Palestinian Massacre of Jews at Safed (1834)

Figure 1.--

A historical question of some modern relevamce is how the Jewish and Arab population coexisted in Palestine before the advent of European Zionism and settlement in Palestine. One hears constantly that before the appearance of Zionism in the late 19th century that the two peoples lived together peacefully. For most of modern times until the area with its majority Arab population was governed by the Ottoman Turks. Ottoman law generally protected the Jews and other minority peoples. An Arab revolt led by the Egyptians gained control of Palestine and other areas of the Levant (1830s). During that period, Palestine Arabs conducted a dreadful massacre of the Jews in Safed (1834). It is notable that the Palestinian pogrom occurred during the period that the Palestinians had thrown off Ottoman rule.

Jews in Palestine

We do not have a lot of information on Jews in Palestine before the advent of Zionism in the late-19th century. There were small Jewish communities in Safed, Tiberias and Jerusalem. Palestinian sources maintain that the Palestinian majority lived peacefully with these Jews. Jewish sources maintain that these communities were subjected to routine prejudice and persecution. And this persecution was periodically punctuated with attacks of verying severity, some rising to the level of pograms.

Egyptian/Arab Revolt (1831-40)

The Ottomans comquered the Levant (1516) and turned Egypt into a sattelite state (1517). As Ottoman power began to decline, Egypt was able to exert an increasing degree of indeoendence. Mehemet/Muhammad Ali was nominally the Ottoman Govenor of Egypt, but by 1830 was essentially an independent ruler. He seized Palestine from the Ottomans. This was a period in which the Ottomons were struggling to retain control of Greece and called on Muhammad Ali for military assistance aginst the Greeks. Mehemet Ali's son Ibrahim Pasha leading Egyptian troops took Acre (1831). The local Palestinian population in turn reolted against Mehemet Ali (1834). Ottomon authorities generally protected minority groups throughout the Empire. With Ottomon control thrown off, Palestinian Arabs apparently targeted the Jewish minority. Muhammad Ali to build his army attempted to conscript the Muslimm Palestinians. The Palestinians, however, resisted service in Muhammad's army. Kassam Lakhama in Nablus called for a Palestinian revolt. They were joined by peasants (fellahin) in the surronding villages. They marched on Jerusalem and seized it (May 31). Rioters began attacking Christians and Jews, but the rebel commander ordered that stopped. Ibrahim Pasha, with a substantial force reached Jerusalem (June 3) and the rebels fled. The Jews at Safed were not so lucky. The Palestinians attacked the Jews there. This appears to have been a dresful pogrom. After considerableturmoil, the Ottomans regained control of Palestine from the Egyptians (1840).

Safed /Tzfat (1834)

Safed /Tzfat was a town in the Eastern Galilee. The Jewish community of Safed was estimated at 2,000-4,000 people. [Kinglake] The Palestinian Arabs in the area appear to have taken advantage of the breakdown in Otooman authority as aresult of the fighting between Ottomon and Egyptian forces. This provide an opportunity to attack the local Jews ans steal their property. The principal inciter was a self-proclaimed prophet named of Muhammed Damoor. [Kinglake] Palestinians beat Jews in the streets. Many Jews werar beaten to death. The Palestinians also attacked synagogues destroying both the buildings and the holy books. The entire Jewish community was forced to flee and hide in themountains and caves, ruins, and whereever else the could evade the Palestinians. Some Arabs hid the Jews, especially the people in Ein Zeitim, a nearby village. There were also some Muslims and Christans Safed sheltered Jews. There were also individuals who offered to hide Jews for money and then turned them over to the mobs. Some of those who attacked the Jews were neigbors and business associates. The massacre of Jews at Safed is sometimes explained as the work of "bandits", but there seems no real basis for this assessment. The attacks went on for 33 days from June 15 to July 17, 1834. There does not appear to have been a political agenda. The Jewish community had no political power and was unarmed. The purpose appears primarily to despoil the Jews of their wealth. One of the few available contemporary accounts come from a traveller. He writes, " ... the Jews of the place, who were exceedingly wealthy, had lived peaceably in their retirement until the insurrection which took place in 1834, but about the beginning of that year a highly religious Mussulman called Mohammed Damoor went forth into the market-place, crying with a loud voice, and prophesying that on the fifteenth of the following June the true Believers would rise up in just wrath against the Jews, and despoil them of their gold and their silver and their jewels. ...When that day dawned the whole Mussulman population of the place assembled in the streets that they might see the result of the prophecy. Suddenly Mohammed Damoor rushed furious into the crowd, and the fierce shout of the prophet soon ensured the fulfilment of his prophecy. Some of the Jews fled and some remained, but they who fled and they who remained, alike, and unresistingly, left their property to the hands of the spoilers. The most odious of all outrages, that of searching the women for the base purpose of discovering such things as gold and silver concealed about their persons, was perpetrated without shame. The poor Jews were so stricken with terror, that they submitted to their fate even where resistance would have been easy...When the insurrection was put down some of the Mussulmans (most probably those who had got no spoil wherewith they might buy immunity) were punished, but the greater part of them escaped. None of the booty was restored, and the pecuniary redress which the Pasha had undertaken to enforce for them had been hitherto so carefully delayed, that the hope of ever obtaining it had grown very faint." [Kinglake]


Kinglake, Alexander William. "Kinglake on the Safed Massacre".

Rivlin, Eliezer. The Safed Massacre Haaretz (1934). Translated by Ami Isseroff. This article was based on contemporary Jewish sources.


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Created: 10:35 AM 3/26/2007
Last updated: 10:35 AM 3/26/2007