The Lives and Deaths of Jubrail Dabdoub
Or, How the Bethlehemites Discovered Amerka
Jacob Norris



IN THE LAST DECADES OF the nineteenth century, something miraculous happened in Bethlehem, something so extraordinary that it might be necessary to diverge from the impartial tones usually favored by historians. This is the story of how the Bethlehemites discovered Amerka, an Arabic term that came to refer not only to the Americas but more or less anywhere across the oceans. It is the story of young men setting off on the backs of donkeys with suitcases full of crosses and rosaries, returning a year later with those same suitcases stuffed with French francs, Philippine pesos, or Salvadoran colones; of strange inventions that befuddled and bewitched the Bethlehemites in equal measure; of the saints who accompanied them on their journeys to their ends of the earth and did their best to protect them from raging storms and the vagaries of tropical disease; of shimmering pink palaces that sprang up overnight upon the migrants’ return; and of mysterious nuns giving sight to the blind and resurrecting the dead.

To tell such a tale is to delve into the realm of the fantastical, the improbable, and the absurd—realms in which the historian rarely sets foot. No doubt Bethlehem’s age of miracles could be explained in terms of migrants following rational self-interest, of Palestine’s incorporation into the capitalist world market, of a reformist Ottoman state, of the commoditization of religion, and so on and so forth. But how much of the story would we miss if we limited ourselves to such logical explanation? How much would we grasp of the fear and excitement of young travelers as they traversed the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean for the first time? How much would we tap into their sense of confusion and wonder as they witnessed the demonstration of electricity at a world’s fair, or as they set foot on the jungle-clad shores of northern Honduras with only a trunk full of Holy Land trinkets for company? And would we feel the curiosity of townsfolk back in Bethlehem when those travelers returned, dressed in strange clothes and carrying exotic objects, to tell embellished tales of heroic voyages?

It was in May of 2015 that I realized this book would be about the life (and deaths) of Jubrail Dabdoub. Palestinian media was awash with news of Pope Francis’s canonization of two women, Marie-Alphonsine and Mariam Baouardy. They were being celebrated as “the first Palestinian Catholic saints,” the ceremony duly attended by President Mahmoud Abbas, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, and an eager crowd of over two thousand Middle Eastern Christians.

My interest was immediately piqued. Both these women had lived in Bethlehem during the late nineteenth century, placing them firmly in the world I was researching. As I sifted through online accounts of their lives, I came across a reference that stopped me in my tracks. There it was, written on the web pages of the Sisters of the Holy Rosary: among Marie-Alphonsine’s many reported miracles was the salvation of a man named Jubrail Dabdoub, brought back to life after having been pronounced dead from typhoid fever in Bethlehem in 1909.

It was one of those moments of blissful serendipity historians experience all too rarely. For years I had been researching the merchants of Bethlehem, attempting to understand how their global journeys had transformed Bethlehem from rural backwater into one of Palestine’s wealthiest—and certainly most globally connected—towns. Among these wandering merchants, Jubrail Dabdoub was already on my radar. Born in 1860, he was of the “pioneer” generation, which played a significant role in the establishment of new trading bases around the world. I had first encountered him in the National Archives of the Philippines, appearing in 1881 as the earliest immigrant among a new wave of Syrian and Palestinian migrants on the islands. Later I had spotted him among the exhibitors at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, where he was awarded a Medal of Honor for his efforts. Back in Bethlehem, I had interviewed descendants of his siblings and visited houses he lived in. But the Dabdoub family was just one of dozens I had been tracing, each with its own set of family members strung out across multiple continents, each playing their role in Bethlehem’s astonishingly rapid transformation. Trying to condense such an unruly cast of characters into a coherent narrative seemed like an impossible task.

