Monday, December 21, 2009

1799: Siege of Acre


Having seen the benefits of Britain’s profitable colonies and the political need to weaken Britain, Napoleon Bonaparte planned to invade Egypt, which was a province of the Ottoman Empire. Being able to occupy Egypt in a short period of time and with little efforts, in 1799, Napoleon decided to expand his campaign and started moving towards Syria and Palestine. The Syrian campaign was the first unmitigated disaster in Napoleon’s career. It was a military failure and it provided another dire example of European brutality in Palestine, in the bleak tradition of the crusades. Napoleon won several victories against the Turks, but Acre withstood a French siege of two months then forced a desperate retreat south through the Sinai desert and back to Egypt. The walled city of Acre was defended by newly created Turkish infantry elites under the command of Ahmed Pasha al-Jazzar and his Damascene Jewish adviser and right hand man, Haim Farhi, who played a key role in the city’s defense.

During the siege of Acre, Napoleon prepared a proclamation declaring a Jewish state in Palestine, though he did not issue it. Some historians believe that the proclamation was intended purely for propaganda purposes, and that Napoleon was not serious about the creation of a Jewish state. Some believe that the proclamation was made in order to win the heart of Haim Farhi and to bring him over to Napoleon’s side, in the same way that Napoleon tried, one year earlier, to gain the support of the Egyptian population when he praised the precepts of Islam and issued proclamations that cast him as a liberator of the people from Ottoman oppression.

Whether Napoleon was or wasn’t serious about creating a Jewish state in Palestine, his declaration returned the hopes for the Jewish around the world and especially in Palestine, though there were only five thousands Jews in Palestine at the time, for having their own Jewish state.