of shops lined each artery and spilled over into smaller streets and alleys, which connected them with each other and with the six major quarters of the city: Yasmina, Gharb, Qaryun, Aqaba, Qaysariyya and Habala.[41] In the southern thoroughfare were the covered market of textile merchants (Khan al-Tujjar) and the Wikala al-Farrukhiyya, which constituted the key commercial spaces of the city. Interspersed throughout were the five central mosques; the large, fortresslike compounds of the ruling urban households, such as those of the Nimrs, Tuqans, and Abd al-Hadis; as well as the numerous soap factories, baths, leather tanneries, and pottery and textile workshops.

Most peasants must have also been impressed by the tall three- and four-storied residential buildings, if only because they reminded themof the grand compounds of their subdistrict chiefs. As Suad Amiry has shown, the dwellings of subdistrict chiefs—usually built in the seat (kursi) village of each subdistrict—were arranged in such a way that they created distance from the normal peasant quarters in the rest of the village, both spatially and aesthetically.[42] These dwellings, constructed by master-builders from Nablus, consciously imitated urban architectural forms in order to project the status and power of these chiefs, to allow them to lead an urban lifestyle even in the village, and to reinforce their image as the natural bridge for urban-rural interaction. The difference, of course, was that of scale: Nablus’s massive stone buildings—tightly packed and looming large above the heads of pedestrians—were the norm, not the exception, hence adding immensely to the city’s authority and grandeur.

The Hinterland of Nablus

Palestine’s small size, remarkably diverse geographical terrain, and dependence on rain-fed agriculture precluded large-scale farming and the development of a monocrop economy. Peasants, approximately 80 percent of the total population, developed varied sources of income by learning how to utilize every topographical feature. Fields were sown with grains, legumes, and vegetables; hills were terraced and planted with trees; and higher-up stony lands were used for grazing. Until the last decades of Ottoman rule, most peasants were small landholders concentrated in the interior hill regions where horticulture, especially the tending of olive groves, was a way of life.

The peasants of the hill regions lived in close-knit village communities that varied in size from a few dozen to a few hundred inhabitants. Most had an average of two to four constituent clans and some large extended families. The basis of collective solidarity was the organization of peasant society into clans (hamulas): patrilineal descent groups related by the fifth degree from a common ancestor. The clan system provided a safety net which supported individual families at times of difficulty, and it was well suited to the vagaries of rain-fed agriculture and the poor soil of hill regions. Clans were also responsible for defending their members in times of trouble, negotiating settlements or taking revenge for bodily harm. These duties were organized and directed mostly by the clan elders. They settled internal disputes according to commonly accepted legal and cultural norms embodied in a deeply rooted system of unwritten customary practices, known as urf, which spelled out rights and responsibilities and elucidated the mechanisms for conflict resolution, compensation, and punishment.[43]

This set of norms differed significantly from the application of Islamic law (shari‘a) that was prevalent in the urban centers and reflected the “tribalization” of peasant society, in that urf drew a great deal on concepts originally articulated in bedouin communities. In this respect, therefore, peasant society had its own internal cultural and legal autonomy. Consequently, and as detailed in Chapter 5, before the mid-nineteenth century peasants rarely went to the urban-based Islamic court to settle disputes, form partnerships, buy property, contract loans, or conduct a host of matters relating to personal status, such as marriage, divorce, or inheritance.[44]

This relative autonomy even extended to criminal matters as late as the mid-nineteenth century. In a revealing letter to the governor of Sidon province dated February 18, 1853, the Nablus council members cited peasant urf traditions and what they called “stupid customs” to explain why some suspects from Jamma‘in village could not be released from prison despite a lack of proof of their guilt. Briefly, the council members emphasized that the obstacle to the extension of the state’s legal codes to individual peasants was that they were not simply individuals but members of clans that insisted on overall collective rights. Until the real culprits could be identified, they argued, the release of the suspects would only inflame the situation and cause problems on an even wider scale.[45]

Clans varied in size and power. The number of adult males in each clan, the internal cohesion in their ranks, the size of the lands they controlled, and the efficacy of their political alliances determined their overall power and prestige. Because each village was usually home for the same clans for generations, Palestinian peasants—like their counterparts in Syria, Lebanon, and communities all over the rim of the Mediterranean Basin—developed a strong sense of local identification, which still survives.[46] Communal belonging and solidarity were expressed in a variety of cultural, social, and economic ways. For example, the peasants of each village usually paid their taxes and even contracted their loans on a collective basis (see Chapter 4). It was also common practice to build new homes collectively and to render mutual assistance during the harvest season.

Wedding rituals included all of these elements of village solidarity. It was not unusual for the elders of a village’s various clans to be consulted prior to a village member’s marriage to an outsider (meaning someone from another village). Once their blessing was obtained, the village elders could receive gifts, and they, in turn, were expected to mobilize their constituents to participate fully in the preparations. Some wedding practices combined local identification with the patriarchal character of clan organization in strikingly revealing ways. Certain villages in the Galilee, for example, had a heavy rock which was set aside for the purpose of competition prior to marriage ceremonies. For an outsider to be allowed to marry one of the village women, the strongest man in the groom-to-be’s village had to be able to lift the host village’s “marriage rock”—assuming that the host village had someone who could lift this rock also.[47] This ritual carried within it a gendered symbolism of power relations between villages and clans: the bride’s village agreed to submit—or, more accurately, to lose one of its women because the wife relocated to the husband’s home—on the condition that the groom’s village passed a test of virility (physical strength).

This is not to say that each village constituted an autonomous and self-sufficient community. Villages were knit together into a variety of economic, political, social, and cultural networks (see Chapter 2).[48] The larger and more powerful clans, for example, had branches in a number of villages, and many clans were connected to each other through marriage, political alliance, and patronage networks. Many villages specialized in particular varieties of sought-after crops and artisanal products, such as watermelon, pottery, or baskets. Urban merchants, meanwhile, carved geographical spheres of influence in the hinterland through social connections that were passed from father to son. Religious Sufi orders, such as the Qadriyya order, also had branches in some of the larger villages. Furthermore, each village was part of a larger cluster of neighboring villages, and several of these constituted a subdistrict (nahiya). Each subdistrict had one or more central villages, larger in population size as well as landholdings—which functioned as political, economic, and social hubs of smaller villages. These central villages were often the administrative headquarters (seat or kursi) for the dominant clan of each subdistrict.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the social space of Jabal Nablus encompassed close to 300 villages, whose economic, social and, to a lesser extent, political life was more closely tied to the city of Nablus than to other urban centers. These villages filled a space stretching along the coastal plains from Haifa and Jaffa in the west to the Ajlun and Balqa regions beyond the River Jordan in the east and from the Galilee in the north to the hills of Ramallah and al-Bireh in the south (see Map 2).[49] The peasants of these villages farmed some of the richest agricultural lands in Palestine.

Not all of Jabal Nablus is equally well endowed, however. Rather, one can speak of three discrete zones: the western slopes, the central highlands, and the eastern slopes. The eastern slopes descend rapidly to below sea level, have precipitous crags, very narrow valleys, and little topsoil, and catch less of the rain that blows in from the Mediterranean Sea. Still, this zone receives adequate rain for the cultivation of wheat and barley, and it enjoys the advantage of a hotter climate and lower altitude, which allow agricultural crops to mature approximately a month earlier than they do in the rest of the region. In addition, Palestinian peasants and urban entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the steeply sloped eastern hills by channeling the rushing streams to power grain mills and to irrigate large parcels of land in valleys of Wadi al-Badhan and Wadi al-Far‘a.[50] Beginning in the 1820s, this region witnessed large investments by merchants and leading families who were eager to acquire mills and lands in order to meet the increased demand for grain.[51]

The eastern slopes contained the smallest number of villages because the terrain, on the whole, lent itself more to the raising of livestock than to cultivation. As a transitional zone between nomadic and settled life, its inhabitants, both villagers and bedouins, led a hybrid existence: many bedouins engaged in seasonal agriculture, and many peasants left their homes for long periods of time as they led their livestock through the surrounding grazing lands. For example, most of the men in the northeastern village of Tammun, one of the largest villages in the subdistrict of Mashariq al-Jarrar, moved around the grazing lands in the Ghur (Jordan Valley), while the women made cheese, clarified butter, woolen rugs, tents, ropes, and cloth bags.[52] That their primary source of income was livestock, not agriculture, was indicated in a petition addressed to the Nablus Advisory Council, in which they asked for relief from the collection of clarified butter (samn) as taxes-in-kind.[53]

The most fertile lands in Jabal Nablus tend to be concentrated in the western slopes. This zone receives much of the rainfall coming in from the Mediterranean because the clouds are trapped by the hills that divide the coast from the desert. The low angle of gradations makes for a thicker and less stony topsoil, especially where the hills give way to large fertile plains. Well suited for the planting of grain, legumes, cotton, fruits and vegetables—the best of these plains are concentrated in what is known today as the Jenin–Tulkarem–Qalqilya triangle. Consequently, this zone contained some of the largest villages in Jabal Nablus.

The best lands in this triangle are the hinterland of the town of Jenin (including the Marj Ibn Amir plain); the plain of Arraba; and the area southwest of the latter where the villages of Dayr al-Ghusun, Attil, Quffin, Shwayka, Bal‘a, and Anabta are located. Marj Ibn Amir, the most fertile plain in all of Palestine, was famous for its plentiful grain harvests as well as for the quality of its tobacco, watermelons, and cotton. This wide plain also had a strategic importance: it constituted the broadest expanse connecting the coast with the interior, and astride it ran one of the main trade routes to Damascus. On its soil numerous famous battles were fought from the time of the pharaohs to World War I, including the battle of Hitten (1187), during which Salah al-Din dealt a decisive blow to the Crusader armies. In the eighteenth century this plain became a bone of contention between the rulers of Jabal Nablus and Zahir al-Umar, the strong man of the Galilee; and in the nineteenth century its wide stretches of land not only produced large amounts of grains for the world market but also became concentrated in the hands of a few large landowners.[54]

The market town of Jenin, which guards the entrance to this large plain, was and remains one whose economy is predominantly agricultural. The storehouses for taxes collected in kind, for example, were located both in Nablus and in Jenin.[55] It is no coincidence that the Jarrar clan, long the most powerful of the subdistrict chiefs, was based in this area. The smaller Arraba plain (11 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide) contained some of the largest villages in Jabal Nablus, including Arraba, Qabatya, and Ya‘bad. Parts of this area were forests, which were ideal for livestock and were an important source of charcoal. The most prized cheese in Jabal Nablus, for example, came from the village of Ya‘bad. The village of Arraba, it is worth noting, was home to the most important leading family in Jabal Nablus to emerge during the nineteenth century: the Abd al-Hadis.

Closer to the coast, the seasonally alternating humid and hot weather allowed intensive cotton cultivation. The commercial production of this commodity helped pave the way for the eventual integration of Palestine into the capitalist world economy. Jabal Nablus played a leading role in this trade: its cotton was considered the best in Greater Syria, and it was this region’s largest producer. The amount of production far exceeded local demand, and most of the cotton was exported to France, Egypt, or Damascus (see Chapter 3). Consequently, this zone was the first to experience the socioeconomic changes associated with the intensification of commercial agriculture: peasant differentiation, commoditization of land, and expansion of moneylending practices, among other things (see Chapter 4).