It was in that one moment, as I browsed through the web pages of the Rosary Sisters, that Jubrail presented himself as the protagonist of this story. There he was in Bethlehem in 1909, being resurrected by a local nun, an illustration of the miraculous deed thrown in for good measure. Before long I had tracked down Marie-Alphonsine’s notebooks in the Rosary Sisters’ convent in Beit Hanina, where the nun’s own description of Jubrail’s salvation was still preserved in the original handwritten Arabic. Her notebooks became an entry point into a different type of historical experience—one I had been largely oblivious to in my pursuit of the Bethlehem merchants up to that point. Jubrail’s unexpected appearance in Marie-Alphonsine’s world of healing and piety revealed just how grounded these hard-nosed businessmen were in a more localized social landscape that embraced miracles as part of everyday life. The more I explored this world, the more I realized that the Bethlehemites viewed their economic success as a product of saintly interventions stemming from their own piety. As Jubrail himself put it in a letter to a cousin in Bolivia, “I offer my prayers to God Almighty to facilitate the smooth running of your mercantile affairs.”1 Travel, profit, faith, and magic, it transpires, were inextricably intertwined.

Out of these early strands of research, the book has evolved into a project of creative historical writing. More specifically, it stands as an experiment in “magical realist” historical prose. What most struck me about Marie-Alphonsine’s description of the miracle was its mundaneness. There were no rapturous descriptions of sudden heavenly brilliance. Marie-Alphonsine had simply dipped her rosary beads in water and sprinkled some drops on Jubrail’s face, reciting the Hail Mary as she did so. The tone was matter-of-fact, without the slightest hint that anything unexpected had occurred. There was no question the Virgin Mary had made an appearance, but she is described among an earthly cast of characters. “Slowly he came back to life,” Marie-Alphonsine writes, “through the intercession of the Lady of the Rosary, whose rosary I had put in the glass of water.”2 Never does she use the word miracle.

Over time I came to appreciate how the wider Bethlehemite community tended to share Marie-Alphonsine’s lack of surprise when it came to encounters with the spirit world. Interviews carried out in the mid-1930s with Bethlehemites who had experienced Marie-Alphonsine’s miracles, including Jubrail’s own family, reveal an acceptance of the nun’s ability to communicate with the Virgin Mary: “His wife and son are still alive. In their eyes Mother Mary Alphonsus is a great saint.”3 Likewise, in the memoirs of Jubrail’s cousin Ibrahim Yuhanna Dabdoub, success as a merchant is continually explained as a product of divine intervention and saintly appearances, particularly those of Saint George, or al-Khadr, in his local guise.4 When matched against the bewildering experience of encountering faraway cultures, landscapes, and technologies for the first time, it becomes apparent that it was not saintly intrusions or ghostly presences that constituted the fantastical in nineteenth-century Bethlehem. Rather, it was the town’s abrupt exposure to global capitalism and the absurdities of European colonialism.

These configurations resonate closely with classic traits in magical realist fiction. From its earliest literary incarnations in Latin America (to which the majority of Bethlehemite merchants traveled), magical realism viewed the world turned upside down, depicting a series of surreal, unexpected juxtapositions as a critique of contemporary society. It is no coincidence the genre was quickly adapted to other literary contexts in the Global South from the 1960s onward. Magical realist prose seemed particularly adept at capturing the arresting experience of a sudden and intensive exposure to the violence of European colonial subjugation and the traumas of postcolonial nation-state building. Writers around the world, from India to West Africa, embraced a style of writing that deliberately recast these forms of modernity as defying logical explanation, serving to collapse colonial binaries of rational/irrational and allowing the text to “see with a third eye.”5 Consider Salim Barakat’s 1985 Arabic novel Fuqahaʾal-zalām (The sages of darkness), in which the character Bikas (and later, his son), goes from birth to old age in a single day, serving as a commentary on the harrowing experience of Kurdish communities under both Arab Syrian and Turkish nation building. “How can I explain something I have no control over?” Bikas mutters to his brothers when he reaches the age of thirty by early afternoon. “I’m just as dumbfounded as you. I see you other people every hour, growing with me year after year, in an acceleration that mixes up my fixed understanding of things I knew before I came.”6

It is this subversive reversal of the natural and the supernatural that renders magical realism a useful stylistic guide in writing the history of Bethlehem’s global circulations. In some ways, Bethlehemites were beneficiaries, not victims, of European colonial networks in the late nineteenth century, as they tapped into the technologies of steam travel and the “liberalization” of Latin American markets to forge their own trading empires. Nevertheless, the dynamic of a rural Palestinian market town being thrust so abruptly into a bewildering world of Western-dominated globalization infuses this story with magical properties.

