Djemal Pasha’s Revenge on the People of Jerusalem

In the midst of WWI, residents of Jerusalem witnessed a horrific spectacle: the hanging of five local citizens by the Ottoman authorities. A photograph of the scene has since become a Jerusalem legend linking Christians, Jews and Muslims.

This photo was likely taken by photographer Khalil Raad, who arrived at the scene before the bodies were taken down. Some say he later sold the picture at his store, while others claim it was passed to a relative of one of the deceased by a former Ottoman official, the Ben Zvi Institute

In June 1916, Ahmad Djemal Pasha, commander of the Ottoman Fourth Army and ruler of Damascus province, found himself facing a difficult problem: many soldiers had deserted from the ranks, and he was suffering a severe manpower shortage. Following the unsuccessful Ottoman attack on the Suez Canal, the defeated, exhausted and hungry soldiers returned to the Land of Israel. Jerusalem, like many other cities in the Ottoman Empire, filled with deserters, who hoped to escape the attention of the authorities.

Ahmad Djemal Pasah, the Turkish Military Governor in Syria and the Land of Israel. Photo: the Ben Zvi Institute

The military police roamed the city in search of the absentee soldiers, who were called “Farar” (Arabic: فرار). Djemal Pasha, who urgently needed men, sentenced any deserter who would not turn himself in to death, but to no avail. In his cruel rage, he decided to teach the public a lesson. He ordered his men to seize five deserters and execute them in a central location in the city. The unlucky five—two Jews, two Christians and one Muslim—were caught and hanged in an expedited procedure. This is their story.

The Sick Man on the Bosphorus

The Ottoman entry into the First World War led to a severe economic crisis throughout the empire, in the Middle East in particular. Jerusalem was especially hard hit. Local tourism had collapsed and many sources of funding had dried up. A drought severely affected farmers’ crops, and if all of that wasn’t enough, in 1914–1915, the Middle East suffered a devastating locust plague that reached the Holy City as well. Moreover, the forced conscription imposed by the Ottoman regime left many families without a breadwinner, and poverty and hunger were rife. Many of the local men, instead of being sent to combat units, were sent to the “Amaliya,” hard labor battalions in the service of the Ottoman army.

Ottoman soldiers in formation, in the courtyard in front of the Kishla (the police prison) near David’s Citadel, Jerusalem. Photo: the Ben Zvi Institute

The combination of World War I and the economic crisis led to low morale and very high desertion rates among Ottoman soldiers in the Middle East. At the same time, local national movements began to revolt against Ottoman rule and side with the Allied Powers. Cases like the establishment of the Zion Mule Corps that took part in the Battle of Gallipoli and the revolt of Sharif Hussein of Mecca led Djemal Pasha to behave violently toward anything he interpreted as disloyalty or disobedience. Throughout 1915–1916, Ahmad Djemal Pasha committed a series of war crimes and acts, the Armenian Genocide foremost among these, which cemented his status as one of the cruelest figures of the First World War.

The Hanging at the Jaffa Gate

In the middle of 1916, after the hanging and exiling of deserters and “traitors” across the Middle East, Ahmad Djemal Pasha arrived in Jerusalem to deal with the local deserter problem. He announced that he would sentence to death any deserter who did not surrender by the end of June 1916. His promise to pardon all the fugitives if they returned to their units, did not help. In his rage, Djemal Pasha ordered five runaways caught at random to be hung, as an example. The deserters were chosen on the basis of ethnicity—two Jews, two Christian Arabs and one Muslim Arab.

Djemal Pasha sets out for the battle to conquer the Suez Canal, Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem, 1915. Photo: the Ben Zvi Institute

Within a day, five defectors meeting his requirement were captured and hung in Jerusalem’s main square, which at the time was located by the Jaffa Gate. The five were Ibrahim Andelft and Musa Sous, Christian Arabs; Ahmad Alozu, a Muslim; and Moshe Melal and Yosef Amozig, who were Jews. The convicts were granted a final meeting with a cleric, after which they were hanged. Around their necks hung signs stating their alleged crime, and their bodies were left hanging on the gallows until the evening hours, giving Djemal Pasha’s violent message time to sink in.

The news of the hanging of Jews by the Ottomans spread in the city, and the next day it was also reported in the Ha-Herut Hebrew newspaper, including the last requests of those sentenced to death. Amozig, according to the report, sufficed with drinking a little water before being executed; Melal, on the other hand, asked that the money owed him be collected and paid  to his mother and also demanded that the blindfold that had been placed on him be removed, so that he might walk toward his death with his eyes open. The reporter added that unfortunately the blindfold request was refused as it was contrary to Ottoman law.

