Churches at War: The Impact of the First World War on the Christian Institutions of Jerusalem, 1914-20

Roberto Mazza. Middle Eastern Studies. Volume 45, Issue 2. 2009.

In 1914, the Christian churches of Jerusalem were an integral part of the social, political and religious landscape of the city. However, from the very beginning of the Christian era, Christianity was divided. In the fourth century the Roman Emperor with the edict of 313 gave legal recognition to the faith, moved the imperial capital from Rome to Byzantium and called the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea to elaborate the details of the faith.  As Christianity was declared legal, contest for the control of the Holy Places began and Jerusalem being the place where Jesus lived and died was granted a special status by the first Christian communities. After the Council of Chalcedon in 451, five major Episcopal Sees had been recognized as having a priority status and among these was Jerusalem. Political and doctrinal struggles between Rome and Constantinople (the new name of Byzantium) became rife in the following centuries, ending with the schism of 1054. Jerusalem, which in the seventh century had fallen under Muslim rule, carried on with the eastern tradition. The Patriarchate, despite being under Muslim rule, endeavoured to secure the highest degree of autonomy from the Muslim governments in order to control the Holy Places and avoid interference in the internal affairs of the community.

Since the schism of 1054 the Catholic Church in Jerusalem separated from that of the Greek Orthodox, especially after the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099. The Catholic Church began to implement policies of ‘Latinization’ of the local church, damaging the Eastern (Greek speaking) churches. Most of their clergy were banned from the Holy Sepulchre and other places, and the Greek Patriarchs of Jerusalem were exiled to Cyprus in 1291 after Acre was lost to the Muslim armies. It seems, however, that the local population, Greek as well as Latin, accepted the authority of the new Patriarchate.

From 1187, when the Muslim military commander Salah al-Din re-conquered the city, Christians and Jews were granted the status of dhimmi: protected people as ahl al-kitab (people of the book). Islam established the legal superiority of Muslims over dhimmi but granted privileges of protection over non-Muslim subjects. As long as Christians accepted Muslim rule, they were allowed to practise their religion and to control matters regulating personal status but were limited in their expressions of religiosity in the public arena. Salah al-Din ruled that the Greek Patriarch would represent all Christians in Jerusalem. Restrictions were imposed on the display of Christian symbols such as the Cross, and very strict laws regulated the construction and restoration of churches. Christians were also excluded from military service, not allowed to carry weapons, and required to pay a special tax. These limitations established their legal and social inferiority in Jerusalem as well as across the Dar al-Islam. The Latin Patriarchate moved to St. John of Acre until 1291 when the Crusaders were expelled from the city by the new Muslim power: the Mamluks. In this period the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem became very close to Constantinople and to the Byzantine tradition. When the city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem began to suffer and became destitute. As the Mamluk government was no longer able to rule Palestine the area was occupied by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I in 1517.

Under Ottoman rule Christians remained second class citizens, but their condition improved considerably. The Ottomans consolidated the status of dhimmi through the establishment of the millet system, a semi-independent religious organization for ahl al-kitab communities, which granted legal recognition to these particular religious communities throughout the empire. Initially only four millets were recognized: the Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish. The Catholics were nominally part of the Greek Orthodox millet. Rapidly, the Christian millets increased in number due to the pressure of the religious authorities and of the various European countries. Each community was responsible for the allocation and collection of taxes, for the educational system and for religious matters. The millet organization applied only to Ottoman subjects as foreigners were under the jurisdiction of the capitulations from the sixteenth century. The millet system itself lasted until the end of Ottoman rule, although it underwent considerable transformation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a result of the Tanzimat reforms, the influence of the Young Turks rule and the Balkan Wars.

After the Latin Patriarchate had moved, first to Cyprus and then to Rome in 1374, it was only with the Franciscans that the Catholics recovered a foothold in Jerusalem. Although the history of the custody of the Holy Land will be discussed in more detail below, it is important to emphasize that it was the establishment of the Provincia di Terra Santa (Province of the Holy Land) in the first General Chapter in 1217 and the visit to part of the Holy Land, though not Jerusalem, by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1219 that slowly re-opened the doors of the city to the Latins. The Franciscan apostolate replaced the military expeditions. With the Bulls ‘Gratias Agimus’ and ‘Nuper Charissimae’ in 1342 Pope Clement VI granted the Franciscans the guardianship of the Holy Places. The Franciscan institution became known as the ‘Custody of the Holy Land’, led by a Custodian called ‘Custos’.

By 1912, the 15,000 Christians who lived in Jerusalem belonged to the following denominations: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Greek Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Anglican and Protestant. However, the size of the city’s Christian communities did not determine their political and religious influence; rather, it was the degree of control exercised by their clergy and the European Powers over the Holy Places which determined their importance. The Copts, for instance, were a very small group, but held the right to display hanging lamps in the Holy Sepulchre, at least from the sixteenth century. The possession of a small chapel behind the aedicule from the thirteenth century and the right to organize a procession on Good Friday in the church also fell under their control; all this gave them a status never achieved by the larger Anglican community, which still does not enjoy such rights.

The Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics represented the largest and more powerful Christian communities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Armenian Church grew in importance during the war as a result of the fierce conflict between Ottomans and Armenians, culminating in massacres and forced deportation of Armenians throughout the Empire. The following sections will discuss the historical background of the Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian churches in order to highlight the relations between the Patriarchs and the Ottoman administration on the one hand, and between the churches and their European protectors on the other. It also focuses on the competition over the control of the Holy Places and the influence of the clergy over the urban population.

