THE OUD- PLAYER OF JERUSALEM

1905–1914

DAVID GRÜN BECOMES DAVID BEN-GURION

David Grün’s father was already a local leader of the Lovers of Zion, forerunner of the Zionist movement, and a keen Hebraist, so the boy was taught Hebrew from an early age. But David, like many other Zionists, was shocked when he read that Herzl had accepted the Ugandan offer. At the Sixth Zionist Congress, Herzl tried to sell his so-called Ugandaism but he succeeded only in splitting his movement. His rival, the English playwright Israel Zangwill, coiner of the phrase ‘melting pot’ to describe the assimilation of immigrants in America, decamped to found his Jewish Territorialist Organization and pursue an array of quixotic non-Palestinian Zions. The Austrian plutocrat Baron Maurice de Hirsch was financing Jewish colonies in Argentina, and the New York financier Jacob Schiff was promoting the Galveston Plan, a Lone Star Zion for Russian Jews in Texas. There was more support for El Arish because it was close to Palestine and Zionism was nothing without Zion, but none of these schemes* flourished and Herzl, exhausted by his peripatetic travels, died soon afterwards, aged just forty-four. He had successfully established Zionism as one of the solutions to the Jewish plight, particularly in Russia.

Young David Grün mourned his hero Herzl even though ‘we concluded the most effective way to combat Ugandaism was by settling in the Land of Israel’. In 1905, Emperor Nicholas II faced a revolution that almost cost him the throne. Many of the revolutionaries were Jews – Leon Trotsky being the most prominent – yet they were actually internationalists who despised both race and religion. Nonetheless, Nicholas felt that the forged anti-Semitic tract, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was coming true: ‘How prophetic!’ he wrote, ‘This year 1905 had been truly dominated by the Jewish Elders.’ Forced to accept a constitution, he tried to restore his damaged autocracy by encouraging anti-Semitic massacres by nationalistic revanchists nicknamed the Black Hundreds.

The pogroms encouraged David Grün, a member of the socialist party Poalei Zion – Workers of Zion – to board one of the pilgrim ships from Odessa and set out for the Holy Land. The boy from image was typical of the Second Aliyah, a wave of secular pioneers, many of them socialist, who regarded Jerusalem as a nest of medieval superstition. In 1909, these settlers founded Tel Aviv on the sand dunes next to the ancient port of Jaffa; in 1911, they created a new collective farm – the first kibbutz – in the north.

Grün did not visit Jerusalem for many months after his arrival; instead he worked in the fields of Galilee, until, in mid-1910 the twenty-four-year-old moved to Jerusalem to write for a Zionist newspaper. Diminutive, skinny, curly-haired and always clad in a Russian rubashka smock to emphasize his socialist credentials, he adopted the nom de plume ‘Ben-Gurion’, borrowed from one of Simon bar Kochba’s lieutenants. The old shirt and the new name revealed the two sides of the emerging Zionist leader.

Ben-Gurion believed, like most of his fellow Zionists at this time, that a socialist Jewish state would be created without violence and without dominating or displacing the Palestinian Arabs; rather it would exist alongside them. He was sure that the Jewish and Arab working classes would cooperate. After all, the Ottoman vilayets of Sidon and Damascus and the sanjak of Jerusalem – as Palestine was then known – were poverty-stricken backwaters, sparsely populated by the 600,000 Arabs. There was much space to be developed. The Zionists hoped the Arabs would share the economic benefits of Jewish immigration. But there was little mixing between the two and it did not occur to the Zionists that most of these Arabs had no wish for the benefits of their settlement.

In Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion rented a windowless cellar but he spent his time in the Arab cafés of the Old City listening to the gramophones that played the latest Arabic songs.3 At the same time, a Christian Arab boy, a native Jerusalemite already a connoisseur of beauty and pleasure, was listening to the same songs in the same cafés and learning to play them on his lute.

