An Exhibition in a Book The Right of Return to Jerusalem

An Exhibition in a Book The Right of Return to Jerusalem

On 15 May 1948, the occupation state of Israel was proclaimed on seized Palestinian land, making that day the date of the most terrible Arab catastrophe in modern times. Captured town, obliterated villages, expelled Palestinians and damaged antiquities will never be consigned to oblivion, not only because they are engraved on memory, but also because they are kept in photograph archives which appear from time to time to reaffirm our right of return to Palestine with Jerusalem its capital, even if this is just visual return, as shown in the following pages.

All Muslims venerate the cities of Mecca and Medina. Shüte Muslims revere the cities of Najaf and Karbala. Catholics glorify Rome. Protestants exalt Geneva as a spiritual capital. Jews value the city of Hebron highly. But the city of Jerusalem is in the heart of all Muslims and Christians alike, as well as all Jews. It is the holy city of the three revealed religions. Moreover, it is the home of sacred antiquities in each religion.

The above passage is a translation of part of an introduction in English by Dr Akmal Aldin Ehsan Oghloo, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), to a 430 plus-page album which contains tens of photographs of the city of Jerusalem in the Ottoman era. I am including these lines here as they serve as a key to the sections of the album as prefaced by Dr Khalid Ern, Director General of the Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture in Istanbul (IRCICA), the publisher of this encyclopaedia .

An international/state organization, IRCICA is the civilized face of the 57-country OIC, which has previously published photograph archives about Egypt and Istanbul, and will shortly publish its fourth collection about Mecca. According to Dr Ern, a large part of these photos is a selection from the collection of Yaldez Palace (of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the last Ottoman sultan), the headquarters of IRCICA at the Istanbul suburb of Bishkitash. The album contains 454 photographs, out of 734 in the Jerusalem photo archives kept in IRCICA or Istanbul University library.

The word photographer appears on a wall in one of the photographs. As we know, by 1840, Cairo and Jerusalem had become capitals controlled by Viceroy Muhammad Ali Pasha, who wanted to improve his relations with European countries, so he allowed the holders of European passports free travel into these two cities. Cairo had actually been a popular destination for European explorers and tourists who were fascinated by the Nile, the pyramids and Mount Sinai. Those who dared to cross the Sinai desert to reach Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other Palestinian towns were allowed to do so.

Accordingly, only one year after the invention of photography in 1839, cameras were introduced into Jerusalem. Heavy demand for photographs led to the opening of a number of photographic shops in the historic city; particularly following advances in film developing chemicals in 1871. The appearance of newspapers in the early 20th century reduced demand for photographs but boosted demand for postcards, using what is today called photoshop technology , as many of these postcards carried ready-made photos not intended for the lively, spontaneous documentation seen in this album.

The sections are headed: Jerusalem Panorama; Al-Aqsa Mosque; The City and its People; Holy Places; The City s History as Related by its Gates and Streets; Streets of Jerusalem; Professional Chapters and Human Faces in Ottoman Jerusalem; Kaiser Wilhelm II s Visit to Jerusalem; Ottoman Soldiers in Defence of the City. In addition, there is a colour photograph section and a Special Photographs section.

Prophet Zachariah s tomb:

The historic pyramid-shaped tomb of Prophet Zachariah is located in Wadi Aljouz between Zeitoun mountain and old Jerusalem, the area round which has not changed much. On the plateau top stands Almaqasid hospital behind the Russian Orthodox St. Mary Magdalene Church.

Two documents:

Before browsing through the photo album, let s have a look at two documents: The first, written in 1911, permits Muhammad Effendi Abdul Salam to build a house on a third of the land he owns, the rest being a green space. (This area is beyond the city walls). The second, dating back to 1874, affirms land in Jerusalem is the property of the Ottoman Empire which was keen to maintain its demographic structure, which posed a problem for the Jews who came from Europe to buy the city s land.

Al-Aqsa Mosque:

From the outside, where the Rock of the Dome is seen from the north-western courtyard. The gate carries the name The Heaven Gate . The Night Journey dome is to the right. Inside the mosque there are Lebanese ebony decorations with white frame designs. The wooden ceiling which joins the porticoes today has blue, green and gold decorations following the latest reconstruction, the old ceiling has lost its most Ottoman shape and looks like the core of the Dome.

A sacred school:

The calendar which Christian visitors to Palestine follow includes fourteen stations representing the stages of the life of Jesus Christ (p.b.u.h.). One of these stations was turned into a primary school visited by Christian pilgrims and even on Fridays to perform their rituals, as seen in this photo which dates back to 1905.

