Turks Said to Deport Jews as They Did Armenians.
Inaccurate Accounts Spread Around the World.
Special to The Great War Project.
(6 May) At around this time one hundred years ago, a story emerges from Palestine that will prove to be one of the most significant developments in the war.
And it will be inaccurate at best, false at worst.
Jaffa, the Jewish enclave in Palestine, had been sacked, the story goes, and “10-000 Palestinian Jews are now without home or food…the whole Jewish community in Palestine is threatened with destruction.”
In the account offered by writer Scott Anderson, “the Turkish governor of Palestine was said to have stated publicly that “the Armenian policy will now be applied to the Jews.”
The Armenian policy implemented in 1915 amounted to the wholesale deportation of the Armenian communities of Turkey to the Syrian desert. More than a million Armenians died in the march, the policy amounting to genocide and one of the worst chapters of the war.
The story spreads rapidly, first to other parts of Palestine, then to Europe and eventually the United States.
One of the first to pick up the story, writes Anderson, is the Jewish Chronicle, “Britain’s preeminent Zionist newspaper.”
On May 4th,” writes Anderson, “under sub headlines entitled Grave Reports – Terrible Outrages – Threats of Wholesale Massacre.”
“It is with profound sorrow and concern that the Jewish Chronicle learns, from an absolutely reliable source, the very gravest news of the Jews in Palestine…Tel Aviv has been sacked and lies a mere heap of ruins while similar wanton destruction has in all probability taken place in other specifically Jewish parts of Palestine.”
The story was shown to be false. But nevertheless there was more. “The Turkish governor of the territory has proclaimed his intention of the authorities to wipe out mercilessly the Jewish population of Palestine.”
The Armenian policy of massacre is to be applied to the Jews of Palestine, the paper “reported.”
Writes Anderson, “at least one British official saw in the Jaffa story the chance to take matters to an entirely new level, not just to sway international Jewish opinion but to bring pressure to bear on his own government…We ought to use pogroms as propaganda.”
According to British diplomatic cables from Palestine, “Spicy tales of atrocity would be eagerly welcomed by the people in London.” So British officials concocted even more outrageous stories of atrocities against the Jews. During Passover, the stories went, “the entire Jewish population of Jaffa expelled, destination unknown.”
Then the stories of atrocities spread to the Jews of Jerusalem. So the story emerges via diplomatic cable: “Masses of young Jerusalem Jews deported, northward, destination unknown. Forcible evacuation of Jerusalem Jewish colony imminent.”
These stories traveled all the way up the British chain of command, and even reached the desk of the British king.
And to the people of the United States, through the good offices of the New York Times. “Cruelties to Jews Deported in Jaffa,” screamed its headline.
Writes Anderson, “The American government so recently enlisted to the war effort, joined an international chorus in denouncing this latest outrage by the Constantinople regime.”
As it turns out, there was an evacuation of Jaffa, but “it was carried out for military reasons, and it applied to everyone.”
It was carried out in an orderly and peaceful fashion. As for Jerusalem, no such evacuation took place there.
But that proved too late. The Jaffa “pogrom” had become established fact around the world.
And could have a significant impact on the debate over Palestine soon to come.