THE OUD- PLAYER: WASIF JAWHARIYYEH

Wasif Jawhariyyeh started to learn the lute – or oud – as a boy, and soon he was the best oud-player in a town that lived for music: it gave him access to everyone, high and low. Born in 1897, the son of a respected Greek Orthodox town councillor, close to the Families, he was too felinely artistic to develop into a local worthy. He was apprenticed as a barber but soon defied his parents to become a musician. Witnessing everything and knowing everybody, from the Jerusalemite grandees and Ottoman pashas to Egyptian chanteuses, hash-smoking musicians and promiscuous Jewesses, useful to the elite but not quite of it, Wasif Jawhariyyeh started to write a diary at the age of seven that is one of the masterpieces of Jerusalem’s literature.*

When he began his diary, his father still rode to work on a white donkey, but he saw the first horseless conveyance, a Ford automobile driven by one of the American Colonists on the Jaffa Road; having been used to a life without electricity, soon he loved watching the new cinematograph in the Russian Compound (‘entry fee was one Ottoman bishlik paid at the door’).

Wasif revelled in the cultural mix. A Christian educated at the English public school of St George’s, he studied the Koran and enjoyed picnics on the Temple Mount. Regarding Sephardic Jews as ‘Yahud, awlad Arab’ (Jews, son of Arabs), he dressed up for Jewish Purim and attended the annual Jewish Picnic at Simon the Just’s tomb, where he sang Andalusian songs to oud and tambourine. At a typical gig, he played a Jewish version of a well-known Arab song to accompany an Ashkenazi choir in the house of a Jewish tailor in the Montefiore Quarter.

In 1908, Jerusalem celebrated the Young Turk Revolution which overthrew the tyrannical Abdul-Hamid and his secret police. The Young Turks – the Committee of Union and Progress – restored the 1876 Constitution and called parliamentary elections. In the excitement, Albert Antebi, a local businessman known to his fans as the Jewish Pasha and to his enemies as Little Herod, threw hundreds of free loaves to the delighted crowds at the Jaffa Gate. Children acted out the Young Turk coup in street plays.

The Arabs believed that at last they would be liberated from Ottoman despotism. The early Arab nationalists were unsure if they wanted a kingdom centred in Arabia or a Greater Syria, but already the Lebanese writer Najib Azouri had noticed how Arab and Jewish aspirations were developing simultaneously – and were bound to collide. Jerusalem elected the grandees Uthman al-Husseini and Yusuf Khalidi’s nephew, Ruhi, a writer, politician and man of the world, as Members of Parliament. In Istanbul, Ruhi Khalidi became deputy speaker, using his position to campaign against Zionism and Jewish land purchases.

The ever-richer Families thrived. Their boys were educated with Wasif at the English St George’s, the girls at the Husseini girls’ school. Now women wore both Arab and Western fashions. The British school brought football to Jerusalem: there was a match every Saturday afternoon on a pitch outside Bab al-Sahra: the Husseini boys were especially keen players – some would play in their tarbushes. Before the Great War, Wasif was still a schoolboy, yet he was already living a Bohemian double life. He played hisoud and served as trusted fixer and party-giver, perhaps even a subtle pimp for the Families, who now lived outside the walls in new mansions in Sheikh Jarrah. The grandees customarily rented an odah or garçonnière, a small apartment to play cards and keep their concubines, and they would let him have their spare keys. Wasif’s patron, the mayor’s son Hussein Effendi al-Husseini, kept the most lissom of the concubines, Persephone, a Greek-Albanian seamstress, in his odah off the Jaffa Road, whence this entrepreneurial temptress traded in cattle and sold her own brand of medicinal thyme oil. Persephone loved to sing and she was accompanied by young Wasif on the oud. When Husseini himself became mayor in 1909, he married off Persephone.

The mistresses of the grandees had traditionally been Jewish, Armenian or Greek, but now the thousands of Russian pilgrims became the richest resource for Jerusalem’s hedonists. Wasif recorded that in the company of the future mayor Ragheb al-Nashashibi and Ismail al-Husseini he arranged secret parties ‘for the Russian ladies’. It just happened that at this time an unusual Russian pilgrim to Jerusalem was complaining about the astonishing decadence and whoring in the city of his fellow countrymen.4 Arriving in March 1911, this sybaritic monk was the spiritual adviser and comfort of the Russian emperor and empress, whose haemophiliac son, Alexei, only he could heal.