At the beginning of Ottoman rule the authorities of Jerusalem supported the Orthodox Church against the Latins who were identified with the European powers. In the seventeenth century the Ottoman Sultans also restored some possessions and rights to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate which had been given to the Catholics by local authorities. In 1605 Sultan Ahmet I issued a firman giving the Greek Orthodox Church control over the northern part of the Calvary in the Holy Sepulchre and another firman of 1637 issued by Sultan Murad IV gave it possession of the Stone of Unction and the whole of Calvary. At the same time, however, the residence of the Patriarch was moved from Jerusalem to Istanbul consolidating the tight links between the Patriarchate and the Ottoman state. The appointment of the Patriarch of Jerusalem was decided by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople; the latter was dependent on the Ottomans.

The Ottoman administration was inclined to play the Orthodox and Catholic churches against one another, according to the interests of the Ottomans and also to the pressures from the European powers. Following the Ottoman occupation of Jerusalem, the Catholics looked to support from Venice, Genoa, Austria and, eventually, France, which emerged as the protector of Catholic interests in the sixteenth century, following the stipulation of capitulations. For much of its long history the Greek Orthodox Church was not under the influence of the European powers, but from the early eighteenth century Russia strove to become the protector of the Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman Sultan.

After the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, signed in July 1774 and marking the end of the Russo-Turkish war (1768-74), Russia accomplished its goal. In 1845 a Russian protégé, Cyril, was elected Patriarch of Jerusalem, sealing the entry of Russia in the religious politics of Jerusalem. This coincided with the return of Jerusalem on the European stage: in 1847 Pope Pious IX re-established the Latin Patriarchate in the city while the first Protestant missions started to operate in Palestine with the establishment of the joint Anglican-Protestant Bishopric in 1841. Following these events the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, resident in Istanbul, was forced to move back to Jerusalem in the mid-nineteenth century following Russian pressure. At the end of the nineteenth century a conflict between the Arab laity and the Greek hierarchy became apparent, eventually exploding violently with the deposition of the Patriarch Cyril in 1872 by intrigues of the Russians that caused the stirring up of the local Orthodox Arab laity.

The history of the Catholics in Jerusalem was linked to the politics of the European powers much more consistently than that of the Orthodox Church. The capitulations—commercial treaties between the European powers and the Ottomans which were first signed in 1536 with France—granted privileges to foreign traders and diplomats but did not cover religious affairs. Yet the European governments took advantage of these treaties in order to intervene in religious issues. The capitulations gave the French government a moral duty to intervene and protect the Latins, particularly the Franciscans. Furthermore, following the Ottoman conquest of Palestine in the sixteenth century the question of the control and possession of Holy Places became an international question. The Franciscans, the only Catholic representatives in the city, were not only a monastic order, but a political actor. As Franciscan friars came from various European countries they could appeal to their own governments, thus projecting the Custody of the Holy Land and the order onto the international stage.

Catholics in Jerusalem competed with the other denominations for control of the Holy Places. However, unlike the Orthodox Church, they did not experience any substantial internecine and apparent internal struggle in the nineteenth century. While the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem was controlled by the Greek clergy, Ottoman authorities and Russian diplomats, the Catholic Church was paradoxically freer from any direct interference. In fact, despite the attempts on the part of European governments at controlling the Custody, the Franciscans managed to maintain a good balance. Catholics were generally not regarded as a local community but mainly as a foreign enclave, despite their use of the Arabic language.

From the mid-nineteenth century until the outbreak of First World War several Catholic institutions established various seminaries, convents, hospices, schools, orphanages and also small factories throughout Palestine in an attempt to establish stronger control over the Holy Land. A good example is provided by the establishment of the massive building known as Notre Dame de France in the late 1880s. These institutions were particularly active in promoting pilgrimages, as they were great source of income. Like all other churches, Catholic institutions survived thanks to contributions from European countries and America. The Custody of the Holy Land, through commissariats (local branches), spread throughout the world and was able to collect the money to support its activities. Catholic institutions also ran charitable activities for the poor, and towards the end of the Ottoman era were the richest in Jerusalem. This situation was to change with the outbreak of the First World War, as will be explained below.

After the Ottoman conquest of Armenia in the sixteenth century, relations between the Armenians and Ottomans were strained. The Ottoman government forced all the high echelons of the clergy residing in Armenia to be under the control of the newly established Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul). The Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, established in the fifth century, eventually accepted the authority of Istanbul. The Armenian laity of Jerusalem never exceeded 1,000 people under Ottoman rule. Following the clashes between the Ottoman army and the Armenians in east Anatolia at the end of the nineteenth century, their number rose as Armenian refugees arrived in Palestine, many taking permanent residence in the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem. In the city, the relationship between Armenians and the Ottoman establishment was relatively peaceful. Both represented a small minority of the population and to the Ottomans as well to the Arabs the Armenians did not represent a major threat. Even in 1915, when the Turkish army came into direct conflict with the Armenians living in north and north-east Anatolia, it seems that the communities of Jerusalem were not subject to persecution and physical threats.