This is not to romanticize Bethlehem’s history prior to its emigration explosion. For centuries the town’s status as a pilgrimage destination had produced interactions with various kinds of outsiders. A distinctive tradition in souvenir carving that utilized olive wood and mother-of-pearl as its raw materials and catered in particular to European Catholic pilgrims had developed among Bethlehem’s artisans. But Bethlehemites themselves remained largely tied to their hometown, acting as subservient local producers in a trade controlled by the resident Franciscan friars and their superiors in western Europe.7

The great breakthrough of the 1860s and ’70s occurred when a nascent merchant class quite suddenly severed these bonds and took their Holy Land carvings directly to new clients in Europe, and especially the Americas, at the very time that Christmas cards, gifts, and carols about Bethlehem were taking off around the world.8 With astonishing speed and success, they established their own global networks of trade, quickly progressing to sell a wide range of imported products in the new markets they encountered. Back in Bethlehem, the experience of living through such a sudden shift must have been baffling, to say the least. By the early 1880s, dozens of young men were setting off for the other side of the world every month, bringing back unprecedented wealth and new customs. It is one thing to observe from a distance strange people occasionally visiting your local church. It is quite another when those people are your brother, son, or cousin.

Jubrail Yousef Dabdoub was born in 1860, descended from a proud line of “little bears” (dabdoubs). He made his first known trip abroad in 1878 to France, after which he rotated regularly between various locations around the world: primarily Manila, Paris, New York, Chicago, and San Salvador. In 1882 he was married in Bethlehem to Mariam Issa Handal, a woman whose previous marriage at the age of fifteen had ended under mysterious circumstances. Together they had three children, Bishara, Yousef, and Wardeh, at curious intervals of five and ten years. In 1909 Jubrail was presumed to have died from typhoid fever, only to be brought back to life by Sister Marie-Alphonsine. In 1931 he met his final death in Bethlehem, possibly due to pneumonia.

These are some of the few things we can say for certain about Jubrail’s existence. The search for more detailed information has led mainly into darkness, punctuated only by the occasional chink of light. Alongside Marie-Alphonsine’s account of the miracle, the only surviving written sources consist of fleeting entries in the Bethlehem parish records (birth, baptism, marriage, etc.), colonial immigration records, and the catalogs of international exhibitions, alongside a smattering of business letters Jubrail penned shortly before his final death in 1931. Material traces of his existence have reared their head: the houses he inhabited in Bethlehem and Paris, Holy Land souvenirs bearing his name, a Medal of Honor he received at the Chicago World’s Fair. I have been able to supplement these with interviews with some of his descendants (great-grandchildren, great-nieces, and great-nephews), some of whom were able to relate stories of Jubrail as a wise and generous man who put family honor above all else. But these were only vague impressions, related by people who had either never met him or were so young when they had that they could barely summon a direct memory. A more detailed, uninterrupted biography—let alone a window into the man’s thoughts, desires, or prejudices—remained off-limits. After more than six years following him around the world, I still know nothing of his physical appearance.

In the end, the silences in Jubrail’s story became a creative space to experiment with a more imaginative approach to writing. Perhaps more by accident than by design, the goal shifted from creating a detailed biography to attempting to capture a wider historical “mood”—a recently emerged topic of cultural history.9 I attempt to do this through a series of flashpoints in Jubrail’s life that invite a discussion of Bethlehemites’ sudden intrusion into global circuits of capital and culture. This involved letting go of my academic training in historical empiricism—to write only what is directly evidencable—and instead embracing the idea that the act of imagining can produce fruitful historical results.