RASPUTIN: THE RUSSIAN NUNS BEWARE

‘I can’t describe the joyful impressions, ink is useless as your soul joyfully sings “Let God rise from the dead”,’ wrote Grigory Rasputin, a forty-four-year-old Siberian peasant turned itinerant holy man. He had first come to Jerusalem in 1903 as an unknown pilgrim and still remembered the misery of the sea voyage from Odessa, ‘stuffed in the hold like cattle, as many as 700 people at a time’. But Rasputin had risen in the world since then. This time, Nicholas II, who called Rasputin ‘our friend’, had sponsored his pilgrimage to remove him from St Petersburg and deflect the increasing criticism of this sacred sinner, who partied with prostitutes, exposed himself and urinated in restaurants. Now Rasputin stayed in style at the palatial residence of Jerusalem’s Orthodox patriarch, but he counted himself a champion of the ordinary pilgrim, expressing ‘the inexplicable joy’ of Easter: ‘It is all as it was: you see the people dressed the same as in [biblical] times, wearing the same coats and strange dress of the Old Testament. It makes me melt into tears.’ Then there was the sex and drink, on which Rasputin was an expert.

By 1911, over 10,000 Russians, mostly unruly peasants, came for Easter, staying in the ever-expanding dormitories in the Russian Compound, praying in Grand Duke Sergei’s Mary Magdalene and the new Alexander Nevsky next to the Church.* These visitors brought their nation into increasing disrepute: even in the early days their consul had described Bishop Cyril Naumov as ‘an alcoholic and buffoon who surrounds himself with Arab comedians and women’. As for the pilgrims, ‘Many of them live in Jerusalem in a manner that corresponds neither to the holiness of the place nor to the aim of their pilgrimage, falling prey to various temptations.’

As the numbers grew, the pilgrims, who indulged in fighting and drinking, became harder to control, and Rasputin revealed how much he hated the Catholics and Armenians, not to mention the Muslims. In 1893, the Russian bodyguard of a rich pilgrim shot and killed a Latin sacristan and three others when a Catholic asked him to make way in the Church. ‘The booze is everywhere and they drink it because it’s cheap, mostly made by Athenian nuns,’ explained Rasputin. Worse was the promiscuity: as we have seen, Russian pilgrims were easily procured by the grandees of Jerusalem for their parties, and some stayed behind as concubines. Rasputin knew what he was talking about when he warned:

Nuns mustn’t travel there! Most of them earn their living away from the Holy City itself. Not to explain further, anyone who has been there understands how many mistakes are made by young brothers and sisters! It’s very hard for the girls, they are forced to stay longer, the temptation is great, the enemy [Catholics? Muslims?] are tremendously envious. Many of them become concubines and women of the markets. It happens that they tell you ‘we have our own sugar-daddy’ and they add you to the list!*

The traffic in pleasure travelled both ways. Stephen Graham, the English journalist who accompanied the peasant pilgrims at roughly the same time as Rasputin was there, described how ‘Arab women found their way into the hostelry in Holy Week despite the regulations and sold bottles of gin and cognac to the peasants. Jerusalem began to overflow with pilgrims and sightseers and also with mountebanks, showmen and hawkers, Montenegrin policemen, mounted Turkish gendarmes, pilgrims on asses, pilgrims on carts,’ Englishmen and Americans, but ‘the Holy City is delivered into the hand of Russians, Armenians, Bulgarians and Christian Arabs’.

Russian hucksters debauched the visitors. Philip, ‘a tall peasant, broad-shouldered but fat, with a large dirty black-haired unshaven face, a bushy moustache that hung in a sensual sort of droop over thick red sluggish lips’ was typical – ‘a pander to the monks, a tout for ecclesiastical shopkeepers, a smuggler of goods, an immoralist and a trader in articles of religion’ manufactured in a so-called Jew Factory. Fallen priests ended their Jerusalem days in ‘drunkenness, religious hysteria and corpse-washing’ – for many Russians died (happily) in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, just to add to this incendiary mix, Marxist propagandists preached revolution and atheism to the Russian peasants.

