The Hamidi Period (1876 – 1908)

The Hamidi Period refers to Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who is widely considered the last effective Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

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During his reign, administrative  and constitutional reforms continued. During his early years in power, the country witnessed fervent economic activity. His rule, however, was tyrannical at times, and debts soon overwhelmed the state. At this time, infrastructure was firmly established all over the empire – particularly in Turkey and Syria – including the Hijaz Railway, which linked Jerusalem and Jaffa.

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The empire also waged wars and faced western conspiracies, all while sustaining and strengthening its connection with Germany and its allies, helping to repel these onslaughts. The wars and continuous plots resulted in the empire’s loss of a number of geographical sites, including vast stretches of land in Europe and North Africa.

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This period also witnessed the birth of Zionism, a movement born as a reaction to the formation of nation-states in Europe. This coincided with increasing European influence in Palestine, which generated clashes with Palestinian Notables. Meanwhile, Jerusalem developed in an unprecedented manner and gained immense economic and political importance in the Levant, while stressing its religious importance as well. The city’s population increased and foreign delegations were increasingly dispatched to it, positively impacting the city’s economy. Therefore, Jerusalem quickly became a regional capital.

While Zionism was established in Europe and quickly gained prominence, the Al Husseinis gained higher status in Jerusalem, Palestine as a whole, and Syria. Family members were able to embark on modern education and, consequently, Al Husseinis were some of the first administrates, lawyers, and doctors. They were appointed to important civil positions inside and outside of Jerusalem and played a significant role in activating communal and philanthropic businesses. They also took part in a variety of different activities and economic ventures, buying – among other things – more farmlands where they established many of their projects. At the same time, the family ensured to maintain balance between the public and private spheres in which they operated.

المسجد الأقصى المبارك

Around this time, the Al Husseinis began moving from the old city section they populated near the Al Aqsa Mosque (Al Haram Al Shareef) between the Via Dolorosa and Akaba Tekiya roads to areas outside the city walls. The family, despite strong competition, maintained its clerical positions, the chiefdom of the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the administration of the elite’s syndicate, though the imminence and importance of these positions had begun to fade. They were also appointed high positions in Istanbul and various other provinces in the empire; Musa bin Kathem bin Salim Al Husseini was named Governor of Anatolia, Eastern Jordan (Ajloun), as well as Najd and Aseer. During his term, he saved the life of Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud, who later founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and became its first monarch. Shukri bin Musa, son of Musa bin Kathem, became the highest appointed Arab officer in the Ottoman Empire when he was made Financial Manager for the Ministry Of Education. He was also an attendant of Sultan Abdul-Hamid’s meeting with Theodor Herzl, the official representative of the Zionist movement, who requested to purchase Palestine. His brother Aref was also appointed a high position there. Ismail, on the other hand, became the most highly-appointed and well-known Arab figure representing Sultan Abdul-Hamid in Jerusalem and Palestine. In 1894, Musa Taher passed away after having been given the honorary title Pasha, and left behind an immense fortune and a vast web of important relations all over the Ottoman Empire and beyond.

موسى بن طاهر بن عبد اللطيف الحسيني

Ismail bin Musa finished building a house for the family in 1897; that same year, he was made head of the cultural institution, which was deemed especially significant due to its involvement in the educational reform initiated by Sultan Abdul-Hamid II. Ismail bin Musa was also appointed head of the media monitoring program, whose aim was to monitor publishing houses that were slowly gaining popularity. This position was especially important as the Sultan considered some published material a threat to the empire’s security.

Ismail bin Musa alHusseini

Even before Ismail had concluded construction of his new home, Rabah Effendi Al Husseini and Saleem Efffendi Al Husseini had each developed their own family residences in the same area, which, later on, became known as the Al Husseini district. It was quite obvious, from the establishment’s high site and its distinctive architectural characteristics –in addition to Ismail’s social status and his winning personality– that this was not going to be an ordinary family house, but a center for social and political gatherings.

And so it was; the first public occasion of high importance held there was Germany’s Emperor Wilhelm II’s reception in 1898. Wilhelm II’s visit to Jerusalem was the first royal visit paid by a European monarch to the Ottoman Empire since the crusaders’ capture of Jerusalem in 1099. Sultan Abdul-Hamid believed the monarch’s acceptance to be of extreme importance; the emperor hoped for a potential alliance between the German and Ottoman Empires, which would secure the perseverance of the latter as a major global power with the ability to face military and economic challenges posed by both western and eastern European powers. Thus, the reception ceremony, held in what is now known as the Orient House, was attended by all major government and military officials, as well as the great figures and decision-makers of Jerusalem. The reception held was quite extraordinary and befitting the occasion, which elsewhere would have been held in an imperial chateau or grand hotel.

Commemorative medal coined on the historical occasion of Wilhelm II and his wife’s Jerusalem visit. The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer appears next to the bīmārestān, whose land Sultan Abdul-Hamid offered the monarch as a present.

Ismail Beik’s political and administrative careers were generally quite successful; he established the first school for girls in Palestine in 1897, and the first educational museum in 1900. Moreover, he was able to sway Palestinian public opinion in favor of the empire and the sultan, and for that, he not only won several medals, but was able to increase upon his father’s fortune. His house, in which feasts, ceremonies, and gatherings were regular occurrences, allowed Jerusalem’s citizens to interact with Ottoman ministers and government officials, playing a crucial role in the political life of the city.