In trying to conjure these flashpoints through a magical realist style of narrative, I make no claim to literary merit (years of academic training have put an end to that). Rather, I offer an experiment in using some of the standard tropes of a literary genre to narrate a source-based historical project. In practical terms, this involves imitating magical realist authors’ tendency to portray encounters with capitalist modernity in the language of wonder, enchantment, and absurdity, while relating interactions with spirits, saints, and the divine using more mundane, quotidian language. I seek to replicate the genre’s disruptions of linear time, emphasizing repetition across generations, recurring dreams, and the persistence of ghostly presences. Equally important is the use of Bethlehemite idioms of folklore and storytelling, which anchor the text in the sense of locality that underpins magical realist novels. The author’s commentary that introduces the endnotes provides a more detailed discussion of how and where these wider principles are applied, including how certain Arabic terms are preserved as a way to ground these Christian merchants in their Arabo-Islamic socioreligious context.

As I experimented with this magical realist form of prose, I have come to see it as a more honest way of writing such a project. It is self-evident to me that historians are crafters and stealers of stories, conjuring imitations of a past they could never recreate with exact similitude. As Hayden White long ago pointed out, historians already employ the basic plot structures of storytellers, so why not experiment with how we tell those stories?10 Magical realism seems a particularly good fit for the merchants of Bethlehem. The most celebrated authors of the genre, from Gabriel García Marquez to Isabel Allende to Salman Rushdie, openly posit their texts as counter-realities, grounded in worlds recognizable yet simultaneously unrestricted by the laws of physics. These authors deal fundamentally in narrative, meaning the reader feels the writer’s presence as a weaver of stories. As the narrator of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children spells out: “There are so many stories to tell, too many, such an excess of intertwined lives events miracles places rumors, so dense a commingling of the improbable and the mundane!”11

Being open about the historical text as an artificial construct is especially important for a book about Bethlehem written by a historian from the UK—a country that relates to Palestine with an uncomfortable combination of physical distance and colonial proximity. All history is appropriation, but this one carries a particular historical baggage that needs to be carefully thought through.

On the one hand, the impact of my entanglement in a colonial set of relations seems to be lessened by the intense mobility of Jubrail and his contemporaries. Jubrail spent much of his life in motion, moving regularly between the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Ottoman Empire. Many of the book’s chapters consequently take place outside Palestine, shifting between the various locations to which he traveled. Simple binaries of Western/Eastern or colonial/native begin to unravel in this context. Would any historian be able to claim belonging in such a cosmopolitan arena?

Nevertheless, it has become increasingly clear to me that those of Jubrail’s generation remained deeply rooted in their hometown. Jubrail himself probably left Palestine for the first time at the age of eighteen. When he and his peers were sent out by their fathers and uncles to find new clients abroad, they were encountering distant cultures and industrial technologies for the first time. The generation that followed was born into this lifestyle, hopping between countries and continents as young children. But for Jubrail, Bethlehem remained an immovable anchor—the fixed point of reference through which all encounters were understood. One of the major themes of the book’s latter stages is the extent to which Jubrail lamented the unwillingness of his children, nieces, and nephews to remain in Bethlehem.

The book, then, must also be a study of a specific Palestinian locale, rather than a celebration of “faceless globetrotting” that some global microhistory has resorted to.12 In this more localized context, any claim on my part to authenticity of representation would be ridiculous. No matter how long I spent living and researching in Bethlehem, I would always approach the town as an outsider. No matter how much I immerse myself in Arabic and its local Bethlehemite dialect, I will never know the language as a native speaker. My intense affection for the town and its people will always be shaped by a position of privilege—the mobile Western researcher able to intersperse visits with trips to far-flung locations while Bethlehemites themselves are confined to ever-smaller spaces, thanks in part to the legacies of my own country’s colonial policies. The irony of this dynamic in a town once marked by the intense mobility of its residents has weighed heavily on the writing of this book.