On the Palm Sunday of Graham’s visit, as Turkish soldiers beat back the pilgrims, the crowds poured out of the Church to ‘much shrieking and skirling from the Orthodox Arabs, crying out in religious frenzy’ until suddenly they were attacked by ‘a band of redcapped Turks and beturbaned Muslims who made a loud whoop and struck their way with blows, threw themselves on the bearer of the olive branch and gained possession, broke the branch to bits and ran off. An American girl snapped her Kodak. The Christian Arabs swore vengeance.’ Afterwards the Russians awaited the Second Coming of ‘the great conqueror’ at the Golden Gate. But the climax as ever was the Holy Fire: when the flame emerged, ‘exalted easterners plunged sheaves of lighted candles into their bosoms, and cried out in joy and ecstasy. They sang as if under the influence of some extraordinary drug’ with ‘one guiding cry: KYRIE ELEISON: CHRIST IS RISEN!’ But ‘there was a regular stampede’ that had to be suppressed with the whips and rifle butts.

That night Graham recorded how his companions – ‘excited, feverish, and fluttering like so many children’ – filled their bags with Jerusalem earth, Jordan water, palms, death shrouds, stereoscopes – ‘and we kissed each other all over again!’

What embracing and kissing there were this night; smacking of hearty lips and tangling of beards and whiskers. There commenced a day of uproarious festivity. The quantity of wine, cognac and arak [aniseed-flavoured liqueur] consumed would appal most English. And the drunken dancing would be rather foreign to Jesus!

That year, Easter coincided with Passover and Nabi Musa. While Rasputin policed the morals of the Orthodox sisterhood whom Wasif was busy debauching, an English aristocrat unleashed riots and made headlines across the world.5

THE HON. CAPTAIN MONTY PARKER
AND THE ARK OF THE COVENANT

Monty Parker, a twenty-nine-year-old nobleman with a plumage of luxuriant moustaches and pointed Edward VII beard, expensive tastes and minimal income, was an opportunistic but credulous rogue, always on the lookout for an easy way to make his fortune – or at least find someone else to pay for his luxuries. In 1908, this Old Etonian son of a Cabinet minister in Gladstone’s last government, younger brother of the Earl of Morley, ex-Grenadier Guards officer and veteran of the Boer War, encountered a Finnish hierophant who convinced him that together they could discover in Jerusalem the most valuable treasure of world history.

The Finn was Dr Valter Juvelius, a teacher, poet and spiritualist with a taste for dressing up in biblical robes and deciphering biblical codes. After working for years on the Book of Ezekiel, encouraged by séances with a Swedish psychic, Juvelius believed he had uncovered what he called ‘The Cipher of Ezekiel’. This revealed that in 586 bc, when Nebuchadnezzar was about to destroy Jerusalem, the Jews had hidden what he dubbed ‘the Temple Archive’ – the Ark of the Covenant – in a tunnel south of the Temple Mount. But he needed a man of action who could also help him raise the funds required to find the Ark. Who better than a dim but energetic English aristocrat with the best connections in Edwardian London?

Juvelius showed his secret prospectus to Parker, who excitedly read this revelation:

I now believe I have empirically proved the extremely ingenious deduction that the entrance to the Temple Archive is the Akeldama and that Temple Archive stands untouched in its hiding place. It ought to be a simple matter to produce the Archive of the Temple from its 2500 year old hiding-place. The existence of the Cipher proves the Temple Archive remains untouched.

Parker was convinced by this crank’s closely argued thesis – even if it was scarcely more rational than the plot of The Da Vinci Code. At a time when even the Kaiser was attending séances and when many believed in the Jewish conspiracy, Juvelius had no trouble finding converts. As one of his adepts wrote to him, ‘the Jews are a somewhat secretive race’ – so naturally they had hidden the Ark rather well.

