- Year of the Locust: A Soldier’s Diary and the Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past
Year of the Locust: A Soldier’s Diary and the Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past is the newest addition of Salim Tamari’s book series on late Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine and puts it in today’s geopolitical context. Of the many books on Palestine during the First World War, most deal with the British military campaign. This book offers a unique portrait of the local affairs of the besieged city of Jerusalem through the private writings of an Ottoman soldier stationed there.
Salim Tamari, the editor of Jerusalem Quarterly, is Professor of Sociology at Birzeit University in Palestine. He is considered to be one of several notable scholars currently working in this field, including Johann Bussow, Michelle Campos, Roberto Mazza, and Issam Nassar. Evocatively, the title of the book under review refers to a plague of locusts that struck Palestine in 1915 — an environmental disaster that destroyed all the country’s greenery and added more sorrow to the lives of Palestinians.
Year of the Locust, a precise and welldone history, records in detail the end of the Ottoman rule and a crucial moment in Palestinian history. Tamari introduce the diaries of Ihsan Hasan al-Turjman (1893–1917), the first ordinary Palestinian in the Ottoman Army, to describe World War I and its massive effects on Palestinian society. He vividly depicts the city, its residents, and the dynamics between communities during a period of great distress. As the diaries illustrate, the war impacted every aspect of life: it caused a severe shortage of basic commodities (e.g., food, fuel, cigarettes, etc.) and entailed [End Page 389] harsh intrusion by the military and the state security apparatus into peoples’ daily lives through media censorship, spying, and political persecution.
The diaries recount the activities of a Palestinian Ottoman soldier stationed in Jerusalem. Turjman was lucky because he used his family connections to avoid being sent to the front. His diaries represent an authentic depiction of daily life in the overwhelmed city. They bring to light the peaceful social life of Jerusalem, capturing from its streets the voices of soldiers, merchants, prostitutes, and beggars.
Ihsan lost his life in late 1917, before the British occupation. According to family sources, he was assassinated by a retreating Ottoman officer. He lived a short life of intense feeling and uncertainty that were reflected in his diary. This book is an impressively thoughtful, layered, and welldocumented study of key aspects of a pivotal moment in the evolution of modern Palestinian society.
Al-Salim Farid M. Assistant Professor, Department of History, Kansas State University