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The Ottoman Empire

Map of the Ottoman Empire
Map of the Ottoman Empire in 1680 CE

Under the Ottoman Turks (1516-1918), Palestine’s administration was divided several times. First tied to Damascus, then to Sidon, then to Acre and then to Damascus again, at the end of the 19th century the region was eventually divided into the districts of Nablus and Acre, both belonging to the province of Beirut, and the autonomous district of Jerusalem, placed directly under Constantinople. Ottoman control fluctuated between periods of indirect hegemony and, in other periods, more direct control. The region’s economic prosperity also fluctuated. In the first three centuries of Ottoman rule, however, Palestine hardly underwent structural changes as a result of Ottoman rule.

In 1799, however, the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte undertook an expedition to Egypt and laid siege to Acre, the most important port on the coast of Historical Palestine. With the help of British war ships the Turkish defenders managed to stave off the attack. After six weeks the French troops were forced to withdraw, and France eventually gave up its campaign to expand the Napoleonic Empire to the Middle East.

In 1831, the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, occupied Palestine at the expense of his overlord in Constantinople. His nine-year rule opened up the country to Western influences. However, in 1830 Muhammad Ali was forced to withdraw from the region to Egypt when British, Austrian and Russian forces came to the aid of Constantinople.

The economic and social reforms introduced by the Ottoman government deeply affected Palestine. Private property ownership was encouraged, the agricultural sector started to produce for the world market, the population grew and the Palestinian middle class prospered (see also A new era). Moreover, the interest of the European powers was aroused, and the Western powers established consulates and business offices in Jerusalem and in the port cities of Palestine. In 1882, Russian Jews founded the first settlement in Palestine. This was the first settlement by Jews from outside the region.