The position of Christianity in Jerusalem was defined by the capitulations—which were treaties between the Ottoman Empire and the European countries—and the Status Quo: a set of rules which regulated the ownership, control and management of the Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem.

As mentioned earlier, the capitulations were bilateral treaties between sovereign states, but also unilateral concessions granted to groups of merchants. Known in Turkish as ahdname or imtiyazat, the capitulations had precursors in the early Muslim tradition to the Fatimid and Mamluk governments. The first capitulations were mainly commercial agreements which allowed Italian and then French citizens the right of residence and trade in the Ottoman Empire, allowing them to enjoy rights of extra-territorial jurisdiction in the Empire.

After the French signed capitulary treaties other European countries followed suit. In the sixteenth century the Ottomans granted England and Holland capitulary rights; in the eighteenth century, capitulations were also granted to Austria, Sweden and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The capitulary regime initially favoured the Ottomans, but became increasingly disadvantageous as it was exploited by the European powers. The capitulations originally granted the Ottomans an opportunity to share the benefits of world trade in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with Florence, Genoa, Venice, the Netherlands, France and England. They also allowed European countries to maintain consular posts in Ottoman territories, although the same right was not granted to the Ottomans, who only started to establish representatives in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. The rise of a stronger Europe from the fifteenth century coincided with the beginning of the decline of Ottoman Empire, and the capitulations mirrored this situation in the nineteenth century when the capitulary regime became the most important instrument of European economic and political penetration in the Empire.

In Jerusalem, the regime affected the foreign communities living in the city, mainly in the religious sphere. As of the mid-nineteenth century, as the Europeans renewed their interest in the Holy Land the British government opened the first consulate in Jerusalem in 1838 during the rule of Muhammad ‘Ali. It was the beginning of the arrival of a considerable number of European and American citizens. They were not simply Christian pilgrims, as they planned to settle in the city and work as physicians, teachers and businessmen. Under the protection of the capitulations and of the foreign consulates, educational and health institutions were built by European entrepreneurs and governments. The capitulations granted Europeans substantial cuts in tax and custom duties, as well as rights of extraterritoriality.

Capitulations were considered by locals as a restrictive measure and an interference of foreigners in several areas. By late 1914 services in Jerusalem like post offices and higher education were in the hands of the Europeans, who promoted their own interests. In summer 1914 the Ottoman government exploited the outbreak of the war in Europe to abolish the capitulatory system throughout the empire. In September 1914 the Ottoman Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent to the foreign embassies of Istanbul a note stating that the capitulations were going to be abolished from 1 October. In Jerusalem Macid Şevket, the Governor of the city, wrote to the foreign consuls informing them of the closure of the foreign post offices, which was tantamount to the abolition of the most visible capitulary privileges.

The Imperial order abolishing the capitulations was read to the people of Jerusalem in an official ceremony held in the garden of the municipality. After the Governor read the document, Said al-Husayni, a local member of the Ottoman parliament, delivered a speech on the value of this measure but also invited the crowd to show respect for the foreigners. As elsewhere in the empire, the abrogation of the capitulations was hailed as the beginning of a new era. Religious orders, foreign clergy and laity had to deal with this new situation without relying on any foreign help. Among the Christians, panic spread rapidly as demonstrations against the Europeans started to be staged throughout the city. During the mobilization for war, Ottomans occupied schools and hospitals previously under the protection of the European governments.

The so-called ‘Status Quo’ of the Christian Holy Places was the result of treaties and customary practices which regulated the right of control and access to the Christian places of worship in Jerusalem, and more generally in the Holy Land, between the various Christian churches. These rights reflected both the divisions between the churches and the external support granted to them by the European powers. The Status Quo was progressively settled by the issue of several documents during Mamluk rule and of firmans in the Ottoman times, the last promulgated in 1852 which confirmed the state of affairs existing in 1757. The codification of these agreements into a body of official regulations was only proposed during the drafting of the charter for the British Mandate in Palestine in early 1920 and included as Article 14 which envisaged the appointment of a special commission in order to define the rights and claims on the Holy Places.

In 1852 Sultan Abdülmecid despatched a firman to the Governor of Jerusalem, Vizir Hafız Ahmet Paşa, establishing the rights of several churches in relation to the Holy Places, and it confirmed to a large extent the course of policy advocated in 1757 by Osman III. The question of the Holy Places led to a major European conflict in Crimea between Russia on the one side and Britain and the Ottoman Empire on the other. As a result of this conflict, the Status Quo received formal recognition at the Conference of Paris in 1856, later confirmed at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

When General Allenby entered Jerusalem a few decades later in December 1917 he confirmed the existing provisions in order not to change the balance between the Christian communities in favour of any particular confession. The text of the proclamation read as follows:

Since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people of these three religions for many centuries, therefore, do I make it known to you that every sacred building, monument, holy spot, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred.

The British authorities were fully aware of the complexity and instability of the balance between the Christian churches of Jerusalem and the international dimension attached to the issue. An interdepartmental commission known as the De Bunsen Committee, which was established in 1915 to discuss British policies in the Middle East, recommended that the Holy Places should be placed under international control. Mark Sykes, member of the De Bunsen Committee, was aware that the Italian and French governments would compete for the control of Catholic institutions. In November 1917 he proposed to keep the city under martial law in order to avoid direct confrontation between French and Italian diplomacy but also to give them direct control over their unmixed institutions which were Christian institutions with a clear majority of the members from a specific country. British officials were aware that the Status Quo could become a trap, a net without escape as the granting of rights to a confession was likely to trigger the objection of another church and of European states. Furthermore, in the light of the Balfour Declaration which reinforced British commitment to the Jewish cause, the British government needed as much support as possible from the Christian churches in order to counteract Arab resistance.

