A Microhistory of Jewish-Arab Conflict in Late Ottoman Palestine

By Liora R. Halperin
Submitted to Session P3787 (Microhistories of Palestine, 2014 Annual Meeting
Israel; Palestine;
19th-21st Centuries; Arab-Israeli Conflict; Historiography; Israel Studies; Middle East/Near East Studies; Zionism;
On September 23, 1902, a colonist in Rishon LeZion named Yaakov Abramovich was killed by a Christian Arab from Jaffa named Alfred Rok. The unpremeditated consequence of a petty quarrel, this was the first murder to take place in the then twenty-year-old colony and it forced the small collective of Ashkenzi Jewish immigrants, under the tutelage of the Paris-based Jewish Colonization Association, to navigate the unfamiliar field of Ottoman law and Palestinian custom in determining the appropriate course of action to take.

Most accounts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict mark 1908’s Young Turk Revolt or 1917’s Balfour Declaration as starting points and characterize the early years of Zionist settlement as relatively conflict-free. What in fact was the significance of these rare early violent incidents in the unfolding history of the Zionist movement, both at the time, and in retrospect.

This paper, part of a larger microhistory of this murder case and its afterlives, looks at contemporaneous newspaper coverage of the event and the internal protocols of Rishon between 1902 and 1908 to understand the aftermath and significance of the murder in the context of its own times, using this incident to understand how the Yishuv of the first Aliyah understood and negotiated its position relative to the Ottoman authorities, the Palestinian nobility, the local fallahin, the French philanthropic organization which controlled its finances, and the Sephardi community of Palestine. In tracing these networks, this paper seeks to reread the history of the early Zionist colonies in reference to the economic and interpersonal networks that defined the Jaffa district.