Bosnians In The Imperial City And Sarah Aharonson Hero Of Th


in the 'Imperial City' and
Sarah Aharonson,
Hero of the NILI-Organization

By Jennie Lebel

Sarah Aharonson from the Zihron Jaakov settlement in Eretz Israel is somehow connected to these regions and so she will serve me as a bridge for the explanation of a historical question; the question of emigration of Bosnian Moslems to Palestine under Turkish domination after 1878.

The town of Caesarea was an important port of the Eastern Mediterranean in classical times. In the years 12-9 B.C. Herod the Great, King of Judea (73-4 B.C.) built it on the ruins of the ancient Sidonian site, in honour and glory of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus (Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus, Rome 63 B.C. - Nola 14 A.D.). It is situated about halfway between the ports of Acre and Jaffa and its ruins can be seen today between the towns of Haifa and Benyamina.
Herod the Great decorated Caesarea with many luxurious buildings. He erected an amphitheatre for about 20,000 spectators, hippodromes, baths and markets and of course a large port. In the Roman period Caesarea was the seat of the Roman Governors. The massacre of about 20,000 Jewish inhabitants of the town, among them the prominent Rabbi Akiba, is considered to be the reason for the start of the so-called Great Jewish Revolt against Rome in 66-70.
After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, Caesarea was considered the capital of the country and the center of economic and cultural life. The town is mentioned in Jewish, Christian and Moslem sources. At the time of the Crusaders (from 1100) Caesarea was an important center, until the Mamelukes destroyed it in 1291.
Caesarea also suffered from frequent earthquakes as can be seen today in its ruins.

The Bosnians Arrive in Caesarea

In 1878 by a decision of the Berlin Congress, Austria got the mandate over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many local Moslems were worried about the Christians' revenge for all that they had experienced from the Turks through the centuries, and so started to emigrate. One group of about 50 emigrants, refugee families, arrived in Palestine which at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire. Land south of the Carmel Mountain was put at their disposal and they settled near the present town of Pardess Hanna. However they were not ready for the difficult life on a swampy terrain with which they were not able to cope, and a malaria epidemic broke out among them and wiped out many victims.
The 'Bosnians' abandoned this area after a short stay and turned to Sultan Abdul Hamid II for help. In 1884 the Sultan allotted these families other land. A smaller number moved to the land east of Nablus, where their descendants live until this day, but the majority came to the ruins of the ancient city of Caesarea. The newcomers took building material from the neighbouring ruins of once luxurious buildings. Their houses were different from the next ones in the same vicinity because they built them after the model of the former ones, in their old native country, with roofs of red tiles, which stood out against the old-timers' houses with flat roofs.
It is assumed that the Sultan decided to settle the Bosnians there in the hope that they would be loyal subjects, because he learned of the German government's intention to settle the so-called Templars in that place. Following the model of the medieval sect which in 1119 founded their 'Temple Knights' in the port of Acre, whose duty it was to protect the pilgrims to Jerusalem from the 'non-believers', in the 19th century a German protestant organization of the same name was created whose members settled in many places in Palestine. The Prussian government rented Caesarea under the pretext that they wanted to carry out archaeological work in the surroundings. The Sultan understood that the Germans wanted to settle there and be a 'living bridge' between the Templars in Haifa and in Jaffa and so occupy the whole coast, and he revoked the rental agreement.

Remainders of Bosnian mosques in Caesarea

Contemporaries' testimony

In his book Haifa or Life in the Holy Land 1882-1885, the famous British author, international traveler and diplomat Laurence Oliphant (1829-1888) dedicated several pages to these immigrants from Bosnia:

Some six months ago a group of refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina arrived here who were assigned the ruins and the surrounding terrain as the nucleus for a new settlement. In addition to the great significance which those spacious ruins have from an archaeological point of view, I was impatient to visit Caesarea in order to get personal information about this new kind of immigrants. All the more since the new town is to be built on he ruins of the old one, so it is obvious that I shall never more have occasion to see how it once looked. Already over the last 20 years they took marvellous stones from the terrain that Herod the Great had chiselled when he built the town… All this will probably disappear in a few years. The underground treasure, whatever its nature, will still remain untouched and in future traces of five successive epochs of civilization will be found here. The foundations of the great crusader fortress are on top and below it the remainders of the first Moslem period. Below this traces of a Byzantine era will be found, and on the bottom a chequered pavement, fragments of chiselled marble, statues and coins from the Roman period.

The Slav colonists are building their streets exactly above the most interesting ruins over the old foundation, using the white stones from the temple built by Herod and blocks of dark limestone from the Crusader church, filling old buildings below the foundation level, levelling the ruins downward in one lace and upward in another, completely changing the picturesque environment so that soon it will not be recognized. In five months over 20 good stone houses have been erected, some three stories high, and some vaulted for shops and grain stores; in some cases the old Crusader basements are used for the same purpose and prepared for use. The houses were built from plans that remind of the houses of Moslem Slavs in European Turkey, sombre and uninteresting; all are surrounded by enclosures, high stone walls which jealously guard the owner's harem. In this regard the Western Moslems are more pedantic than the Arabs who leave their women relative freedom. During my stay in Caesarea I saw not a single colonist woman. As to their men, they are very hospitable, particularly when they learned that I had been in their country and knew Mostar and Konjic where their previous homes had been. They were the aristocracy in their country and had taken with them considerable wealth. The Turkish government made them a gift of a wide area of the most fertile terrain in the Sharon valley and there is no doubt that their settlement will be of benefit for the country. In their behaviour and customs they are the total opposite of the natives who are obviously very much amazed by their wealth and dignity…