The Ha-Herut newspaper reports the hanging in Hebrew and names the deceased, June 30, 1916

The execution of Yosef Amozig was particularly tragic, as he was not a deserter at all. Amozig was born in Morocco and immigrated to Jerusalem with his sister and mother, Hanina. Like his father, Amozig became a tailor and set up a workshop together with a local Muslim in the Old City of Jerusalem. Among his clients were wealthy families such as the Nashashibis, and some say he even made clothes for Djemal Pasha and his entourage. Amozig closed his workshop with the start of the Great War before he was drafted into the army and sent to work as a tailor at a base in Beersheba, the only Ottoman-established city in the Land of Israel.

One day, Amozig’s commander sent him back to Jerusalem to sew some uniforms for him. He had just reopened his workshop and started on the commission when he was spotted by Ottoman army informants who mistook him for a deserter. He was apprehended by the military police and imprisoned. Amozig was beset by difficulties to explain his presence in the city: he was unable to contact his commander in order to clarify his mission, and his military transit permit had disappeared. Amozig’s mother tried desperately to find the permit, but could not. After his arrest, Amozig was placed in “The Kishla”, the local prison near the Tower of David. The permit was not found, and he was forced to meet his end at the gallows.

The Legacy

Esther Harrush, Amozig’s niece, who later married Akiva Azulay, a deputy mayor of Jerusalem, was one of the few who remembered the story, which was known in a few, slightly different versions. Over the years, the Sephardic Jews of Jerusalem retold the story of the hanging of Amozig and Melal until it became a well-known Jerusalem urban legend. One of the details that emerged years after the execution was that the executioner was a Jew named Mordechai Sassoon, who carried out the Ottoman orders with a heavy heart and accompanied the Jewish victims to the last.

Djemal Pasha’s decision to hang five people by religious affiliation was unusual, even compared to the rest of his brutal actions during the war. The randomness of the choice, the expedited sentencing of the victims and the impact on the various communities in the city made the incident a landmark in the history of Jerusalem. Amozig and Melal, martyrs hanged because of their Jewish faith, take their place alongside Naaman Belkind and Yosef Lishansky, members of the Nili organization, who were executed on account of espionage in the same period. To some extent, this story is yet another symbol of Jerusalem’s sacred status to the three monotheistic religions, a place where their believers meet, live and die together.


Further Reading:

Year of the Locust : A Soldier’s Diary and the Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past / Salim Tamari

When Ice Cream Was Forbidden in the Land of Israel

Why were the residents of Mandatory Palestine banned from eating ice cream for three whole years?


Yardena Herzberger enjoys some ice cream. Photo by Hanan Herzberger, the Bitmuna Collection, the National Library of Israel

In the spring of 1942, headlines in all the English, Hebrew and Arabic daily newspapers in Mandatory Palestine announced the local banning of all production, sale and distribution of ice cream beginning on May 1. Residents would no longer be able to enjoy an ice cream cone by the beach or a scoop next to a warm piece of chocolate cake in the local café. They would have to make do with the various “inferior” products – fruit popsicles and sorbets. No more chocolate, vanilla and pistachio. From now on there was to be only lemon, grape and pineapple.

The reasons for this harsh decree were related to World War II, then at its height, with the fighting fast approaching the borders of the Land of Israel. German forces under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox,” were rushing across the sands of North Africa, threatening to occupy Egypt, where British forces were stationed. In Mandatory Palestine, preparations were underway for the possibility of a Nazi invasion. In the event of such a disaster, the Jewish community even planned to hold a last stand defense on Mount Carmel.

But what does all of this have to do with a frozen dessert? Hadn’t the Jewish people suffered enough? Why did the Nazi threat prevent people in the Land of Israel from enjoying a bit of ice cream? The answer lies in the global shortage of raw materials. In fact, behind the ban was the British Mandate supply department. The large quantities of milk and sugar needed to make ice cream had more basic and pressing uses—at least in the eyes of the authorities. The ban on ice cream production was to remain in place until the end of the war. Bear in mind, in mid-1942 no one knew how long the war would last.

The Palestine Post, April 22nd, 1942

What about the public? It did not take easily to this ban. Despite the media’s attempts to convince citizens that non-dairy substitutes were just as tasty, not everyone agreed. It is true that other food products were also rationed, their production restricted and supervised during the war years, but the ban on ice cream may have just been the final straw. The restriction even caused a stir among the country’s foreign correspondents and journalists who reported on it to their readers back home. One of the reporters wrote of the disaster: “This is one of the worst adversities that the Holy Land has yet to experience.”