Celebrations Pray for water:

In the Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard, where running water supply was provided, and on 27 November 1901, Jerusalem s judge and mufti stood with the Ottoman governor of the city and foreign residents, including British architect Conrad Chick, who recorded in his diary a prayer for water led by Sheikh Yusuf Effendi (with a white beard; fourth to the right). The military band struck in.

A bride on horseback:

The camel which used to carry the bride s howdah to her marital house has been replaced over the ages with the horse, while the sword carried by the bride on horseback remained. The photo taken a century ago does not identify the place, but it is definitely on the road to Jerusalem.

Architectural designs ... and stone arches:

During the Ottoman era, Jerusalem s houses were joined with stone arches to support them, which helped foster human relations among neighbours.

Covered streets:

A covered, step street in Jerusalem, linking the city s main streets divided into three sections. At the top of this street there is Alwaad Street with Khan Alzait Street at the other end. In the background at the far left, the entrance to Lady Tunshuq s palace is seen. The palace became government property after the Ottoman invasion.

Shops and sellers:

This road which stretches north from Damascus Gate to Alwaad Street shows daily life and the food sold by street vendors and in shops in Jerusalem during the last fifteen years of Ottoman rule, over a century ago. Christian and Jewish pilgrim caravans passed through this road on their way to the Wailing Wall.

A café and a gramaphone: Drink Marghoub :

a sign above the gramophone in the centre of the photo of a popular café in Jerusalem (taken between 1900 and 1920). The hookah smoker enjoys listening to the vinyl records and changes them.

The library: Contains Great Books :

The motto placed above Khaldiya library s signboard on David Street. At the library s gate stand elderly persons and researchers whose features show that they were strangers to the city. The picture was taken between 1889 and 1914.

A library and researchers:

Inside the library, which is the property of the Khaldi family, stand and sit visitors to the Jerusalem Library, as the paper sign on the book shelves says.

Bedouin faces; old warrior:

A Bedouin with a useless belt of bullets, as the photo caption says he had become accustomed to urban life.

A fashion show:

Four Bedouins probably in or around Jerusalem. The photographer chose this position to show their clothes. The photo is among the colour collection, perhaps to be used as a postcard.

Corn millers:

Photographs of women in Jerusalem always showed them doing household duties. Pictured are two corn millers using a stone mill, and a young man sorting the grain.

Milk sellers:

These two women could have been seen in Jerusalem s markets bringing milk from a pasture or from the cattle market which was near Sulaiman pond, west of the city walls which was used until 1914.

The Kaiser, the police station and the soldiers; the Kaiser s visit to the city:

Kaiser Vilhelm II of Germany visited Jerusalem from 26 October to 4 November 1898. It was a historic visit which enhanced the image of the Ottoman Empire and in the meantime warned European countries of the new German alliance. Tawfiq Pasha was the governor of Jerusalem. His wife, painter Najia Nayal, hosted the Kaiser s wife. The governor and his wife recorded that visit in detail in their diaries. Pictured is the Kaiser s motorcade gliding by under a specially built triumphal arch carrying the Ottoman and German flags.

The prison courtyard in Jerusalem:

Prisoners sitting, some reading while shackled, surrounded by prison staff.

The war hour:

The moment the Ottoman army moved from Wadi Aljouz to the east of the old city during the First World War. The soldiers were followed by civilians and Alsalhiya religious school students led by the city s mufti.

The right of return to Jerusalem:

That was a visual return to Jerusalem. However, it hides the real desire to return of those who left or were expelled from it. When will the homes, land and antiquities breathe the air of freedom to give their visitors the smell of the place which its people filled with liveliness and joy? The photographs may not be able to afford more than just a glimpse, but they give such minute details that form the mosaic of a city which is awaiting the right of return for its people.

(Translated by Dr Shaaban Afifi)


Ashraf Abul-Yazid


Prophet Zachariah’s tomb

Two documents

Al-Aqsa Mosque

Al-Aqsa Mosque

A sacred school

Celebrations – Pray for water

A bride on horseback

Architectural designs ... and stone arches

Covered streets

Shops and sellers

A café and a gramaphone: "Drink Marghoub”

The library: "Contains Great Books”

A library and researchers

Bedouin faces; old warrior

A fashion show

Corn millers

Milk sellers

The Kaiser, the police station and the soldiers; the Kaiser’s visit to the city

The prison courtyard in Jerusalem

The war hour

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