Parker had Juvelius’ document translated from Finnish and bound in a glossy brochure. Then he told his pals, a disreputable crew of indebted aristocrats and military mountebanks,* about this astonishing opportunity to make a fortune: surely this cache would be worth $200 million? Parker was a glib salesman who soon attracted more investors than he could handle. British, Russian and Swedish aristocrats threw money at him, as did wealthy Americans such as Consuelo Vanderbilt, the Duchess of Marlborough. Parker’s syndicate needed free access to the Temple Mount and the City of David, which he was convinced could be arranged ‘by dint of liberal baksheesh!’ In spring 1909, Parker, Juvelius and their Swedish bodyguard-cum-fixer Captain Hoffenstahl visited the sites in Jerusalem, then sailed for Istanbul where Monty, offering ministers 50 per cent of the treasure and cash up front, managed to corrupt much of the new Young Turk regime from the grand vizier down, signing a contract between Djavid Bey, the finance minister, and ‘Honourable M. Parker of the Turf Club, London’.

The Sublime Porte advised Parker to hire an Armenian called Mr Macasadar as his fixer and sent two commissioners to supervise the dig. In August 1909 Captain Hoffenstahl collected the ‘Cipher’ from Juvelius then headed to meet Parker and his friends in Jerusalem, where they made their headquarters in the Kaiser’s Augusta Victoria Fortress on the Mount of Olives and stayed at the Hotel Fast (the best in town). Monty and his friends behaved like a stag-party of hearty public-schoolboys, giving ‘gay dinners’and holding shooting competitions using oranges for target-practice. ‘One morning, we heard unusual noises,’ remembered Bertha Spafford, the American Colonist, ‘and saw the worthy archaeologists playing at being donkeyboys, running alongside the donkeys and imitating the yelling, usually made by Arab boys who were mounted in the Englishmen’s place.’ Parker’s gang bribed many of the potentates of Jerusalem, suborned the governor Azmey Pasha, hired a huge retinue of workers, guides, maids and bodyguards and started to excavate on the Ophel hill. This was and remains the archaeological fulcrum in the quest for ancient Jerusalem: here Charles Warren had dug in 1867. Later the American archaeologists Frederick Bliss and Archibald Dickie found more tunnels which together suggested that this was the site of King David’s Jerusalem. Parker was guided spiritually from afar by Juvelius, and by another member of the expedition, the Irish ‘thought-reader, Lee’. Even when he found nothing, Parker did not lose his faith in Juvelius.

Jerusalem’s Jews, backed by Baron Edmond de Rothschild (who was himself financing a dig for the Ark of the Covenant), claimed that Parker was abusing sacred Jewish ground. Muslims too were anxious, but the Ottomans kept them at arm’s length. To ease their suspicions, Parker hired the archaeological scholar Père Vincent of the Ecole Biblique to supervise his excavation – which did in fact find more evidence that this was the site of a very early settlement. Vincent was oblivious to the real purpose of the dig.

In late 1909, the rains halted Parker’s work, but in 1910 he sailed back into Jaffa on Clarence Wilson’s yacht, the Water Lily, and continued his excavations. The Arab workers went on strike several times. When the courts threatened to back the Arabs, Monty and his partners decided that only a dazzling display of British Trooping of the Colour pageantry would overawe the natives: they decided to confront the mayor (Wasif the oud-player’s patron) ‘in full uniform’. Captain Duff, wearing helmet, cuirass and the white gauntlets of the Life Guards, and Monty Parker in scarlet tunic and bearskin were, recalled Major Foley, ‘the star turns. We created a sensation!’

When the strikers were dismissed, this farcical parade headed triumphantly through the Old City, led, in Foley’s words, by ‘a troop of Turkish lancers, then the Mayor and Commandant, some holy men, then Duff, Parker, me, Wilson, Macasadar and Turkish gendarmes in the rear.’ Suddenly Duff’s mule bolted through the bazaars with the captain hanging on until he was thrown into a shop and buried in peanuts, much to the hilarity of his friends. ‘An old Jew’, said Foley, ‘thought it was the end of the world and started to wail in Yiddish.’

This display – or more likely ‘liberal baksheesh’ – worked for now. Parker meticulously sent secret reports to the syndicate, covertly named FJMPW after some of its members, and accounts for the bribes, which on his first visit cost £1,900. He spent £3,400 in the first year, and when he had to return in 1910 his accounts reveal ‘Payments to Jerusalem officials: £5,667’. The mayor, Hussein Husseini, received £100 a month. These lavish bribes must have been a blessing for the Jerusalem grandees, but Parker realized that the Young Turk government was in flux and that Jerusalem was a sensitive place: ‘The utmost caution must be used for the smallest mistake may involve serious difficulties!’ he reported. Yet even he did not really understand that he was playing on a volcano. When he resumed digging in the spring of 1911, Parker paid out even more but he was now desperate: he decided to dig on the Temple Mount, bribing Sheikh Khalil al-Ansari, hereditary Custodian of the Haram, and his brother.