Even though the coastal plains had greater agricultural potential than did the hill areas, most peasants were partial to life in the highland villages. The coastal areas were more vulnerable to attack and within easy reach of the government tax collector. They were also exposed to malaria and other diseases: much of the water that streamed from the hills failed to reach the sea, forming swamps instead. The hill villages, in contrast, provided protection from both political and physical dangers: the mountain air was healthier, and the rugged hills formed a natural barrier because the complexity of the folds allowed easy escape from and attack on conventional military forces. This zone included the largest number of villages and exhibited the steadiest level of population density in Palestine over the centuries, and its rough terrain and entrenched peasantry made it the backbone of Nablus’s autonomy.

The central zone was also home to the oldest continuously inhabited settlements. Due to population growth and increased pressure on the land, especially during the nineteenth century, it was quite common for “mother” villages in the hills to spawn “daughter” villages in the plains.[56] Peasants built temporary structures on the farthest lands under their control so that they would not have to travel back to the village during the harvest season. Called khirba (ruins), they were often mistaken by western travelers as remnants of once prosperous villages and cited as examples of agricultural decline in Palestine. In fact, the opposite was true, for many of these satellite settlements or offshoots became permanent villages in the nineteenth century.[57]

Interspersed among the hill villages were many small but fertile valleys, in which a variety of rain-fed crops, especially wheat, was grown.[58] Horticulture, however, was the most important agricultural pursuit in terms of time, effort, and income. The limited agricultural potential of the hill areas was conserved through the centuries by terracing, whichprotected the thin topsoil from erosion. Terracing is a strenuous, time-consuming task because the walls, made out of loosely stacked stones, have to be repaired annually after the winter rains. Even now the prosperity of a village is most easily judged by how well its terraces are maintained.

Most of the terraced hills were and still are covered with a variety of fruit-bearing trees and vines, mainly olives. Olive trees are especially well suited to the Mediterranean climate and, more important, to the high limestone base that is inhospitable to a wide variety of plant life. This is why olive trees and vines dominate the hill areas along most of the Mediterranean Basin from Spain, Italy, and Greece to the Syrian highlands and to parts of North Africa.[59] In the words of Fernand Braudel, “Everywhere [in the Mediterranean rim] can be found the same eternal trinity: wheat, olives, and vines, born of the climate and history; in other words an identical agricultural civilization, identical ways of dominating the environment” (see Plate 4).[60]

Nowhere in Palestine was the centrality of the olive tree more in evidence than in Jabal Nablus. Since ancient times this area has produced the largest olive-oil harvests in Palestine, a significant proportion of which, as in North Africa, was exported both regionally and internationally (see Chapter 4).[61] This tree’s central importance was evident in the manyways it was used. Its wood became fuel and was carved into small implements and decorative items. Its fruit was cracked, pickled, and eaten or pressed for oil. The oil remains a staple item in Palestinian cuisine. Olive oil was also used to make soap at home and in large factories and as fuel for lamps. In addition, olive oil has a variety of special purposes suchas medicinal ointments. The dried, crushed pits of pressed olives (jift), when burned, proved ideal as a long-lasting source of heat. Large amounts of jift were consumed every winter as fuel for braziers, and it was used throughout the year as fuel for cooking the large vats of soap in factories.

Olive oil was literally liquid capital, and it often served in lieu of money. Because it could easily be stored for at least one year, it was “deposited” in oil wells dug deep into the ground, both in the city and in many of the villages. Peasants, merchants, and others could then “draw” on these accounts or take money instead. Its status as a marker of wealth is the subtext of stories about how rich rural shaykhs supposedly used olive oil instead of water to mix the mortar which held together the stones of their fortresslike residential compounds.[62]

Boundaries in Time and Space

Compared to economic, social, and cultural processes which slowly undulate like hidden deep-sea currents, political developments move rapidly across the surface like weather fronts that have visible boundaries in time and space. Because political history is not the main concern of this book, it will be sufficient to briefly consider four turning points that introduced new political dynamics.[63] At the same time, we shall compare the Ottoman government’s bureaucratic and somewhat static construction of Jabal Nablus’s administrative boundaries with its actual and dynamic social space, especially as reflected in its relations with regional powers, particularly the rulers of Acre.

The first of the four dramatic and rather violent moments was the 1657 Ottoman military campaign, which sought to restore central control in southern Syria. This campaign introduced a new and stable group of ruling families to Jabal Nablus, families that came to dominate the region’s political life well into the nineteenth century. The second was the sieges of Nablus in 1771 and 1773 by Zahir al-Umar, which reflected the rise of Acre as the political capital of Palestine during a period of weak central control, on the one hand, and marked the beginning of the Tuqan household’s bid for hegemony over Jabal Nablus, on the other. The third was the military occupation of Greater Syria in 1831 by the forces of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the ruler of Egypt. Although of short duration (nine years), Egyptian rule accelerated ongoing socioeconomic trends and restructured the local and regional configurations of political power. It also brought to the fore a new leading family, Abd al-Hadi, after the failed 1834 revolt led by Nabulsi subdistrict chiefs. The fourth was the destruction in 1859 of the village of Arraba, headquarters of the Abd al-Hadi family, by a resurgent Ottoman government. This event marked the official end of rule by native sons and the fruition of a major Ottoman campaign of centralization and administrative reforms that was initiated in 1839.

The cumulative effect of these watershed events was twofold: it reduced the autonomy of the hinterland in relation to the city, as well as the autonomy of Jabal Nablus and of Palestine in general vis-à-vis the Ottoman state. Put differently, these turning points marked the temporal boundaries of a slow and multilayered process of political centralization on the local, regional, and international levels.

The 1657 Campaign

After their victory over the Mamluks in the battle of Marj Dabiq on August 23, 1516, the Ottoman rulers chose not to undertake a fundamental administrative and political reorganization of Greater Syria. Palestine was divided into five districts (sing. liwa, later called sanjaq) that closely reflected the administrative arrangement under the Mamluks: Safad, Nablus, Jerusalem (Quds al-Sharif), Gaza, Ajlun, and Lajjun. All were attached, as in Mamluk times, to the province (wilaya) of Damascus.[64] Nor did the Ottoman rulers attempt to restructure the political configuration on the local level. Jabal Nablus was divided into four subdistricts (sing. nahiya), in addition to the city itself: Jabal Qubla (south mountain), Jabal Shami (north mountain), Qaqun, and Bani Sa‘b—all of which reflected long-standing divisions.[65] For instance, the Jayyusi clan, which ruled the area of Bani Sa‘b in the fifteenth century, was reconfirmed in its position and further entrusted in the late sixteenth century with safeguarding the section of the Damascus–Cairo highway between the fortresses of Qaqun and Ras al-Ayn.[66] As these official administrative divisions on the local level suggest, political power in Jabal Nablus did not emanate solely from the city, nor was it centralized in the hands of one household. Rather, the city of Nablus was only one among a number of local centers of power within Jabal Nablus, and its relations with the surrounding villages were partially mediated by the rural-based subdistrict chiefs (sing. shaykh al-nahiya), such as the Jayyusis.

The power of rural chiefs was ultimately based on violence or the threat thereof. These chiefs lived in strategic fortresslike compounds located in seat (kursi) villages which served as their political and military headquarters.[67] Using their quickly mobilized peasant militia and their command of the hilly terrain, they could project their forces to control the villages in their area and the approaches to Nablus. In effect, they could restrict or relax the arteries of local and regional trade and, in the process, reward or punish particular clans and/or urban trading families. They rarely had to resort to force, however, because they operated tightly knit patronage networks in which peasants traded loyalty for protection. They also commanded allegiance by inserting themselves into the social fabric: they lived among the peasants, married into the key clans of their subdistricts, and transplanted their own clan members into a number of strategic villages. The subdistrict chiefs reinforced their authority by arbitrating disputes and dispensing justice according to the unwritten rules of customary law called urf. Their actions, therefore, were circumscribed by social and cultural boundaries that defined ideals for accepted behavior, notions of justice, and levels of accountability to the collective community. Developed over the centuries, it was this nexus of rural relations that constituted the building blocks of rural autonomy and accounted for the deeply rooted yet decentralized power relations.

The Ottoman bureaucracy, honed by generations of imperial expansion in Anatolia and eastern Europe, was both skillful and pragmatic in absorbing such semiautonomous regions. From the very beginning, local leaders were coopted into becoming the representatives of the Ottoman government. This is why the official administrative divisions constructed on the subdistrict level were not primarily meant to be effective grids for the organization of political hierarchies emanating from the center. Rather, they were flexible fiscal shells designed to maximize revenue at the least political cost. The government, in other words, read the existing local political map and then drew boundaries around the actual relations of power. In addition, the government did not attempt to rule the hinterland of Nablus through the city. Rather, each subdistrict chief wasdirectly appointed by the governor of Damascus and invested with the authority to collect taxes and to maintain law and order. These appointments, made annually, were largely ceremonial in nature: in practice, the post of shaykhal-nahiya became hereditary in each subdistrict as it was passed down within the same family for generations.[68]

Still, a certain level of control was exercised by playing local leaders off against each other and, when circumstance left no other choice, by punitive expeditions against the whole region. Such an expedition was sent in 1657 as part of a larger campaign by the Ottoman government to reassert central control after decades of social upheavals and economic crises that rocked the empire as a whole. Palestine was a key target because of its importance to land communications with Egypt as well as to the safety and financing of the Damascus pilgrimage caravan.

The Ottoman military expedition consisted primarily of Arab local militia (yerliyya) from central Syria.[69] In lieu of salaries for the pacification of Jabal Nablus and, subsequently, for annual military service as escorts for pilgrimage caravans, the cavalry officers (sipahis) were granted revenues of some agricultural lands. These land grants, called timar or za‘ama, depending on their size, were carved out from specific villages in Jabal Nablus.[70] To prevent grant holders from establishing independent bases of power, the Ottoman government dispersed the lands and villages of each holder to separate and distant parts of Jabal Nablus. They also assigned the key village of each za‘ama as a separate timar to another grant holder.[71] Furthermore, they made these grants subject to annual renewal in order to forestall privatization through inheritance.

