Breaking new ground and shattering old myths, 1913: SEEDS of CONFLICT, directed by award-winning filmmaker Ben Loeterman, explores the little-known history of Palestine during the latter part of the Ottoman Empire, a time of relative harmony between Arabs and Jews. Living side by side in the multi-lingual, cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem, Jews, Christians and Muslims intermingled with a cultural fluidity enjoyed by all. How did this land of milk and honey, so diverse and rich in culture, become the site of today’s bitter and seemingly intractable struggle? Was there a turning point, a moment in time when things could have been different? Weaving the raveled threads of Arab and Jewish narratives back together, 1913: SEEDS of CONFLICT provides new and fascinating insights into the dramatic events that took place in Palestine which set the stage for the coming century of unrest.
The film examines the divergent social forces growing in Palestine before the outbreak of World War I that caused the simultaneous rise in Jewish and Arab nationalism. Combining the perspectives of a wide range of Arab, Israeli and American scholars, the film includes information from documents previously unavailable from the Turkish Ottoman archives and largely untouched by historians. Shot on location in Beit Jamal, dramatized scenes bring many of the key figures of the era to life, with dialogue in five languages taken directly from the historical record — personal letters, government documents and newspaper accounts. 1913: SEEDS of CONFLICT offers a fresh look at the complex circumstances that transformed this once relatively peaceful outpost of the Ottoman Empire into a land perpetually torn by violence.
* * *
By the mid-1800s half a million Ottoman subjects — over 400,000 Muslims, 60,000 Christians and 20,000 Jews — call Palestine home. Sharing the same homeland, these diverse groups find commonality in their identity as Ottoman citizens, often gathering in the coffeehouses of Jerusalem to listen to music performed by Arabs, Christians and Jews. The Jews of Palestine are mostly Sephardic, of Mediterranean origin, and as Ottoman citizens are integrated in the political framework. In an empire dominated by Islamic culture, they speak Arabic and, like Christians, accept their secondary status.
But this soon changes with the arrival of waves of Eastern European Jewish migrants, fleeing anti-Semitic violence at home. Jerusalem’s representative to the Ottoman Parliament in Istanbul, Ruhi al-Khalidi, voices growing concerns about what he sees as the Jews’ secret agenda to build a state. This influx of foreign Jews is undermining the delicate cultural balance so carefully nurtured by prominent Ottoman Jews such as Albert Antebi, who embraces the idea of economic and cultural Zionism but fears that the land grab will lead to bitterness and arouse anti-Semitism. As the new arrivals purchase large tracts of land from mostly absentee owners, the Arabs, who had lived and cultivated the land for generations — and believed it was rightfully their property — grow ever more resentful.
In 1903 the arrival of a second wave of Russian Jews — Ashkenazi — many with a determined socialist agenda and uninterested in assimilating into the local culture, heightens tensions. Flush with cash, Arthur Ruppin arrives from Germany to be the Zionist’s land agent while rising Arab leader Khalil Sakakini speaks out against the displacement of local farmers and calls for a new Palestinian Arab identity.
In 1913, these growing tensions erupt between neighboring Arabs and Jews in a vineyard in Rehovot, just outside present-day Tel Aviv. A brawl provoked over the theft of a bunch of grapes turns violent, leaving one Arab farmer and one Jewish guardsman dead. Within days, the dispute escalates into an uproar about the future of each group’s claim to the same homeland. It marks a turning point in the history of the Arabs and Jews. The outbreak of World War I prevents a resolution to the conflict and the years of peaceful coexistence ends. More than a century of painful conflict has begun.
“History is something that you can’t control,” said Amy Dockser Marcus. “If the war hadn’t broken out could things have gone in a different direction? We’ll never know. But I think it’s important to remember that there was a moment when different groups shared a city, shared a land and for a moment in time, shared history.”
1913: SEEDS of CONFLICT is a production of Ben Loeterman Productions, Inc. Director/Producer/Writer: Ben Loeterman. Associate Producer: Elisha Baskin. Principal Consultant: Amy Dockser Marcus. Editor: Rachel Clark. Cinematography: Itai Neeman. Music: Kareem Roustom.
Funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bridging Cultures Through Film. Additional funding is provided by PBS and Public Television Viewers. Fiscal Sponsor: International Documentary Association.