The triadic grid of urban modernity in a frontier land

From the Ottoman perspective, Palestine was both a central and a peripheral region. It was peripheral in the sense that it marked the southern flanks of the Syrian provinces; it did not initially produce significant tax revenue; nor was it strategically located along the pilgrimage to Hijaz. Soon after the loss of Egyptian territory to the Sultan in mid-century, however, it became a gateway to the Suez and Ottoman Africa. The Egyptian campaign also triggered Ottoman defensive measures towards its southern regions, which included Hijaz and Yemen. This was accompanied by contestation of control over the Holy Land with the enhanced presence and the imperial ambitions of the major European powers over Jerusalem and the holy sites. The Ottoman shift, signifying the increased importance of Palestine, can be seen in the changing designation of the territory from Sham Sherif ('Holy Syria') in seventeenth and eighteenth century maps (for example, by Perri Reisi and Katib Chalabi) to Kudus Sherif ('Holy Jerusalem').25

With the increased centralisation and control of the Tanzimat state apparatus, urban Palestine witnessed significant growth and the remaking of the public sphere, as did other Syrian districts. This process involved the creation of public plazas intended for military displays and imperial ceremonial performances, and the creation of bourgeois domains of leisurely space: promenades, cafes and public gardens. It also witnessed the decline of the mahale (enclosed neighbourhood) as the basic communitarian unit of social control and its replacement with city-wide administrative networks. Ferdun Ergut examines this process in the context of the new policing and surveillance practices of the Ottoman state.26 This intrusive development contributed significantly to the redefinition of the public sphere and the blurring of lines of separation between what were considered the private and public domains. It was manifested through the passage of administrative measures against public 'deviance' such as vagrancy laws. It enhanced the role of the police in the licensing of trades, and in monitoring and punishing what used to be considered private behaviour, but which was now assigned the label of 'public crime'.27 Previously transgressions were dealt with normatively in the mahale by the local imam (Muslim cleric) or kadi (locally appointed judge),28 or through the action of the Qabadayat (neighbourhood 'tough guys'/enforcers).29 Now increasingly the tasks of urban surveillance and control were handed to the police and the newly introduced position of urban mukhtar (village leader).30

The following section examines the Ottoman regional urban development that constituted what I call 'a grid of triadic urban modernity', to indicate that they involved purposeful planning and were regionally integrated to serve a new vision of 'frontier' development. These urban trends were enhanced by three significant new developments towards the beginning of the twentieth century: the road and rail linking of Jerusalem and Jaffa to serve the increased importance of pilgrimage to the Holy City; the embedding of Palestinian and Syrian agricultural commodities into the European market with the rise of citrus (a coastal crop) and soap (an inland product made from highlands olives); and finally, the enhanced significance of Palestine as a frontier land in the defence of the Ottoman realm from its southern hinterland and its links with British-controlled Egypt. Undoubtedly these regional developments created a conflictual modernity. In the three cities examined, the process of growth involved both internal differentiation and regional disparities. The enhancement of Jerusalem as the capital of the province of al Quds al-Sheriff in 1876 gave new prominence, prestige and power to the Ashraf (notables) and bureaucrats of the city over regional elites in an unprecedented manner. The increased centralisation of bureaucratic power that accompanied the Tanizmat reforms eclipsed the regional status of Akka and Nablus. In the case of Jaffa, however, the regional disparity took a different trajectory.

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