The process of mobilization for war began in the early summer 1914 when the Turkish authorities imposed martial law. After the abolition of the capitulations, on several occasions the Austrian and German representatives intervened on behalf of the Christians despite the fact that, as noted by the German consul Bröde, the local Catholics and possibly also other Christian denominations were pro-French.

The first Christian groups to be affected by the war were the Anglicans as they were citizens of an enemy power living on Ottoman soil. The Church Missionary Society and the London Jews Society were advised by the Foreign Office to remove their missionaries in September 1914. Also French and British Catholic clergymen were ordered to leave but the father Custos of the Custody of the Holy Land travelled to Istanbul and managed to obtain the temporary suspension of the expulsion of French and British friars. As a result, the Anglicans were the only Christian residents to abandon the city in the first stages of the war. While Ottoman officials seized Anglican buildings and possessions, members of the church moved to Egypt. The newly appointed Rev. Canon Rennie MacInnes, who succeeded Blyth as Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem in 1914 also settled in Cairo. Upon his appointment, Bishop MacInnes began work to establish a relief fund for the Holy Land. Despite being banned from Ottoman territory, the Anglicans maintained contacts in Jerusalem with Arabs converted to Anglicanism and the so-called Hebrew Christians, a group of Christians supporting Jewish immigration to the Holy Land, who supplied vital information to British intelligence. Although members of the Anglican Communion were not significant in number, they provided many services to local communities, particularly schools and hospitals. St. George’s College, where local children played cricket and football, was turned into a military camp, leaving Jerusalemite children without a popular playground.

Late in 1914 the Turkish authorities ordered that all religious orders were to abandon their convents and to gather in residences in Jerusalem where it was possible to control them more easily. The Franciscan pilgrim house and convent Casa Nova and St Saviour Convent hosted members of different religious congregations present in the city. The last Ottoman governor of Jerusalem described in these terms the situation of the Christian institutions in Jerusalem: ‘At the beginning of the war churches were respected and even sealed up, but later, as Turkish officers took possession of them, robberies of church ornaments, robes etc. began.’

The Greek Orthodox Church was particularly affected by the war. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate at the outbreak of the hostilities found itself in financial straits. The pilgrimage, which was its main source of income, halted and the Patriarch was forced to borrow increasing sums of money. During the war the Patriarchate borrowed more than 100,000 French francs from individuals and institutions including Almiso Zarfudhaki in Alexandria (a Greek Orthodox businessman), Credit Lyonnaise and the Greek and Russian governments. Russians diplomats were expelled from the city as Russia joined the war against Turkey. They did not return to Jerusalem following the Bolshevik revolution. In the meantime the Christian Orthodox population, who were mostly Ottoman subjects, had to pay a heavy exemption tax in order to avoid military service. The political crisis between the Arabs and the Greek hierarchy, which dated back to at least the nineteenth century, intensified during the conflict, as attempts made on the part the Arab laity and lower clergy to take control of the Patriarchate were counteracted by the Greek hierarchy. Because of financial constraints, Patriarch Damianos secretly sold land to the Zionists, widening the fracture with the Arab laity. The financial question left the church effectively inoperative during the three years of war. Evidence suggests that the Arab laity worked towards the protection of local interests, while the Greek upper hierarchy tried to save ecclesiastical properties from requisition by the Ottoman authorities. Although Greece remained neutral, Turkish officials began to look suspiciously at the Greeks living in Jerusalem.

Religious functions were celebrated as usual despite the distress. In April 1915, the Spanish Consul Ballobar witnessed the religious procession of the Holy Fire led by Patriarch Damianos. Ballobar noted that the procession was not as animated as in the past, because of the absence of pilgrims from outside the Empire. By 1917 the celebrations for the Greek New Year were mainly restricted to Ottoman officials and the high clergy. The laity celebrated with great sobriety given the high prices of essential foodstuffs and other goods caused by the general shortage of provisions. Financial help from Orthodox private donors and associations based in the United States came after repeated appeals from the Patriarchate through the American Consul Dr Glazebrook. The worst came in July 1917 when Greece finally joined the war against Turkey, and Russia had already been shaken by the February revolution which led to the collapse of the czarist regime: the Patriarchate of Jerusalem was left completely alone. As an institution which was under the direct control of the Ottoman authorities, the retreating Ottoman troops ordered the Patriarch to leave and left the institution itself under the control of the Greek clergy. The Latin Patriarch Monsignor Camassei shared the fate of his Greek Orthodox counterpart, as he was deported in November 1917. The Latin Patriarch appealed to the German General Von Falkenheyn but the Ottomans were determined to carry out the deportation order. Cemal Paşa himself visited Monsignor Camassei and forced him to leave for Nazareth.

