GREEK LOVE IN MEDIAEVAL AND MODERN PALESTINE
After seven centuries as part of the Roman Empire, Palestine was conquered by Islam in 636-40, which was a thoroughly good thing for Greek love since Roman law and the Roman (Byzantine) emperors had latterly been brutal in suppressing it. By contrast, in the new Arab-Islamic world to which Palestine thenceforth belonged, pedication remained a grave sin and a crime, but one to which a blind eye was generally turned, especially if it was of boy by man. Attraction to boys was taken for granted and acting on it was commonplace though problematic, while chaste expression of Greek love was also common and regarded as almost entirely unproblematic. Indeed, many have seen this expression, as probably observed by mostly French knights in Palestine during the First Crusade (1096-99) as influencing the emergence in France over the following century of the chivalric idea of courtly love, whereby the love object is also, sexually, forbidden fruit, albeit a (typically married) woman rather than a boy.
The brother of the biographer and scholar Ahmad al-Khālidī of Safad in Palestine (died 1624/5) was one in a tradition of Arab scholars who succumbed to temptation with one of his pupils.
In 1858, all consensual homosexual acts with boys over eleven were formally legalised in the Ottoman Empire, to which Palestine had belonged since 1516, though the age of consent was raised to thirteen in 1874.
Following the occupation of Jerusalem in December 1917 by British forces at war with the Ottomans and the establishment of Palestine as a British mandate in 1923, the new rulers of the land discovered on investigation that Greek love was widespread and sought to eradicate it in line with their own morals. In this they were much helped by the greatly increased immigration of Jews who brought with them the intolerant attitudes of the European countries from which they almost all came as well as the faith that lay behind the prohibition of sodomy by the Abrahamic religions.
Among the new immigrants was the Dutch Jewish Orthodox writer Jacob Israel de Haan, who arrived in 1919 as a zealous Zionist, only to be assassinated by Zionists five years later after angering them by his sympathy for the plight of the native Arab population. Sometimes known as “the Jewish Lawrence of Arabia”, his published poems left no doubt that, like Lawrence, his head had been turned through love of Arab boys. In one poem, he asked himself whether his visits to the Wailing Wall were motivated by a desire for God or for the young Arabs to be found there. Not content with having murdered him, the Zionists went on to try to discredit him by spreading a rumour that he had been killed by the angry father of one of his boys.
All homosexuality continued to remain illegal in the new state of Israel, proclaimed in 1948.
The boysexual English journalist Michael Davidson (1897-1976) stayed in Tel Aviv from about August to October 1948, and wrote about the boys there briefly in his general autobiography The World, the Flesh and Myself (1962):
I think I was the first journalist to write about the physical change occurring in Jews of the second and third generations born in Palestine. Many schoolboys in Tel Aviv in 1948—boys born, that is, in the '30s—had snub faces, fair hair and eyes blue enough to be 'nordic'; with perhaps a shadowy hint of orientalism in the mouth and nose. This must, I suppose, have been the consequence of climate and of an out-of-door life; if this is so, it seems extraordinary that the effect should so dramatically become manifest within two or three generations. But I hope that the ancient racial characteristics are not really tending to disappear; it will be a pity if the people of Israel become in time as nondescript in appearance as most Europeans. Shlomo—whom I met bathing on the wide shore where the leisured water is so shallow that you wade out for a furlong with it no higher than your shins—looked more like a pretty cockney than a child of the eastern Danube; he was a 14-year-old sabra ('cactus'—slang for Jews Palestine-bred) who knew almost no English and hadn't been to school; he couldn't tell me, as his educated contemporaries constantly did, that 'modern' Hebrew was going to be a language far superior in every way to English. There was nothing brash and boastful about Shlomo; he was a confiding friend, like a faithful dog.
He later elaborated on this in a second memoir, Some Boys, from which it is clear that his relationship with Shlomo was no more than a mild and chaste friendship, and that he noticed no signs of Greek love anywhere during his stay.
In 1977, sex between males over sixteen was legalised in Israel, which, while it remained illegal in her Arab neighbours, encouraged pro-Israelis often and hypocritically to proclaim Israel a haven of tolerance surrounded by Arab repression. In reality, for the rest of the century, Israel was far more repressive of Greek love than them.
For example, the activist Ezra Nawi, for whom, in the tradition of de Haan, sympathy for the plight of the Arabs being dispossessed of their homes went hand in hand with a love of Arab boys, was imprisoned by an Israeli court in 1995 for sex it admitted was consensual with a Palestinian boy of fifteen. With no witnesses and the boy very reluctant to testify against him, such an affair would have caused no trouble in any of Israel’s Arab neighbours.
If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to email@example.com, mentioning either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it. You could also indicate the name by which you wish to be known.
art, 24 August 2022
'In 1858, all homosexual acts with boys over eleven were formally legalised in the Ottoman Empire'
How could this have been reconciled with Islam? I thought in that religion homosexual sex was strictly forbidden, as it still is in Muslim countries.
I realize these relationships happened but didn't it have to be discreet?
But did they actually legalize it?
Editor, 24 August 2022
Pedication (liwat), and arguably some other homosexual acts, were indeed forbidden by Islam. Nevertheless, in 1858 they were legalised by the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmejid, who was an ally of France (on whose penal code the new Ottoman penal code was modelled). He sought to modernise his empire and reconcile his non-Moslem subjects to his rule by giving them religious freedom and secularising the state. Notably, it was France that had taken the lead in doing exactly the same thing in 1791, when it became the first Christian country to legalise pedication, which was equally forbidden by Christianity. The Ottoman raising of the age of consent from 11 to 13 was also in direct imitation of France, which had done the same in 1863.
The irony is that very slight discretion had been necessary while pedication was illegal. Many of Abdulmejid's predecessors had been well-known for their preference for boys. Greater discretion was required afterwards because, at the same time and due to the same European influence, homosexuality was becoming pathologised and pederasty was finally falling out of favour.
For anyone interested, there are a large number of primary and secondary sources on this site bringing to life Turkish attitudes to pederasty.