The expedition succeeded in pacifying Jabal Nablus, but the Ottoman government failed in its efforts to prevent the military officers from establishing a strong local base of power. The expedition leaders settled in the city of Nablus and managed to pass their timar and za‘ama holdings on to their descendants.[72] They also consolidated local alliances by selling and renting their rights to these timars,[73] as well as by farming them out to middlemen who paid out the revenues in advance, then collected as much as they could from the peasants.[74] In addition to their control of village lands, they quickly diversified their material base by training their sons in a variety of occupations and by investing in manufacture, trade, and urban real estate. According to Ihsan Nimr, a local historian, “Their properties, of all different kinds, were the symbol of their power and princely status.…They were careful to acquire all types of properties so that they would need no one nor to purchase anything from others: theirs were the soap factor[ies], bath-house[s], vegetable gardens, pottery factories, mills, bakeries, olive and sesame presses, shops, and lands for planting various crops.”[75]

Over time the expedition leaders slowly melted into the local population[76] and became more concerned with running their business affairs than with military service to the Ottoman state.[77] The most powerful of them built large, fortresslike homes with high walls, within which there were stables, water wells, gardens, storage rooms, and quarters for armed retainers and servants. Many of these houses are still standing today. Of this group, the Nimrs, originally subdistrict chiefs in the hinterlands of Homs and Hama, north of Damascus, were the most important, for they received the lion’s share of the land grants. They quickly gained control of the posts of mutasallim and of miralay (or chief of the alay, as the company of local sipahis was called). They also intermarried with rich merchant and leading religious (ulama) families and entered into business partnerships with them.

Aside from the Nimrs, the two most important leading families to emerge soon after the 1657 campaign were the Tuqans and the Jarrars. The Jarrar clan moved from the al-Balqa region on the east bank of the River Jordan to the plain of Marj Ibn Amir in Lajjun district sometime around 1670.[78] The economic power of the Jarrars was based on their hold over what eventually became known as the Jenin district (sanjaq) around the turn of the nineteenth century. Their political power stemmed from their peasant militia and their possession of a formidable fortress in Sanur village, which controlled the access to the city from the north. They were the only subdistrict chiefs until the 1820s to achieve the post of mutasallim, albeit briefly.[79]

The Tuqans, originally from northern Syria,[80] emerged as strong competitors of the Nimrs around the turn of the eighteenth century. They were the only household that ever came close to centralizing all of Jabal Nablus under their rule, and their members held the post of mutasallim longer than did any other family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, albeit inconsistently. Their most prominent member in the eighteenth century was Hajj Salih Pasha Tuqan (d. 1742). Descended from a family that was wealthy and politically prominent before it came to Jabal Nablus,[81] Salih Pasha began his political career by serving in the military contingent of the pilgrimage caravan. In 1709 he was appointed mutasallim of Jerusalem, and later on he filled the same post in the district of Tarabzon near the Black Sea. He returned to Jabal Nablus in 1723, when he was appointed governor of the districts of Gaza, Nablus, and Lajjun.[82] Salih Pasha and some of his descendants intermarried with the Nimrs,[83] but it was not long before internal competition, exacerbated by political interference from the governors of Damascus and the rulers of Acre, caused a serious rift between them that was not mended until the 1820s.

The 1657 expedition heralded a period of relative stability and prosperity for Jabal Nablus. The infusion of a powerful new urban elite also increased the authority and power of the city over its hinterland and reasserted the primacy of Ottoman rule. These developments, in turn, facilitated the expansion of the social space of Jabal Nablus. The earliest reference we have as to the official readjustment of administrative boundaries in response to this expansion is a report by the deputy (wakil) mutasallim of Nablus, Umar Agha Nimr, on the amounts of taxes collected from its subdistricts and the amounts still owed for the year 1723. This report, submitted to the representative of Salih Pasha Tuqan—then governor of Gaza, Nablus, and Lajjun districts—shows that the number of subdistricts of Jabal Nablus had increased from four to seven, not counting the city itself.[84] Of these, the subdistrict of Bani Sa‘b was the only one that retained its name—testimony to the continuity in leadership of the Jayyusi clan, whose preeminence in this area preceded the onset of Ottoman rule. The southern subdistrict, Jabal Qubla, had expanded south, east, and west to form three separate subdistricts: Jamma‘in, Jorat Amra, and Shaykh Mansur.[85] The former subdistricts of Jabal Shami and Qaqun expanded north, east, and west to form three separate subdistricts: Wadi al-Sha‘ir (valley of barley), Sha‘rawiyya, and Jarrar. The fact that two of the subdistricts, Jarrar and Shaykh Mansur, were named after the ruling clans in them reflected how local power formations often determined Ottoman administrative divisions from above.

The expansion of Jabal Nablus’s social space and administrative boundaries took place at the expense of the only new districts in Palestine that the Ottoman government established after it conquered the area in the sixteenth century: Ajlun and Lajjun. Unlike Palestine’s other districts, each of which had an ancient city as its capital, Ajlun and Lajjun were carved out primarily for political and strategic reasons. Through Ajlun district passed the first crucial leg of the Damascus contingent of the pilgrimage caravans. Because this area was dominated by bedouin tribes, the Ottoman government needed a strong hand, provided by the Qansuh, then Furaykh, households to make sure that the caravans proceeded smoothly.[86] Through Lajjun passed the Damascus–Cairo land highway; and this district was set aside for the Turabay household, which was charged with the task of protecting it.[87]

Lajjun and Ajlun formed an arc that capped Jabal Nablus on three sides like a hat. In the mid-eighteenth century they were combined into a single administrative unit, with the town of Jenin as their administrative capital. Officially this continued to be the case until the turn of the nineteenth century, when the western part of this combined unit (Lajjun) became the district of Jenin.[88] As indicated in the above report, however, Jenin was firmly and fully integrated into the social space of Jabal Nablus under the control of the Jarrars in the late 1600s, and it remained so throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For instance, the above report named the subdistricts of Sha‘rawiyya and Jarrar as part of Jabal Nablus even though together they covered much of the territories that were officially part of Lajjun district.[89] In fact, Nablus had all along been the key urban center for the villages of both Ajlun and Lajjun.[90] The formal administrative arrangements, in other words, concealed an ongoing economic and, to a lesser extent, political absorption by Nablus of these two adjacent districts, especially Lajjun. As we shall soon see, part of Ajlun was appended to Jabal Nablus, albeit briefly, in the nineteenth century; and what was left of Lajjun in the early eighteenth century was severely diminished, between the hammer of Acre’s political power and the anvil of Nablus’s economic muscle.

The administrative arrangement sketched out in the 1723 document remained essentially unchanged until the end of Ottoman rule in 1917. Just as important was the stability of the ruling families mentioned by name in this document, including the Nimrs, Tuqans, and Jarrars. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Nimrs and Tuqans traded positions of leadership in the city of Nablus and occasionally ruled other regions in Palestine, especially Jerusalem and Jaffa (including Lydda and Ramla).[91] Meanwhile, the Jarrars were the undisputed leading clan among subdistrict chiefs.[92] Despite their internal differences, this triumvirate managed to maintain a relatively strong grip on power until the Egyptian invasion of 1831 and, more often than not, was united in defending Jabal Nablus against frontal attempts to conquer it by outside powers. The biggest challenge they faced came from the rulers of Acre.

The Rise of Acre

Officially, Jabal Nablus (that is, the districts of Nablus and Jenin) remained attached to the province of Damascus, albeit with brief interruptions, from 1516 until 1849/1850, after which it was attached to the province of Sidon, and then to the province of Beirut in 1887/1888.[93] In reality, the Damascus governors had only a tenuous hold over Jabal Nablus; during most of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries they exercised even less influence. Rather, it was the rulers of Acre—Zahir al-Umar (d. 1775), Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar (d. 1804), Sulayman Pasha al-Adil (d. 1819), and Abdullah Pasha (who died shortly after the surrender of Acre and his exile to Egypt in 1831)—who wielded real power in much of southern Syria.[94]

Briefly put, the Damascus governors, with some important exceptions,[95] were rotated annually, could not project their limited military resources as far as Jabal Nablus, and, in any case, were too busy arranging for and accompanying annual pilgrimage caravans to impose their will. The rulers of Acre, in contrast, were in a much better position to influence events in Jabal Nablus: Acre was adjacent to Nablus, and its leaders possessed a well-trained and capable military force. They also effectively controlled the governorship of Acre for life and appointed their successors.[96] In fact, they were often called on by the governors of Damascus to render assistance in both fiscal and administrative matters relating to Palestine in general and to Jabal Nablus in particular.[97] In the late 1820s, for example, the governor of Acre, Abdullah Pasha, convinced the central government to reassign the district of Nablus to the province of Sidon, whose de facto capital was Acre. This was after the Damascus governor argued that it would cost him more to force the rebellious people of Jabal Nablus to pay their arrears than the amount of taxes they actually owed.[98]

The rise of Acre must be seen within the larger context of the emergence of power centers within the body of the empire but outside its direct control. This phenomenon swept all through the Ottoman domains, including Anatolia, during the eighteenth century, which was a period of largely weak central control. The stage was set during the late seventeenth century after a series of disastrous defeats in wars with Europe that resulted in the humiliating Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. During the first half of the eighteenth century the Ottoman government had partial success in recouping some of its losses and in reasserting its power internally.[99] Beginning in 1768, however, the Ottoman government suffered major territorial losses in several wars with Russia over a period of three decades and watched Napoleon take over Egypt in 1798. Most demoralizing of all was their utter military defeat by the forces of one of their own subjects, Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt, when he occupied Greater Syria in 1831.

What was bad for the Ottoman government during this period, however, was often good for regional forces, which took advantage of weakness in the center to negotiate virtually autonomous political enclaves and to keep most of the surplus collected as taxes to themselves. Often they ruled these enclaves for life and even passed them on to their descendants or hand-picked successors.[100] The Jalilis in Mosul, the Mamluks in Egypt, and the Shihabs in Mount Lebanon are but a few examples of increased autonomy under the umbrella of Ottoman rule. These ruling households differed substantially from each other in terms of when they came to power, how they held on to it, and the nature of their relationship to the central government. Four features were common to most, however: political centralization on the district and provincial level, sometimes with the help and blessing of the central government, which needed these strong households to maintain its grip, if only indirectly; greater urban access to the rural surplus at the expense of both the central government and local forces at the subdistrict level; the imposition of virtual monopolies on the movement of key agricultural commodities; and growing trade with and sometimes political and military dependence on an industrializing Europe.

These features lay behind the rise of the fortified city of Acre as the political and military center of Palestine and as the de facto capital of the province of Sidon, which was created in the 1660s. Strategically located and easily defended, this ancient port and one-time Crusader stronghold became the headquarters for Zahir al-Umar. A native of the Galilee, Zahir al-Umar began his career as a minor tax collector and, over a forty-five-year period (1730–1775), emerged as the most powerful leader in Palestine. The key economic backdrop to his success was his ability to (partially) monopolize the trade in cotton, grain, and olive oil destined for export to Europe. From the profits of this trade, Zahir al-Umar built a military force that allowed him to expand the territories under his control and to withstand repeated attacks by the governors of Damascus.

Initially, the Jarrar clan bore the brunt of the military and political pressures from Acre because their territories lay between northern and central Palestine. The first major armed confrontation was over control of Marj Ibn Amir and the market town of Nazareth. Through the fertile lands of the former passed one of the major routes of trade between Nablus and Damascus; and the latter was an important entrepôt for trade between Palestine and its northern regional markets. In 1735 the Jarrars were defeated by Zahir al-Umar, and their leader, Shaykh Ibrahim, was killed in the battle. Nazareth, which had previously paid taxes to the Jarrar clan, became part of Zahir al-Umar’s domains.[101]

Over the next three decades Zahir al-Umar’s stature became such that he found it possible to forge temporary alliances with the Russian government and to cooperate with the Mamluks in Egypt, who, with his help, invaded Greater Syria in 1771 and again in 1773. It was precisely in these two years that Zahir al-Umar twice laid siege to Nablus. The sieges threw into bold relief a century-long campaign (1730–1830) by the powerful rulers of Acre to contain and even partially reduce the social space of Jabal Nablus. From the military standpoint, these brief though bloody episodes ended in stalemates, but then Zahir al-Umar never intended to occupy the city and remove its local leadership. Rather, these sieges were meant as painful reminders to Nablus’s population and its leaders that Acre, not the Ottoman government, was the source of political authority.

During Zahir al-Umar’s long reign the leaders of Jabal Nablus learned to subtly maneuver between him and the Ottoman government (as represented by the governors of Damascus), with which he was constantly at odds. Struggles for power within Jabal Nablus, therefore, were often influenced and sometimes precipitated by the larger conflict between Zahir al-Umar and the Ottoman authorities. The former wielded real power in the region; the latter were key to securing political appointments and official legitimacy. Indeed, until the demise of Acre’s political clout in 1831, its governors’ primary mechanism for controlling Jabal Nablus was the time-honored strategy of divide and conquer, a task made easier by the Nabulsi leaders, who did not hesitate to enlist the help of the Acre rulers or of the governors of Damascus in order to gain advantage in their own internal struggles.[102]

In this respect, the sieges were also important in that they boosted the power of the Tuqan household which, just five years earlier, had embarked on a sustained campaign to centralize its control of Jabal Nablus as a whole. In 1766 Mustafa Beik Tuqan successfully maneuvered to have himself appointed as the subdistrict chief of Bani Sa‘b in place of the Jayyusi clan.[103] This was the first time that an urban household attempted to directly control a section of the hinterland by forcing out a rural clan, thereby seriously challenging the balance of power between the city and the countryside. This fateful move put the Tuqans on a collision course with both Zahir al-Umar and the Jarrars.

That Bani Sa‘b became the lightning rod of an escalating local and regional conflict was no accident. Its territories controlled a key section of the Damascus–Cairo highway as well the access of Nablus to its major sea outlet, the city of Jaffa. Bani Sa‘b was also a cotton-producing district, and this was a time of vigorous expansion in cotton trade. This political dispute, therefore, reflected the twin processes of urban political domination over the hinterland and the integration of Palestine into the world economy. The Jarrars opposed the first process, while Zahir al-Umar attempted to impose a monopoly on the trade generated by the latter. Of course, these two processes preceded 1760 and only fully matured a century later, but this dispute was a clear signal of the new times ahead. As we shall see in subsequent chapters, the process of urban control over the countryside was eventually completed by the merchant community, whose primary mechanisms of control were not military power and tax collection but moneylending and local trade networks.

The danger posed by the Tuqan’s bid for power was magnified in 1771, when the new governor of Damascus, Muhammad Pasha Azm, appointed Mustafa Beik Tuqan to the post of mutasallim of Nablus. The Jarrars’ fears induced them to let the forces of Zahir al-Umar pass unimpeded through their territories on their way to lay siege to Nablus. Meanwhile, Mustafa Beik Tuqan, with the help of the Nimrs, prepared the city’s defenses. This turn of events cast the Jarrars in the position of anti-Ottoman local forces, while the Tuqans represented themselves as the defenders of Jabal Nablus against Zahir al-Umar and his Mamluk allies, hence as loyal servants of the sultan.[104]

This political positioning proved to be crucial during the reign of Zahir al-Umar’s even more powerful successor, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar (1775–1804). Unlike his predecessor, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar maintained good relations with the Ottoman central government by paying taxes on time and making sure that he remained indispensable for their hold over southern Syria. Simultaneously, he steadily maneuvered to increase his power, eventually becoming the governor of both Sidon and Damascus provinces.[105] By and large, the well-connected Tuqans received his support,[106] while the Jarrars, unwilling to bow to this centralization effort, suffered two (unsuccessful) military campaigns against their fortress in Sanur village in 1790 and 1795.[107]

Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar’s weak successor, Sulayman Pasha al-Adil, made little effort to directly intervene in the affairs of Jabal Nablus. Rather, he parceled out his support to different factions at different times, alternating between the Jarrars, the Tuqans, and the Abd al-Hadis.[108] Meanwhile, the Tuqans, under the aggressive leadership of Musa Beik Tuqan (1801–1823), accelerated their drive for internal hegemony through violence and intimidation, eventually embroiling Jabal Nablus in a bloody civil war (1817–1823).[109] With the blessing of the Ottoman government, the Tuqans imported mercenary soldiers and stationed them in a hastily built fortress in the village of Junayd, on the outskirts of Nablus.[110] This move backfired, for it only served to increase local opposition. After a series of bloody clashes, some inside the city itself, the Tuqans were defeated and their leader poisoned on November 20, 1823.[111]

The anti-Tuqan coalition, led by the Jarrars and the Qasims (chiefs of the subdistrict of Jamma‘in) with occasional help from the Nimrs,[112] won the battles but lost the war. On one level, the entire struggle only served to enhance the growing importance of the city as the center of effective political power in Jabal Nablus. Henceforth, all struggles would revolve around securing the post of mutasallim, and all political contenders from the hinterland who managed to play a leading role in Jabal Nablus as a whole began by establishing residence in or near the city itself. On another level, the victorious Jarrars and Qasims were swimming against the tide of political centralization that was about to overwhelm Greater Syria. In 1825 the Jarrars’ power in Jabal Nablus was irreparably damaged when their formidable fortress in Sanur village was destroyed, with the blessing of the Ottoman government, by the combined forces of Abdullah Pasha, Sulayman Pasha’s successor in Acre, and of Amir Shihab, the powerful ruler of Mount Lebanon. Then, in 1831, all of Greater Syria fell under the rule of Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt, whose administration proved to be far more formidable and intrusive than that of the Ottoman government. Thus, when the Qasims led a revolt against the Egyptian forces in 1834, they were quickly defeated and their leaders beheaded.

Egyptian Rule, 1831–1840

The Egyptian military occupation of Greater Syria is the one dramatic moment in the nineteenth century that is most widely credited for causing a radical break with the past.[113] A more cautious assessment would view the brief period of Egyptian rule as having accelerated rather than precipitated ongoing trends, even though some important new dynamics were introduced, such as the establishment of city councils and the imposition of new controls on the peasantry through conscription and disarmament..

Undergirding Egypt’s emergence as the most formidable regional power during the reign of Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805–1848) were the expansion in agricultural production and trade with Europe and the creation of a large modern army that, along the French model, turned peasants into foot soldiers. The military institutions were Muhammad Ali’s primary vehicle for introducing wide-ranging administrative, fiscal, and economic structural changes in Egypt. The military also allowed him to project Egyptian power into the Sudan, into the Arabian Peninsula and, in 1831, into Greater Syria.

In a series of lightning battles beginning that year, the outnumbered Egyptian army, under the brilliant leadership of Muhammad Ali Pasha’s son, Ibrahim Pasha, soundly defeated the Ottoman forces, causing the sultan to seek the help of the empire’s nemesis, Russia. This move, in turn, brought the rest of the European states into the fray. Like the series of events triggered by Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, but on a much grander scale, the Egyptian invasion of Greater Syria firmly posed what became known as the Eastern Question; that is, how to integrate the Ottoman Empire and its far-flung domains into the European political and economic orbit without upsetting the balance of power in Europe and without igniting uncontrollable regional conflicts. The very question both assumed and reflected the existence of unprecedented opportunities for the European powers to increase their influence. In 1838 Great Britain negotiated the “free-trade” Anglo-Turkish Commercial Convention, which opened the Ottoman interior to European businesses. At the same time, indirect political incursions, under the cover of protecting religious minorities, were intensified.

The Egyptian authorities, for their part, heartily encouraged greater European involvement. Muhammad Ali Pasha, who had already oriented Egypt’s economy firmly toward Europe, sought to preempt any hostile actions by the European powers by reassuring them that Egyptian policies would facilitate rather than hinder their economic interests in Greater Syria. For example, permission was given for the establishment of European consulates in cities, such as Damascus and Jerusalem, which were considered off limits before, and commercial agriculture and overseas trade were vigorously promoted and protected through the imposition of a centralized political and legal infrastructure. For the first time in memory, Greater Syria was brought under a single administration backed by a powerful army. To standardize the wide diversity of political configurations, the Egyptian authorities channeled administrative control through a new urban institution: the Advisory Council (majlis al-shura). Based in key cities and staffed by religious leaders, rich merchants, and political figures, these councils accelerated yet another ongoing process (aside from the integration of Greater Syria in the European orbit): urban political control and economic domination of the hinterland.

Initially, the rural leaders of hill regions in Greater Syria, including Jabal Nablus, were awed by the overwhelming Egyptian military forces and cautiously welcomed Ibrahim Pasha. Soon, however, they beganto greatly resent their exclusion from the Advisory Councils, whichwere empowered by and answerable to the Egyptian authorities. This resentment turned to rebellion when they were ordered to implement the highly unpopular measures of disarming and conscripting the peasantry, as well as collecting a new head tax, the ferde, to be paid in cash by all adult males over the age of fifteen. All of these measures cut into their privileges and material base, and they undermined their hold over the peasantry.

Those rural leaders with the most to lose led revolts in Palestine, Mount Lebanon, and Jabal al-Druze (Hauran). The first of these revolts took place in Palestine in 1834.[114] Led by Qasim al-Ahmad, chief of the Jamma‘in subdistrict in Jabal Nablus, this revolt was crushed, like the others that followed, by the overwhelming military force of the Egyptian army. Qasim al-Ahmad and his two oldest sons were executed. Other leaders either met the same fate, were exiled, and/or were relieved of their positions. Thus the political autonomy of Jabal Nablus, weakened by the interventions of the rulers of Acre and by internal struggles, was dealt a major blow by the Egyptian forces.

At the same time, the Egyptian occupation marked the rise of a new ruling household in Jabal Nablus: the Abd al-Hadis. Based in the village of Arraba, the Abd al-Hadis were already an important force at the time of Napoleon’s siege of Acre, having been supported by the rulers of Acre (especially Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar and Sulayman Pasha) as well as by the Tuqans as a counterweight to the Jarrars. Because the Abd al-Hadis represented a relatively new and fresh political force, Ibrahim Pasha picked their leader, Shaykh Husayn, to be his right-hand man for southern Syria. Because Husayn Abd al-Hadi proved to be a loyal and effective servant, he was promoted to the governorship of Sidon province, which, in the 1830s, included almost all of Palestine.

For a while it seemed as though Nablus might become both the political and economic capital of southern Syria, due to the demise of Acre and the meteoric rise of the Abd al-Hadis. Indicative was the expansion of the social space of Jabal Nablus into domains long controlled by the rulers of Acre. In 1851, for instance, Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi, then the district-governor of Nablus, and his cousin, Salih Beik Abd al-Hadi, then thedistrict-governor of Haifa, appointed the shaykhs of seven villages in Bilad al-Haritha located between the towns of Bisan and Nazareth.[115] Furthermore, that same year Yusuf Abd al-Hadi, a rich tax farmer, invested large amounts of money to rebuild the villages of Shifa‘amr subdistrict (west of Haifa) as part of his iltizam (tax farm) holdings.[116]

Even the official administrative configuration of Jabal Nablus in the decade after the Egyptian occupation came closer than ever to reflecting its informal absorption of the former district of Lajjun. According to records of the Nablus Advisory Council, Jabal Nablus in the mid-nineteenth century formally consisted of the two districts (sanjaqs) of Nablus and Jenin (the former capital of the combined districts of Ajlun and Lajjun), plus nine subdistricts which contained a total of 213 villages, as shown in Table 1.

1. Administrative Composition of Jabal Nablus, 1850:
Districts (Sanjaqs) and subdistricts ( Nahiyas)[*]
Administrative Unit Head Number of Villages
Source: NMSR, pp. 76-77, 167.
Sanjaq Nablus Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi  
Sanjaq Jenin Yusuf Sulayman Abd al-Hadi 45
Mashariq al-Jarrar Ahmad al-Yusuf, Muhammad al-Hajj and Qasim al-Dawud (Jarrar) 28
Bani Sa‘b Yusuf Jayyusi 27
Jamma‘in (east) Mahmud al-Qasim 21
Jamma‘in (west) Muhammad al-Sadiq (Rayyan) 25
Sha‘rawiyya (east) Salih Beik Abd al-Hadi  
Sha‘rawiyya (west) Abd al-Rahman Husayn Abd al-Hadi 23
Wadi al-Sha‘ir (east) Abu Bakr Burqawi (Sayf clan)  
Wadi al-Sha‘ir (west) Musa al-Mir‘i (al-Ahfa clan) 24
Mashariq Nablus Shaykhs of Bayta and Aqraba villages (Hajj Muhammad clan) 20
This table represents just one moment in time. One year earlier the subdistricts of Jamma‘in and Wadi al-Sha‘ir were not yet split into two parts, sanjaq Nablus was headed by Sulayman Tuqan, and sanjaq Jenin was headed by al-Qaddura Jarrar. Internal conflict between the two pow erful branches of the Bani-Ghazi clan, Qasim and Rayyan, split the sub district of Jamma‘in into two parts. In May 1859 Jamma‘in (east) was headed by Sulayman Agha Rayyan; Jamma‘in (west), by Mahmud Afandi al-Qasim. Both subdistricts were elevated to the status of qada, which means that a deputy judge was stationed in each one. The judge appointed to the latter subdistrict was Shaykh Muhammad Afandi Husayni, from Jerusalem (NICR, 12:249, 251, 254). Similarly, the subdistrict of Wadi al-Sha‘ir was divided due to a struggle between the related clans of Sayf and Ahfa, largely over property and taxation questions involving the village of Burqa (NMSR, pp. 58, 60, 63–64, 67–68, 83; NIMR, 2:596–599). The former clan, under the leadership of the Burqawi family, eventually con trolled the western section centered around Tulkarem village. In 1859 its chief was Muhammad Mustafa Agha Burqawi (NICR, 12:251). The eastern part centered around Burqa village (NMSR, p. 167). In May 1859 its chief was Shaykh Mas‘ud al-Hamdan (NICR, 12:250).

This expansion of Jabal Nablus, however, proved to be temporary. The European powers that forced Ibrahim Pasha’s retreat in 1840 lavished their attention on Jerusalem instead. Because of its religious and symbolic significance, Jerusalem was the most suitable stepping-stone for increased European intervention through a process of redefining Palestine in Biblical terms as the Holy (as opposed to Ottoman or Arab) land. By the 1850s Jerusalem emerged as Palestine’s political and administrative center—a role it has yet to relinquish. At the same time, the coastal towns of Jaffa and Haifa, like Beirut and Alexandria, were transformed into large, modern cities as they became the economic beachheads for the growing trade with Europe.

The rise of Jerusalem and the gradual shifting of the economic center of gravity to the coast led many Nabulsi merchants to focus on the east bank of the River Jordan as the new frontier for the investment of merchant capital. The economic integration of the former district of Ajlun into Jabal Nablus’s sphere of influence had been going on since the early Ottoman period, but it proceeded apace with the extension of Ottoman central control into this bedouin-dominated environment during the second half of the nineteenth century. Many Nabulsi families, along with others from Jerusalem and Damascus, established households on the east bank, purchased lands, and extended credit to peasants.[117] Because Nabulsi merchants were historically the most active in this region, it was not surprising that in 1867 Jabal Nablus’s administrative boundaries were redrawn again as the Ottoman authorities appended the middle portion of Ajlun district, al-Balqa (with Salt as its central town), to Jabal Nablus. Until this new part was detached in 1888, Jabal Nablus became officially known as the district (mutasarrifiyya) of Jabal Nablus and al-Balqa.

Ottoman Centralization and the Fall of Arraba

Beset by external pressures, a fiscal crisis, and separatist nationalist movements in its remaining European domains, the Ottoman authorities unveiled in 1839 an ambitious program of reforms known as the Tanzimat. This program aimed at modernizing the armed forces, centralizing political power, and increasing revenues from agricultural production, trade, and manufacturing. All of this required more knowledge about and greater control of the subjects of the empire: population counts, conscription, direct collection of taxes, and the establishment of political institutions which could facilitate direct central control.

Because many elements of this program were similar to ones already taken by Muhammad Ali Pasha during the Egyptian occupation of Greater Syria, the way was already paved for the implementation of the Tanzimat. The Ottoman government, for example, regulated and expanded the Advisory Councils, tried to keep the population disarmed, revived the policy of conscription, and maintained the head tax. They also conducted population-count campaigns in Greater Syria during the late 1840s and, in 1856, initiated the second wave of reforms, including a new land code (1858). All of these measures were backed by an increased military presence and an active policy of wooing the urban elites, primarily through the Advisory Councils.

Still, the large power vacuum created by the Egyptian retreat in 1840 could not be quickly filled by the Ottoman government. For the next two decades the reconfiguration of political relations in Jabal Nablus was punctuated by internal upheavals and violent clashes. The escalating civil strife largely emanated from below as peasant clans, no longer under the watchful gaze of the Egyptian forces, competed vigorously for land and water resources in the context of expanding agricultural production, population growth, and increasing demands on their surplus by the Ottoman government, local leaders, and urban merchants. Meanwhile, the members of the Nablus Advisory Council negotiated their relations with a much more aggressive and intrusive Ottoman state one crisis at a time.

For example, on December 26, 1849, the council members[118] met to draft a letter of defiance in response to a number of impatient missives from the governor of Jerusalem concerning the composition of the council. The last of these letters, addressed to the qa’immaqam of Nablus, Sulayman Beik Tuqan, had been received just eight days earlier:

We have repeatedly requested that you quickly organize the draftingof a letter from the Nablus Advisory Council nominating ten Muslims and three for each of the remaining millets [non-Muslim religious communities], so that four…Muslims and one for each millet can be chosen in a lottery. [This is] aside from your person, the judge and the mufti—as was explained to you in a letter…from the Provincial Council [of Sidon]. Until now, we have not received any such list from you, and it is necessary that you send it as soon as possible…[119]

The Jerusalem governor and his superiors, who had been trying to nurture this fledgling institution over the past few years, were unhappy about their lack of control over the composition of its members and about the fact that its current configuration deviated in two important respects from the guidelines proclaimed in a January 1840 imperial edict.[120] First, all the members were Muslims, even though representatives from the Samaritan and the Christian Greek Orthodox communities were supposed to have been included.[121] Second, the council members recruited an additional member, the naqib al-ashraf (steward of the descendants of the Prophet), Muhammad Murtada Afandi Hanbali, despite the fact that all four slots for Muslims were already filled.

At the same time, however, the governor and his superiors knew that any effort to unilaterally impose new members would lead to a political cul-de-sac. The cooperation of the current members of the Nablus council, therefore, was indispensable; and this is why they were asked to nominate their successors. The Nablus council members, in turn, were aware of the government’s dilemma. In their reply they were neither humble nor shy about asserting their local will:

We have received your order…but there is no one in these parts who is qualified to run this institution other than the ones who are members of it at the present. The naqib…[whom we] appointed as head of the council…has the qualifications and experience in these matters and in running the affairs of the people.…Likewise, all the other members have the experience and commitment [to do the same]. We petition you…to keep them in their posts.[122]

The council members referred to themselves in the third person (“the ones who are members”) in order to highlight their claim, asserted in the title of their memo, that they had the full support of the city’s notables, religious figures, and neighborhood leaders. Their reply, in effect, denied the central authorities the right to choose the members of the council, justified the inclusion of naqib al-ashraf, and declared his appointment as head of the council, even though the rules clearly stipulated that the qa’immaqam was to hold this post.

This confrontation, like many others that took place between the council and the Ottoman authorities in the mid-nineteenth century, eventually resulted in a negotiated compromise. A list was submitted four months after the above letter was sent, and some new members were chosen.[123] Yet even though Muhammad Murtada Afandi Hanbali was specifically excluded, he continued to attend the council meetings and to sign his name along with the others on outgoing correspondence. The Ottoman authorities, for their part, turned a blind eye.[124]

The ability of the Nablus council to influence the composition of its own membership, and to do so in ways that contravened guidelines established at the highest levels, illustrates both the extent and the limits of Jabal Nablus’s autonomy within Ottoman rule during the mid-nineteenth century. On the one hand, it was clear that the Ottoman reforms were filtered and reshaped by a local ruling elite, a religious leadership, and a merchant community composed entirely of native sons. On the other hand, detailed supervision of the kind indicated by the letters from the governor of Jerusalem would have been unthinkable just few decades earlier, as would the restructuring of local political authority that made the Advisory Council the locus of local political power.

In this context, it is significant that none of the letters sent by the council members ever questioned the legitimacy of the Advisory Council even though this rather new institution was clearly designed to reinforce central control at the expense of local autonomy. Indeed, their letters emphasized their desire to be active participants in the molding of a new political landscape, along with the central government, and enthusiastically insisted that they possessed the three classic qualifications for political office: merit, commitment, and popular support. This is because the cooperative posture of the Nablus council members was more than just a bow to superior authority driven by an instinct for self-preservation; it was also internally driven. Although the members came from a heterogeneous group of traditionally prominent families—religious, ruling, and mercantile—collectively they represented the emergence of a new social group and a new type of local notable. All were actively involved in trade and soap manufacturing, and all had a stake in the success of an institution that provided them with an effective forum through which they could project their power locally.

Control of the post of mutasallim (and by extension over the Advisory Council) during this transitional period (1840–1860) shifted between the Tuqans and the Abd al-Hadis, whose camps had become the lightning rods of the escalating civil strife. When the Ottoman Empire was distracted by the outbreak of the Crimean War (1854–1858), the factional conflicts turned into a bloody conflagration that swept all corners of Jabal Nablus, leaving behind numerous casualties and extensive property damage. Soon after the Crimean War ended, the Ottoman government launched a military campaign that led to the destruction of Arraba, the fortified home village of the Abd al-Hadi clan, and the permanent reassertion of central control. After this date, the highest political office (mutasallim) would no longer be held by native sons, and the struggle for power would be limited to competition for positions in the Advisory Council under the direct control and supervision of a non-Nabulsi official.

The fact that the rather small-scale and brief Ottoman military campaign in 1859 proved so decisive in permanently asserting central Ottoman control indicates that the political and economic realities in Nablus were ripe for such a change. The ruling households that emerged in the seventeenth century had already been seriously weakened by internal struggles and repeated blows by the rulers of Acre, the Egyptian occupation, and Ottoman centralization. As shall be seen, their material base, predicated on the control of the peasantry and their surplus, was also undermined by merchants who, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, consolidated their rise from political obscurity and the confines of trade into the greener pastures of political office and control of the major means of production (land and soap factories).


When Shaykh Yusuf Jarrar wrote his poem in 1799, he assumed several meanings of autonomy: rule by native sons, most of whom had descended from the same families for generations; a common sense of identity, which ranked loyalty to Jabal Nablus far above that to the Ottoman Empire; and mutual defense against external and regional threats, whether against the French army or the rulers of Acre. The structure of the poem (praising the military prowess of leading families) also assumed a more specific meaning of autonomy: the division of Jabal Nablus itself into several territorially based autonomous enclaves headed by urban households or rural clans that built fortified compounds, controlled peasant militia, and established a diverse economic portfolio in order to secure basic needs without undue reliance on others.

These meanings were in turn layered on others. The city itself was fairly self-sufficient and remarkably stable. It was nestled within protective folding hills; its manufacturing sectors had access to cheap raw materials, plentiful water, and a large, secure market in the dozens of surrounding villages; and it was home to a strong merchant community and a stable group of ulama families. There was also the relative autonomy of the rural sphere. Until the 1830s the subdistrict chiefs were appointed by and—formally, at least—answerable to the governor of Damascus, not to the mutasallim of Nablus. The relative autonomy of the peasants also stemmed from the facts that they had access to leaders who lived among them; that they were armed and constituted the most effective military force in Jabal Nablus; that they were not chained to the land but were free agents who sometimes voted with their feet; that they belonged to closely knit village communities characterized by small landholdings; and that most lived in hill villages, whose meter-thick stone houses were packed together like the gnarled trunk of an olive tree, for self-defense and conservation of agricultural lands.

These layers of autonomy were not necessarily an obstacle to the political and economic development of Jabal Nablus as a social space. Quite the contrary, the population of Jabal Nablus grew significantly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, its administrative borders expanded, and, most importantly, it became the leading economic center of Palestine despite severe containment pressures exerted by the rulers of Acre.

Ironically, Jabal Nablus’s very success helped undermine its own autonomy. Long before the Egyptian invasion and Ottoman reforms reasserted central control, the commercialization of agriculture—spurred by expanding regional markets and growing trade with Europe, as well as deepened by the infiltration of merchant capital and spread of market relations into the farthest reaches of the hinterland—undermined the constituent elements of peasant autonomy. The city’s growing political and economic control over its hinterland, in turn, precipitated a struggle for hegemony by the Tuqan household that threatened the political power of subdistrict chiefs, hence the rural-urban character of the conflict between the Tuqans and the Jarrars, even though each had allies from both the city and its hinterland.

The main beneficiary of these changes was the merchant community. In order to gain access to and control of the rural surplus, as well as to provide a secure atmosphere for trade during periods of political uncertainties, merchants built strong and deeply rooted local and regional networks that carved the hinterland into geographic spheres of influence and facilitated Nablus’s economic ties to regional markets. Over time, these networks became the anchors of Jabal Nablus as a social space, for they undergirded the economic, social, and cultural stability of this region. In the process, these networks also knit the inhabitants of hinterlands with those of the city into a distinct and cohesive social formation. It is to these trade networks, and the ways in which they helped construct the meanings of family, community, and identity, that we turn next.


1. A person appointed by the governor (wali) of a province (wilaya) to head a district within that province was given the title of mutasallim and, later on, qa’immaqam. To translate these words as deputy-governor would be technically correct, but because Jabal Nablus was ruled by native sons for most of the Ottoman period, this translation would not adequately reflect the large degree of authority and autonomy they enjoyed in practice. Therefore, the transliterated terms will be used throughout this study.

2. NIMR, 1:210–211.

3. Separate firmans were sent to Hasan Agha Nimr, Khalil Beik Tuqan, and Shaykh Isa Burqawi, among others: NICR, 6:337–339, 341, 351, 353–354, 356–360, 362, 365, 370; and NIMR, 1:119, 206, 208, 216, 217. Beik, from Bey, is a military/administrative rank. In Nablus the ruling Tuqan and Nimr families were commonly referred to as the Beikawat and the Aghawat, respectively.

4. For a discussion of Ottoman military garrisons in Palestine during the eighteenth century, see Cohen, Palestine, pp. 270–292.

5. The timing of the dawra was determined by the departure of the annual pilgrimage caravan to the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. For details, see Rafeq, Province of Damascus, pp. 21–22; Karl Barbir, Ottoman Rule in Damascus, 1708–1758 (Princeton, N.J., 1980), pp. 122–125; and NIMR, 1:111. For an example of annual campaigns by the central authorities in North Africa during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, see Valensi, Tunisian Peasants, p. 229.

6. For an example from the sixteenth century, see Heyd, Ottoman Documents, pp. 92–93. Even though the Ottoman government became more effective in the collection of taxes by the mid-nineteenth century, there were still villages in Jabal Nablus at that time which had not paid some or all of their taxes since the Egyptian occupation a decade earlier (NMSR, pp. 152, 155–156). Jabal Nablus’s reputation was widespread. John Mills, writing in the 1860s, noted: “No district in Syria has been more turbulent and less manageable to the Turkish government, than that of Nablus and the surrounding villages” (John Mills, Three Months’ Residence at Nablus and an Account of the Modern Samaritans (London, 1864), p. 95).

7. NICR, 6:370.

8. JICR, 281:130–136. Also see Adel Manna, “The Sijill as Source for the Study of Palestine during the Ottoman Period, with Special Reference to the French Invasion,” in David Kushner, ed., Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period: Political, Social, and Economic Transformation (Jerusalem, 1986), pp. 351–362.

9. NICR, 6:351, 353.

10. Ibid., 6:337. This firman was registered on February 23, 1801.

11. Ibid., 6:351.

12. NIMR, 1:226–243.

13. Ibid., 1:222–223. No confirmation of this claim was found. In a footnote, Nimr explicitly traced the genealogy of this story to eyewitness accounts. However, it is also possible that this story actually originated from a similar incident that took place in 1832, when 600 Nabulsi irregulars stormed through Egyptian lines and entered Acre when it was besieged by the forces of Ibrahim Pasha (Mikhayil Mishaqa, Muntakhabat min al-jawab alaiqtirah al-ahbab (Selected Answers to Inquiries from Loved Ones) [ed. Asad Rustum and Subhi Abu Shaqra; Beirut, 1955; reprint, Beirut, 1985], p. 112).

14. NIMR, 1:225–236.

15. Mills, Three Months’ Residence, p. 88.

16. For a general discussion, see Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System (2 vols.; New York, 1974, 1980); and Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, vol. 2, The Perspective of the World (New York, 1986). For a comparative perspective on the dynamics of Aleppo as a social space within the context of Ottoman rule, see Masters, Origins, chap. 1.

17. J. Thomas, Travels in Egypt and Palestine (Philadelphia, 1853), p. 113. On the next page Thomas noted that the hinterland, “although finely diversified with almost everywhere cultivable, and in fact highly cultivated.”

18. By way of example, John Mills concluded a detailed description with the words, “one of the richest and most delightful scenes in the whole country” (Three Months’ Residence, p. 6). Crosby wrote that the olive groves around the city were so thick that his party did not see the town until they arrived at the gate. He then noted: “Everywhere were running streams and fountains, by the side of which grew pomegranates, magnolias, figs, olives, oranges, and apricots, in the greatest luxuriance and profusion” (Crosby [El-Mukattem], Lands of the Moslem: A Narrative of Oriental Travel [New York, 1851], pp. 293–295).

19. Shams al-Din al-Ansari, Nukhbat al-dahr fi aja’ib al-barr wa al-bahr (Time’s Selected Wonders in Land and Sea) (St. Petersburg, Russia, 1866), p. 201.

20. Mills, Three Months’ Residence, pp. 27–28.

21. H. B. Tristram, Pathways to Palestine (2 vols.; London, 1881–1882), 2:31–32.

22. A few Jewish families undoubtedly lived in Nablus sometime in the past, for a small stairway near the middle of the central marketplace was referred to as “the Jews’ stairs” (daraj al-yahud). Their number must have been very small, for it did not warrant a Jewish representative on the local city council alongside those representing the Christian and Samaritan communities. In fact, Jewish individuals appeared in only three out of the thousands of cases registered in the Nablus Islamic court records between 1798 and 1865.

23. Christians also lived in some villages in Jabal Nablus. One example is the village of Rafidya. Nimr names the Christian families in Jabal Nablus and claims that many were “brought over” from Damascus and Jerusalem by his ancestors to work, among other things, as tanners, weavers, carpenters, jewelers, or ironsmiths. He also claims that a great many of them moved to Jerusalem, Jaffa, Salt, and Egypt when the manufacturing sector in Nablus started to decline (NIMR, 2:272–273).

24. The Church Missionary Society was founded in 1799. The school, in which classes of Muslim boys were segregated from those of Christian boys, was funded by the Anglo-Prussian Episcopal See, established in Jerusalem in 1841. See Finn, Stirring Times, 1:389–390; 2:74, 149–154, 368. Also, see Mills, Three Months’ Residence, pp. 97–103. For background on missionary activities in Palestine, see Schölch, Palestine in Transformation, chap. 3.

25. NIMR, 2:50; Tuqan Family Papers, 1.16; and NICR, 6:283, 11:145, 12:90. Although the Samaritan community was very small and generally poor, some of its members—such as al-Abd al-Samiri, Abd al-Latif al-Shalabi al-Samiri, and his son Isra’il—practically monopolized the sensitive positions of scribe and treasurer of the Nablus city government throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, partly because of their expertise in accounting but mostly because they lacked natural local allies. Presumably they were at the mercy of their masters and incapable of crossing them.

26. By the time carriage roads and railroad lines were laid in the late nineteenth century, the economic center of gravity had already shifted from the interior to the coastal cities of Jaffa and Haifa as the latter became the points of departure for the burgeoning trade with Europe.

27. Not enough information has been unearthed thus far concerning the dynamics of these networks prior to 1850. The important question—How “national” was the economy of Palestine during the Ottoman period?—is one that has yet to be systematically investigated.

28. For a discussion of the commercial interdependence between Egypt and Greater Syria, see Asad Rustum, The Struggle of Mehmet Ali Pasha with Sultan Mahmud II and Some of Its Geographical Aspects (Cairo, 1925).

29. Nablus was also close to the Damascus–Cairo coastal highway on the west. The Ottoman government’s concern that functioning outposts be maintained for the security of travelers led them to earmark some of the taxes of Jabal Nablus, at least until the mid-eighteenth century, for supplying and manning these posts (NICR, 4:340; Heyd, Ottoman Documents, pp. 45–46).

