Slaughter, Torture and Death in Jaffa

During the times of Ottoman in Israel, Napoleon led his armies to Jaffa in 1799 in order to capture this port city. He needed this city because it provided vital shelter for his fleet. Without Jaffa, his expedition in the Holy Land against the Ottoman would fail. But soon this expedition would turn into slaughter, torture and death.

Reading and learning about history teaches on thing: the barbaric practices in those times like the torture, beheadings, castrations, mass executions, rape and more are still being performed particular in the Middle East (but not limited to) by ISIS, Syria under Assad, Iran and Russia.

Jaffa was surrounded by high walls (some of them you still can see) flanked with large towers, and was guarded by Ahmed al-Jazzar’s so called elite troops. Under the defenders were 1,200 artillerymen, 3,640 infantrymen (many Albanians and Egyptians), all holed up in the city when the French were approaching the city. The defenders of Jaffa were quite confident that they would be able to defend themselves against the fast approaching infidels.

This is one of my usual (battle) history stories of Jaffa (only the stories are much more detailed) as a guide for various groups of tourists visiting the place. Click here for the details about Wim the guide.

Siege of Jaffa
Siege of Jaffa

The Napoleon’s armies surrounded Jaffa and the siege started. Napoleon promised his step son Eugène de Beauharnais that prisoners’ lives would be spared after battles and be ‘civilized’, Napoleon sent a Turk to the city’s commander and Abdallah Bey (Turkish governor) to order its surrender.

Honestly for Napoleon, prisoners were a problem for him, because his armies in the Holy Land were an expeditionary force, badly ‘equipped’ for holding territory and keeping prisoners! If Napoleon would allow to keep prisoners, it would considerably reduce the size of his forces.

The Ottomans were not working under such constraints and ‘civilized’ battles, and the Turk was promptly tortured, castrated and decapitated and his head impaled on the city wall in front of the shocked French troops and an enraged Napoleon. If that was not enough for the overconfident Ottomans, they ordered a sortie against the French, which was immediately pushed back.

That was the turning point of the siege of Jaffa. An enraged Napoleon ordered to attack and a bombardment of Jaffa, which resulted in one of the towers to collapse, which gave the French army the opening to penetrate Jaffa. After a short, but fierce battle, the shocked and overwhelmed Ottoman army within the city walls surrendered.

Napoleon executed the Turkish governor Abdallah Bey (the city commander was killed during the short battle within the city) outside the city walls and allowed his soldiers two days and nights of slaughter and rape as revenge, while Napoleon was waiting outside the city walls.

Siege of Jaffa
Siege of Jaffa

He ordered one of his regiments to move about four thousand prisoners of war outside the city walls and kill them. But here it went wrong for Napoleon and the regiment. After they indeed killed (shot or stabbed to death with bayonets) the prisoners, a plague epidemic killed most of the regiment.

After the fall of Jaffa to the Napoleon forces, the expedition didn’t go so well as Napoleon had wished for. For greatest enemies were Ahmed al-Jazzar and plague epidemics. At the end, he took his remaining armies and he went back to France. He lost half of his armies because of the plague. When the French left, Ahmed al-Jazzar was trying to take Jaffa back, but this time it took him nine months of siege (instead of a couple of days by Napoleon).

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