Clearing locusts in the field.
(photo credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)
The Library of Congress has recently digitalized a collection of over 10,000
photographs, taken by the "American Colony" in Jerusalem, a group of Christian
utopians who lived in Jerusalem between 1881 and the 1940s. The photographers
returned to the US, and bequeathed their massive collection to the Library of
Congress in 1978. The collection includes Winston Churchill's visit to
Jerusalem, Jewish expulsions from the Old City during Arab riots, and the
building of Tel Aviv.
World War I brought widespread devastation to the Middle East as German and
Turkish armies fought British, Australian and New Zealand troops in battlefields
from the Suez Canal in the south to Damascus in the north.
The war meant a
cut-off of aid and relief to the Jews of Palestine from Jewish philanthropists
in Europe and the United States. As many as 10,000 Jews were expelled from Jaffa-Tel Aviv in April 1917, and many
perished from disease and hunger.
But the famine that struck the
residents of Palestine was also caused by a massive plague of locusts that
swarmed into Eretz Yisrael in March 1915 and lasted until October. Accounts of
the locusts and the subsequent starvation and pestilence recalled the plagues of
A New York Times
account from April 1915 described deaths from
starvation. By November 1915, the Times detailed a cable from the American
in Jerusalem in which he described "fields covered by the
locusts as far as the eye could reach." The diplomat reported on efforts made by
the Turkish leader of Palestine to combat the locusts. A Jewish agronomist, "Dr.
Aaron Aaronsohn, who is well known to the Department of Agriculture at
Washington, was appointed High Commissioner" to the "Central Commission to Fight
[Aaronsohn would go on to establish the anti-Turkish NILI spy ring in 1917. His
sister Sarah was captured by the Turks for her involvement in the spy ring, and
after torture, she committed suicide.] The American Colony in Jerusalem
established soup kitchens to feed starving residents in Jerusalem. The colony's
photographers documented more than 200 pictures of the locusts' devastation,
efforts to combat them and the locusts' life cycle. An album of color (hand
tinted) photographs is stored in the Library of Congress collection.
reported, "Few crops or orchards escaped devastation. This was
especially true on the Plain of Sharon, where the Jewish and German colonies,
with their beautiful orange gardens, vineyards, and orchards, suffered most
severely... In the lowlands there was a complete destruction of crops such as
garden vegetables, melons, apricots and grapes ... upon whose supply the
Jerusalem markets depend... few vegetables or fruits [were] to be had in the
"In Jerusalem and Hebron," the report continued, "the heaviest loss from the
onslaught of the locusts has been in connection with the olive groves and
vineyards. Olive oil is a staple of food among the peasants and poorer
classes....The grape, too, is a similar staple among all classes."
"When the larvae appeared near Jerusalem," the Times
residents were mobilized "for immediate organized
resistance....Tin-lined boxes were sunk in the earth in the direction in
which the locusts were advancing." Men, women and children were given
flags and "the flaggers would drive the locusts together in a dense
column toward the trap..."
Both the forces of war and nature combined to take a terrible toll on the residents of Palestine during World War I.
More photos can be viewed at http://www.israeldailypicture.com