Revisiting the Jerusalem Locust Plague of 1915

April 21 2022

In the December 1915 issue of National Geographic, John Whiting detailed a severe, seemingly supernatural attack of locusts in the Land of Israel. Over the course of 30 pages, Armin Rosen writes, “Whiting often writes as if he’s seeing the Bible come to life in front of him,” citing heavily from the book of Joel.

Subsequent events now make the once-a-generation locust plague that occurred in 1915 seem like a minor horror in the 20th-century history of the land that became the state of Israel. The next several decades of world wars, regular wars, riots, invasions, massacres, and terror attacks might even make the insect swarm of that distant year seem comfortingly separate from the grim agency of human beings, an event belonging only to nature, with nothing much to say about us.

Jews should know better. In the Passover story, locusts are the eighth plague visited upon Pharoah, the antepenultimate rung on the God of Israel’s escalation ladder. The Muslims of Ottoman Palestine in 1915 certainly knew better. “All this is no use; go home and rest, you can do nothing,” an elderly peasant told Whiting, as his team from the American Colony in Jerusalem hunted for locust eggs on Mount Scopus. “They are Allah’s army, and once they fly they will destroy everything.” Whiting admits that events vindicated this stranger’s outlook.

I’ve never encountered any physical evidence or historical memory of this event over decades of visiting and reading and thinking about the Holy Land. But the horrors that a Wilson administration-era National Geographic reader encountered across 30-odd pages, right after eye-catching ads for Beech-Nut Tomato Catsup (“only two hours to make, bottle, and sterilize”) and the Alvin Silver Company’s brand-new Lafayette and George Washington spoon models, are not the kind that would just seem to drop easily out of the collective unconscious.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Ottoman Palestine, Ten Plagues


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount