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

Family, Culture, and Trade

2. Family, Culture, and Trade

Send us the cloak immediately…for you are well aware that there is a wedding coming up at Abu Muhammad’s; and a new cloak is important for a good image because strangers as well as relatives will be present.

You could say that Nablus, surrounded by villages on all sides, was a port for the peasants, and every hinterland region had a merchant it depended on.

Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq Arafat, a wholesale textile merchant, died bankrupt in December 1810, leaving behind a wife, thirteen children, and a large debt. To pay off the creditors, a carefully detailed inventory of his belongings was drawn up and registered in the Nablus Islamic Court.[1] A close look reveals some interesting items: 82 coffee cups in his home; 65 varieties of textile products in his warehouse (hasil); the names of 102 individuals who owed him small amounts of money, including 39 peasants from at least 20 different villages; and a short list of individuals, mostly soap producers, to whom he owed large amounts of money.

These items mark the contours of regional and local trade networks of a typical textile merchant in Nablus during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For example, a significant proportion of the 65 types of textiles was locally manufactured, but the bulk was imported from two places: Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Damascus. These two places had long been the primary destinations for Nabulsi soap, and it was not a coincidence that Abd al-Razzaq Arafat died indebted to soap producers. He, like other wholesale textile merchants, financed his imports partly by purchasing soap in Nablus and selling it in Egypt or Damascus.

As to the 39 peasants, it is very likely that each, at one time or another, had stayed a night or two at Abd al-Razzaq Arafat’s house after spending long hours in his shop choosing wedding wardrobes. Equally likely, they sipped coffee from his 82 cups while they joyfully celebrated the evening away—the payment postponed until harvest season. As shall be seen, the provision of food and lodging were only a small part of a complex of extraeconomic relations cultivated by merchants in order to construct and reproduce the local trade and clientele networks that literally carved the hinterland into geographic spheres of influence and that were passed from father to son.[2] The rootedness and resiliency of these networks allowed trading activities to flourish despite the decentralized and often unpredictable political environment in which merchants operated and were defining elements in the formation of the cultural identity of Jabal Nablus.

Palestinian merchants had no direct access to political office until they infiltrated the ranks of Advisory Councils in the 1840s. In the absence of direct political power, culturally constructed networks represented a viable strategy that could facilitate trade and agricultural production. Throughout the Ottoman period, therefore, trade was conducted through multilayered and, by today’s Western standards, fairly intimate negotiations among a large number of actors whose consent was absolutely crucial for the movement of goods and people. This method of doing business was so rooted by the turn of the nineteenth century that the imposition of tighter central control by 1860 did not lead merchants to discontinue their true-and-tried method of reproducing trade networks based on personal ties and a wide range of services; it only brought them to the surface and reinforced them. Neither did the larger forces of a global economy seriously undermine the foundations of these networks by the end of the Ottoman period. Rather, they initially intensified them as merchants sought to protect their access to the rural surplus in the face of increased competition from coastal merchants and foreign trade.

A close look at how these local networks operated contradicts two assumptions still pervasive in the historical literature on the Ottoman period: that the city and the country were separate worlds, and that peasants were passive victims of the blind advance of merchant capital. We have already seen that there were no clear dividing lines between the urban and rural spheres of Jabal Nablus. True, the expansion of capitalist relations, centralization of Ottoman rule, and merchant domination of the city council—all phenomena that had matured by the mid-nineteenth century—did enhance the power of merchants over the peasantry and did exacerbate the already unequal relationship between the two. But these developments cannot be projected backward in time without qualification; nor can they be used to efface the fact that these negotiated networks survived well into the twentieth century, precisely because they met a variety of needs that went beyond simple economic intercourse.

Just as important, patronage networks were not a one-way exploitative relationship in which peasant were passive victims. True, patron-client relations often masked exploitative practices and undermined horizontal solidarity between peasant groups. But the ideological underpinning of these relations was the perception of a fair and just exchange that put a premium on honesty, trust, and honor and that was expressed through gift giving, visits, reciprocal favors, and kinship ties. The fluidity of a system that had to be constantly renegotiated left room for peasants to play a role in defining the parameters of each exchange as well as to resist through a variety of means.[3] These ranged from changing patrons or not paying debts to the more drastic measures of relocation or even violence.

The internal dynamics of these networks changed over time. But, in form if not in substance, their continuity provided Nabulsis with a shared sense of social norms. Although changing and not always followed, these norms served as a set of common reference points that helped define what it meant to be a Nabulsi. It is precisely the constant reproduction of these networks over time and space that imparted to Nablus its unique character as a conservative interior trade and manufacturing town in which family dynamics have long dominated social and political relations and in which merchants played, and continue to play, a leading role in economic and cultural life. Indeed, it can be argued that the remarkable continuity in habits and forms of social organization in Nablus was rooted in the daily rituals and practices which knit the participants of each network into a tightly woven and resilient social fabric. Like other trade and manufacturing towns with strong links to their hinterland—such as Hebron or Nazareth in Palestine, Zahleh or Tripoli in Lebanon, and Homs or Hama in Syria—Nablus loomed large in the eyes of its inhabitants, implanting in them a very strong sense of regional identification and perhaps an exaggerated pride in those social practices they believed unique to their city.

In short, local and regional networks, such as those fashioned by both the ancestors and the descendants of Abd al-Razzaq Arafat and his three brothers (also textile merchants), were the umbilical cords that connected Nablus to its hinterland and to the wider world. Unpacking these family-knit networks and the methods used to reproduce them is, therefore, largely an investigation of merchant life, urban-rural relations, and the connections between family, culture, and trade.

Informal by their very nature, these networks left few clues of the kind that would allow historians to draw a spatial grid on which to plot the number, size, and geographical location of merchant networks in Jabal Nablus. One can, however, investigate the inner workings of these networks and how they changed over time by digging deep into the history of a single family of textile merchants. Thus this chapter is largely a case study of the Arafat family which produced textile merchants for over a dozen generations. But, first, two questions: why textile merchants and not, say, oil or grain merchants? and why the Arafat family, instead of some other merchant family with equally deep mercantile roots in Nablus?

Textile Merchants

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of textiles to cultural and material life before and during the Ottoman period. In today’s world, where mass-produced clothes have a very short life and where fleeting fashions ensure a high turnover, it is easy to forget that clothes were valuable property that was maintained with great care and passed from one generation to the next.[4] In the Islamic court’s method of registering inheritance estates, the long list of personal and business properties always began with an itemization of the deceased’s clothes: each garment was identified and priced, and its condition (old or worn out) was noted.[5] On average, clothes were more valuable, by far, than were furniture and other household goods in estates registered during the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century. Expensive articles of clothing were a form of savings, akin to precious metals and stones. This was especially true for women, in whose estates clothes represented a significant proportion of the total worth.[6]

An example is the protracted dispute that followed the sudden death, in 1860, of Umm Dawud,[7] wife of Abdullah, a middle-class Christian textile merchant in Nablus. Umm Dawud’s mother accused her son-in-law of appropriating the best of his deceased wife’s clothes, thus reducing the pool of property to be divided among the inheritors, of which she was one. Abdullah argued that most of his wife’s clothes actually belonged to his own deceased mother and that he had merely lent them to his wife to wear, but not to possess, in the same manner that his deceased wife lent her clothes to her daughter-in-law. The dispute soon expanded beyond the confines of the immediate family and came to involve both the priest and the secular head of the small Christian community in Nablus. In the last negotiating session, a crowd of animated people ringed a pile of clothing, displaying and arguing the fate of each piece. Eventually the husband was awarded most of the items that his wife’s family claimed to be hers, not his, private property.[8] Nevertheless, the cash value of the remaining clothes was 3,600 piasters—an amount equal at that time to the average purchase price of a bayt (pl. buyut), or single room in which a nuclear family lived.[9]

This example also shows that gifts of clothes could be used to establish a set of authoritative relations. Abdullah’s mother established her authority over his wife, Umm Dawud, by giving her clothes. Umm Dawud, in turn, reproduced this set of relations by conferring clothing on her daughter-in-law. It is ironic that the manner by which hierarchical relations between the females of the household became established was used by a male (Abdullah) as an argument against his mother-in-law. In other words, he won partly because he cleverly packaged his argument in a gendered interpretation of local tradition and hierarchy, versus the mother-in-law’s assertion of Umm Dawud’s individual right to property.[10]

In addition to their monetary value and political uses, clothes were a signifier of multiple shades of social status, wealth, rank, and individual identity, as well as place of origin. The color, form, design, and type of materials used identified the wearer from a distance. More important for our purposes, textiles straddled the shared spaces between social organization, economic relations, and cultural life. Textiles and textile merchants, for instance, played a central role in major religious events—such as id al-fitr (Feast of Breaking the Ramadan Fast, or Lesser Bairam) or, especially, id al-adha (Feast of the Sacrifice, or Greater Bairam)—as well as in personal life events, such as birth, the first day in school, graduation, safe return from the pilgrimage to the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, or, most important, weddings.

All of these events were celebrated with the purchase and making of a new set of clothes, or wardrobes, called kiswa, at least for those who could afford them.[11] In his memoirs, Malik Masri, son of a textile merchant, recalled that in the early part of the twentieth century children did not go to sleep the night preceding id al-adha without first making sure that their holiday clothes were neatly folded and placed next to their beds so that they could quickly put them on the next morning.[12] Because the acquisition of a new set of clothes was an annual occasion for most people, especially for children, the holidays brought such a rush of orders that tailors and shoemakers in Nablus kept their shops open all night in order to meet the demand.[13]

The eager anticipation of family members for new holiday clothes also translated into many sleepless nights for the female members of the household who did the sewing. The desire to start the preparations early on is captured in the following letter, from a peasant to a textile merchant three weeks before id al-adha:

The Most Honorable Sir, Noble Brother, Hajj Isma‘il Arafat…

After emphatic regards, we put before you our hope that your most noble person will send us one whole piece [shaqqa] of red-colored dima of good quality. Please let us know the price, and do not worry about the payment at all. With the grace of God, Most High, we will send you its price after the Holiday with the bearer [of this letter], Husayn son of Sulayman al-Muhammad. We implore you not to delay its delivery to us at all, for you are well aware that the Holiday is upon us.…God bless you.

Ibrahim [not clear]

Jaba [village]

April 7, 1901[14]

Textile wholesalers and retailers were also central to public life in Nablus in terms of cultural and physical space. Of all the various types of traders in this merchant city, they alone were referred to by the simple, generic term “merchant” (tajir), without qualification. All other merchants were identified by the particular commodity they dealt with, such as oil or grains. This predominance reflects the extent to which the meanings of “merchant” and “textiles” were intertwined, no doubt because textile merchants formed the largest subgroup within the merchant community and because Nablus contained a large textile-manufacturing sector.

The shops of textile merchants dominated Khan al-Tujjar (merchant caravansary), the most prestigious and expensive strip of commercial real estate in the city. In his memoirs Muhammad Izzat Darwaza (b. 1887), son of a textile merchant, noted, “From what I remember from my father and through my grandfather, the title merchant or merchants in Nablus mostly referred to owners of commercial textile and cloth shops. In Nablus, these shops were confined, or mostly confined, to a caravansary called Khan al-Tujjar, in the middle of Nablus.”[15]

Mary Rogers, sister of the British consul in Haifa and a resident of Palestine during the second half of the 1850s, called this market “the finest arcade in Palestine.”[16] Reverend John Mills, who spent three months in the city between 1855 and 1860 in order to study the Samaritan community, looked with great disdain on Nablus’s Muslim population; but he had only glowing things to say about Khan al-Tujjar:

The principal bazaar is arched, and is very large and fine for Nablus. It is the finest, by far, in Palestine, and equals any, as far as I observed, in the largest towns of the Turkish Empire. This is the clothing Emporium, and is well furnished with the bright silk productions of Damascus and Aleppo—the Abas of Bagdad—calicos and prints from Manchester, in varieties too numerous to be named—as well as the production of the town itself.[17]

The significance of Khan al-Tujjar also had a great deal to do with its central location, which divided the city in half, not just physically but also psychologically, between “easterners” and “westerners;” labels that are still used today.[18] For example, during the preparations for the Nabi Musa festival, held near Jericho every year for centuries until it was stopped by the British occupation in the late 1930s,[19] young men from the eastern and western parts of Nablus descended on Khan al-Tujjar, each shouting slogans praising their part of the city. In the middle of the market they played a game of “catch”: they would face off and make forays into the other side, with the aim of catching the greater number of “prisoners.”[20]

Khan al-Tujjar was also where many key holidays and events were celebrated. On occasion of the Prophet’s birthday, for example, the textile merchants worked collectively to decorate this market. They spread carpets on the ground and covered the walls with a variety of textiles, including silks. Flowers and dishes of sweets were put on tables brought from their homes especially for the occasion.[21] After the evening prayers, people would saunter through Khan al-Tujjar, surrounded by merchants who displayed their brightly colored goods, and passed out free candy-covered almonds (mlabbas) and other sweets.[22]

The critical cultural importance of textile merchants is corroborated by statistical evidence, albeit tentative, which suggests that they constituted the largest group within the merchant community as a whole.[23] Between 1800 and 1860, 40 percent of the 51 inheritance cases that could be clearly identified as belonging to wholesale merchants were those of textile merchants.[24] (One must quickly add that most merchants did not specialize in one commodity. Rather, it was common to find at least three commodities—textiles, oil, and grains—in the estates of most merchants.[25] Assigning an occupation to families on the basis of the major income of their leading members does not fully address this perennial problem in Middle East historiography.) In contrast, the richer and more powerful merchants who specialized in oil and soap came in second, at about 20 percent of the total. They, in turn, were followed by grain merchants at 10 percent; leather merchants at 7 percent; and 7 percent for those dealing with precious metals and currencies. The remaining 16 percent included merchants who specialized in livestock, dried fruit, raw cotton, and a variety of other goods. Textile merchants, in other words, were twice as common as the next three ranking groups combined. Of these 51 cases, textiles were also the second most important commodity listed in the estates of merchants who dealt primarily in soap, oil, grains, or leather.[26]

Finally, textile merchants were also important because they dealt in a commodity that happened to be the spearhead of European industrialization and a key component of the growing trade between the Ottoman Empire and Europe, especially Great Britain. The changing patterns of regional trade, therefore, shed light on the process of the capitalist integration of Greater Syria, especially its interior towns, into the world economy. Just as important, local networks of textile merchants reveal the connections between merchants and peasants, as we shall see in the case study of the Arafat family.

The Arafat Family

“All or most of the Arafats are textile merchants; they have not transcended this fate.”[27] Najib Arafat, who spoke these words, was no doubt taking pride in the continuity of tradition in both his family and his city, as well as in a line of work he has pursued since his early teens. Assertion of rootedness and affirmation of identity are two key elements of twentieth-century Palestinian nationalism, especially among members of established merchant families who were fairly successful and well-to-do during the Ottoman period—that is, before the tragic upheavals of the Mandate period and beyond.[28] In actual fact, the Arafat family is large, and during the nineteenth century some of its male members worked as soap manufacturers or artisans.[29] By the end of that century, some Arafat men were the first in Nablus to join the ranks of the emerging professional middle class in Greater Syria.[30] Nevertheless, and compared even with the families that produced textile merchants generation after generation—Sadder, Darwish-Ahmad, Zakar, Fityan, Zu‘aytar, Darwaza, Ghanim, Ghazzawi, Anabtawi, and Balbisi, among others—the Arafats can be said to have maintained a most remarkable continuity of engagement in this profession.[31]

Abd al-Razzaq Arafat (d. 1810), whom we met at the beginning of this chapter, was a textile merchant, as were his three brothers. This concentration almost surely means that their father was also a textile merchant, for one’s line of work, as a general rule, passed from father to son. Most likely, the textile connection went farther back, because their father’s paternal cousin, Shaykh Sulayman al-Shahid, traded in textiles and had a shop in Khan al-Tujjar.[32] Assuming that his similar line of work was not a coincidence, it would be safe to conclude that the Arafat’s experience in this field extended at least as far back as Abd al-Razzaq’s great-grandfather, Ahmad al-Shahid, whose life spanned the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (see Plate 6).

The descendants of Abd al-Razzaq Arafat and his brothers have maintained the connection to this day. The inheritance estate of Sayyid Sa‘id Arafat (d. 1847), Abd al-Razzaq’s grandson, shows that he was a textile merchant in keeping with the family tradition.[33] During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Kamal al-Din Arafat, Abd al-Razzaq’s great-great-grandson (also onetime member of the Nablus Municipal Council and twice mayor [1912, 1915]) also was a textile merchant.[34] A contemporary, Abdullah Arafat, the great-grandson of Abd al-Razzaq’s brother, Shaykh Abd al-Ghani Arafat (d. 1823), had his textile shop in the east end of Khan al-Tujjar. He, in turn, was followed by his children, Shaykh Sadiq and Fawzi, as well as by his grandson, Adli Arafat.[35]

The descendants of Muhammad Arafat, another brother of Abd al-Razzaq, headed the strongest line of Arafat textile merchants. His great-grandson, Hajj Isma‘il Arafat, was the recipient of the letter from Jaba village cited above. Six of Hajj Isma‘il’s seven sons became textile merchants, and they operated from two large stores located in the Wikala al-Farrukhiyya.[36] As late as 1960, the largest textile merchant in Nablus was Tawfiq Arafat, the great-great-great-grandson of Muhammad Arafat. According to Saba Arafat, the granddaughter of Hajj Isma‘il, his descendants continue to be important proprietors in Khan al-Tujjar.[37]

One reason for choosing the Arafat family as a case study, therefore, is this remarkable continuity, which has left a trail of clues over a long period of time. This makes possible the task of tracing how business practices and modes of reproducing networks were affected by the Ottoman Empire’s accelerated incorporation into the world economy during the nineteenth century.

Another reason for choosing this particular family is that the Arafats’ business orientation was fairly typical of the overwhelming majority of textile merchants: over the past 250 years, if not longer, they catered primarily to the mass market, particularly peasants in the hinterland. The estate of Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq Arafat, for example, did not contain any of the expensive regional and/or tailored European items of clothing, such as the woolen coats and gold-embroidered jackets, that were produced for the urban upper classes. Rather, the 65 types of textile products in his warehouse consisted of such items as quilts, covers for pillows and mattresses, scarves, locally made handkerchiefs, silk belts, head kerchiefs, and large bolts of white and colored fabrics that were sold by the arm length (dhira). The same held true in the inheritance estates of his brother Abdullah and his grandson, Sa‘id Arafat, as well as in those of the descendants of Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq’s two other brothers, Shaykh Abd al-Ghani and Muhammad.[38] Their experiences, therefore, can serve as a convenient lens for viewing that most crucial sphere in the social, cultural, and economic life of an interior merchant town: urban-rural relations.

A case study of the Arafats can also shed light on the meanings of “merchant” and “family” in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Nablus. Some aspects of their family history—ranging from how they acquired their family name to their social standing and marriage patterns—were characteristic of many other Nabulsi merchant families during this period.

The Making of a Family Name

One of the difficulties of tracing family histories through documentary evidence during this period is that family names were not used by the overwhelming majority of the population, especially peasants. Usually, a male was referred to as x son of y; his son, as z son of x; and so on.[39] Only the high-ranking political and religious families—such as Tuqan, Nimr, Jarrar, Jayyusi, Hanbali, Jawhari, Smadi, and Bustami, to mention a few—could boast of stable family names over the centuries. The middle and lower-middle classes, such as merchants and respected artisans, had a more complicated relationship with family names, because family names were, in a sense, a form of property whose value depended on the intimate connections between physical space, economic fortune, social standing, and cultural practices of the household.

The Arabic word for household, dar, refers both to an extended family and to an actual physical space. The latter was typically a building with high, thick walls facing the alleyways and streets. A narrow entrance led to an open courtyard ringed by several rooms (bayt, pl. buyut), each of which housed a nuclear family. Usually, income and resources were thrown together into one pot; and each nuclear family, headed by a son or younger brother of the patriarch, pitched in according to its capabilities and took out according to its needs. Each major life event, such as birth, marriage, or death, brought about a subtle shift in the internal balance among the family members; and the whole household would be restructured to reflect the new realities.[40]

Households were under continuous pressure to reproduce a strong male line, in order to increase their wealth and social standing, maintain their unity, and concentrate their resources for business opportunities and other needs. This required discipline and loyalty to the collective, most often accomplished at the expense of the individual—especially female members, who were married off to cement new alliances and/or were sometimes deprived of their inheritance through various legal or illegal means in order to prevent the dispersal of the household’s wealth. The property of children not in their majority at the time of their father’s death, as well as of younger brothers in general, was sometimes appropriated by elders concerned with protecting the integrity of the household. The elders’ actions could also be interpreted at times as part of an agenda for increasing their own personal standing within the family and outside it.[41]

As a rule, the coming and going of family names reflected the growing or fading fortunes of these households. Some family names disappeared, others were created by upstarts, and some were appropriated by poor folk who wished to attach themselves to a more powerful household.[42] More often than not, however, family names fell victim to the household members’ very success in expanding their size and wealth; that is, the spawning of vigorous new branches which split off under a new family name.[43]

The Arafats are such a case. Abd al-Razzaq Arafat’s grandfather, Shaykh Hajj Abd al-Majid, and his two paternal granduncles, Shaykh Salim and Salih (d. 1724), were referred to as “sons of al-Shahid” (awlad al-shahid) in the Islamic court records after their father, Ahmad al-Shahid.[44] The origin of this family name, al-Shahid, is not known, but the facts that the name means “witness” and that most men in the al-Shahid family were religious shaykhs and/or respected callers-to-prayers (mu’adhdhinin) suggest that the original patriarch and perhaps his sons were frequent witnesses in the daily cases brought before the Islamic court. In any case, a waqf endowment and a hikr (lease) document, both transacted in 1737, indicate that the al-Shahid sons—one of whom was a grandfather of Abd al-Razzaq Arafat—had earlier lived in a single household in the Qaryun quarter and that additional rooms were built as the family expanded.[45] To maintain the integrity of the household while it expanded outward, the three brothers endowed the entire property, identified in the court register as “the al-Shahid household” (dar al-Shahid), as a joint private family waqf, though they did not necessarily continue to live there. By the mid- to the latter part of the eighteenth century, Abd al-Razzaq’s father, Arafat son of Abd al-Majid (who, in turn, was a son of Ahmad al-Shahid), had already established his own household in the Yasmina quarter and, before his death, had endowed it as a waqf for the benefit of his male and female children.[46]

The endowment of a household’s physical space usually indicates a watershed in a household’s restructuring as a result of a leap in family fortunes. There is no doubt that Arafat al-Shahid, Abd al-Razzaq’s father and already a hajj by the 1720s, had made such a leap.[47] One need only mention that he fathered four very successful sons, who built on the family’s tradition by combining wealth with high religious and social status.[48] All four came to be called in the Islamic court registers the “sons of Arafat.” In adopting the family name Arafat, taken from their father’s first name, Abd al-Razzaq and his brothers followed the normal practice of the times.

The key point here is that their sons and grandsons consciously decided not to follow normal practice of adopting the father’s first name as a family name. Rather, they defined themselves as part of the Arafat family by adopting that word as their family name regardless of their father’s first name. By so doing, they signaled the introduction into the larger community of a new family in the larger meaning of the word; that is, not just a kinship unit but also an economic, political, and social one. This was also an act of exclusion: by maintaining the family name Arafat, they signaled their successful branching off from the other descendants of “the sons of al-Shahid,” although they were part of the same kinship unit.[49] In a sense, this was a declaration of intent on their part to draw boundaries within which family members were expected to cooperate and work in tandem on a range of social and economic issues through kin solidarity.

Social Status and Marriage Patterns

The Arafats’ success or failure as textile merchants depended on their ability to reproduce and expand the networks that connected their family to peasants in the surrounding villages, as well as to artisans, small retailers, and powerful political, religious, and merchant families in the city. An honored position in society—or what might loosely be called cultural capital—was, in this context, as crucial as actual wealth, or material capital. Indeed, the two were organically linked, and to separate them would project current ideas about boundaries back in time. The linkage between cultural and material capital was essential to the continuity of merchant networks, because the reproduction of these networks depended on the construction of a history through shared memory of particular events, whether actually lived or invented. A peasant could, for example, ask for a loan from a particular merchant by recounting a story of an experience that their respective fathers had shared by way of affirming the tradition of mutual trust that had long bound their two families together. Connections based on tradition, whether real or not, were crucial to a business based on the extension of credit because most peasants, as shall be seen, paid their debts seasonally, at harvest time. Conversely, a merchant might recruit potential customers by highlighting his status as a pious, trustworthy, and dependable figure who enjoyed wide respect. This might ease a peasant’s fears about the security of the arrangement (“This merchant would not risk his reputation by cheating me”) and would provide him with essential contacts within the city (“This merchant can open doors for me.”)

In other words, cultural capital was the glue that held these networks together. The surest way for merchants to accumulate this type of capital was through the cultivation of religious status, whether by means of education, marriage into a well-known family of religious scholars, service in a mosque, charity to religious institutions, or membership in a Sufi order. Combining a religious career with a business career was the norm rather than the exception and had the aura of a time-honored tradition. The religion-trade connection was so deeply ingrained, in fact, that the very language of merchants was, and still is, heavily coded with religious phrases. This does not mean that religion was used cynically as a tool of manipulation. Rather, it served as a medium of communication that reinforced actual or perceived attitudes and behavior. The aim was not to encourage popularity as much as to instill authority and respect, on the one hand, and to build a sound reputation for piety, honesty, trustworthiness, and moral uprightness, on the other. From the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries many of the Arafat men, like members of other established merchant families, were educated religious scholars, as indicated by their titles in the family tree, depicted in Plate 6.[50]

Charity (zakat) was also important: it was a religious duty incumbent upon any Muslim with means, and it fostered a reputation for caring and generosity. According to the (admittedly sympathetic) recollections of Saba Arafat, “My grandfather [Hajj Isma‘il] made a habit of providing dinner for all mourners of a bereaved family and their friends in the neighborhood…[and] my uncle Ahmad arranged for quantities of freshly baked bread to be given free to the poor every Friday. His son, Tawfiq, gave the poor in his neighborhood a banquet during [the Holy Month of] Ramadan. The latter custom was followed by a few other merchants in Nablus.”[51]

Marriage alliances were key, as well. In the case of the Arafats, the dominant pattern was intrafamily marriage: as a general rule, Arafat men married Arafat women, or gave their daughters to other Arafat men. This protected the property and wealth of the family from fragmentation. This pattern was perhaps already in place in the eighteenth century, but it certainly was practiced in the nineteenth century, as the various court documents show in cases involving the sons and daughters of the four brothers.[52]

When the Arafat men and women did marry outside the family, the choices showed a clear preference for those individuals who combined high religious status with ownership of soap factories and, to a lesser extent, involvement in the textile trade. Abd al-Razzaq, for example, married into both the Hanbali and the Fityan families.[53] The Fityanis had a long tradition of involvement in the textile trade and were also known as a family of religious scholars. Some of its members, for example, served as superintendents of the Nasr Mosque’s waqf properties from at least the eighteenth century until the latter part of the nineteenth century.[54] The Hashim branch of the Hanbali family, meanwhile, produced some of the top religious scholars in Nablus during the Ottoman period. At the same time, they maintained a long tradition of involvement in soap production (see Chapter 5). These two qualities, especially the latter, were shared by most of the other families with whom the Arafats established ties through marriage: Bashsha, Qadi-Shwayka, Shammut, Sadder, Tamimi, Tuffaha, and Bishtawi.[55]

The reasons for these choices are fairly clear. The Arafats come from a long tradition of educated religious figures; hence their wish to ally with families that enjoyed similar status. It is interesting to note, however, that the number of Arafat shaykhs declined markedly during the middle of the nineteenth century while the title sayyid began to be applied to almost all of them. The title of sayyid indicated descent from the Prophet Muhammad and, during this period, designated that the individual was exempt from certain taxes. A number of wealthy merchant families acquired the title of sayyid for the first time during this period, and it is highly likely that their claim of descent from the Prophet was an invented one. In this regard, the Arafats’ connection to the Hanbali family, which dominated the post of naqib al-ashraf, probably proved helpful.[56] Indeed, the Hashims received the largest share of exogenous marriages.[57]

Alliances with soap merchants and manufacturers were also of great importance. There was a critical link between the export of soap and the import of textiles, and some members of the Arafat family belonged to this privileged elite of soap merchants and manufacturers. It is not a coincidence, therefore, that marriage patterns and business relations of the first two or three generations who adopted the family name Arafat, inasmuch as they married outside the family, favored those merchant households whose primary regional trade networks were concentrated in Egypt—such as the Balbisi (originally from the town of Bilbays, in Egypt), Kawkash, Ghazzawi, Jardani, Bishtawi, Jurri, Darwish-Ahmad, Hanbali, Tamimi, and Tuffaha, among others. Until the 1840s Egypt was still the primary source of imported textiles. It was also the largest market for Nabulsi soap—and had been so since Mamluk times, if not much earlier. Not surprisingly, therefore, these merchants constituted a network of their own: their members had joint business ventures, were co-owners of urban commercial real estate, and frequently served as each others’ legal agents and witnesses.[58]

Regional Trade Networks

The shops in Khan al-Tujjar carried a variety of cloth from all over the world, and textile merchants from India, Baghdad, Mosul, and Aleppo, among others, paid regular visits to Nablus.[59] But these direct contacts were marginal: Nablus had neither the size nor the location that would allow one to speak of patterns of international trade. Rather, it was regional trade within the Ottoman Empire—stretching from the Arabian Peninsula to Anatolia and from Iraq to Egypt—with which Nabulsi merchants were most familiar. Even then, the majority of regional trade connections were concentrated around the two cities whose spheres of influence overshadowed all of Palestine: Cairo and Damascus.[60]

Until the first half of the nineteenth century, Cairo and other Egyptian cities were the major source of textiles for Nabulsi merchants. By the latter part of this century, however, Beirut and Damascus took the lead. This spatial shift carried within it a number of other changes in the ways in which regional textile-trade networks were organized. These changes can be traced by examining the estates and business practices of two Arafat merchants who inhabited opposite ends of the nineteenth century: Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq (d. 1810) and Hajj Isma‘il (d. 1903/1904).


The estates of Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq, his brother Abdullah (registered in 1805), and the former’s grandson, Sa‘id (d. 1847), contained a wide variety of textiles: dima,saya, and a host of other goods from Damascus; locally manufactured products, such as thiyab baladi; the fez (tarbush) from North Africa; silk from Beirut; alaja from Damascus and Aleppo; malti (also called mansuri and baft) from England, cashmere from India; and various items from Hama, Anatolia, Mosul, Baghdad, and Istanbul.[61] But in terms of volume and value, their estates—like those of most other wholesale textile merchants who operated during the eighteenth century and first half of the nineteenth centuries—were dominated by the words dimyati,ziftawi,wati,ashmuni,mahallawi,sirsawi and mawaldi—all of which refer to specific regions in Egypt, such as Ashmun, Damietta (Dimyat), Mahalla, and Zifta.[62] These were imported in large bundles (farda), consisting of long bolts of cloth that were dyed and tailored in Nablus.

The general outlines of how the textile trade networks with Egypt were organized can be gleaned from a lawsuit dated August 7, 1812.[63] The beneficiaries of the inheritance estates of Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq Arafat and his brother, Shaykh Hajj Abdullah, were sued, along with five other textile merchants with operations in Egypt, by Sayyid Abdullah Qutub, a resident of Jaffa.[64] The plaintiff alleged that ten years earlier his father had received goods from Egypt for the above merchants via the port of Jaffa. At that time, the city was under siege by the late Ahmad Pashaal-Jazzar, and circumstances were such that the besieged strongman, Muhammad Pasha, forced the plaintiff’s now-deceased father, SayyidMuhammad Qutub, to pay him the customs and storage costs of the goods. The plaintiff demanded that each defendant pay back his share of the costs, which amounted to 730 piasters, a sum large enough to purchase two buyut at that time.

The defendants, all present in the Nablus Islamic Court, categorically denied the charges and claimed that a letter had previously arrived from Muhammad Pasha in which he testified to having received no moneys for customs and storage from the plaintiff’s father. The judge asked the plaintiff to prove his allegations, but he could produce no witnesses. The lawsuit was dropped.

As this case illustrates, imported Egyptian textiles were usually transported by sea to Jaffa, where they were received by agents for Nabulsi merchants. These agents cleared the goods through the port authorities and arranged for overland transportation. This case also shows that Nabulsi merchants banded together into groups, ranging from full business partnerships to simple joint-shipping agreements. The chief reason for collective arrangements, aside from the need to pool capital, was to share risks, as demonstrated by this very case. Although these political uncertainties complicated regional trade, they were never a serious long-term obstacle to it. The primary reason is that the moneys generated by this trade were crucial to the political strongmen who competed, sometimes violently, for their share of the profits. This is why credit arrangements were both imperative and extensively used: it simply was not practical to move large amounts of cash back and forth across physically and politically dangerous terrain.

It is not a small matter that this lawsuit was initiated in the Nablus Islamic Court ten years after the event—and by the son of the aggrieved party, to boot. The Nablus Islamic Court, one of dozens of similar courts spread all over the vast Ottoman Empire, served as a commonly recognized arena for arbitration. That the plaintiff was able to find these merchants and pursue them after such a long time strongly suggests that his father’s business relationship with them was not a casual one, free of personal connections. In fact, the Qutub family originated from the same Egyptian city, Bilbays, as did the Balbisi and Darwish-Ahmad families—two of whose members were among the defendants.[65] A branch of the Qutub family resided in Nablus, where they dealt in soap and had business relations with the Arafats and other textile merchants. The use of relatives and acquaintances as agents outside Nablus, in short, imparted resiliency and flexibility to regional networks and facilitated their smooth operation over long distances and under uncertain conditions. Finally, it is not surprising that the defendants did not break rank: they also shared something deeper than just a business relationship or even a common place of origin. As noted above, the defendants belonged to families that were interconnected in a complex web of mutual interests, ranging from co-ownership of shops and residential proximity to marriage ties.

Because long-distance trade with Egypt demanded large initial investments of capital, Nabulsi textile merchants usually pooled their money and sent one or more of the partners to Egypt to make arrangements for the purchase, storage, shipping, and payment.[66] In Cairo and Damietta, Nabulsi merchants, like their counterparts in Greater Syria as a whole, maintained offices, homes, and warehouses staffed by themselves, their relatives, or local agents.[67] According to Nimr, Nabulsi merchants preferred to send one of their own instead of depending on local agents,[68] and the available evidence shows that many Nabulsi merchants lived in Egypt.[69] Indeed, Nabulsi residents of Egypt sometimes went before the Islamic Court in Cairo or Damietta to transact the sale or purchase of real estate in Nablus or to appoint one of their partners as guardian for their children in case they did not come back alive.[70] Sudden death, especially while far from Nablus, was usually followed by a number of complicated lawsuits as both family members and business partners sought to protect, if not increase, their share of the deceased’s business properties—often at the expense of vulnerable women and children.

An example is the lengthy dispute that followed the death of a very rich soap merchant, Hajj Hasan Safar. In August 1864 a guardian of one of Hajj Hasan’s sons (who was still in his minority) demanded that the son’s rightful share be paid out of the inheritance estate, which he claimed amounted to 630,000 piasters, according to documents prepared by the judge of Jerusalem.[71] The defendants tried to lower the actual worth of the estate by outlining a long chain of events that involved the partners and agents of the deceased in Cairo, Jeddah, and Damietta. Their detailed defense confirms that the major market for Nabulsi soap at that time was the city of Cairo, where the deceased had three agents—two from Nablus and one from Egypt. Jeddah and Damietta, in contrast, had only one agent each.

This court case also shows that the agents paid customs on soap received from Nablus and stored it in warehouses. Thereafter, they were free to decide on both the buyers and the timing of the sale, and they made arrangements for the transfer of money to Nablus, as needed. Terribly important—and this was the crux of testimony—was the timing of the sale, which usually meant the difference between a loss and a large profit margin. Hoarding, it seems, was a complicated and risky practice that tested the mettle of the agents, the strength of their knowledgeof the market, and their connections to political figures and other merchants.

The Arafats, of course, were keenly aware of the importance of their agents’ role in the sale of soap in Egypt. This was because most textile merchants, including the Arafats, arranged for the sale of soap in Egypt, the profits from which were used to purchase textiles that were then imported to Nablus. It is no surprise, therefore, that the inheritance estates of Abd al-Razzaq, Abdullah, and Sa‘id Arafat all included significant amounts of soap.[72] Soap was the critical link in the textile trade with Egypt because this commodity provided Nabulsi textile merchants with a good opportunity to avoid depletion of their liquid capital: instead of transferring cash, they shipped soap that they bought at a low price in Nablus and sold at a high price in Egypt. Soap was the preferred item in this indirect exchange, partly because it fetched a good price, had a long shelf life (which gave flexibility to the crucial timing of sales), and was easy to transport. Most important, Nabulsi soap was much esteemed in Egypt and enjoyed a consistently high demand. The Egyptian market absorbed approximately three-fifths of Palestine’s entire soap production in the 1830s,[73] and averaged roughly about three-quarters of Nablus’s soap production throughout the Ottoman period.[74]

Beirut and Damascus

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Hajj Isma‘il Arafat, great-grandson of Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq’s brother, Muhammad, shared a number of similarities with his ancestors. Like them, he was a textile merchant who owned shops in Khan al-Tujjar and who catered primarily to the mass market. Unlike them, he bought and sold primarily Syrian and British textiles, as opposed to Egyptian ones; his regional network came to be organized differently, especially in terms of credit arrangements; and his capital-accumulation strategy was diversified when he bought a soap factory from Mahmud Hashim, thus sinking a significant proportion of the family’s resources into the burgeoning soap industry.[75]

Hajj Isma‘il first wife, Aysha Arafat, was said to be a very beautiful woman. She died young, but not before bearing her husband two sons: Ahmad and Amr. The older son, Ahmad, eventually established his own textile shop in the western end of Khan al-Tujjar, where he sold the same types of goods as did his father. The younger son, Shaykh Amr, married Wasfiyya Hashim, granddaughter of the above-mentioned Mahmud Hashim. Her father, Husayn Hashim, was a textile merchant and one-time mufti of Nablus. Shaykh Amr became a well-respected religious scholar, having studied at al-Azhar University in Cairo and in Istanbul. He worked as a judge in Nablus until 1912/1913, then built a soap factory and continued in the soap business until 1950, when he retired.

After the death of his first wife, Hajj Isma‘il remarried, this time a woman from the Sadder family of soap and textile merchants. His second wife bore him five sons. Hammad, the oldest of the five, took over his father’s textile shops and worked there along with his younger brothers. According to Najib Arafat, Hajj Isma‘il’s youngest son (b. 1901):

I worked with textiles since I opened my eyes. We bought goods from Beirut, Aleppo, Damascus, Jaffa, and Jerusalem. Aside from Syrian manufactures, most goods came from England, though we had a variety. Myfather had two shops that faced each other east to west in the Wikala al-Farrukhiyya. Each shop was two stories high. The second story was reserved mostly for tailors who rented the space from us. A peasant would come to us, and if he wanted his piece tailored, we would send it upstairs and the tailor would get his fee from the peasant directly.[76]

Najib’s recollections are supported by detailed information about the same period contained in the memoirs of Muhammad Izzat Darwaza, whose father, like Hajj Isma‘il, owned a textile shop in Khan al-Tujjar and catered primarily to the mass peasant market. During his childhood, Darwaza recalled:

The import of [textile] goods from the outside was, for the most part, through Beirut and Damascus. From Beirut came a variety of foreign clothes, whether cotton, wool, or silk. From Damascus came the domestically made [wataniyya] textiles and manufactures. These were popular to the point that almost all the clothes of peasants and middle and lower urban classes were made of it from head to toe. The exceptions were the white cotton cloth called baft and the off-white cloth that was called malti or mansuri or kham, from which shirts and baggy pants [sarawil] were made and with which Damascene textiles were lined. [Mansuri cloth] came mostly from British lands and was also used as quilts and bed covers. Some types of baft [cloth] were dyed with indigo blue in local factories and made into clothes by peasants and bedouin.[77]

In short, whereas Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq’s regional trade network was oriented primarily south, toward Egypt, that of Hajj Isma‘il and his sons pointed north, toward Damascus and Beirut. The causes and timing of this shift are familiar. By the early nineteenth century, European (primarily British) machine-produced textiles began to carve out a large market share in Greater Syria—a process enhanced by the lowering of tariffs and the abolition of monopolies after the free-trade Anglo-Ottoman Commercial Convention was signed in 1838. Most of these goods were imported through Beirut, which was fast becoming the principal port of entry for Greater Syria, or through the coastal cities of Jaffa and Haifa.

On the regional level, the direction of commercial flow was influenced by Ottoman centralization during the Tanzimat period, which tied Jabal Nablus ever closer, politically and economically, to the body politic of Greater Syria. In addition, infrastructural projects and services initiated during the second half of the nineteenth century—such as expanded ports, steamships, carriage roads, railroads, and telegraph lines—facilitated transportation and communication between Damascus, Beirut, and other cities and towns in this region. Regional and local factors also played a role. One such factor was the ability of the Damascene textile-manufacturing sector to restructure in the face of European competition.[78] As the above two accounts suggest, the Damascene textile industry survived, albeit much changed. This can be seen in the ways in which English, Damascene, and local textiles were literally woven together into a variety of finished products. Regional textile manufacturers not only were able to maintain a market share in the surrounding areas but also expanded that share as Damascene and Beiruti merchant capital extended more deeply into the Palestinian interior.

A second important difference was that whereas Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq and his brothers usually formed joint business ventures with a number of other textile merchant families and employed agents in Cairo, Damietta, and Jaffa, Hajj Isma‘il and his sons, like most other textile merchants in Nablus, operated individually for the most part. One reason for this change, aside from better and safer communication, was the greater accumulation and concentration of merchant capital over the course of the nineteenth century (see Chapter 5).[79] This allowed well-to-do textile merchants in Nablus to raise the necessary initial capital without recourse to partners. A third difference was that textile merchants no longer invested as much capital in the finishing stages of production, such as dyeing and weaving. Imported fabrics were sold as is, and tailoring either was done by the merchant and his family or was contracted out.

The fourth difference was that the textile merchants of Nablus found it more and more difficult to compete with the few but much richer Beiruti and Damascene families who came to dominate regional trade in Greater Syria. Eventually they were subordinated to the position of middlemen between the large trade houses in Beirut and Damascus and the peasantry in Jabal Nablus. Thus, instead of employing agents, each merchant had his private account with these trade houses. Largely due to a more favorable legal and political climate and to more rapid and more efficient transportation by the late nineteenth century, both Beiruti and Damascene merchants acquired the confidence and ability to extend numerous credit lines to smaller merchants in the interior cities and towns. Over time, Beiruti merchants—as well as those of other port cities, such as Jaffa and Haifa—succeeded in establishing themselves as the indispensable go-betweens for the import/export trade with Europe. Large Damascene textile merchants, meanwhile, doubled as manufacturers of textiles geared for the mass regional market and developed their own trademarks.

The following account of what probably was a typical business trip by Nabulsi textile merchants to Beirut and Damascus, also culled from Darwaza’s memoirs, best illustrates the general points made above.[80] At least once a year, Nabulsi merchants went personally to choose the types of goods they needed to stock their shops and to negotiate prices. The trip to Jaffa, Beirut, and Damascus, and back became easier and quicker with time. To Jaffa, the trip took only a few hours by carriage, compared to a day and a half on a mule before roads for wheeled transport were paved. From this ancient port city, Nabulsi merchants traveled on ships to Beirut. The first morning in that bustling city—after eating breakfast, drinking coffee, and smoking water pipes at Hajj Dawud’s cafe, one of their favorite haunts in al-Burj Square—they trekked to Suq al-Tawila, the heart of the textile commercial sector in Beirut, especially for foreign-manufactured goods. There, Nabulsi merchants visited one warehouse after another, chose fabrics, and bargained over prices.

Those who had sufficient capital paid on the spot and received a discount as a bonus. The majority, however, depended on loans from Beiruti merchants, who advanced the capital with interest. At the conclusion of each deal the materials were sent to one or another of the warehouses owned by these merchants who were called jarrida (from the verb jarada: to take stock or to make an inventory). In Beirut, Nabulsi merchants usually relied on people such as Musbah Qraytim and on others from the Zu‘ni, Sharif, and Ghandur families.

In addition to advancing loans and providing storage facilities, the jarrida arranged for packaging and shipping—for a fee, of course. Specialized workers (akkamin) packed the cloth into bundles (farda or hazma), secured them with a thin rope (massis), and sent the goods via boat to Jaffa, where they were received by employees of the Beirut merchants, not agents of Nabulsi ones. From Jaffa, camel transporters—often the group called harafisha[81]—moved the goods to Nablus.

After finishing their business in Beirut, Nabulsi textile merchants traveled to Damascus, where they repeated the pattern, but with some important differences. First, there is no doubt that Nabulsi merchants felt much more at home in the conservative, traditional atmosphere of a sister interior city and that they established close personal relations with the merchants who supplied them with the goods. This was especially true for the Damascene Haffar family, who were friends with Hajj Isma‘il Arafat and his children and grandchildren, as well as with the Darwaza and Masri families, among others.[82]

The jarrida of Damascus differed from their Beirut counterparts in that they doubled as manufacturers who operated their own production facilities, each with a distinct trademark that became well known in Nablus.[83] For example, in a letter to Isma‘il Arafat, a villager named Uthman Abd al-Wahhab requested dima cloth of the “Haffari” kind, in reference to the Haffar family.[84] It was also in Damascus that Nabulsi merchants were most likely to find cloth made in Aleppo, Mosul, Baghdad, and India. The majority of Damascene textiles exported to Nablus consisted of a large variety of cotton and cotton/silk materials—especially dima cloth—all of which were used to make the most common male outergarment, the qunbaz. Otherwise, Damascene agents fulfilled the same basic economic function: they advanced credit with interest and arranged for storage, packaging, and shipping. From Damascus, textile goods were shipped overland by camel transporters, usually by residents of the Hauran region.

To collect their credit advances, the jarrida of Beirut and Damascus employed agents in Nablus who kept abreast of the retail market and collected on a weekly basis. The Haffars’ office, for example, was conveniently located in Khan al-Tujjar. The length of the repayment period depended on how fast the Nablus textile merchants were able to sell their goods. Payment, according to Darwaza, was usually made in the form of gold coins, which were sent to Damascus and Beirut through the postal service. Occasionally there were disputes, and the jarrida had to visit Nablus personally and collect their debt through lawsuits.

For example, on December 27, 1862, the following lawsuit by a Damascene against two Nabulsi merchants was registered in the Nablus Islamic Court:

On August 20, 1862, the honorable Rashid Agha Jabri the Damascene proved that he was owed the sum of 34,530 piasters by Ahmad Masri and his brother, Muhammad Masri.…Yet, since that date, they have stubbornly refused to pay the rest of the debt they owed.…Rashid Agha appeared before the court and testified that [the defendants] had commercial inventories and requested that the court order these inventories to be sold in order to pay back the debt. The aforementioned were brought to court and ordered to pay back the debt and to sell the inventories.[85]

Debt-collection cases of this kind began to appear in the Nablus Islamic Court registers only after the mid-nineteenth century. The same can be said about cases in which Nabulsi merchants brought peasants into the city to appear before the court on debt charges. Both developments stand in stark contrast to the period before Ottoman troops regained direct control of the region. Then, Nabulsi merchants in general and foreign merchants in particular would have found it extremely difficult to approach these matters directly, much less to enforce the collection of debts through the urban administrative and legal apparatus. Instead, they found it more convenient to rely on the leading political families of Nablus to for leverage. An example is a receipt, dated April 20, 1837, found among the private papers of the Nimr family. Signed by Sayyid Abd al-Ghani son of Sayyid Ali al-Sawwaf (wool dealer), this receipt was sent from Damascus to Ahmad Agha Nimr, scion of the Nimr family at the time and head of the local sipahis:

I…testify that in the month of February 1837 I turned over promissory notes, owed to me by debtors, to Ahmad Agha Nimr to cash the full amount [5,500 piasters] and to buy us soap with it. The above-mentioned…sent us the soap, and it arrived in…Damascus by way of his agent, Shaykh Sulayman al-Banna.…Ahmad Agha Nimr owes us nothing whatsoever [whether it be] in account, safekeeping, or debt.[86]

Unlike the Haffar family, this Damascene merchant, who probably supplied woolens to Nablus textile traders, had neither agents to collect his money in gold nor even, perhaps, the expectation that he could collect his debt personally. Rather, he depended on the services of one of the locally powerful political families. The latter’s payment was not in cash but in soap. Part of the reason for this arrangement was that soap was akin to liquid capital because of the high demand for it in Damascus and the opportunity it afforded the Damascene merchant to resell at a profit.[87] Payment in soap also benefited Ahmad Agha Nimr. First, he owned a soap factory, and this arrangement included a hidden profit in that it assured a sale for his own products. Second, he did not have to actually wait for the debtors to pay what they owed before shipping the soap. Instead, he could reschedule the debts and collect further interest or reach a variety of other arrangements with the debtors, most of whom were no doubt familiar to him.

Of course, it is very possible that the Masri brothers simply ignored the court order. Nevertheless, the very recourse of that merchant to the Nablus court implies that the contrary could also be expected. Thus, whereas earlier a local politically powerful person had been indispensable for the circulation of merchant capital, the new political climate allowed merchants to bypass these families, at least in the first stages of the debt-collection process. This development might not have been beneficial to all merchants, especially the smaller ones, because even though the previous debt-collection arrangements were informal and were precariously dependent on personal contacts, they had the advantage of being more flexible: money, as it were, was mediated through a number of cultural/political filters that refracted the cold and impersonal letter of the law.The establishment of an enforceable administrative/legal framework—such as the Advisory Council, commercial courts, and a more centralized Ottoman bureaucracy—significantly raised the power of large merchants over retailers and peasants. The power of money was now less fettered with personal ties, boding ill for the weak, the poor, and the unlucky, who could not avoid the debt traps or seek protection from their former patrons.

The changing patterns of regional trade in textiles and credit-collection arrangements are important indicators of how the integration of Jabal Nablus into the world and regional economies was actually experienced during the nineteenth century. True, the Arafats continued their work as textile merchants generation after generation, but the content of what it meant to be such a merchant changed perceptibly after the mid-nineteenth century. The environment of trade was slowly transformed, the bulk of connections shifted northward from Egypt to Syria, and even the products themselves became different as foreign manufactures established a foothold in the local markets. Nabulsi textile merchants, in general, became less important players in the regional trade in textiles, as indicated by the declining significance of soap to imports and by the growing domination of this market by merchant families from the port cities and from Damascus.

Urban-rural relations, not the wider world of regional networks, were the center of consciousness for most of the people in Jabal Nablus, though they were all affected to varying degrees by forces beyond their control. To dig more deeply into the culture of trade and the systems of meanings it helped create, therefore, we must examine the other side of the coin: how the Arafats and other textile merchants constructed and reproduced the local trade networks through which they marketed their goods among the peasantry in the surrounding hinterland. Here continuity, tradition, and personal connections were of even greater importance. Consequently, local networks were more deeply rooted than regional ones and less vulnerable to the winds of change.

Local Trade Networks

In relation to its hinterland, the city of Nablus was the queen bee. It needed the peasants’ surplus to survive, and it often depended on peasant militia to maintain its relative autonomy vis-à-vis regional powers and the Ottoman state. In return, it provided the peasants with the commodities they could not produce, the services they required, and a set of political and cultural departure points to the larger Ottoman world. The activities of local trade and manufacturing, therefore, absorbed the energies of the vast majority of Nabulsis, and much of what this city meant to its inhabitants in terms of daily life was informed by a primordial set of relations: those connecting it to the surrounding hinterland.

Because textile products were the most ubiquitous commodity of local trade and because the Arafats’ primary customers, over many generations, have been the inhabitants of the hinterland—there is perhaps no better window on these multilayered connections than the local textile trade networks of this family. An examination of the inner workings of these networks and of how they have changed over time allows for a history from below of the dynamic roles that merchants and peasants together played in the constant reinvention of Jabal Nablus.


The main arteries of local trade branched off the regional trade roads and wound through the hills and valleys to the larger villages. These, in turn, served as hubs for the surrounding clusters of smaller villages, two to three hundred in number, depending on the time period and the reach of Nabulsi merchants. Until the construction of carriage roads and railways in the late nineteenth century, movement was slow and difficult. The most prevalent means of local transport was the donkey, and two of the most familiar sights along the well-trodden paths were the pack animals of hired transporters (makaris) and the itinerant merchants (haddars). The makaris, often poor peasants with little or no land, moved goods and people back and forth for a fee. The haddars, usually from Nablus, Jenin, or one of the larger villages, hawked such things as textiles, cooking utensils, and shoes, especially during the harvest season, when they could exchange their goods for grains or olive oil.[88]

The physical network of paths etched on the limestone hills and brown valleys of Jabal Nablus also served as social, economic, and political boundaries for a multitude of local trade networks. The merchants of Nablus—especially the large textile wholesalers and the purchasers of the major agricultural products such as olive oil, cotton, and grains—literally carved the countryside into discrete spheres of influence, each merchant cultivating a thick web of relations with particular clans and villages. For example, Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq Arafat’s peasant customers primarily came from the large but geographically dispersed villages of Kafr Qaddum, Jamma‘in, Til, and Ya‘bad.[89] Those of Hajj Isma‘il Arafat a century later included Kafr Qaddum, Jaba, Tammun, and Dayr Istiya.[90] The most loyal customers of his son, Ahmad, and grandson, Tawfiq, came from Jaba, Silat al-Dhaher, Faqu‘a, and Turmus Ayya. As for Hajj Isma‘il’s five youngest sons who were partners in the textile trade, their business was concentrated in Jaba, Silat al-Dhaher, Sanur, Maythalun, and Bayt Leed.[91] The largest concentration of these villages was in the Mashariq al-Jarrar subdistrict.

A merchant’s access to these villages, as well as his ability to collect debts, depended on his relations not only with their residents but also with ruling families, both rural and urban, who dominated these villages politically and/or had substantial economic interests in them. In the case of the Arafats, this meant close relations with the once-powerful Jarrar clan that had ruled the northeastern part of Jabal Nablus for so long. Judging from letters sent by Ibrahim Khalil Jarrar to Hajj Isma‘il Arafat, it seems that the former was a regular customer around the turn of the twentieth century.[92] On December 26, 1899, for example, Ibrahim Jarrar requested that he be sent, without delay, a caftan and a scarf. After specifying the colors, pattern, and sizes, he recounted moneys sent previously in order to correct any misunderstandings in his account. To this letter, in which he addressed Hajj Isma‘il as “sir” and “our father,” he appended a note that read: “Sir, beware and take care not to hand over anything to my sons unless they have a sealed letter from me”—implying that they sometimes abused this long-standing relationship and ran up their father’s tab.[93]

The division of the hinterland into market shares, to use modern terminology, was not unique to merchants. Jabal Nablus was entangled by dozens of overlapping formal and informal networks: the political networks of urban ruling families and the rural subdistrict chiefs, the fiscal networks of sipahi officers and tax farmers, and the religious networks of Sufi leaders. These networks were not mutually exclusive, and the interaction in the shared spaces between them molded the overall political, cultural, and social landscape and determined the rhythms and dynamics of everyday life. Any major shift in the boundaries of these shared spaces reverberated through the entire social formation of Jabal Nablus, reconfiguring alliances and patterns of power and trade. Such, for example, was the effect of the Egyptian occupation in 1831.

Merchant networks were of the informal type: they neither required official sanction nor depended on the coercive power of the state. Rather, merchants and leading political families cooperated, and increasingly so during the course of the nineteenth century, in such matters as securing roads, enforcing contracts, and extracting debts. To maintain and reproduce their networks, therefore, Nabulsi merchants lent monies and made commercial opportunities available to political leaders. At the same time, they used a variety of economic and extraeconomic means to forge an intimate bond with their peasant clients.

These practices were not unique to Jabal Nablus. Merchant networks that relied on personal ties and patronage were the norm in societies characterized by a vigorous commercial life within the context of decentralized political structures. The most effective way to sustain movement and exchange across space and time in such an environment was through multiple layers of negotiation based on commonly held assumptions and on accountability between the actors. This meant that peasants were not passive actors and that their communities were not simply carved into spheres of influence, as the language above implies. On the contrary, peasants actively participated in the networking process, had choices and options as to what merchants to do business with, and possessed their own bargaining tools, such as nonpayment and relocation.

Economically, the primary link between merchants and peasants was the provision of credit services, given that payment was normally delayed until the harvest season. In addition, each merchant’s shop served as a bank of sorts: peasants could open an account by depositing goods and money, and they could draw on that account and/or ask for credit during subsequent visits. Culturally, we have already discussed the importance of religion, trustworthiness, and a sound reputation to the very meaning of “merchant.” Socially, merchants reinforced their trade networks by serving as the peasant’s “key to the city.” Textile merchants did much more than just sell goods on credit to loyal clients: they were brokers, who provided a wide range of services, as well as social acquaintances. They visited peasants in their villages, attended their weddings, and exchanged favors and gifts.[94] They also provided food and accommodations for their peasant customers visiting the city (that is why there were no boarding houses for peasants in Nablus), intervened on their behalf with other merchants, and offered their stores as a shopping headquarters for their rural clients.

In short, merchants linked culture with social practice and economic exchange to construct a resilient and flexible fiber that wove the various parts of Jabal Nablus into a single fabric and its inhabitants into a single social formation. The above generalizations are best illustrated through a discussion of weddings, because the purchase of textiles associated with this social ritual was the backbone of the textile merchant’s business in the hinterland.


Sometime around the end of the nineteenth century, Hajj Isma‘il Arafat received the following letter from a peasant who was preparing to attend a wedding:

Our Respected Brother, Abu Ahmad…
After inquiring about that most dear to us, the health of your Noble Person, I put before you that since you will be receiving, through Mustafa Abd al-Latif, 2.5 French liras, 0.25 Majidi, 5 piasters, 1.5 bishlik, and 1 Majidi riyal, for a total of 336 [piasters], you might find it convenient to fill our order. We need a Haffari dimaya of pleasing form and fixed color; a dark-colored cloak [abaya] like the one you sent us earlier, with a head cover…and of a kind that you know to be of good quality. The [cloak’s] length should be to below the knee. [Also send us] a fez and shoes. For the ladies, [send us] two and a half good-quality pieces of Haffari dima of fixed color, so that [the women] can tailor them at home. [Also], four arms’ lengths of mansuri [cloth] and a large fez…and, very important, two undergarments, four pieces of good-quality ibrim ansiri, and four ladies’ handkerchiefs. Make a bill of sale for the value of the goods, so that we could sign on to it verbally and in writing, as we did last year. Trustworthiness is yours; please do not worry [about the payment] and convey our regards to your children, and we wish you all the best.


Uthman Abd al-Wahhab

[P.S.] We hope that you can send us the cloak immediately, before the other goods, because the one I have is no longer adequate. [For] you are well aware that there is a wedding coming up at Abu Muhammad’s, and a new cloak is important for a good image because strangers as well as relatives will be attending. In any case, if you do not have [such a cloak], please get it from someone else. If no one has the kind I described to you earlier, send us a good-quality one made out of wool.[95]

The above is one of many such letters involving the purchase of textiles in preparation for a wedding. Religious holidays and major life events all were occasions for the purchase of clothes, but weddings were the most important by far. Like other rituals, weddings served many purposes: enhancing or affirming status, redistributing wealth among poor family members and neighbors, making allies, reconciling enemies, and sealing kinship bonds. Weddings, in short, were important exercises in power and influence and were central to the formation and cementing of ties within peasant clans and village communities.[96]

The purchase of clothes for weddings was a major social, economic, cultural, and political undertaking. The bride and groom were not the only ones who received clothes. Depending on the amount of resources available, the state of relations between families and clans, parents, paternal and maternal uncles, other relatives, neighbors, and even leaders of other clans in the village could also expect to receive gifts of clothes.[97] The aim was to reinforce clan solidarity, to recognize the importance of the village collective, and to secure the blessings of both.

In the estates of Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq Arafat and of his grandson, Sa‘id, one can find all the varieties of textiles usually worn by peasants, especially items for weddings: silk belts (sing. zinnar harir), brightly colored silk headbands (sing. asaba), scarves (manadil), and plenty of kamkh, a type of velvet traditionally worn at weddings.[98] These and other basic items of formal outerwear for men and women, when put together, formed a kiswa.

According to Darwaza, “A few [Khan al-Tujjar] merchants sell textiles that only city people use. Most sell textiles used by both the city and village people, and most of those trade primarily in the kiswa needs of village people.”[99] Although the word kiswa is popularly associated with the clothes bought for a bride before her wedding, it was also used in a much more general sense to refer to a set of clothes or wardrobe which might include nontextile items, such as shoes or jewelry.[100]

Each type of kiswa had specific components. These components differed according to local preferences and changed over time. Both Darwaza and Masri described the specific components of various kiswas and the ways in which they were prepared. Darwaza, for example, noted that at around the turn of the twentieth century many large textile merchants prepared the basic kiswas of daily wear in advance and sold them as ready packages to peasants:

Some [merchants in Khan al-Tujjar] prepared kiswas for village people [consisting] of qanabiz [sing. qunbaz], sadari [waistcoats], qumsan [shirts], and sarawil [trousers]. Some were good at tailoring, so they cut [clothes], then put them out to home-based women who sewed them. Some sent the clothes to tailors.…My father and other colleagues were the kind who prepared kiswas and sold them ready-made. My father and grandfather used to cut the cloth with their own hands and then send them to our women and the women of our neighbors to sew them.[101]

Malik Masri, who learned the trade from his father and paternal uncles, wrote that wedding kiswas during the early twentieth century always included a silk saya (a type of qunbaz) and cloaks, the most expensive of which were made out of camel hair. He added that many textile merchants supplied headbands as complementary gifts to those peasants who came to the city and bought a kiswa.[102] He also made a distinction between kiswas for the bride and groom and those for relatives.[103] The former, for example, were formally divided into three parts—underwear, outerwear, and headwear—each of which had its specific components. Masri also claimed that the types and colors did not change over time, implying that the kiswa packages may have become rigidly formalized by the early twentieth century. Yet, judging from a series of textile orders included in the Arafat family papers, changes in fashion did take place, and there seems to have been a wide range of fabrics, colors, and styles from which to choose.[104] The final product reflected individual preferences because most peasant households, as the above letter illustrates, tailored their own everyday clothes. Masri, for example, noted that except for headgear and expensive silks, these textiles were sold by the shaqqa (piece), measuring around seven arms’ lengths, or approximately 475 centimeters. These pieces were cut from a large bolt, and whatever could not be sewn by the peasants themselves was sent to tailors in the city. He added that peasants from the western part of Jabal Nablus normally wore brighter colors than did those from the easter part and that they preferred silk belts made in Lebanon.[105]

In order to purchase the kiswa, peasants walked or rode donkeys to Nablus (and later on Jenin[106]) in groups referred to as mawkibal-kassaya (procession of the wedding-wardrobe purchasers), so named because they usually entered the city with fanfare: singing, dancing, and carrying gifts in kind. James Finn, British consul in Jerusalem, stumbled on such a scene in the vicinity of Haifa in mid-September, 1855:

Next day passing Tantoora and Athleet, and round the promontory of Carmel as the sun set, we arrived at Caifa, where we remained a few days, during which the ladies had the opportunity of seeing peasant holiday costumes different from those of the far south country; for a wedding being about to take place at Teereh [village], all or nearly all of the women repaired together in procession to Caifa, to purchase dresses and ornaments for the occasion, and they returned in similar line wearing the new dresses, very bright in colours, and singing a chorus as they swiftly shuffled along the road. Another similar body from another village did the same two or three days later, but returned with the music of drums and flutes.[107]

Because most villages were a day’s travel away from Nablus, peasants remained one to three nights in the merchant’s house, where they were provided with dinners, coffee, and sleeping accommodations. Masri recalled that females stayed in an extra room in their house, usually reserved for this purpose, while the men slept in the garden (hakura).[108] He added that the dinners were fairly substantial. Usually the meal consisted of big chunks of lamb over rice which, in turn, lay on a bed of bread soaked with cooked yogurt or tomato sauce.[109] According to Najib and Saba Arafat, sleeping accommodations at Hajj Isma‘il’s big house, located in the Qaryun quarter (demolished by the British during the 1936–1939 rebellion), were also segregated. Peasant women were housed in a room upstairs; accommodations for male peasant clients were set aside on the ground floor, which also contained a diwan (large reception room), stables, a water cistern, and a large fruit orchard.[110] Najib Arafat added that although food and lodging were made available to them, the same was not extended to their animals, which they had to leave somewhere else.

For the older members of merchant families, peasant guests were, more often than not, a burden. But for the younger members, especially females who did not venture far into public space, the evening festivities were one of the most pleasant memories of childhood. Umm Walid, Najib Arafat’s wife, observed that “peasants added a beautiful atmosphere to the house, because the occasion was one of happiness. After dinner, they would take out the dirbakka [a conical, one-headed hand drum open at one end] and sing and dance all night long.”[111]

Although some clients offered a small downpayment at the time of the purchase, most asked to have their payment postponed until the grain- or olive-harvest season. In letter after letter to Hajj Isma‘il Arafat, peasants assured him that he should not worry about payment. Typical is the following letter from a well-to-do peasant dated April 24, 1900; that is, the beginning of the wedding season:


1.5 [pieces] solid white thawb [light cotton cloth worn under the qunbaz]

1.5 [pieces] black thawb

5 blue hatta [head covers], of large size

5 manadil [head kerchiefs], red…

3 manadil…with black tassels

1/2 bundle of blue shalayil [long round columns made of cotton/silk strings].

To the most eminent and high standing, our father, Hajj Isma‘il Afandi Arafat, may he be preserved. Amen!

After greetings and inquiry about your most distinguished person…our father, we need these goods from you. Please choose them from high-quality materials and do not delay at all in sending them to us with the bearer of this letter. He has with him one French lira, and the rest put on our account. We, God willing, will come to see you soon, and please do not worry. We plead with you emphatically that you choose good [pieces] and do not delay in sending them.…Our greetings to you and your family and children and all those in your well-endowed shop.…

Your Son,

Sa‘id Hajj Zubayda

[P.S.] Let the bearer know the remaining cost.[112]

The writer’s promise to travel soon to Nablus usually meant soon after the harvest season, when payment was expected in cash, not kind.[113] Sometimes, however, arrangements were made for payment in jars of olive oil or measures of wheat.[114] Darwaza described the process as follows:

Some [textile] merchants sold to whoever passed by, others had agents, and some combined both. My father and other colleagues were of the latter kind. The agents were mostly peasants who bought their kiswa on credit until the grape, fig, oil, wheat, or barley seasons. Of course, the price was higher than cash sales [and varied] according to the length of the loan. They used to write IOUs on the peasants, specifying the payment date. When the harvest season…arrived, the agents came to sell their seasonal harvest and to pay their debts. The shop owners used to go to their agent’s villages to check on their loans. My father and grandfather had agents in the villages of Hajja, Bayta, and Bayt Amrayn.…I went with them more than once.[115]

Upon arrival, textile merchants usually tied their horses next to the oil press (badd) or the threshing floor (baydar), symbolically signaling their intention to collect their due. Practically, they could keep an eye on the economic health of both the overall harvest and the individual peasant household. Sometimes they would remain steadfast in this prime location until the entire debt was paid. Larger and richer merchants, such as the Arafats, employed horsemen (khayyala), each referred to as al-jabi (collector), who would ride into these villages and demand payment. The collectors, often peasants themselves, were well suited for this task, for they were keenly attuned to possible evasive tactics and tricks. Often the peasants could not or would not pay. But the collectors prolonged their stay, thus taking advantage of the peasant tradition of hospitality (diyafa), whereby the village collectively provided lodging, food, and other services to visitors in a special room in the village square (madafa).[116]

To maximize their returns while maintaining some flexibility, the textile merchants—like tax collectors, politicians and subdistrict chiefs—played the “good cop/bad cop” game.[117] According to Najib Arafat, his half-brother Ahmad and Ahmad’s sons, including Tawfiq, relied heavily on horsemen to collect debts, whereas his other brothers were less strict with the peasants.

Because a peasant’s ability to pay fluctuated widely, depending on a number of factors from weather conditions to tax burdens, bankruptcies were not uncommon in the ranks of textile merchants who operated on a system of credit. The estate of Abd al-Razzaq Arafat is a case in point. More than a century later, two of Hajj Isma‘il Arafat’s sons also went bankrupt, when they were unable to collect from peasants.[118]

In large villages, such as Jaba, the agents of textile merchants alsodoubled as middlemen who collected debts, placed orders on behalf of other peasants, and recommended potential customers from other villages. One such agent was Salih Yusuf, from the village of Kafr Qaddum. In 1897, he sent a letter of introduction to Hajj Isma‘il: “Please note that you will soon be visited by Ahmad Abadi, from the village of Kafr Qari. He intends to purchase his kiswa from you. So please, and for my sake, take care of him with good-quality tailoring and kamkh [cloth]. My regards.”[119]

In another letter, Mustafa Abu Asa, a long-time customer/agent, informed Hajj Isma‘il that he was placing a large order on behalf of a relative. Apparently the relative thought that he would get a better price and special treatment if he went through the connection (wasta) of an agent. Mustafa requested that the bill be put on his account and stated that he would personally come to pay it off. Then he asked Isma‘il Arafat to give his relative a discount as a gesture of their friendship.[120]

Some of these agents took advantage of their urban connection to venture into the retail trade in the countryside. As the following debt contract shows, they bought large quantities of textile goods on credit from wholesale urban merchants:

Price of a bundle (farda) of unprocessed [calico] foreign-made goods: 3210.10        
Price of foreign-made yarn, 9.5 ratl: 487.10        
Only 3,739 piasters and no more. Price of piaster: 5.75; price of warzi: 7 piasters.

Today, a man in his majority, Qasim son of Muhammad I‘days al-Hammur from the village of Jaba, acknowledged and testified that he…owes…Isma‘il Arafat the above-mentioned amount…for the [above-mentioned goods] which he legally purchased.…Payment is delayed for a period of three months, starting today, November 23, 1879. Mansur al-Mas‘ud al-Hammur and Amir al-Kaffan from the above-mentioned village have guaranteed the entire loan and assured complete payment, including penalty.[121]

Keys to the City

The manner in which local trade networks were constructed and reproduced assumed a set of mutual obligations that allowed both peasants and merchants to create space for themselves in the other’s territory. Just as textile merchants used these networks to establish a foothold in the hinterland, peasants used merchants as their key to the city and its resources. A merchant’s place of business was the headquarters for peasant clients who needed to store their surplus, purchase goods, send communications, receive credit, make connections with political figures, obtain legal council in the Islamic court, and so on.

Thus, even though poor peasants who bought on credit found themselves, more often than not, trapped by debts and enmeshed in patronage networks, they could still make a merchant’s life very difficult by finding ways not to pay. Moreover, they were capable of taking their business to another merchant. An element of mutual trust and dependency, as illustrated by the merchants’ provision of the above accommodations and services, was therefore crucial to the stability and continuity of local trade networks. Just as the sons of merchants “inherited” their father’s customers, sons of peasants also claimed their parents’ “key to the city.”

For example, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the peasants of Bayt Wazan, a village on the western edge of Nablus, usually sold their onion crops to the Asi merchant family, whose members visited the village annually during the onion-harvest season. In return, this family was the Wazanis’ urban agent, and its stores became this village’s urban nexus of operations.[122] It was members of the Asi family who accompanied the Wazanis when they bought their wedding and other kiswas from a well-established textile merchant, Hajj Abd al-Rahman Anabtawi, whose shop was conveniently located in Suq al-Basal (onion market). The Asi family provided a mediating influence in price negotiations and, just as important, an urban reference or a guarantee for purchase on credit. They also indirectly extended credit by purchasing and storing goods needed by the Wazanis, such as copper kitchenware. A few times every the year the Wazanis would visit the city to collect these goods and to arrange for future payment.

As the Bayt Wazan case illustrates, the peasants’ key to the city was usually the merchant who purchased or helped market the most important agricultural cash crop they produced. Peasants who produced primarily olive oil in the village of Burqin, for example, usually sold this product to the Ashur family, who deposited it in wells beneath their soap factory.[123] Similarly, it was at the Ashur family’s house that peasants from Burqin stayed for two or three nights every time they traveled to Nablus to take care of their needs and to sell their goods. The relationship of the Burqin villagers to the Ashur family differed among peasant families, depending on their financial situation. For example, those who borrowed and were in debt usually paid a 30 percent interest rate and were forced to sell their olive oil immediately after the harvest, when prices were low. Those who were not in debt could deposit the oil at the soap factory and usually chose to sell it at a later date, when prices were higher.[124]

Cheese merchants constructed similar networks. Khalid Qadri noted that during the cheese-making season from mid-February until June, his grandfather’s shop received peasants primarily from four villages in the subdistrict of Mashariq al-Jarrar—Tubas, Tammun, Rujib, and Salim—as well as bedouins from the vicinity of Jabal al-Khalil. The peasants did not have to bring their cheese into the city, for many merchants sent agents out to the countryside. Yet they preferred to make the arduous trip, because these agents were often suspected of using inaccurate weighing scales with the intent of taking advantage of them. An established merchant in his city shop was assumed to be more trustworthy.[125]

Khalid’s grandfather was neither a shaykh nor a hajj, but he was widely known as a straightforward and deeply religious man and as the person who officially opened the neighborhood mosque every morning for prayers. The villagers would leave the cheese at his shop and often receive neither cash nor receipts in return, only his word as to the amount and the price. He benefited from this arrangement, because this process increased his liquid capital and allowed him to extend loans to peasants as well as to expand his business. At the same time, however, peasants expected not only to receive their moneys upon demand but also to be granted loans when they experienced hard times.

Khalid Qadri’s grandfather was called on to provide a wide range of other services, such as purchasing equipment and supplies for peasants, storing them, and charging the amount to that peasant family’s account with him. He was frequently asked to intervene in his suppliers’ behalf when they needed to purchase not only their kiswa but also gold, furniture, and other goods associated with wedding preparations. As with the Asi family, the Qadri family had prearranged deals with the textile and gold merchants to whom they would bring in customers for a commission, very much like today’s tourist guides in Jerusalem and Bethlehem who bring buses to gift shops selling religious icons made out of olive wood and mother-of-pearl.

Of course, Nabulsi peasants, unlike foreign tourists, were familiar with local prices and business practices and did not blindly follow their key to the city. Still, peasants were the weaker party in this relationship, for urban merchants enjoyed higher status and commanded greater resources. Contracts, in any case, were usually verbal, because they were supposed to be based on mutual trust, word of honor, and commitment to a fair exchange. As mentioned earlier, peasants did not receive receipts for their goods, and many deposited money with merchants for safekeeping. In case of conflict, their word in court did not carry the same weight as did that of a respected merchant, nor could they easily find two credible witnesses in the city who would testify on their behalf. Most important, their disadvantage was structural: their needs were constant, but their meager resources fluctuated significantly in an economy based on rain-fed agriculture.

Less vulnerable were members of rural ruling families, as well as middle or well-to-do peasants who had significant land and financial resources and who were active in rural trade and moneylending.[126] True, both groups, especially the middle peasants, depended on urban connections but they were in a strong position to forge a more equal working relationship based on mutual advantage and services—as indicated in a number of letters from Hajj Ahmad Isma‘il Abu Hijli (from the village of Dayr Istiya) to Hajj Isma‘il Arafat around the turn of the century. Although the Abu Hijli clan was not part of the rural ruling families that had long monopolized administrative and tax-collecting positions, both the tone and content of these letters show Hajj Ahmad to be a wealthy man who perceived himself as an equal to his urban counterpart.[127] In these letters, he addressed Hajj Isma‘il Arafat as “my brother,” asked for the most expensive items in stock, requested that he locate certain coins for him, and made it very clear that money was not a problem:


—one dimaya, two hindazas and one-third long [163.5 cm] of the white malti kind with wide stripes, tailored for ladies…;

—one-half similar to the above, two hindazas and one-quarter long, for a quilt cover;

—one chintz of the expensive kind with a blue background, two hindaztayn and one-third long, for a lining…;

—one [silver]-lined head kerchief worth two Majidi riyals

—one-half…[word not clear] to our brother Yusuf…and a dima jacket with a malti [cloth] lining. Ahmad al-Hijjawi knows the length;

—one large bed cover…of the expensive kind;

—one dimaya…to Hasan like that of his brother Ali, and what is left of the cloth [to be made into] a jacket with malti [cloth] lining;

—nine ratls of cooked quince. Put it in six jugs.

Sir, my dear respected brother, Hajj Isma‘il Arafat, may God preserve you,

After inquiring about your Noble Person, I declare that the above-mentioned goods are for me. Please deliver them to Ahmad al-Hijjawi and charge the price of the dimaya for my son Hassan in his [Hassan’s] name. Please order one of your protected ones to buy the cooked quince and deliver it to the bearer [of this letter]; and register its price in our name. Charge my brother Yusuf’s [account] for the rest of the dima and chintz goods. Let me know the entire price, and I will send it with a bearer so he can receive the goods deposited with Ahmad [al-Hijjawi]. Whatever you do not deposit at Ahmad’s, give to the bearer. If you receive any orders from my brothers requesting anything at all, send them [goods] without hesitation. If you have any…[word not clear] liras, keep them and let us know how much they are worth and we will send you [money]. Previously, we asked you to tell us if any [such] liras fall in your hands. You replied that mukhkhamasat are not be found anywhere, but I don’t think that…[word not clear] is empty. Also, if you find majarrat of the good kind as we mentioned, send them. . . .

Ahmad Isma‘il Abu Hijli

January 10, 1900[128]

It was not unusual that cooked quince and rare coins were part of an order for clothes from a textile merchant. In fact, Hajj Ahmad routinely asked for a wide variety of items—special foods, coffee, tobacco, kitchenware, herbs, rope, a watch, and even onions—as well as favors, such as forwarding mail. He also sent carpets and other goods to be sold on his behalf and requested that the money made be subtracted from his account.[129]Hajj Ahmad and Hajj Isma‘il Arafat, in other words, were agents for each other’s interests; and the relationship they developed was, judging from both the tone and content of the letters, a close and fairly equal one. In one letter, for example, Ahmad Abu Hijli mentioned to Hajj Isma‘il that he came upon a fine leopard skin and that he was sending it to him as a gift on the occasion of the latter’s purchase of a new horse. He concluded: “As to your letter to us saying that you left our home satisfied and grateful, . . . there is no need for this sort of talk. God willing, . . . we will have a chance to be honored by seeing you at your place, and to kiss you. It is our fate and yours that the Almighty, may he be willing, will preserve you for us.…Amen.”[130]


The dispute over the clothes of Umm Dawud, the festive evenings in merchant houses by peasants flush from shopping for wedding wardrobes, the bright eyes of children waking up after id al-adha to put on a new set of garments, and the colorful celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday in Khan al-Tujjar are just a few examples of the centrality of textiles to understanding the connections between culture and trade and the importance of merchant networks to both regional and urban-rural relations. As seen in the business practices of the Arafat textile merchants during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, local trade networks in Jabal Nablus were more than just economic mechanisms constructed for the purposes of exchange. They can be better characterized as dynamic social spaces created by a multitude of actors with competing interests. The interaction among these actors was governed by a common set of reference points that linked social practices with trade and personal family history—that is, by a system of meanings.

It is a testimony to the social weight of merchants and of their networks that Nabulsi society came to be characterized by many of the values and norms embedded in this system of meanings. The strong sense of regional identification, the importance of family in politics (broadly defined), the pervasive use of religiously coded language in everyday intercourse, the conservative social atmosphere, and the remarkable continuity of a wide range of cultural rituals—these were all partly products of the ways in which these trade networks were cultivated and reproduced.

This system of meanings, it is important to emphasize, did not emanate solely from the conservative nature of Arab/Muslim society, nor was it simply a thinly disguised cultural tool. For most merchants in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Nablus the link between culture and trade was part and parcel not only of their livelihoods but also of their identities. Each merchant was heir to a constructed history that tied his family’s material and social interests to those of specific rural villages, clans, and even individuals.

On the surface, this system of meanings seemed static—not surprising, given that its very existence was predicated on shared perceptions of tradition and personal connections that were passed down from father to son. Within this wider cultural envelope, however, local trade networks were in constant flux. We have seen, for example, that family was a dynamic construct constantly being reformulated in physical, social, and cultural space. Peasants were also far from being passive victims of these networks: they actively participated in their reproduction and took advantage of their keys to the city.

Local trade networks proved to be effective vehicles for merchants to organize and invest in the production of cash crops for both the regional and international markets. Personal connections based on notions of trust, honor, and a fair and just exchange anchored, protected, and facilitated the circulation of merchant capital in the rural sphere in the context of a decentralized and uncertain political environment. With the expansion of commercial agriculture and a money economy in the hinterland, merchants relied on these rooted yet flexible networks to compete with and eventually bypass the subdistrict chiefs and urban ruling families in the race for the control of the rural surplus. As shall be seen in the forthcoming chapters, these networks not only accounted for the resiliency of the merchant community in Nablus but also served as the economic, social, and political incubators for the emergence of a different breed of urban notables who took advantage of the new political atmosphere created by the Egyptian invasion and the Ottoman reforms.

Local networks embodied a great deal of tension. The sources play down these tensions and often ignore them altogether. But there can be little doubt that merchants competed with each other, with ruling political families, and even with their own agents, who served as a bridge between them and their clients in the surrounding villages. For these agents, most of whom belonged to a growing class of middle peasants, service in a large urban merchant’s network was but the first step toward establishing their own network, often within the territory of their former employer. Most of all, there was tension between merchants and peasants over the fundamental issue of debt. Moneylending spearheaded the expansion of merchant capital, facilitated the appropriation of village lands, and eventually led to the integration of the rural areas into the urban legal and political spheres. By the second half of the nineteenth century, it seemed as if the hostility within the countryside over the spiraling problem of debt was matched by the patronizing and arrogant attitude of the urban population (see Chapter 4).

Instructive here is a satirical oration that Malik Masri learned from the peasants of Talluza village in the early twentieth century. Inspired by a song usually performed on the last Friday in the Holy Month of Ramadan (al-jum‘a al-yatima, literally, “Orphan Friday”), the oration was structured in the maqamat genre of Arabic rhythmic prose. The following is a partial and somewhat loose translation of the more stylized version titled al-Tarabish wa al-Barabish (the fezzes [i.e., merchants] and the waterpipes, or, more accurately, the tubes of the waterpipe, or nargila):

God is Great when the fezzes gather [on the village grounds], the waterpipe tubes are extended, and the voices of the [debt] collectors raised. The moneylenders listen for the sounds of the returning sheep; then they jump with their friend the police, looking for a victim to fleece.…

God is Great when the people of the villages greet the coming of Blessed and Auspicious olive season. They go to the city markets to buy their provisions, clothes, and whatever else their heart desires. But there the debtor demands his due from the debtee, or else the loan is renewed for twice the fee.…The poor soul is forced to submit and God is Great, God is Great.[131]

Changes in regional trade networks also generated tensions, especially between Nabulsi merchants and their European and coastal competitors. Generally speaking, the locus of these networks shifted from Egypt to Damascus and Beirut; from multifamily to single-family enterprise; from politically mediated to legally enforced systems of credit extension and collection; from regional sources of textiles to increasingly European ones; and from a system of agents to individual accounts with regional trade houses. In other words, regional trade networks lost much of their autonomy as they were subordinated—or, more accurately, as Nabulsi merchants were integrated—into the larger regional and world economies.

In this context, the continuity and reinforcement of the system of meanings associated with local trade networks proved invaluable. Regional identification, religious and social status, and the cultivation of local connections through services and gift exchange were all indispensable to maintaining the access of Nabulsi merchants to the rural surplus in the face of the forces unleashed by Ottoman centralization policies and the process of integration into the world economy. Using the social life of cotton as an example, the next chapter investigates the changing politics of trade, especially the tensions generated by the competition among local, regional, and European merchants, as well as the Ottoman state, over the movement of commodities.


1. NICR, 7:64–68. The wife, Sayyida Salha, daughter of Sayyid Abd al-Wahhab Afandi Fityani, came from a family of important religious figures and established textile merchants. She was his second wife and probably bore him four children, because nine of the thirteen were already adults in 1810. In fact, Abd al-Razzaq’s third-oldest son, Ahmad, was married on the same day that his father had been married, seven years earlier, to Sayyida Salluh, daughter of SayyidaHajj Muhammad Afandi Hashim Hanbali. The Hanbali family (named after the school of law to which it belonged) routinely held high religious posts such as naqibal-ashraf and was heavily invested in the soap industry (NICR, 6:161, dated June-July, 1803).

2. Clifford Geertz uses the word “clientelization” to describe a somewhat similar situation in the context of market exchanges in the bazaar of Sefrou, Morocco. In this case, however, he was mainly referring to the tendency of urban customers to buy repeatedly from and to establish a personal connection with specific purveyors, hence becoming enmeshed in a “system in which exchange is mediated across a thousand webs of informal contract.” See Clifford Geertz, Mildred Geertz, and Lawrence Rosen, Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society: Three Essays in Cultural Analysis (Cambridge, England, 1979), p. 220.

3. For a comparative perspective, see David Seddon, Moroccan Peasants: A Century of Change in the Eastern Rif, 1870–1970 (Folkestone, England, 1981), p. 92. See also Ted Swedenberg, “The Role of the Palestinian Peasantry in the Great Revolt (1936–1939),” in Edmund Burke III and Ira Lapidus, eds., Islam, Politics and Social Movements (Berkeley, Calif., 1988), pp. 172–177.

4. For a discussion of this and other points regarding the importance of textiles, see S. D. Goiten, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, vol. 1, Economic Foundations (Berkeley, Calif., 1967), p. 101.

5. Goiten noted that in the Cairo Geniza documents during the medieval period clothes were labeled as washed or secondhand, both of which testify to their importance (ibid., vol. 4, Daily Life (Berkeley, Calif., 1983), pp. 183–184.

6. This was not unique to either Nablus or this period. Goiten, for example, reached similar conclusions for Cairo in the medieval period (ibid., pp. 184–185).

7. Parents were and still are usually referred to as umm (mother of) or abu (father of) the eldest son, even if the first-born was a female.

8. The entire episode is described by John Mills, who lived in Abdullah’s house during his stay in Nablus. In fact, the negotiations took place on neutral ground: his room (Three Months’ Residence, pp. 155–159). It is interesting to note that the division of the clothes followed Islamic law (shari‘a) rules for inheritance even though this case did not come before the court and no Muslim officials were present. One can only surmise that, as far as inheritance practices were concerned, the rules of Islamic law were so ingrained in the population as a whole that they were followed by non-Muslims.

9. Usually, each household (dar) consisted of a number of buyut (NICR, 13A:74).

10. I am indebted for the insight on the political use of clothes as gifts to Bernard Cohn, “Cloth, Clothes, and Colonialism: India in the Nineteenth Century,” in A. B. Weiner and J. Schneider, eds., Cloth and Human Experience (New York, 1989), pp. 303–353.

11. Malik Masri, Nabulsiyat (Amman, 1990), pp. 45, 55, 77–79, 129, 146, 166, 175, 179, 216.

12. Ibid., p. 166. Interviews I conducted with young men and women in Nablus in 1986–1987 and in 1990 suggest that this ritual continues in most households.

13. Masri, Nabulsiyat, p. 163.

14. Arafat Family Papers, 1:29 (emphasis added). The letter was written in the local dialect and contained many grammatical mistakes, reflecting the inadequate education of its writer. The translation is not literal. A dimaya was the principal form of outerwear, especially for rural men, and surtali was a cotton/silk mix with vertical black stripes. See Nimir Serhan, Mawsu‘at al-folklore al-Filastini (Encyclopedia of Palestinian Folklore) (2d ed.; 3 vols.; Amman, 1989), vol. 3, pp. 650, 684. Dima cloth, developed by Damascene artisans in the late 1850s partly as a response to increased competition from Europe, was a cotton version of the alaja, historically one of Damascus’s most famous silk/cotton textile products. For details, see Sherry Vatter, “Journeymen Textile Weavers in Nineteenth-Century Damascus: A Collective Biography,” in Edmund Burke III, ed., Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East (Berkeley, Calif., 1993), p. 85.

15. Muhammad Izzat Darwaza, Mi’at am filastiniyya: Mudhakkirat wa tasjilat (One Hundred Palestinian Years: Memories and Notes) (Damascus, 1984), p. 19. Darwaza’s recollections were independently confirmed in a number of interviews with Hajj Khalil Atireh, a long-time merchant and head (mukhtar) of the Gharb quarter, June 9, 1988; Hani Arafat, son of one of largest textile merchants in Nablus, March 14, 1989; and Najib Arafat (b. 1901), son of Hajj Isma‘il and himself a life-long textile merchant (August 8, 1990).

16. Rogers, Domestic Life, p. 263.

17. Mills, Three Months’ Residence, pp. 88–89 (emphasis added). This market was still dominated by textile merchants in the early 1920s (Masri, Nabulsiyat, pp. 85–86).

18. This division might be related to the long power struggle between the Nimrs, who controlled the eastern half, and the Tuqans, who controlled the western half during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (NIMR, 1:192–202, 225–299). This explanation, however, cannot fully account for the persistence of this division in the popular consciousness.

19. For a history of the Nabi Musa festival, see Kamil J. al-Asali, Mawsim al-nabi Musa fi Filastin: Tarikh al-mawsim wa al-maqam (The Nabi Musa Feast in Palestine: History of the Feast and the Sanctuary) (Amman, 1990).

20. Masri, Nabulsiyat, pp. 154–155.

21. Ibid., p. 171.

22. Interview with Najib Arafat.

23. The majority of merchant estates were probably not registered in the Islamic court. Hence the results of any sample based on a small absolute number of cases must be treated with caution. The following percentages should be viewed as general indicators, not empirically accurate figures.

24. NICR, 6:52, 197–199, 237, 251, 253, 318, 364; 7:64, 72, 372, 375, 386, 392; 8:226, 242, 269, 285, 304, 309, 376–377, 382, 390, 409, 421; 9:37, 70, 73–74, 141, 149, 172, 279, 324, 377; 10:8, 103, 118, 140, 142, 161, 221, 301; 11:8, 47; 12:99, 169, 204, 233. Because inheritance estates, as a rule, did not mention the occupation of the deceased, I considered only estates in which the commodities listed came in large quantities that could only be stored in warehouses of wholesale merchants and in which the value of these commodities constituted the bulk of the value of the estate as a whole. Thus retailers and local traders were not included, nor were owners and operators of certain economic enterprises such as mills. To determine the primary specialization, the most important factor considered was the type of commodities that made up the largest share by far of the total goods (that is, items not for personal use) listed in the estate.

25. For example, Hajj Isma‘il Arafat, in addition to being a textile merchant, was both a soap manufacturer and a landowner—olive groves, not surprisingly, constituted the bulk of his holdings (Arafat Family Papers 1.34–1.47).

26. Furthermore, in a sample of 26 inheritance cases of artisans for the same period, those involved in textile production constituted, along with those of shoemakers, the largest group in terms of numbers among the artisan community. NICR, 6:137; 7:384; 8:372, 412, 427, 431; 9:6, 16, 96–97, 103, 117, 128, 286; 10:34, 60, 174, 250; 11:33, 61, 156; 12:75, 93, 97, 169. Again, these percentages mustbe treated cautiously. There is no doubt that artisans who worked in textilesfar outnumbered all other artisans, but the location of most production facili-ties in private homes and the prevalence of a putting-out system skewed the sample.

27. Interview with Najib Arafat. The bulk of information on the Arafat family was gathered from cases registered in the Islamic law court, such as inheritance estates, waqf endowments, lawsuits, and property transactions. This was supplemented by a collection of family papers, kindly provided to me by Saba Amr Isma‘il Arafat, as well as by interviews with Najib Isma‘il Muhammad Arafat, himself a long-time textile merchant; Hani Tawfiq Ahmad Arafat; and Ibtihaj Said Umar Arafat (January 10, 1993).

28. For a discussion of the “affirmation of identity” genre in Palestinian historiography, see Doumani, “Rediscovering Ottoman Palestine: Writing Palestinians into History,” pp. 13–17.

29. For example, Abd al-Razzaq’s nephew, Muhyi al-Din, bought a soap factory in 1829 (NICR, 8:328, 361). One of his great-grandchildren, however, was an artisan who produced cords, braids, and other trimmings (NICR, 13B:218).

30. According to Saba Arafat (letter, April 4, 1993), this family produced the city’s first professionally trained doctor (Nu‘man Sa‘id), pharmacist (Nur al-Din Sa‘id), and architect (Tawfiq Abd al-Fattah). All were educated in Istanbul early in the twentieth century. Masri refers to the “Arafat Pharmacy” in his neighborhood during the early Mandate period (Nabulsiyat, p. 92).

31. NICR, 6:198, 237, 251; 7:64–68, 109; 8:304; 9:70, 73, 141, 324; 10:8, 221, 301).

32. Ibid., 4:26, 161.

33. Ibid., 10:221.

34. He was also a landowner and founding member of the Mustashfa al-Watani (National Hospital), the first of its kind in Nablus (NIMR, 3:28, 80).

35. Interviews with Najib and Hani Arafat.

36. The second-oldest male child, Shaykh Amr, owned a soap factory (interview with Najib Arafat, son of Isma‘il’s second wife). His oldest half-brother, Ahmad, owned a textile shop on the western end of Khan al-Tujjar.

37. Letter to the author, April 4, 1993.

38. Interviews with Najib and Hani Arafat.

39. By the end of the nineteenth century, this practice was discontinued for the most part, and attaching a surname for individuals was slowly institutionalized. Among the causes of this development were urbanization, the breakup of clans and individuation of the family, the extension of central control to the rural areas, and the need of the new Ottoman bureaucracy to keep extensive records for social control.

40. Masri’s memoirs contain many fascinating details about the dynamics of a typical textile-merchant household (Nabulsiyat, pp. 29–43, 75–77).

41. The Islamic court was often resorted to in order to prevent such instances from occurring. This is why most of the inheritance estates brought before the judge for resolution involved minors and/or other areas of real or potential dispute.

42. The most common reason for changing or adopting a family name is a change of location. Many Nablus families are called by the name of the village or town or county they originally came from. Other reasons, to the extent that they can be linguistically discerned, include a particular occupation, a prominent physical feature, or peculiar events.

43. The Khammashs, for example, share an ancestor with the Jawharis, but by the eighteenth century they had managed to carve a distinct place for themselves, and by the early nineteenth century they had come to dominate leading religious positions in Nablus.

44. NICR, 4:51.

45. Ibid., 4:51, 69.

46. See a dispute over this waqf in which Ammun, the granddaughter of Abd al-Razzaq’s brother, Abd al-Ghani, wins a case against the waqf superintendent who had withheld her share (ibid., 13B:97–98).

47. The fact that his uncle died without male children may have contributed significantly to the concentration of the family’s resources in his hand, for he was the oldest son of one of the three brothers (ibid., 4:51).

48. At least three of them were learned shaykhs.

49. Around the same time, other descendants retained the family name Shahid, which continues to the present. The infrequency of references to this family in the court records, at least in comparison with the Arafats, suggests that they were less wealthy.

50. The information contained in the family tree, including the religious titles, was gathered from the first fourteen volumes of the Nablus Islamic Court records. The Arafats’ official family tree, as compiled by them, differs in some respects from the one used in this study. For consistency, I have relied solely on the court records.

51. Letter to the author, April 4, 1993.

52. For example, Shaykh Abd al-Rahim Arafat married his cousin, Khadija, daughter of Shaykh Hajj Abdullah Arafat (NICR, 8:233); and Khadija’s brother, Sayyid Ibrahim, married his cousin, Aysha, daughter of Shaykh Abd Al-Razzaq Arafat (ibid., 6:198). Aysha, incidentally, was previously married to Sayyid Ibrahim’s brother, Sayyid Ahmad (ibid.). It was not unusual for a man to wed his brother’s widow in order to support his nephews and nieces and to keep the property within the household. For other examples of Arafat-Arafat marriages, see ibid., 6:71; 8:231; 11:6, 101; 12:23.

53. Ibid., 7:64, 171.

54. Ibid., 6:36, 171; 7:64–68. In the mid-1930s Shaykh Amr Arafat, son of Hajj Isma‘il, supervised the reconstruction of the Nasr Mosque, which had suffered severe damage in a 1927 earthquake (letter from Saba Arafat, April 4, 1993).

55. NICR, 6:171; 7:307, 350, 375; 8:233; 9:96; 10:221; 12:99–100, 113; 13A:123. Examples of extensive economic and cultural ties among the Arafats and these families can be found in ibid., 6:260–264; 8:233, 281–283; 9:73, 393; 10:261; 11:6, 30, 101, 115, 172; 12:135, 242; 13B:141–143.

56. During the late nineteenth century, many Arafat males resumed their religious education.

57. This was confirmed in an interview with Najib Arafat.

58. For example, NICR, 6:64–65, 228, 250, 252; 7:109; 8:233, 304, 409; 9:96; 11:101; 12:99–100, 233; 13B:141–144. Some members of the Arafat family were also co-owners of property in the commercial center of Nablus with the Abd al-Hadi and Tuffaha families.

59. See, for example, the estates of merchants from Mosul, Beirut, and Aleppo who died in Nablus while on business (ibid., 7:395; 8:284; 9:75).

60. It must be noted here that the reliance on textiles as an example of regional and local trade networks can give the misleading impression that subregional trade networks were of little importance. The social life of grain, for example, would emphasize those connections.

61. After his oldest son, Ahmad, died during a pilgrimage to Mecca, Hajj Abdullah asked his wife and female children to choose legal agents. He then gathered them in court, along with his one remaining son, Ibrahim, in order to divide up his estate as if he had already died. This was done in the same manner as all other estates. He only asked that he receive a daily stipend from Ibrahim on behalf of himself, his wife, one of his daughters, and the two daughters of his deceased son. He died sometime between 1805 and 1812 (NICR, 6:193, 198). Saya is yet another type of blended cotton/silk cloth with bright colors and vertical stripes used to make outergarments for men and women. Thiyab (sing. thawb) is a light cotton ready-made robe. Baladi means locally made. Darwaza notes that malti cloth was imported from England, probably via Malta (Mi’at am, p. 71).

62. In addition to the Arafats, some of the families of textile merchants who did business primarily with Egypt are: Fityan, Nabulsi, Abd al-Muhsin, Ghazzawi, Balbisi, Darwish-Ahmad, Kawkash, Bishtawi, Zu‘aytar, Masri, Qutub, and Tuffaha (NICR, 6:198, 237; 7:64, 109, 386; 8:242; 9:212; 10:8; 221).

63. Ibid., 7:109.

64. They were SayyidHajj Hasan Tuffaha Husayni, Sayyid Muhammad Kawkash, Muhammad Bishtawi, Yusuf Murad Balbisi, and the beneficiaries of the deceased merchant, Hajj Abdullah Darwish-Ahmad.

65. NICR, 13B:125–127.

66. Ibid., 7:386.

67. Mikhayil Mishaqa, a well-known Lebanese contemporary chronicler, was for three years a member of this expatriate community of Levant merchants living in Damietta during the early nineteenth century and wrote about his experiences there (Muntakhabat, pp. 63–67).

68. NIMR, 2:296.

69. NICR, 9:212.

70. For example, in January 1806 a dispute arose over who was to be the legal guardian of the children of Husayn Beik Jurri, who died while conducting business in Egypt. Witnesses and business partners involved included members from the Arafat, Shahid, Tuffaha, Bashsha, and Kawkash families (ibid., 6:228).

71. Ibid., 13B:141–143. Settlements of very large estates in Nablus and elsewhere in Palestine were routinely referred to the Jerusalem Islamic court judge, who, because of his higher rank, had the prerogative in such matters.

72. Ibid., 6:198; 7:64; 10:221.

73. This included the soap production of Nablus, Gaza, Lydda, and Ramla. See John Bowring, Report on the Commercial Statistics of Syria (London, 1840; reprint, New York, 1973), p. 19.

74. The relationship was of long standing: in the sixteenth century, Egyptian merchants invested large amounts of capital in promoting local production and export of Jerusalem soap to Egypt (Cohen, Jewish Life, p. 193). Export statistics show that most of Palestine’s soap was sent to Egypt in the second half of the nineteenth century (Schölch, “European Penetration,” pp. 13, 50, 53; Buheiry, “Agricultural Exports,” p. 73). Finally, Sarah Graham-Brown estimated that during the Mandate period Egypt consumed approximately one-half of the soap output of Nablus (”The Political Economy of Jabal Nablus, 1920–1948,” in Owen, ed., Studies, p. 140).

75. He bought it sometime during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This factory was later sold by his children from his second wife to the Abd al-Hadi family, in whose possession it remains (Saba Arafat, letters to the author, August 8 and December 12, 1993).

76. Interview, August 8, 1990.

77. Darwaza, Mi’at am, p. 71. Judging from the name, mansuri cloth must originally have been an imitation of an Egyptian cloth.

78. See, for example, Vatter, “Journeymen Textile Weavers.”

79. Darwaza, Mi’at am, pp. 70–77.

80. They came from al-Arish (northern Sinai).

81. Interviews with Najib and Hani Arafat. Saba Arafat recalls that members of the Haffar and Mansur families visited Tawfiq Arafat’s house in Nablus on more than one occasion (letter, April 4, 1993). Darwaza mentions the Haffars first in his list of Damascene agents and tells of the close relations between Damascene agents and Nabulsi merchants in general (Mi’at am, pp. 71, 74). Masri relates how Hajj Amin Haffar, a close friend of his father’s, invited him for a feast in his house while he was visiting Damascus (Nabulsiyat, pp. 140–141).

82. In addition to the Haffars, they usually were members of the Mansur, Khattab, and Tuban families.

83. Arafat Family Papers, 1.1.

84. NICR, 13A:191. For similar examples, see ibid., 13A:237, 258.

85. Nimr Family Papers, 3.5.9.

86. Even in Egypt, soap was sometimes was used in lieu of money in commercial transactions and in the repayment of loans. For example, see Cuno, Pasha’s Peasants, p. 58.

87. Haddars are usually remembered as owners of portable textile shops on donkeys who always appeared during the harvest season (for example, interviews with Hajj Sharif Kamil Jarrar [b. 1897], from the village of Burqin, July 17, 1990; and Muhammad Fayyad Muhammad Bushnaq [b. 1905], from the village of Rummana, July 17, 1990).

88. These were the most frequently mentioned among the more than thirty villages registered in Shaykh Abd al-Razzaq’s inheritance estate. They are also mentioned in the estates of his brother, Abdullah, and his grandson, Sa‘id (NICR, 6.198; 7:64–68; 10:221).

89. Arafat Family Papers, 1.5, 1.6, 1.11, 1.29.

90. Interview with Najib Arafat. Most of the business was with the village of Sanur. They also had occasional agents in the village of Qabatya.

91. Arafat Family Papers, 1.9, 1.19.

92. Ibid., 1.19.

93. Almost all of the sources mention these important outreach activities. See, for example, accounts of weddings in the villages of Qabalan and Tubas that were attended by Malik Masri and his father (Nabulsiyat, pp. 55–61, 203–204).

94. Arafat Family Papers, 1.1 (emphasis added). Haffari refers to cloth made in the factory of the Damascene Haffar family, as discussed above. A fixed color was one that would not bleed or run when the garment was washed. I have not been able to discover the meaning of ibrim ansiri.

95. For a discussion of the socioeconomic and cultural aspects of weddings in Palestinian villages, as well as of the importance of the village collective to marriage rituals, see Serhan, Mawsu‘at, vol. 1, pp. 279–294.

96. Interview with Najib Arafat; Serhan, Mawsu‘at, vol. 2, p. 293.

97. Darwaza, Mi’at am, p. 55.

98. Ibid., p. 70.

99. Thus one can speak of a kiswa as a wardrobe for a wedding, for a graduation, or for a pilgrimage or simply as a new set of clothes to replace one that is worn out or no longer fits (interview with Najib Arafat). A detailed description of types of clothes for these special occasions can be gleaned from Malik Masri’s description of the kiswas he acquired while growing up (Nabulsiyat, pp. 45, 55, 77–79, 129, 146, 166, 175, 179, 216).

100. Darwaza, Mi’at am, p. 70.

101. Masri, Nabulsiyat, pp. 209–210.

102. Ibid., pp. 207–210; Serhan,Mawsu‘at, vol. 2, pp. 298–299.

103. Arafat Family Papers, 1.1–1.3, 1.5–1.6, 1.9, 1.11–1.13, 1.19, 1.21, 1.24, 1.28, 1.30.

104. Masri, Nabulsiyat, p. 209. Differences between these two local styles may have been due, among other things, to the topographical differences betweenthe eastern and western slopes of Jabal Nablus (see Chapter 1) as well as to the desire to visually express discrete local identifications within Jabal Nablus as a whole.

105. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Jenin grew in size, and large textile shops were established. All the peasants of the small village of Dayr Ghazala, for example, traveled to Jenin together to purchase the kiswa for a marriage ceremony. Members of the Atari and Naji families—from Arraba and Qabatya villages, respectively—usually supplied the peasants of Dayr Ghazala with their textile needs (interview with Awad Yusuf Abu Alayya [b. 1908], July 17, 1990).

106. Finn, 2:344–345. According to Najib Arafat, a typical procession in the early part of the twentieth century consisted of three or four women and five or six men, plus their children (interview).

107. Masri, Nabulsiyat, pp. 206–207.

108. Ibid., pp. 40, 123–127.

109. Interview with Najib Arafat; and Saba Arafat, letter to the author, April 4, 1993.

110. Interview with Umm Walid, August 8, 1990.

111. Arafat Family Papers, 1.30.

112. Interviews with Hani and Najib Arafat.

113. See a letter from Husayn Abdullah to Hajj Isma‘il, in which he pleaded with the latter to accept payment in wheat instead of oil, as promised earlier (Arafat Family Papers, 1.8).

114. Darwaza, Mi’at am, pp. 70–71. Masri related similar stories and confirmed that interest was calculated into loan payments. He also quoted a rhymed satiric song (discussed at the end of this chapter), written by peasants from Talluza village, complaining about debt collectors (Masri, Nabulsiyat, pp. 204, 225–228).

115. Interviews with Hani and Najib Arafat.

116. Ihsan Nimr provided some examples of how ruling families spoke in two voices in a calculated carrot-and-stick policy (NIMR, 4:361–364).

117. Interview with Hani Arafat.

118. Arafat Family Papers, 1.6.

119. Ibid., 1.13.

120. Ibid., 1.5. Because the value of the currency fluctuated widely during this period, relational measures were often mentioned in loan contracts.

121. Interview with Mahmud Muhammad Abd al-Razzaq Abd al-Haqq (Abu Adnan), who was born in Bayt Wazan at the turn of the century and has lived there all his life, July 22, 1990.

122. Interview with Sharif Kamil Jarrar, July 17, 1990.

123. According to Sharif Kamil al-Jarrar, most of the peasants in his village were indebted during the early part of the twentieth century (interview).

124. Interview with Khalid Qadri, July 16, 1990.

125. For a discussion of the term “middle peasant,” see Chapter 4.

126. For more on this family, see Chapter 5.

127. Arafat Family Papers, 1.21. Ahmad al-Hijjawi was Hajj Ahmad’s business agent. Mukhkhamasat were pentagon-shaped coins, often used for jewelry (see Arraf, Al-Ard, p. 159). Majarrat is the plural of majaer, a gold coin, probably from Hungary. This coin was also found in Gaza and Damascus in the mid-nineteenth century (see Abdul-Karim Rafeq, “Ghazza: Dirasa umraniyya wa iqtisadiyya min khilal al-watha’iq al-shar‘iyya, 1273–1277/1857–1861” (Gaza: A Cultural and Economic Study Based on Islamic Court Documents, 1273–1277/1857–1861), in Al-M’utamar al-duwali al-thalith li tarikh Bilad al-Sham (Filastin) (The Third International Conference on Bilad al-Sham: Palestine), vol. 2, Jughrafiyyat Filastine wa hadaratiha (The Geography and Civilization of Palestine) (Amman, 1980), pp. 133–134.

128. Arafat Family Papers, 1.22, 1.24–1.25, 1.31.

129. Ibid., 1.22.

130. Ibid., 1.31, dated June 8, 1900.

131. Masri, Nabulsiyat, pp. 225–228.

Family, Culture, and Trade

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