I hope readers will treat the resulting text as a deliberately constructed narrative whose magical realist form underlines the historian’s role as crafter of stories rather than presenter of concrete reality. Many were the times I was tempted to intersperse more analytical passages of writing into the story, but each time I came back to the conclusion that an unbroken narrative was the best way to test out the value of this experiment and make explicit my own role in the process. The solution has been to create an extensive notes section at the end of the book so the story itself can unfold unimpeded by analysis. The reader can follow in more detail in the endnotes the research trail that underpins the construction of the book’s main narrative. The emphasis in the endnotes is on explanation: why and how each passage of each chapter has been constructed the way it has, which passages are based on factually verifiable events, and which have been imagined through the use of a wider array of contextual sources. These notes are prefaced by the author’s commentary, which serves as a wider meditation on the book’s narrative style and the collection of sources that made such an approach possible.

Bethlehem is an outlier within Palestinian history as a majority Christian town that experienced an emigration explosion in the late nineteenth century. But within this exceptional story of global mobility lies a series of wider historical ramifications. First and foremost, the Bethlehemites played a vital role in forging what we might call the first Arab diaspora (or mahjar in contemporary Arabic sources). The period from the 1860s to the start of World War I witnessed an outpouring of migrants from the Greater Syria region (today’s Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan) that saw an estimated six hundred thousand people emigrate to the Americas alone between 1860 and 1914.13 It is startling how often those migratory histories begin with a tale of young men from Bethlehem selling devotional objects. From Brazil to the United States and from the Philippines to Australia, the descendants of Arabic-speaking migrants tell foundational stories of how their communities were founded through the peddling of Holy Land crosses and rosaries.14

Already by the late 1880s it had become a standard trope for young peddlers from Mount Lebanon and Syria to pick up imitation “Holy Land” goods, now cheaply manufactured in Marseille and New York, en route to their eventual destination in the Americas.15 Setting off with peddle packs slung over their backs, they usually claimed origin in Jerusalem when selling their trinkets. In Haiti, newspapers described how the earliest Syrians to arrive in the 1880s stepped off the boats in Port-au-Prince holding their goods aloft and crying out, “Jerusalem!”16 Those headed further north to the United States recounted how Jerusalem was the first word of English they learned on the steamships.17 One fourteen-year-old Lebanese boy peddling Holy Land goods in Worcester, Massachusetts, was even nicknamed “Jerusalem” by his customers.18 But this Holy Land “brand” was unequivocally made in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. For centuries the town’s artisans had been developing a unique style of souvenir, instantly recognizable for its use of mother-of-pearl. In the late nineteenth century, their ability to bring these goods to new markets across Europe and the Americas had forged a path for thousands of others to follow and to imitate.

This is the wider picture in which Jubrail’s story unfolds. Following his journeys allows us to glimpse key features of how the earliest routes of this burgeoning Arab diaspora were forged. Most strikingly, this is an acutely masculine story. Historians of the Arab mahjar have rightly emphasized the central roles women played in the establishment of new communities in the Americas, working as peddlers and shopkeepers and sustaining families transplanted to the other side of the world.19 But the case of Bethlehem shows that the very first forays abroad were an almost exclusively male endeavor. The Bethlehem business model was brutally and ruthlessly patriarchal. At the head sat the patriarch himself—represented in this book by Jubrail’s father, Yousef—running the family shop in Bethlehem and dispatching his sons to distant corners of the earth. To sustain the model, women were charged with the central task of producing as many sons as possible for the next generation of intrepid explorers, all while maintaining a new type of family home in Bethlehem: a detached villa situated away from the old town, filled with luxury furnishings imported from Paris, New York, or Istanbul. Whereas once men and women in Bethlehem had toiled side by side in the fields, families now relied entirely on income from the souvenir trade.20

But it was a system whose very foundations contained the seeds of its transformation. How could a ready supply of sons be produced when the young men were constantly abroad, often for years at a time? Jubrail’s story is a case in point: his wife, Mariam, bore only three children, spaced out by gaps of five and ten years due to his unrelenting schedule of overseas trips. To sustain overseas businesses, teenage brides began to be sent from Bethlehem to distant corners of the Americas to marry men they had usually never met.21 By the time Jubrail was resurrected by Marie-Alphonsine in 1909, a new generation of his wider family was growing up in France, Bolivia, and El Salvador, immersed in all kinds of “moral depravities,” especially concerning the role of women in society. In the eyes of men like Jubrail, Amerka was a terrain where men could make money before returning to family life in Bethlehem. The hypocrisies contained within this mentality are self-evident, not least because stories abound of sexual affairs conducted by Bethlehemite men while abroad. Nevertheless, male resistance to female emigration contained its own internal logic. Everything the merchant families had built was based on securing the family’s status and legacy in their hometown. If women began to reside and raise children abroad, the foundations of the system would quickly erode. To recount Jubrail’s story is to tap into the anxieties men of his generation felt as they lived through the early stages of this erosion.