Report of the German Explorer

Dr. Gottlieb Schumacher (1857-1924), architect and explorer for the German Society for Oriental Research, one of the German colonists in Haifa, wrote in 1886 that there were 22 Bosnian houses in Caesarea, well built and with shingled roofs. A year later he recorded that there were 35 Bosnian families in Caesarea who built for themselves houses with roofs covered by shingles which remind one of Europe. He wrote that no plan was prepared for the settlement and that therefore quarrels often erupted between neighbours. The Turkish government there instructed their engineer to divide the settlement into equal parts to build streets, a market, a customhouse and a municipal building. From the plan presented by Schumacher it can be seen that the Turks expected the arrival of an additional group from Bosnia. Caesarea was divided into 75 plots, of which 45 were given to the inhabitants and the rest were kept for the next immigrants from Bosnia. The government building was built on the southern ancient pier. Schumacher mentioned that the Bosnians feared the penetration of strangers whom they accepted with great suspicion. Although the Bosnians had promised to build an inn for tourists, the visitors could not stay long in town, because the population did not received them well. The Bosnians engaged in trade, agriculture and fishing as well as export of vegetables and watermelons.

The first 'Mudir' (petty governor) of Caesarea was the Circassian Ali Bek. After his death about 1910, the Turks appointed Mudir a Bosnian named Ahmed Boshniak, who got the title 'bey'. He built a two-story apartment house next to the seat of the governor of Caesarea and took over the land and buildings that belonged to his predecessor. (The former mudir's heirs did not rest before they succeeded in returning the property to their ownership).
In the beginning of the nineteen-twenties there were 15 Bosnian families numbering 331 persons in Caesarea. They lived in about 50 homes and had two mosques. The Bosnians learned Arabic, but with their owncharacteristic pronunciation. They did not marry Arab women, and if there were marriages outside their settlement - they mostly married Circassians who had come from Bulgaria. Their women wore veils.
In the nineteen-thirties the Bosnian population thinned out: they mostly moved to the towns. Several moved to Haifa, to Baka-el-Garbiye and Tul-Karem, some moved to Transjordan, while Fuad and Taufik, Ahmed-bey Boshniak's sons, lived in Hadera. (They gave their data to Dr. Zvi Ilan, who researched the ethnic minorities in the northern Sharon region - Turkmens, Circassians and Bosnians).

The Betrayal of the Carrier Pigeon

Mudir Ahmed-bey Boshniak did not remain in good memory of the Jewish population in Palestine at that time.
During World War I in Palestine then under Turkish rule, when the Turks were allied with the Germans, the Jewish illegal organization NILI was active and their intelligence service provided data on the movement of Turkish and German armies to the Allieds. NILI is the acronym for 'Netzah Israel Lo Yeshaker' - The Glory of Israel Will not Lie! (Samuel I, 15:29). The service was headed by Aharon Aharonson (1876-1919), a prominent agronomist-botanist researcher from Zichron Jaakov (Jacob's Memorial), 35 kilometers south of Haifa. It is located at the southern end of the Carmel mountain range overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and was one of the first Jewish settlements in Eretz Israel, founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and named in honour of his father Jacob.
Aharon Aharonson’s sister Sarah (1890-1917) stayed at that time in Istanbul, where she was married to Chaim Abraham, and in 1915 decided to return to Eretz Israel. On the way she witnessed the massacre of the Armenian population in Turkey. When she informed her brother Aharon about it, he recorded in his diary:

We must learn from the tragedy of the Armenians. We must see this as an example of what can happen to all races and enslaved peoples under the Turkish regime…

Immediately after her arrival in Zichron Jaakov, Sarah actively joined the NILI organization in its intelligence service for the Allies. The members of the organization volunteered to spy on Ottoman positions and report them to British agents offshore. They were in contact with a British ship which cruised the Mediterranean on the line from Port Said to Atlit and had to transmit their messages to that ship. Since it was very difficult to establish direct contact, they decided to make use of carrier pigeons.

On September 3, 1917, while Mudir Ahmed-Bey Boshniak fed his pigeons in the courtyard, suddenly a pigeon unknown to him landed among them. Ahmed-bey saw that a note was attached to its leg. That was one of four carrier-pigeons that carried Sarah Aharonson's message to the Allies. Ahmed-bey delivered that note to the Turkish Kaymakam, the Governor of the administrative district in Haifa. This note was decoded and sufficed to lead the Turks to the NILI organization in Zichron Jaakov. In he early morning of October 1, 1917, a company of Turkish soldiers surrounded the Aharonsons' house and arrested Sarah. Although she was severely tortured, she did not reveal the members of the organization and their activity, but, unable to suffer further torture, she committed suicide after 4 days. She was 27 years old.
Sarah Aharonson is regarded in Israel as a heroine of Jewish resistance against the Turks during World War I and an example of patriotism.
It is very interesting that already around 1920 Rabbi and teacher Shabbetai D'Jaen wrote a drama about Sarah Aharonson, a drama that was performed in many Jewish centers throughout Yugoslavia in the nineteen-twenties and thirties.

Jennie Lebel (1927-2009), Israeli historian born in Serbia. Bosnians… is a chapter from Not to be Forgotten (Da se ne zaboravi) translated by Paul Munch.

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