Some Christian groups coped quite well during the war. They survived and offered services to their co-religionists and to the local population. Despite not being part of any ecclesiastical establishment the members of the American Colony, who were mainly Protestants, offered their services to the population regardless of religious affiliation. The American Colony raised funds from the United States and then worked to alleviate the suffering of the refugees and the wounded. The American Secretary of State in 1915 instructed Consul Glazebrook to investigate whether the American Colony was in need of funds as they operated several soup kitchens and fed more than 2,000 people every day. Early in 1917, when it became known that the United States was to join the war against Germany, German officials started a campaign against the Americans residing in Jerusalem.

When the United States declared war on Germany in April the soup kitchens ran by the American Colony were closed, leaving poor people to die from starvation and disease. Bertha Vester Spafford and her husband, the leaders of the Colony, met Cemal Paşa, the minister of the Marine and Commander of the fourth army, asking him to allow them to assist the wounded. Up to then the American Colony was the only institution which had the funds to continue charitable work. Cemal accepted the offer and put the Grand New Hotel, inside Jaffa Gate, at their disposal as a hospital. Apart from attending to the sick and wounded, members of the American Colony made sure that burial traditions were respected: Jews would not be buried by Muslims or Catholics by Greek Orthodox. As soon as the city was occupied by the British army, the Colony sought the support of the British through General Shea and 20 truckloads of food and medical supplies were sent soon after from Egypt to Jerusalem. The American Colony was soon to be involved in the ‘Syria and Palestine Relief Committee’, an Anglican institution founded by the Anglican Bishop MacInnes which was based in Cairo with the purpose to help the reconstruction of Jerusalem after the war. Considering the stringent religious and social character of the American Colony, evidence suggests that the work of the Colony has always been genuinely impartial as they worked towards the well-being of the people regardless of religion, nationality and politics, a very peculiar characteristic in Jerusalem.

Among the small Christian communities of Jerusalem was the Ethiopian Church, an ancient institution dating back to the early Christian era which claimed a small chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from at least 1172. During the war the church was handed over to Turkish officers, and one building was converted into a hospital. According to a British report written soon after the occupation of the city, the Abyssinian communities, both of Catholic and Orthodox rites, were in good conditions, relatively untouched by deportation and disease.

During the war thousands of Armenians were deported from Anatolia to Palestine because of the bloody conflict unfolding in Anatolia between Armenians and the Ottoman army. Some of them reached Palestine in conditions of extreme need. Allegedly, as a result of the friendship between Cemal Paşa and the former Armenian Patriarch Maghakia Ormanian, the Armenian residents of Jerusalem were not forced to leave Jerusalem. In 1916 when epidemics of typhus and cholera hit the city, it appears that the Armenians living close to the Church of the Holy Archangels suffered particularly badly. In the aftermath of the war about 10,000 Armenian refugees arrived in Palestine; many Armenian survivors were gradually moved to a camp in Port Said. About 4,000 were accommodated in Jerusalem.

In conclusion it is necessary to underline how Christianity was affected during the war, and how it reacted to war conditions. All churches experienced lack of provisions, deportations and requisitions. However, some of them were able to keep a public profile and others could only just cater for the basic needs of their followers. A good example of how the war affected Christian institutions is provided by the Custody of the Holy Land; traditionally the Custos was required to keep a diary, which has proved to be significant in the historical reconstruction of the war conditions in Jerusalem. The Custody of the Holy Land will be discussed as a case study below, thus providing more details on the Christian institutions during the war.

Among the Christian institutions of Jerusalem one of the most rooted in the social fabric of the city at the beginning of the twentieth century was the Catholic Custodia Terrae Sanctae (Custody of the Holy Land) belonging to the Franciscan order founded as a Franciscan Province during the thirteenth century by St. Francis of Assisi. Since its establishment the Custos was Italian, in fact membership of the council was based on nationality. In the period under discussion the Custody was administered by a Discretory composed of the Custos, one French vicar, one Spanish procurator and six members, one Italian, one French, one Spanish, one German, and after 1921 one British and one Arabic speaking member. The Custos had religious jurisdiction over the Catholics of Palestine, parts of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus and Rhodes. The Custos alongside the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and the Armenian Patriarch became responsible for the enforcement of the Status Quo regarding the Holy Places.

The Custody managed a complex relationship with the European governments. The balance in the council ruling the Custody was quite fragile as these governments attempted through its members to influence the institution. However, it was the nature of the Custody as a transnational organization which ensured its existence throughout the centuries. The Custody, as an institution under Ottoman law, was not allowed to own properties such convents, schools and other buildings. Only individual friars were allowed to own properties in their name and the choice of who should be entitled to ownership was made by the Custody according to nationality. The international character of the Custody meant that every decision was subject to international scrutiny, but during the war the Custody was left somewhat to its own devices although the Spanish and Austrian consuls did intervene in its favour. During the war Spain donated at least 60,000 francs to the Custody, whilst the central powers, mainly Austria, supported the organization financially. When the conflict broke out the Ottoman Army began to seize the buildings and properties of the Custody that were registered in the name of friars of Allied citizenship. The Vatican, concerned with the future of the Holy Land, urged Cardinal Dolci in Istanbul to explain to the Ottoman authorities that an infringement upon property rights was to be considered an act of defiance against the Vatican state which claimed ownership of these properties contrary to Ottoman provisions.