An ad for Nifla [“Wonderful”] ice mix. The Hebrew text describes the product as “ice cream powder”, available in vanilla, lemon, pineapple, mocha, chocolate and strawberry flavors. The Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel

Others understood the need for belt-tightening in such difficult times. The Yiddish writer Zusman Segalowitch published a column in the newspaper Haboker the morning the ban went into effect. He wrote: “As of today it is forbidden to produce and eat ice cream.  This is an order. A law that we must obey, and especially at a time when such a struggle is being waged in the world. This is not a disaster, one can make do temporarily without ice cream . . . I am personally not a big fan even though I do not shy away from a sweet treat now and then. But in theory I think that ice cream is a very necessary thing, a good, sweet and useful thing, it is also an international thing, the only internationale [a play on The Internationale, the left wing anthem, as the ban took effect on May 1, International Worker’s Day], that has sweetness and peace.” Zusman continued with reminiscences about a café he had known in Poland that served fine ice cream, and about how people happily gather around a serving of ice cream. He tried to end his column on a hopeful note:

It is not a disaster that ice cream has been banned for now. It is just temporary. It is only because of the war, and the war is being waged precisely so that people can eat ice cream peacefully. The war will end and then people will once again find for themselves things that are comfortable and useful, and isn’t that the logic of life? People will have to find the true path of life, each person for himself, the way to beauty and the way to even tastier ice cream.

The earth’s bounty is full of goodness, fruits good to eat and beautiful to behold. Apples, pears, cherries, plums, bananas, grapes, almonds, apricots, and oranges. After all, the best and finest ice cream can be made from all these. And chocolate and cocoa, milk and cream—plenty of delicious ingredients for ice cream. And the wise will finally have to acknowledge, that the good things in the world belong to all, and with good will everything can be shared honestly. Everything for everyone!

The miser will wither like a dry stalk atop the pile of gold he has accumulated. But trees will bloom and blossom, the earth will provide food, the sun warmth. And people will once more taste ice cream… all will be good again.

Contemporary caricature: A family on its way to a café must bring its own sugar. Haaretz, July 24th, 1942

The ice cream shortage evoked not only philosophical reflections but also more practical matters. April 30th, 1942, the last day before the ice cream ban went into effect was a very busy one in cafés and ice cream parlors. “Unusual traffic in cafés,” the newspaper Hamashkif reported, referring to the “lickers” who took advantage of the last chance to bid farewell to ice cream.

“Last Day for Eating Ice Cream” the headlines shouted. Haaretz, April 30th, 1942

Naturally, a measure such as this required a period of adjustment. Various merchants attempted to continue producing ice cream with the meager means at their disposal, in addition to the fruit sorbets, whose production continued as usual. Others apparently engaged in unlawfully profiting from the raw materials used to make ice cream, and some were tried for it in court. Added to these complexities was the fact that the British Army and the other armies that fought alongside were still allowed a constant supply of all types of ice cream.

The Palestine Post, May 6th, 1942

It is worth noting that the prohibition justified itself. According to reports, the authorities predicted that already in the first week of the ban, 400 tons of sugar and about 600 tons of milk would be saved. The amount of sugar was approximately equal to the amount supplied to all of Tel Aviv for five full months.

A woman licking an ice cream cone on Allenby Street, 1950. Photo: Boris Carmi, from the Meitar Collection, the National Library of Israel

Eventually, as everyone knows, World War II came to an end with the Allied victory over the Nazis and their accomplices. The final stages of the war saw the lifting of the draconian ban on the production and sale of ice cream in Mandatory Palestine. Contrary to what one might expect, the return of ice cream was not met with spontaneous dancing in the streets. As early as February 1945, newspaper editors made do with brief reports, consisting of 2 or 3 lines of text, to notify their readers that ice cream could again be consumed in the Land of Israel. A few months later, when Nazi Germany was finally defeated, the Kfar Saba municipal council decided on a fitting celebration, distributing 1,000 free ice creams to local schoolchildren. With peace restored, people could enjoy the taste of real ice cream once more.

Nati Gabbay took part in the preparation of this article.

Golda Meir: A Woman Empowered

Golda Meir, one of the most powerful women in Israel’s history, was the third woman in the 20th century to become a leader of a nation. Though a frequent critic of the feminist movement, Golda herself was the focus of interest and criticism due to her gender. How did she deal with it? Why did she agree to enter a synagogue in Moscow but not in Tel Aviv? And what does this have to do with the Israeli Hatmakers’ Union?

