I learnt much from the book “American Interest in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs from 1840 to 1940,” By Lenny Ben-David.
Even people like me who are familiar with the history of the State of Israel and the relationships between Israel and the United States will enjoy reading this book, looking at the assembled photographs, and reading the brief comments by the author Lenny Ben-Davis. The author collected about two hundred photos from many sources that most people have never seen, and comments upon them in 25 chapters, in 184 pages, some pages having more than a single photo. Ben-David’ focus in this volume, another book will follow, are photos from 1840 to 1940.
Among much else, the photos provide dramatic proof that there were thriving Jewish communities in Israel in the 19th century. We know of many Americans who visited Israel as individual tourists 160 years ago. The photos they took of individuals and Jewish ceremonies show the continuance Jewish presence of Jews in the Holy Land. We see many pictures of the western wall as early as 1859. American Secretary of State William H. Seward visited Israel in 1859 and wrote, among much else, that in Jerusalem, Mohammedans number 4,000, Armenians 1,800, Christians 2,200, while there were 8,000 Jews in the holy city.
In 1914, at the start of World War I, Turkey which controlled Israel at that time, mistreated the Jews terribly. The US government sent ships to Israel in 1914 and 1915 to distribute food among the Jews. A total of 13 port visits were made by more than four ships. According to one report, 23,000 people in Jerusalem “received an allotment of food from just one ship in 1915.” The US Navy evacuated 6,000 Jews from Jaffa in Israel in 1915 before the Turks could expel them. President Roosevelt wrote in 1918, “It seems to me that it is entirely proper to start a Zionist State in Jerusalem. On September 21, 1922, President Warren Harding signed into law a joint resolution unanimously passed by both houses of Congress “Favoring the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
US government support for Israel is well-known. April 1936 was the start of a vicious anti-Semitic and violent “Arab Revolt” in Israel that would last through 1939. We have pictures of congressional visits to Israel in 1936 showing US support of Jews in Israel.
These are just a few of the many facts substantiated by photographs in this book.