As it was customary for the Custos to keep a diary of events it is possible to study the Custody throughout the war. The diary of Friar Eutimio Castellani, the President of the Custody due to the absence of the Custos, for 1914-18 is written in the form of a chronicle and includes notes kept on a daily basis. Since the Ottoman government had entered the war, the Custody found itself isolated internationally and the main framework of action became Palestine and particularly Jerusalem. The financial situation of the Custody started to worsen as its main sources of income became unavailable. Early in September 1914 the Custody reduced the activities of its workshops, dropping the wages of its employees by 15 per cent. In November the Turkish authorities ordered religious congregations scattered around Jerusalem to gather in the city. The Franciscans hosted the men in the convent of St Saviour and the women in the Casa Nova. A few days later the police registered all names of the clergy living in the two houses. Local police visits to the convents became a common event throughout the war, often for the purpose of seizing provisions. For instance, with the winter approaching, the military requisitioned coal from the Custody and the mill, which worked for five days in order to supply the Ottoman troops in Jerusalem.

When Italy joined the war alongside the Allies the situation worsened as the Ottomans saw the Vatican as an ally of the Italian government. Although the Ottomans had seized schools, convents and hospitals as part of the process of mobilization, Cardinal Dolci obtained permission to reopen the convents in Jerusalem belonging to the Custody. However, the order from Istanbul was not followed by prompt action on the part of the local authorities in Jerusalem, and most of the convents remained closed. The few British and French missionaries among the Franciscans were ordered to leave in 1914 since they were subjects of hostile nations. The Ottoman order only concerned men; however, it also stated that ‘all nuns, the women who are not nuns and the male children below 18 years of age, who may desire, must also be sent away out of the country’. Once the ‘undesirable’ members of the Custody left, Turkish troops seized nearly all properties in the form of buildings and supplies and the process of mobilization in relation to the Custody was over.

The summer proved to be hard for the Custody as Italy joined the war against Turkey in late August and the Ottoman authorities ordered that all clerics of Italian nationality, mostly Franciscans, should leave Jerusalem. Thanks to the American and Spanish consuls and to the decisive intervention of the Austrians, they were however allowed to remain. To summarize, in 1915 the Franciscans living in the city were 72 Italians, 17 Ottoman subjects, 4 Portuguese, 31 Spanish, 13 Germans, 3 Americans, and 5 Dutch.

In 1916 the Custody suffered a tremendous blow. In April the pharmacy of St Saviour was looted and closed down and in June Turkish troops occupied St Saviour and Casa Nova which were converted into a hospital, leaving only ten rooms in the two convents for the use of friars and nuns. Although in great distress, the Custody continued to run a soup kitchen for the Jerusalemites. As the activities of the Custody were reduced drastically, the entries in the diary for 1917 also fell and mainly dealt with the news coming from outside Jerusalem. Understanding that the British army was not far from the city after the evacuation of Jaffa in March 1917 they hoped one day the British would free Jerusalem.

As soon as the city was captured by the British forces in December 1917 the Custody had to deal with Jerusalem’s internal situation and to re-establish its connections outside Palestine. One of the most urgent questions was the religious protectorate over Catholicity in the Holy Land that had been granted to France for a century. A few weeks after the British conquest the Franciscan order named Friar Ferdinando Diotallevi as the new Custos. The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Gasparri, kept the activities of the Custody under strict control, as the Vatican desired to deter the influence of Italy, Spain, France and Great Britain which were attempting to use this institution to gain more influence in Palestine.

A British report on the Custody estimated damages of £10,000. The convents Casa Nova and St Saviour did not suffer any major damage during the occupation but all furniture, table-linen and silver as well the cellars were looted. According to this report, the workshops run by the friars were not entirely destroyed as most of them were closed during the war. Once Friar Diotallevi reached Jerusalem in 1918 he wrote a report for the General of the order Friar Cimino, the former Custos before the war. He stressed once again that all properties had suffered looting but also emphasized that the Franciscans still served one daily meal to the needy. Diotallevi also reported that the Franciscans took care of both Abyssinian and Armenian Catholics.

Politically, the Custos reported that the Status Quo was maintained and confirmed in its previous terms; furthermore he stated that the voice of the Custody was not as strong as it used to be in the past. In fact the Latin Patriarch was still in the hands of the retreating Turkish troops while the Vatican was carefully monitoring the development of events in Palestine.

As soon as the war was over the Custody came to the forefront of international politics including the future of the Holy Places, the question of Zionism, the conflict with the Latin Patriarchate and other issues. Cardinal Gasparri in Rome genuinely believed that the administration of the Holy Places would be given to the Vatican. In fact he believed that an internationalization of the city looked almost impossible to achieve. Furthermore he believed that the French protectorate over the Catholics was to expire as Palestine was now in the hands of the British. To this effect the General of the Franciscan order Friar Cimino sent a telegram to the Custos Friar Diotallevi which stated: ‘Turkish domination in Palestine having ceased, the ancient French protectorate has ceased also.’ Already in early 1917 the Holy See clarified with the French authorities their intention to stop French protection if the Ottomans were to leave Palestine permanently. Officially the French protectorate over the Catholics was part of the privileges granted by the Capitulations which were officially abolished by Art 28 of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 but also by Art 8 of the Mandate for Palestine. The British military and the Foreign Office concerned with public security invited the Custody and the Vatican to raise the question. The liturgical religious honours (a set of religious privileges granted by the church to individuals) towards the French were kept alive until 1924 despite the great opposition of the Custody and that of the majority of the non-French Catholics following instructions from Gasparri. In 1926 France and the Vatican reached an agreement to the effect that liturgical honours throughout the Ottoman territories could be reinstated with the permission of local governments. This effectively marked the end of the centuries-old French protection over Catholics in Jerusalem and the region.