Parker and his gang, disguised in pantomime Arab garb, crept on to the Temple Mount and, in the precinct of the Dome itself, they broke open the pavement to dig into the secret tunnels beneath. However, on the night of 17 April, a Muslim nightwatchman, unable to sleep in his crowded home, decided to camp out on the Haram, where he surprised the English and ran into the streets, shouting that disguised Christians were digging up the Dome of the Rock.

The mufti turned back the entire Nabi Musa procession and denounced this wicked Ottoman and British conspiracy. A mob, reinforced by the pilgrims of Nabi Musa raced to defend the Noble Sanctuary. Captain Parker and his friends galloped for their lives to Jaffa. The crowd, which for the one and only time combined Muslims and Jews, both equally outraged, tried to lynch Sheikh Khalil and Macasadar whose lives were saved only when the Ottoman garrison intervened and arrested them. They and Parker’s police guards were all imprisoned in Beirut. In Jaffa, Monty Parker just made it on board the Water Lily. But the police there were alerted that he might have the Ark of the Covenant about his person. They searched him and his baggage, but found no Ark. Parker knew he had to escape – so, bamboozling the Ottoman gendarmes by playing the English gentleman, he illuminated the Water Lily and announced that he was going ‘to hold a reception on board for the Jaffa officials’. He then sailed away as they were about to board.

Back in Jerusalem, the crowds threatened to kill the governor and slaughter anyone British as rumours spread that Parker had stolen the Crown of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant and the Sword of Muhammad. The governor was in hiding for fear of his life. By the morning of 19 April, the London Times reported, ‘there was a tremendous row throughout the city. Shops closed, peasants bolting out of the place and rumours spreading’. The Christians were terrified that ‘Mahomedan pilgrims from Nabi Musa’ were coming ‘to assassinate all Christians’. Simultaneously the Muslims were petrified that ‘8,000 Russian pilgrims were armed to massacre the Mahomedans’. All sides believed that ‘the Solomonic regalia’ had been ‘transferred to Captain Parker’s yacht’.

Europeans stayed indoors and locked their gates. ‘The wrath of the people of Jerusalem was so great’, remembered Bertha Spafford, ‘that patrols were posted on every street.’ Then on the last day of the Nabi Musa, with 10,000 Jerusalemites on the Temple Mount, the mob ‘stampeded. A fearful panic ensued, peasant women and pilgrims pouring out of the walls and running toward the city gates crying “Massacre!” Every family armed itself and barricaded its home. The “Parker fiasco”,’ wrote Spafford, ‘came nearer to causing anti-Christian massacre than anything that happened during our long residence in Jerusalem.’ The New York Times informed the world: ‘Gone with Treasure that was Solomon’s. English Party Vanishes on Yacht After Digging under Mosque of Omar: SAID TO HAVE FOUND KING’S CROWN. Turkish Government Sends High Officials to Jerusalem to Investigate!’

Monty Parker, who never grasped the gravity of all this, sailed back to Jaffa that autumn but was advised not to land ‘or else there might be more trouble’. He told the syndicate that he would ‘proceed to Beirut’ to visit the prisoners. His plan was then to go on: ‘To Jerusalem to quiet the press and get hold of the Notables to see a little bit of reason. Once all is quiet, get the Governor to write to the Grand Vizier and say it’s safe for us to return!’ Jerusalem never did ‘see a little bit of reason’ but Parker kept trying until 1914.*

There were diplomatic complaints between London and Istanbul, Jerusalem’s governor was sacked, Parker’s accomplices were tried but acquitted (because nothing had been stolen), the money was gone, the treasure chimerical, and the ‘Parker fiasco’ brought down the curtain on fifty years of European archaeology and imperialism.6

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