Photo Credit: James McBey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Allies Entering Jerusalem, 11th December 1917. General Allenby

As Jews walk the streets of Jerusalem today, one cannot be but amazed at the stark contrast between the Israel they encounter today and the one confronted by William Tanner Young, as he began his work as British Vice-Consul in 1838.  

Until World War I broke out in 1914, the British consulate in Jerusalem served as the place where every Jew in Palestine, no matter their nationality, could receive advice and protection observed Abrahman M. Hyamson, editor of The Zionist Review. When Young (1838-1841 and consul from 1841-1845), began as Vice-Consul, his first dispatch instructed him to protect the Jews in Palestine and report on their present condition. [1] 


Protestant missionaries in Palestine, also protected by the British, made common cause with the Jews as they were passionate believers in the “restoration of the Jews” to the Holy Land noted German historian Alexander Schölch. Restoration gained worldwide interest in the 19th century as Protestants from around the world-initiated projects to bring Jews to Palestine. Rather than convert the Jews, they sought to repatriate them to Palestine, which they believed would hasten the return of the Messiah. This movement further strengthened the bond between the British and Palestine. [2]  

In a May 25, 1839 letter to Viscount Palmerston, British State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Young, explained the situation of the Jews in the city. Although they enjoy “more peace and tranquility,” than ever before, “scarcely a day passes,” that he does not hear “of some act of tyranny and oppression against a Jew—chiefly by [Turkish] soldiers, who enter their Houses and borrow whatever they require without asking any permission—sometimes they return the article, but more frequently not.” [3]  

Young described the behavior of the Turkish Governor toward the Jews as “savage” after hearing an account of how his punishment of an innocent Jew led to the Jew’s death. He thought the governor was “superior to such wanton inhumanity—but it was a Jew without friends or protection…” [4]  

In Stirring Times: Or Records from Jerusalem Consular Chronicles of 1853 to 1856, James Finn, the British Consul in Jerusalem, observed how local Muslims forced Jews to pay taxes to enable them to pray at their holy sites. For the privilege of praying at the Western Wall, for example, Jews had to provide a yearly payment to the Effendi, whose house was next to the Wall; the villagers of Siloam were paid a stipend for not vandalizing the graves on the slopes of the Mount of Olives; the Ta’amra Arabs were bribed so they would not damage Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem; and Sheikh Abu Gosh received money each year for “not molesting” travelers on the road to Jaffa, even though he received a significant sum yearly from the Turkish government as “Warden of the road.” [5]  

With regard to Christians, Young reported that…If a Jew…were to attempt to pass the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it would in all probability cost him his life—this is not very Christian like, considering Christ Himself was a Jew. And were a Jew to fly for safety, he would seek it sooner in a Mussulman’s house than in that of a Christian….In other words, the prejudice of Christians against Jews borders on fanaticism.” [6]  

Young added “What the Jew has to endure, at all hands, is not to be told. Like the miserable dog without an owner he is kicked by one because he crosses his path, and cuffed by another because he cried out—to seek redress he is afraid, lest it bring worse upon him; he thinks it better to endure than to live in the expectation of his complaint being revenged upon him. Brought up from infancy to look upon his civil disabilities everywhere as a mark of degradation, his heart becomes the cradle of fear and suspicion—he finds he is trusted by none—and therefore he lives himself without confidence in any.”[7]  

“Until the English Consulate was established in Jerusalem,” asserted James Finn, “there was no other jurisprudence in the country than that of the old-fashioned corruption and self-will of the Mohammedans, and for many ages but very few (often none) of the European Jews ventured to make an abode in Palestine.” [8]  

The relationship between the local churches and the Jews was described by H.H. Jessup, a leading personality in the American Presbyterian church in Beirut: 

“They are hated intensely by all sects, but more especially by the Greeks and the Latins. In the gradations of Oriental cursing, it is tolerably reasonable to call a man a donkey, somewhat more severe to call him a dog, contemptuous to call him a swine, but withering to the last degree to call him a Jew. The animosity of the nominal Christian sects against the Jews is most relentless and unreasoning.” [9]  