The activities of the Custody have rarely been studied in the local context as the international dimension of this institution has taken centre stage. The diary kept by the Custos Ferdinando Diotallevi from his appointment in 1918 to 1924 is clear evidence of the predominance of international and diplomatic issues. Looking at Diotallevi’s diary it is possible to see that there is no mention of the local community. The editor of the diary, Daniela Fabrizio, has rightly pointed out that relations with both Catholic and non-Catholic Christian institutions were the two main concerns of the Custos. One last point to underline is the apparent lack of interest on the part of the Custos Diotallevi concerning the Zionist issue unless it directly involved the Holy Places. It was the Vatican and the Latin Patriarchate that became more involved in the controversies surrounding the Zionist question.

The war had a profound ideological impact on Jerusalem’s Christian communities. It was during the war that local Arabs received rumours concerning Jewish immigration, which later turned into more consistent news. When the Balfour Declaration became public knowledge in late 1917, even though it was only published in Palestine in 1920, the attitude of local Arab Christians towards the Jews changed, as they felt threatened by Jewish immigration. Local Christian notables in Jerusalem joined their Muslim counterparts in political, cultural and literary associations which opposed Jewish immigration.

A few words must be dedicated to the socio-political elite of Jerusalem, which was composed of three groups: the Muslim religious leadership (ulama), the secular notables (a‘yan) and the commanders of the local military garrisons (aghawat). The notables of Jerusalem were both Muslim and Christian and were the cornerstone of the city’s fragmented social framework and rapidly changing demographic structure. They represented a mixed population which numbered around 15,000 Christians and 15,000 Muslims in Jerusalem at the outbreak of the war, vis-à-vis 50,000 Jews.

Muslim and Christian Arabs acknowledged the common threat represented by Zionism. Despite political differences and the division among different Christian denominations protected by European countries the anti-Zionist struggle became a crucial concern. The creation of Muslim-Christian associations was part of the development of the Palestinian national movement, which started to take shape during the last phase of Ottoman domination. It is important to stress that despite the fact that Zionism to an extent shaped the national Palestinian movement, the same movement did not emerge solely as a response to Zionism and to Jewish immigration. Khalidi argues that Palestinian identity was also the outcome of the increasing identification with the new boundaries set in the post-First World War period. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that within months after the British capture of Jerusalem, local Muslim and Christian notables began to organize their response to Zionist activities. One of the main problems of these associations was the political vision of their Muslim members concerning the future of Palestine. Despite the importance of Christianity in the social and religious life of the area, Muslims tended to stress the Islamic character of Palestine. Some local Muslim leaders prompted Palestinian Christians to convert to Islam as they viewed the faith as closely intertwined with European interests in the region and therefore corrupted. Further, the activities of these associations were affected by the rivalries between the great Arab, both Muslim and Christian, families of the city such as the Husayini, the Nashashibi and the Khalidi.

This phenomenon was not confined to Jerusalem as many committees including Arab émigrés, both Muslim and Christian, were formed around the world. One of the main purposes of these groups was to lobby British authorities and, outside Palestine, European governments, the United States and other countries. In Mexico the ‘Hijos de Palestine’, which mainly included Christians of Palestinian origin, wrote to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1919 asking the Patriarchate what right the Russian Jews had to possess Palestine. Similarly a group of about 4,000 Christian Palestinians living in Bolivia wrote to the Vatican stressing that Palestine should not be ruled by the Jewish population. Ultimately, these associations were not particularly successful in attracting international support, but they nonetheless suggest the strength of the feelings aroused globally among émigré communities by the emerging Palestinian question.

As suggested above, the Muslim-Christian associations which operated in Jerusalem did not succeed in attracting global attention. However, their constant lobbying and actions raised the issue of Palestine and Zionism and opened a serious debate among the countries with a stake in Palestine. The first official Muslim-Christian Association was formed in 1918 by the Arabs of Jaffa and Ramallah with the purpose to fight Zionism and Jewish immigration but also to oppose the British argument that Arabs in Palestine were divided along religious lines.  Some time later, similar associations were formed in Jerusalem. At least six organizations operated in the city. By 1918 the two most important associations were the Arab Club (al-Nadi al-‘Arabi) and the Literary Club (al-Muntada al-‘Arabi). By 1920 other organizations also gained relevance, such as the Association of Brotherhood and Chastity (al-Akh wa al-‘Afaf), the Arabic Association of Ladies, the Educational Club and the Arabic Association of Jerusalem. These associations were chaired by notables who were at the head of the emerging national movement. Members of the Nashashibi family for instance, chaired the Literary Club while the Husaynis chaired the Arab Club.

A Supreme Committee of the Arab Societies in Palestine was established in November 1919 in Haifa as an umbrella organization to coordinate their activities. Writing to the Government of the United States, they first made a statement of support towards the Allies, then, following the Wilson’s idea of self-determination, asked for the independence of Palestine, its territorial integrity and the prohibition of Jewish immigration. Despite the diplomatic tone of the letter sent to the American government, it is clear that these associations were eager to move from diplomacy to action if necessary as suggested by the concluding statement: ‘We hereby declare that we are not responsible for any trouble or disorder that may occur in this country as a consequence of the obvious general excitement and dissatisfaction.’ This does not necessarily mean that these associations had little control over the population; on the contrary, it suggests that the associations would be able to control people and if necessary they would not stop demonstrations against British and Zionists. The opening line of a letter sent from the Literary Club based in Jerusalem to the American representative in the city in August 1919 shows the militancy of these associations: ‘We live as Arabs, We die as Arabs.’