30. Abdul-Rahim Abu-Husayn, Provincial Leadership in Syria, 1575–1650 (Beirut, 1985), pp. 175–177. In 1708 the Damascus governor became commander of the Damascus caravan. After the mid-nineteenth century, the Damascus caravan began to decline in size and importance. For an historical overview, see Abdul-Karim Rafeq, “Qafilat al-hajj wa ahimmiyatuha fi al-ahd al-uthmani” (The Pilgrimage Caravan and Its Importance in the Ottoman Era), Dirasat Tarikhiyya, 6 (1981), pp. 5–28.

31. NIMR, 1:77.

32. As early as 1572, orders were issued to use some revenues from Palestine for meeting the expenses of this caravan (Heyd, Ottoman Documents, p. 119).

33. Barbir, Ottoman Rule in Damascus, p. 124.

34. For example, see the registration of the payment of 2,412 piasters by the Nabulsi tax clerk to the head of the tanners’ guild (dabbaghin), Hajj Mahmud Kalbuna, in 1822–1823 (NICR, 8:420).

35. Letters regarding payment for the leather pouches, prices, and amounts produced during the mid-nineteenth century can be found in NMSR, pp. 163, 295–296, 307. By the mid-nineteenth century, Hebron began to outproduce Nablus in this regard.

36. NMSR, p. 307. Nabulsi artisans were also commissioned to make woolen sacks, ropes, and other miscellaneous items for the pilgrimage caravan. See NMSR, pp. 295–296; and Ibrahim Awra, Tarikh wilayat Sulayman basha al-adil (History of the Reign of Sulayman Pasha the Just) (ed. Constantine Pasha al-Mukhlasi; Sidon, 1936), p. 290.

37. Doumani, “Merchants,” chap. 3.

38. Beshara Doumani, “The Political Economy of Population Counts in Ottoman Palestine: Nablus, circa 1850,” IJMES, 26 (1994), pp. 1–17.

39. Ibid., p. 15, n. 8. Also, see Cohen and Lewis, Population and Revenue, p. 21; and Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, Historical Geography, pp. 45–47, 61.

40. Peasant weddings were the backbone of the local textile trade in Nablus (see Chapter 2). The types of products that artisans made for peasants included: plows, pickaxes, sickles, cowbells, winnowing forks, threshing boards, wedding chests, kitchen implements (made of clay, wood, or copper), leather shoes, saddles, and jewelry. See Shukri Arraf, Al-Ard;bn al-insan;bn wa al-juhd: Dirasa li hadaratina al-madiya ala ardina (Land, Man, and Effort: A Study of Our Past Civilization on Our Land) (Acre, 1982), pp. 132–160.

41. These same six names appear in the sixteenth-century Ottoman cadastral surveys of Nablus (Cohen and Lewis, Population and Revenue, p. 147). Al-Habala was the largest quarter. Population growth led to the development of two subquarters: al-Arda and Tal al-Kreim.

42. Amiry, “Space, Kinship and Gender,” pp. 97–103.

43. For a discussion of urf in the context of Nablus, see NIMR, 2:494–509. See also Jamil al-Salhut, Al-Qada al-asha’iri (Clan Law) (Acre, 1987). Various aspects of customary law differed from one region to another. The inhabitants of Jabal al-Khalil, for example, had their own particular set of codes called Abraham’s Law (shari‘at Ibrahim). See Finn, Stirring Times, 1:216.

44. Finn, Stirring Times, 1:216.

45. NMSR, pp. 279–280.

46. Rosemary Sayigh’s study of how refugee camps in Lebanon were socially and physically constructed along village and clan lines is a case in point (Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries (London, 1979).

47. I am indebted for this information to Shawki Kassis, from Rama village near Nazareth.

48. See the discussion in Owen, Middle East, pp. 41–42.

49. Marj Ibn Amir, the wide, fertile plain that separates the central and northern hill regions, formed a natural boundary to the north, as did the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan in the west and east, respectively. There was no natural boundary separating Jabal Nablus from Jabal al-Quds, but the line tended to be drawn through the lands of Kafr Malik, Sinjil, Dayr Ghassana, and Rantis from east to west. The villages of Sinjil, Turmus Ayya, Lubban al-Sharqiyya, and Rantis were at one point or another under the control of the Jamma‘in subdistrict chiefs in Jabal Nablus. For example, see the petition presented to the Nablus council by the peasants of Rantis, who complained that Shaykh Sadiq Rayyan had taken over some of their lands (NMSR, pp. 209, 211).

50. There was, for example, a marked concentration of mills in Wadi al-Far‘a in the sixteenth century (Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, Historical Geography, p. 33).

51. The increased demand for grain was driven by the general rise in population and by European merchants who were willing to pay high prices, especially during the Crimean War. For a general overview of the grain trade, see Schilcher, Families in Politics, pp. 75–78. This expansion eventually reached beyond the east bank of the River Jordan, especially after the Ottoman government reimposed its control in the late nineteenth century. See the next section for details.

52. Mustafa Murad al-Dabbagh, Biladuna Filastin (Our Country, Palestine), 11 vols. (Beirut, 1988), 6:438–439.

53. NMSR, p. 34. Similarly, the inhabitants of the largest village in northeast Jabal Nablus, Tubas, spent much of their time every year living in tents in order to work on their distant lands and to graze their flocks of sheep and goats (Dabbagh, Biladuna, 6:444–445).

54. A sizable portion of Marj Ibn Amir was eventually sold to Jewish settlers by the Lebanese Sursuq family. The metamorphosis of Marj Ibn Amir sheds a great deal of light on the larger socioeconomic transformations of Palestine, and the area is deserving of further study.

55. NMSR, pp. 18–19.

56. Some of the more important mother villages in the Nablus region are Tubas, Bayta, Dayr al-Ghusun, Ya‘bad, Qabatya, Aqraba, Kafr Qaddum, Dayr Istya, Kafr Thuluth, Attil, and Umm al-Fahm. See Shukri Arraf, Al-Qarya al-arabiyya al-filastiniyya: Mabna wa isti‘malat aradi (The Palestinian-Arab Village: Structure and Land Use) (Jerusalem, 1986), pp. 144–162.

57. This was not a new phenomenon but, rather, a cyclical one coinciding with periods of increased cultivation and relative security. For a comparative study of one “mother” village during the Roman-Byzantine times and the modern era, see David Grossman and Zeev Safrai, “Satellite Settlements in Western Samaria,” The Geographical Review, 70 (1980), pp. 446–461.

58. The best of these lands were described in land-sale documents as “good for winter and summer crops.” On such lands, peasants would normally plant wheat and barley every other winter and sow sesame and corn (dhurra) during the summers. For details about agricultural practices, see Nabil Badran, “Al-Rif al-filastini qabl al-harb al-alamiyya al-ula” (The Palestinian Countryside before the First World War), Shu’un Filastiniyya, 7 (March 1972), pp. 116–129.

59. Valensi, Tunisian Peasants, pp. 116–120.

60. Braudel, The Mediterranean, 1:236.

61. For Tunisia, see Valensi, Tunisian Peasants, pp. 223–228.

62. One such story, told to me by the elders of Bayt Wazan village in July 1990, concerned the building of Ahmad al-Qasim’s house in the middle of their village sometime in the 1820s. Similar stories about other houses of the powerful Qasim clan were told to me by the elders of Jamma‘in and Salfit villages. It is not clear whether olive oil helped make a significantly better mortar. More likely, the use of olive oil in these instances was a calculated expression of power, wealth, and conspicuous consumption.

63. The most detailed and comprehensive source on the political history of Jabal Nablus during the Ottoman period is Ihsan Nimr’s Tarikh Jabal Nablus wa al-Balqa (History of Jabal Nablus and al-Balqa) (4 vols.; Nablus, 1936–1961), especially the first volume. Based on a wide variety of sources, including family papers, Islamic court records, and oral history, it provides an intimate, albeit often unreliable, narrative by a native son. A helpful political overview that relies extensively on Nimr’s work can be found in two articles by Meriam Hoexter: “The Role of the Qays and Yaman Factions in Local Political Divisions: Jabal Nablus Compared with the Judean Hills in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century,” AAS, 9:3 (1973), pp. 249–311; and “Egyptian Involvement in the Politics of Notables in Palestine: Ibrahim Pasha in Jabal Nablus,” in Amnon Cohen and Gabriel Baer, eds., Egypt and Palestine: A Millennium of Association (868–1948) (New York, 1984), pp. 190–213. A detailed compilation of information on Jabal Nablus during the Ottoman period from published Arabic sources is Muhammad Izzat Darwaza, Al-Arab wa al-uruba fi haqabat al-taqallub al-turki min al-qarn al-thalith hatta al-qarn al-rabi ashar al-hijri (Arabs and Arabism during the Upheavals of the Turkish Era from the Thirteenth to the Fourteenth Islamic Centuries) (11 vols.; 2d ed.), vol. 5, Fi sharq al-Urdun wa Filastin (In East Jordan and Palestine) (Sidon, 1981). Three other helpful works are Akram al-Ramini, Nablus fi al-qarn al-tasi ashar (Nablus in the Nineteenth Century) (Amman, 1977); Mustafa al-Abbasi, Tarikh al Tuqan fi Jabal Nablus (History of the Tuqan Household in Jabal Nablus) (Shfa‘amr, Israel, 1990); and Walid Al-Arid, “XIX. Yüzyilda Cebel-i Nablus” (Ph.D. diss., Istanbul University, 1992).

64. Abdul-Karim Rafeq, Al-Arab wa al-uthmaniyun, 1516–1916 (The Arabs and the Ottomans, 1516–1916) (Damascus, 1974), pp. 95–100; Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, Historical Geography, pp. 17–20.

65. Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, Historical Geography, pp. 5, 125–141.

66. Heyd, Ottoman Documents, pp. 96–97, 99.

67. Some of these still stand, especially in Bayt Wazan (Qasim) and Kur (Jayyusi). The most famous was the Jarrar compound in Sanur village, which had towers. For more information, see NIMR, 1:197–198.

68. Attempts to choose different leaders inevitably led to rebellions and to refusal to pay taxes. Consequently, the Ottoman government’s freedom of choice in this matter was limited to appointing a brother or a cousin instead.

69. NIMR, 1:86.

70. Officially, the former generated no more than 20,000 akjas (an old Ottoman currency) annually, whereas the latter could go up to 100,000. For a subtle discussion of this institution, see Kunt, Sultan’s Servants, pp. 9–14. A fairly comprehensive list of names of timar and za‘ama holders in Jabal Nablus during the early eighteenth century can be found in NICR, 4:342; 5:8, 36. Remarkably, this arrangement, at least in its outer form, survived well into the nineteenth century. For example, a document dated June 29, 1852, lists the timar holders in Jabal Nablus and indicates whether they served in the armed escort contingent (jarda) of the pilgrimage caravan (NMSR, p. 223–225). Additional information can be gleaned from NMSR, pp. 215–216, 231, 301–302, and 306.

