Fabricating a Massacre: the Evacuation of Jaffa in 1917

By Roberto Mazza
Submitted to Session Individual Submission, 2016 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In April 1917, Cemal Pasha Governor of Syria and Commander of the 4th Ottoman Army, following rumors of an impending invasion of Jaffa by Entente forces, ordered the evacuation of the city. In the morning of 6 April 1917 the Jewish population of Jaffa abandoned the city and moved to Petach Tikva, Jerusalem or north, to the Jewish colonies in Galilee. The Arab population of the city, on the other hand, hid in the surrounding or moved in small groups to other Palestinian towns. Traditional historiography has used this example in order to show the anti-Zionist position of Cemal Pasha and the Ottoman government at large. The evacuation of the city was then recounted as a forced expulsion which ended with the massacre of hundreds of Jews. Modern day bloggers even compared this event with the Armenian Genocide. The fact is that this historiography often relied on sources that in time proved to be biased or in fact exaggerated if not completely fabricated. Despite some sources point out the different nature of the events – highlighting also the misery of the Arabs – and exposed fabrication and exaggeration, it seems that some scholars purposely or accidentally neglected this material.
This paper will show how espionage on the part of the NILI Jewish spy-ring was translated into propaganda by British officials. Based on a variety of sources, including the records of the NILI spy ring, this paper will show how the evacuation of Jaffa was turned into a massacre through the fabrication of events that never occurred, or the exaggeration of incidents with the purpose to influence the British and the general war-time public opinion in favor of the Jews. It will be demonstrated that narratives of forced mobility and violence produced in the aftermaths of the events followed political claims at the expenses of the historical reconstruction, diminishing the suffering of one group – the Arabs – and manipulating the vulnerability of the other group – the Jews – as a matter of propaganda.