The same associations attempted to put pressure on other governments. In 1919, before the Versailles Peace Conference, the Supreme Committee wrote to the Pope asking him to intercede on behalf of the Palestinian people to save their country from Zionists. A statement of the Committee after the Versailles Peace Conference, also sent to the Vatican, can be read as an attempt to provide a political rationale for the disturbances already taking place, like the Nebi Musa Riots of April 1920:

The decision of the Conference of San Remo regarding the Arab countries generally and Palestine specially is to us a sentence of gradual death. We ask you to decide for us a quick death which would spare us all pain … The transformation of Palestine into a National Home for the Jews is a source of great troubles and serious disturbances in the land where the prophets lived and where Jesus Christ was born and crucified. Disturbances have already started in several towns, notably in Jerusalem on 4th April 1920. The responsibility of this is yours and not that of Arabs who are defending their rights and doing everything in order to revive their nationality. History shall blame you for your deed.

The document mentions Jewish immigration, the Balfour Declaration and the Conference of San Remo, but also brings into the political scene an important religious element. As this letter was addressed to the countries involved in the Peace Conference, which was convened to discuss the future plans for the Ottoman Middle East, the petitioners underlined the status of Palestine as the land where Jesus lived and died; thus using Christianity in order to gain support for the emerging Palestinian cause.

While throughout 1919 the Literary Club among other associations continued to urge the Vatican to intervene against Jewish immigration, by early 1920 the tone of their statements had changed, a result of the outcome of the Peace Conference. During a meeting held at Nablus, the Supreme Committee of Arab Societies decided to boycott economic Jewish activities and to publicize their decision both in the Arabic press and the British official news in order to oppose Zionist immigration. With the fourth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration approaching, the Zionist leadership announced a great celebration in Jerusalem as they had done in the previous years. The Palestinian Association of Egypt, one of the numerous groups to emerge during the war, sent a circular recommending that the occasion should be treated as a day of mourning and all Arab shops should close. This particular occasion turned out to be relatively peaceful; only one Arab was killed in the Jewish quarter of the city.

The impact of these Muslim-Christian associations on urban politics was substantial, as they became crucial gatherings which supported the development of national sentiment in the formative years of the Arab Palestinian movement. The role of Christian activists, however, appears to have been fairly marginal. The war changed inter-communal relations between Muslims and Christians, which was one of suspicion and at times open conflict, into a more balanced one. Internal dynamics were also affected, Catholics of Latin and Eastern rites joined forces in asking that Palestine be united with Syria. Christians were originally over-represented during the establishment of the Muslim Christian Associations; however, by late 1920s and, more so in the 1930s, Muslim notables gained control of the nationalist movement. These associations were important in so far as they sanctioned the first alliance between Christians and Muslims against the threat of Zionism. These groups increasingly targeted and opposed Zionism as a political movement, creating a great deal of tension with Jewish residents. Nevertheless, the Muslim Christian Associations made distinctions between local Jewish residents and Zionist immigrants, as suggested by a note from General Money, chief administrator of OETA (Occupied Enemy Territory Administration). However, tension escalated and culminated in episodes of violence, demonstrations and riots, like the Nebi Musa incident of 1920 which saw major clashes between Arabs (Muslim and Christian) and Jews and it may be considered a watershed in the history of Jerusalem as it marked the beginning of a latent conflict.

In this article three main topics have been discussed in relation to Christian institutions in Jerusalem. First, the dual role of the Christian churches; in the period preceding the war, these institutions were mainly concerned with competition over the control of the Holy Places and with internal issues like conflict between the Arab laity and the Greek hierarchy of the Orthodox Church, but also the internal competition for the control of resources between the Catholic Custody of the Holy Land and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The outbreak of the war radically changed this particular context as in fact the attention of the various Christian denominations turned to more local issues. Christian institutions and clergy began to focus on the protection of their own clergy and properties, above all on the protection of the local population which was extremely weakened by war conditions.

The dual role of the Christian institutions mentioned above has been investigated in great detail in the discussion of the Custody of the Holy Land in the war period. The survey of this institution has given us some hints of the structure of the relations between the Franciscans, and in a wider context of the Christian institutions of Jerusalem, and local Ottoman as well as Austro-German authorities during the war. The study of the Custody of the Holy Land has also shown the dynamics of the shift from wide issues involving international relations to more local ones during the war and the process of reversal soon after the end of the war and the establishment of the British military administration.

In the second part of the article it was argued that the war brought about considerable change for Palestinian Christians. One of the outcomes was the emergence of the Muslim-Christian Associations. These groups were a direct response to Zionism and Jewish immigration to Palestine and reshaped the traditional alliances of the notables and residents of Jerusalem, as in fact under an emerging Palestinian identity both Muslims and Christians joined forces against the new common enemy represented by Zionism. The role played by Christians was however to diminish as national activists in the shape of Muslim notables became the main promoters of Palestinian nationalism.