71. NIMR, 2:224–227. Nimr’s contention is borne out by a list of revenues from Lajjun district in the sixteenth century, according to Ottoman cadastral survey records. The list shows that individuals with timar revenues from more than one village had these villages dispersed at separate geographical ends of the district (Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, Historical Geography, p. 103).

72. The Nimr papers show that timar villages in southeastern Jabal Nablus remained within the Nimr household for more than 200 years. Some examples which show the mechanics of this process during the early part of the eighteenth century can be found in NICR, 4:342; 5:106, 176.

73. For examples of sale and purchase, see NICR, 4:125, 226, 269; 5:36, 62, 173, 175, 181. An example of timar rentals is in NICR, 4:101. All of these cases date from between the years 1723 and 1730. For the nineteenth century, see NICR, 8:366; 9:343. The latter case is dated December 22, 1837.

74. For example, NICR, 4:58. This document, dated mid-January 1724, shows that a peasant actually lost his land to a middleman who paid out the peasant’s dues to the timar holder in advance. For the interweaving of timar with iltizam (tax farming), see NICR, 4:314, dated early April 1726.

75. NIMR, 2:459–460.

76. Some of the new leading families—such as the Tamimis, Jawharis, Khammashs, and Mir‘is—came to dominate important posts in the religious hierarchy. Others—such as the ancestors of the Bishtawi, Nabulsi, and Sadder families—joined the merchant elite. Still others—such as the Nimrs, Shafi‘is, Sultans, Akhramis, Bayrams, and Asqalans—retained their military orientation (NIMR, 1:86–105).

77. Early on, most began to avoid military duty by paying for replacements when called upon. In 1724, for example, Muhammad Agha Nimr arranged for the payment of one lump sum (2,000 piasters) on behalf of all 52 timar and za‘ama holders (NICR, 4:341).

78. NIMR, 1:159–160

79. For example, Shaykh Yusuf Jarrar, who wrote the poem discussed above, was mutasallim of Nablus in 1772 (NIMR, 1:202–203, 205).

80. I am referring primarily to the political branch of this family, whose ancestor is Salih Pasha Tuqan. This branch carried the appellation beik, as opposed, for example, to the khawaja branch, which was mainly involved in trade. For the origins and history of the Tuqan family, see al-Abbasi, Tarikh al Tuqan.

81. His grandfather, Hajj Mahmud, was a rich merchant (NICR, 2:395–397). His father, Ibrahim Agha, secured a za‘ama and served as a commander in the military contingent of the pilgrimage caravan. Other members of the Tuqan family also became timar holders (NICR, 5:181).

82. Ibid., 4:5–6.

83. Ibid., 4:12–13, 171.

84. Ibid., 4:340. Al-Abbasi, referring to the same document, mistakenly omitted Bani Sa‘b from this list (Tarikh al Tuqan, p. 20). Nimr was also mistaken in claiming that Umar Agha Nimr was the mutasallim of Nablus at that time (NIMR, 1:131–132). This document shows that he was appointed by Salih Pasha Tuqan as his deputy, although the official appointment letter might have been issued from Damascus.

85. Shaykh Mansur was a subdistrict chief who, most likely, belonged to the Mansur branch of the Hajj Muhammad clan, the dominant one in this area of Jabal Nablus (NIMR, 2:185). This subdistrict later became known as Mashariq al-Baytawi in reference to Bayta, its seat (kursi) village.

86. Abu-Husayn, Provincial Leadership, pp. 155, 168–169, 172, 175–177.

87. Ibid., pp. 183–198; Heyd, Ottoman Documents, pp. 45–46.

88. Cohen, Palestine, pp. 158–160.

89. Amnon Cohen, basing himself on central Ottoman archives, took Nimr to task for including the Sha‘rawiyya subdistrict in the sanjaq of Nablus insteadof Lajjun (Cohen, Palestine, p. 165, n. 202). This document shows that Nimr was right all along. In fact, it casts doubt on Cohen’s entire discussion of the Lajjun district, which assumes its integrity throughout the eighteenth century even though its urban center, Jenin, had long been under the control of the Jarrars.

90. For example, some of the holders of timar and za‘ama properties in the Lajjun district resided in Nablus, not Jenin (NICR, 4:179). The Turabays did not make Nablus their headquarters, but their close connections to the city, particularly its merchant community, were such that they were sometimes referred to in the central Ottoman archives as the “shaykhs of Nablus” (Abu-Husayn, Provincial Leadership, pp. 185–186).

91. NICR, 5:178. For historical context, see NIMR, 1:107, 114, 117, 119–123, 134–135, 143–146; and al-Abbasi, Tarikh al Tuqan, pp. 63–67.

92. Rafeq, Province of Damascus, p. 130.

93. Abd al-Aziz Muhammad Awad, Al-Idara al-uthmaniyya fi wilayat Suriyya, 1864–1914A.D. (Ottoman Administration in the Province of Syria, 1864–1914) (Cairo, 1969), pp. 62–66, 72, 78.

94. For background on Zahir al-Umar from secondary sources, see Cohen, Palestine; Joudah, Revolt in Palestine; and Tawfiq Mu‘ammar, Zahir al-Umar: Kitab yatanawal tarikh al-Jalil khassatan wa al-bilad al-suriyya ammatan min sanat 1698 hatta sanat 1777 (Zahir al-Umar: A Book Dealing with the History of the Galilee in Particular and the Syrian Lands in General from the Year 1698 to the Year 1777) (Nazareth, 1979).

95. Uthman Pasha (1760–1771) and the Azm household, which held the post of Damascus governor nine times between 1725 and 1808 (Schilcher, Families in Politics, p. 30).

96. According to Ibrahim Awra, head scribe of one of the Acre governors, Acre was considered a life-grant (malikana) by the Ottoman government (Tarikh, p. 308).

97. Ibid., pp. 303–316.

98. In 1830 the leaders of Nablus rebelled against attempts by Abdullah Pasha to collect more than what was demanded from them by the mutasallim of Nablus (Mishaqa, Muntakhabat, pp. 108–109).

99. Barbir, Ottoman Rule, pp. 3–10.

100. For a general overview, see Halil Iṅalcik, “Centralization and Decentralization in Ottoman Administration,” in Thomas Naff and Roger Owen, eds., Studies in Eighteenth Century Islamic History (Carbondale, Ill., and London, 1977), pp. 27–52. For the province of Damascus, see Rafeq, Province of Damascus, pp. 4–1.; and Barbir, Ottoman Rule, pp. 81–110.

101. Mu‘ammar, Zahir al-Umar, pp. 62–65.

102. For examples, see Awra, Tarikh, pp. 305–317.

103. NIMR, 1:156, 239–241. The Jayyusis, torn by internal splits, were then the weakest link in the chain of subdistrict chiefs.

104. Nimr argues, for example, that the Tuqan’s strong ties to the Ottoman government were in large part due to the clever way in which they claimed credit for the defense of Nablus during the sieges by Zahir al-Umar (NIMR, 1:183–196).

105. Cohen, Palestine, pp. 70–77.

106. NIMR, 1:252; al-Abbasi, Tarikh al Tuqan, p. 97.

107. Ahmad Haidar Shihab, Tarikh Ahmad basha Jazzar (History of Ahmad Pasha Jazzar) (ed. Antoine Chibli and Ignace-Abdo Khalife; 2 vols.; Beirut, 1955), 1:102, 447–448.

108. The Abd al-Hadis were chiefs of the Sha‘rawiyya subdistrict. They increased their power during this period by representing themselves as a counterweight to the Jarrars, their distant cousins.

109. NIMR, 1:243–299.

110. Ibid., 1:238–239, 243.

111. Ibid., 1:291.

112. The struggle with the Tuqans clearly exposed the Nimrs’ already very limited political role. The Nimrs were important only in the sense that they led the urban opposition to the Tuqans. After the Egyptian occupation the Nimrs quietly turned their attention to business and real estate.

113. For example, see William R. Polk, The Opening of South Lebanon, 1788–1840: A Study of the Impact of the West on the Middle East (Cambridge, Mass., 1963); Ma‘oz, Ottoman Reform; and Shimon Shamir, “Egyptian Rule (1832–1840) and the Beginning of the Modern Period in the History of Palestine,” in Cohen and Baer, eds., Egypt and Palestine, pp. 214–231.

114. The literature on these events is extensive. Two of the more useful works are Asad Rustum, The Royal Archives of Egypt and the Disturbances in Palestine, 1834 (Beirut, 1938); and S. N. Spyridon, “Annals of Palestine, 1821–1841,” JPOS, 18 (1938), pp. 63–132. Rustum notes that the 1834 conscription order demanded the largest share from Nablus (Disturbances in Palestine, p. 53). Also see Asad Rustum, Bashir bayna al-sultan wa al-aziz: 1804–1841 (Bashir Between the Sultan and the Khedive) (2 vols.; Beirut, 1956).

115. NMSR, p. 170. These villages were Tayba, Na‘ura, Nin, Shatta, Solem, Tamra, and Arrana.

116. Ibid., pp. 104–105.

117. Raouf Sa‘d Abujaber, Pioneers over Jordan: The Frontier of Settlement in Transjordan, 1850–1914 (London, 1989); and Eugene Rogan, “Incorporating the Periphery: The Ottoman Extension of Direct Rule over Southeastern Syria (Transjordan), 1867–1914” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1991).

118. They were: the mutasallim, Sulayman Beik Tuqan; the judge, Muhammad Sulayman Khalidi, from Jerusalem; the mufti (juriconsultant), Ahmad Abu al-Hida Khammash; the naqib al-ashraf, Muhammad Murtada Hanbali; Abd al-Wahid Khammash (longest-serving qadi in nineteenth-century Nablus and temporarily replaced by Khalidi); Muhammad Shehada Khammash (a former judge and cousin of Abd al-Wahid Khammash); Abd al-Fattah Agha Nimr; and As‘ad al-Tahir (ally of the Abd al-Hadi family). See NMSR, p. 19.

119. Ibid., p. 19; recorded on December 18, 1849. The letter had been received nine months earlier, in mid-March 1849. It summarized the regulations governing the functions, jurisdiction, and composition of advisory councils in the provinces (NICR, 11:160–161). The Nablus Advisory Council was charged with carrying out the government’s policies, overseeing administrative and fiscal matters in Jabal Nablus as a whole, maintaining law and order, and supervising public works. For a detailed history of this council and changes in the social composition of its members, see Doumani, “Merchants,” pp. 140–168.

120. This edict was drafted by Reshid Pasha, author of the Hatt-i-Sherif of Gulhane which proclaimed the 1839 reforms. See Halil Iṅalcik, Application of the Tanzimat and Its Social Effects (Lisse, 1976), pp. 6–7.

121. For example, in the twelve times that the names of the council members were listed up to June, 1850, not once were members of the Samaritan and Christian communities mentioned. They did, however, appear regularly after this date (NMSR, pp. 8, 10–13, 17, 23–24, 29, 43–45).

122. Ibid., p. 19.

123. Ibid., p. 46.

124. Ibid., pp. 126, 129, 249, 252.

The Meanings of Autonomy

Preferred Citation: Doumani, Beshara. Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700-1900. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.