Historian Neville J. Mandel found that local Christian attitudes toward Jews provided fertile ground for European antisemitism. The Russian Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, which began operating in 1882, barred Jews from their medical clinics, reflecting the negative views of the Tsarist government in Russia. All other segments of the local population were admitted. [10]  

Another source of anti-Jewish sentiment emanated from members of the consular corps, Mandel asserted, especially those from the Austrian and Russian Consulates. Economic competition concerned the Deutsches Palastina Bank, Credit Lyonnais and other foreign banks and merchants. The thousand or so Protestants (“Templars”) from Germany who lived in Palestine shared this fear and the possibility that they might be included in the restraints placed on the Jews. In 1890, Jerusalem already had a German antisemitic club. [11]  

In 1897, Père Henri Lammens, a Belgium scholar who taught at the Jesuit University in Beirut, wrote an article entitled “Zionism and the Jewish Colonies,” in the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist Jesuit journal Etudes. Lammens described the Jews of Jerusalem as easily “recognizable…by their repulsive grubbiness and above all that famous Semitic nose, which is not, like the Greek nose, a pure myth.” [12]  


[1] A.M. Hyamson, Palestine Under The Mandate (London: Methuen and Company, Ltd., 1950), 6. 

[2] Ibid, 7-8; Isiah Friedman, “Lord Palmerston and the Protection of Jews in Palestine 1839-1851,” Jewish Social Studies, Volume 30, Number. 1 24-25. 

[3] William T. Young to Viscount Palmerston, Jerusalem, (25 May, 1839): British Foreign Office Archives F.O. 78/368 (British Foreign Office Archives); James Finn to the Earl of Clarendon, F.O.78/962 (19, July, 1853); James Finn to Lord Stratford De Redcliffe, F.O.195/369 (13 October 1853). 

[4] William T. Young to Viscount Palmerston, Jerusalem, (25 May, 1839): F.O. 78/368, op. cit. 

[5] James Finn, Stirring Times, Or, Records from Jerusalem Consular Chronicles of 1853 to 1856,Volume I, Originally Published, London: C. Kegan Paul & Co, 1878), 118 -119. 

[6] William T. Young to Viscount Palmerston, Jerusalem, (25 May, 1839), F.O. 78/368). In other words, “the prejudice of the Christian against the Jew in Jerusalem amounts to fanaticism….;” William T. Young to Colonel Patrick Campbell, F.O.78/368 (19 April, 1839); On Easter Day 1848, a Jew was recognized in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and was almost beaten to death by members of the Christian community who had come to pray. James Finn to Viscount Palmerston, F.O. 78/755 (27 April 1848); James Finn to Viscount Palmerston, F.O. 78/755 (2 May 1848). 

[7] Young to Viscount Palmerston, Jerusalem, (25 May, 1839), op. cit.; Claude Reignier Condor, Tent Work in Palestine: A Record of Discovery and Adventure, vol. 1, (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1878): 338-339; James Finn to Earl of Malmesbury, F.O. 195/604 (8 November, 1858). 

[8] James Finn, Stirring Times, Volume I, op. cit., 105-106. Throughout Finn’s 17 years in Palestine, his “singular” and “unsurpassed” efforts to protect the Jews were prompted not only by his feelings towards them, but by his appreciation that this community had “a germ of development for future time,” Isaiah Friedman, “Lord Palmerston and the Protection of Jews in Palestine 1839-1851,” Jewish Social Studies, Volume 30, Number. 1, (January 1968): 38.) 

[9] Tudor Parfitt, The Jews in Palestine (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press for the Royal Historical Society, 1987), 195-196,198. 

[10] Neville J. Mandel, The Arabs and Zionism Before World War I (Berkeley, California: University of California Press), 54; Derek Hopwood, The Russian Presence In Syria and Palestine 1843-1914 (New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, 1969): 117-118.) 

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Ibid.53. 


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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.