Golda Meir, 1949, the Beno Rothenberg Archive, the Meitar Collection

On March 17, 1969, something momentous happened in Israel: Golda Meir was appointed Prime Minister. She became the first woman in Israeli history to lead the country and only the third in woman to head a national government in the 20th century, preceded by Sirimavo Bandaranaike (Sri Lanka) and Indira Gandhi (India). The appointment of a woman as Prime Minister of Israel, a young, embattled country, only two years after the Six-Day War, was not self-evident; however, the chain of political events following the death of her predecessor Levi Eshkol led to Meir’s appointment, who was preferred over such figures as Yigal Alon, Moshe Dayan and Pinchas Sapir.

Only the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel party officially opposed Golda’s appointment, with the head of the faction, Yitzhak-Meir Levin, expressing concern that the appointment of a woman as Prime Minister would harm Israeli deterrence. Other than this, there was no other official or public grievance against Golda’s appointment. Meir, despite her image and role, was herself critical of the feminist movement, though she often spoke out as a woman. Nevertheless, the fact of her being the Prime Minister of the State of Israel was a subject of great interest, drawing both outright and hinted criticism.

Golda Meir and her new government, 1969. Photo: the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Separation of Religion and State?

Golda Meir had a complex relationship with religion, dating back to long before her term as Prime Minister. During an official visit to Moscow in 1949 as Israel’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, Golda visited the famous Moscow Choral Synagogue. Photos of the visit were published in Israel and around the world, and upon her return to Israel, Member of Knesset Benjamin Mintz challenged her to pay a similar visit to a synagogue in Tel Aviv, saying “I invite you to the Great Synagogue for a prayer of thanksgiving. Or do you only visit synagogues in Moscow?” Without skipping a beat, Meir clarified that she had entered the synagogue in Moscow and agreed to sit in the women’s section because she wanted to meet the local Jews. But that as far as Tel Aviv was concerned, she would be happy to attend synagogue as soon as equality was achieved and she was allowed to sit in the main hall alongside the male members of the congregation.

“When Will Golda Myerson Attend Synagogue?” reads the headline of this Hebrew article reporting on Meir’s exchange with MK Benjamin Mintz, Maariv, May 4, 1949

Already in the early 1950s, Golda was seen as a possible candidate for the role of mayor of Tel Aviv, which sparked a discussion over a woman’s ability to serve in such a senior position; a widespread, lively debate on the subject was conducted in the media. Miriam Shir wrote in her column titled “What Say You, Woman?” in the Hebrew daily Davar: “We all need you, Golda Myerson, as “the ‘Head Homemaker’ for the city of Tel Aviv.”

Columnist Miriam Shir supported Golda Meir for the role of mayor of Tel Aviv, Davar, July 26, 1955

After taking office as Prime Minister, senior rabbis in the country expressed differing views on her appointment. The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Isser Yehuda Unterman, when asked his opinion on the subject, refused to comment, explaining that as long as officials did not seek his opinion on the matter, there was no reason for him to offer one. Israel Prize winner and head of the Chabad religious court, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, chose to publicly declare his negative opinion, basing his opposition on Maimonides’ Hilkhot Melakhim. The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Nissim stated that there was no problem with the appointment, while Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, then the chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv, was in no hurry to give his opinion, saying only that the matter needed to be studied in detail first.


The Case of the Hat

On Israeli Independence Day in 1973, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the State of Israel, the IDF held its last military parade. It was decided to permanently cancel the custom due to high costs, and this was to be the last hurrah, held in the presence of the Prime Minister who sat on the dais. Shortly after the parade, the Israeli Hatmakers’ Union (it turns out there was such a thing) published an official letter of grievance in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek Maariv article dedicated to the Prime Minister’s sloppy appearance, and the fact that she chose not to wear a hat during the parade. “Mrs. Meir’s bear head, exposed to the sun, served as a negative example to all Israeli women,” the union members wrote, demanding that Meir become a fashion leader and help promote the fashion of hats among Israeli women. The union members even offered to create a special hat model named for Golda, whose sale would compensate for the economic fallout they predicted would be caused by her appearance, which they feared would lead Israeli women to forego hats altogether.

Mrs. Meir’s bear head, exposed to the sun, served as a negative example to all Israeli women” wrote the Israeli Hatmakers’ Union in Maariv, May 9, 1973

Would a male prime minister also have been criticized for his lack of fashion sense?

After the national trauma caused by the Yom Kippur War which broke out later that year, and despite the fact that the Agranat Commission did not find her directly guilty, Golda was blamed for the outcome. She eventually resigned from her role as Prime Minister in 1974.

Prime Minister Gold Meir resigns. April, 1974. Photo: the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Golda Meir became famous in Israel and around the world for shattering a glass ceiling as well as for her lengthy political career. In Israel, her legacy and image, while very well known, are sometimes the subject of controversy, linked mainly to the outcome of the Yom Kippur War and the complacency that had preceded it. Outside of Israel, however, Golda was the subject of great admiration and respect, even during her lifetime. She was named “Most Admired Woman” by a Gallup poll in both 1973 (when she received twice as many votes as First Lady Pat Nixon) and 1974. After her death, New York City named a square after her and a Hollywood movie, A Woman Called Golda, starring Ingrid Bergman, was made about her life.

Recently, it seems that the historical figure of Golda Meir is experiencing something of a revival. Last month it was announced that the Oscar-winning Israeli director Guy Nativ is working on a new film about Meir, who will be played by award-winning actress Helen Mirren. Another project currently taking shape is a television series about the Israeli leader produced by Barbara Streisand and starring actress Shira Haas. The series, titled Lioness and based on Francine Klagsbrun’s biography of Golda Meir, will focus on the former Israeli Prime Minister’s role during the Yom Kippur War.

On the National Library of Israel’s various online platforms, Golda Meir is more frequently searched in English than in Hebrew. It is clear that her past in Israel is perceived differently than in the rest of the world, but as she herself said, “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.”

Ilan Ramon, Israel’s 1st Astronaut, and the Meaning of Life

Long before he became the first Israeli to be launched into space, Ilan Ramon, as a 23-year-old fighter pilot, asked Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz: “What is man’s purpose in this world?” Leibowitz did his best to answer

Distinguished Professor!

I have long struggled with many strange questions that can perhaps be gathered under the heading: What is man’s purpose in this world? And the more questions that are asked, the greater the contradictions and ambiguities.

I am a young man—23 years old. I turn to you—an older person with such rich knowledge and experience, whose opinion is so important to me—I turn to you and ask:

How do you see the world we live in?

How do you explain the essence of life?

How do you view man’s purpose and goal in life?

And how is a man to achieve this purpose?

And you, honorable Professor, looking back, do you think that you have achieved the goals or purpose placed before you?

Dear Professor, I know how limited your time is and [that it is] devoted to important matters, and yet I would be very grateful if you could address my questions and perhaps enlighten me on life’s dark path.

With respect,

Ilan Ramon

Ilan Ramon’s Hebrew letter to Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the Yeshayahu Leibowitz Archive, the National Library of Israel


The young Israeli Air Force pilot Ilan Ramon sent the above letter to Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz in 1977.

Five days later, Leibowitz sent his reply:

Dear Ilan Ramon,

Your question “How do you see the world we live in?” is not clear to me.  What does “see the world” mean? Do you mean cosmologically, physically, metaphysically or…?

In your question, “How do you explain the essence of life?”—I do not know what you mean by the words “essence of life.” Do you mean biological, psychological, historical or…?

Regarding your question about “man’s purpose and goal in life”—there is no objective answer. In Pirkei Avot the sages say: “Against your will you were created, and against your will you were born, and against your will you live, and against your will you die”—and to these words, there is nothing more to add.

Man exists without having decided to be created or to be born or to live—he has no choice but to make a subjective decision about his goal and purpose in life—and there are countless possible decisions:

There are those who will find their own life to have no value, nor will they find any value in anything within that life—and they will commit suicide.

There are those who will see value and purpose in maximizing pleasure for themselves (material or sexual, or aesthetic, and so forth) all the days of their life.

There are those who will see value and purpose in acquiring knowledge—and will dedicate their lives to this.

There are those who will see value and purpose in helping their fellow man—and will dedicate their lives to this.

There are those who will see value and purpose in the service of their people and country—and will dedicate their lives to this.

There are those who will see value and purpose in serving God—and will dedicate their lives to this.

None of these decisions can be objectively justified, and every person—you and I included—must make their own decision.

Very truly yours,

Yeshayahu Leibowitz

ליבוביץ משיב לאילן רמון. ארכיון ישעיהו ליבוביץ בספרייה הלאומית
Leibowitz responds to Ilan Ramon. The Yeshayahu Leibowitz Archive, the National Library of Israel

On January 16th, 2003, more than 25 years after writing the letter above, Colonel Ilan Ramon became the first Israeli to enter space, aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia. Ramon and the rest of the seven-person crew perished only a few days later, on February 1st of that year, when the Columbia disintegrated upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.