A final, equally important ramification of Bethlehem’s outward expansion is the way it presents a different picture of Palestine’s relationship to nineteenth-century globalization. Historians tend to depict the emergent “modernity” of this period as a set of influences arriving from the outside (especially via Zionism), embroiling first the Palestinian elites in cities like Jaffa and Jerusalem where Western influence was most strongly felt and later trickling its way down to a broader segment of the population.22 Changes in dress, technology, architecture, urban planning, education, gender relations, and political ideas are all discussed as a fraught process of adaptation, mimicry, and resistance to external forces. The Ottoman state, too, plays a lead role in this picture through its aggressive modernization of land tenure, taxation, infrastructure, and the military, based largely on a western European set of models.

In the case of Bethlehem, many of these same themes emerge, but through a very different type of historical agency. No longer are Palestinians static recipients of outside forces, waiting patiently for their worlds to be turned upside down. The Ottoman state appears relatively distant from their lives, as do the Zionist settlers making their presence felt in Jaffa and Jerusalem. Instead, we find Bethlehemites as makers of their own modernities, operating as the foot soldiers of globalization not only in Palestine but in the multiple countries to which they traveled. Whether in Honduras, Haiti, Sudan, or the Philippines, the young merchants of Jubrail’s generation played a unique role in introducing consumer goods to rural areas thanks to their global networks of suppliers, opening the way for larger European and North American corporations to follow.

Back in Palestine their influence was equally significant, introducing new customs, technologies, architectural forms, and political ideas. Such was the impact of the capital they brought back to Bethlehem that one journalist for the Jaffa-based newspaper Falastin was moved to remark in 1913: “Today the visitor is stupefied upon entering [Bethlehem] as the lofty palaces and great buildings come into view, the likes of which are rarely found in our biggest cities like Jerusalem and Jaffa, and it would not be an overstatement to say Beirut either.”23 This was a building spree bankrolled by merchants who spent most of their time abroad, forging their own cultural styles and motifs as they hopped from country to country.

Bethlehem was a trailblazer, but it was soon joined by other towns and villages across Palestine, especially in the country’s hilly central spine. Living patterns in Jerusalem, Ramallah, al-Bireh, Birzeit, Nazareth, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and Ramleh, not to mention the wider Syrian region, were all significantly affected by these outward migrations. As many as 20 percent of the migrants were Muslim and from Palestinian towns like al-Bireh, where emigration to the United States in the late Ottoman and mandate periods transformed patterns of home ownership and land tenure.24

The merchants of Bethlehem are but an extreme example of the profound restlessness of Palestinian society on the eve of its fateful encounter with Zionism. Movement, migration, and exchange were built into Palestinian lives long before the first Zionist settlers set sail for Palestine from the Russian Empire, Galicia, and Romania. They were out in the world, discovering for themselves the bewildering contradictions of the nineteenth century: what it meant to be cosmopolitan and parochial, rational and pious, modern and traditional, all at the same time. In addition to being peasants, notables, and intellectuals, they were arch-capitalists who helped shape the consumerist world we live in (especially when it comes to buying religious knickknacks). In short, they were people. Palestine was a staggeringly diverse, multifarious society that had no idea of the great trauma that awaited under British and Zionist colonization. To retrace Jubrail’s steps is to embrace that richness in all its rough-hewn edges.

Following Jubrail through the unpaved streets of his childhood Bethlehem, down to the port of Jaffa, out onto the open seas, and eventually back to a dramatically changed Bethlehem is to follow a ghostly trail that evades as much as it reveals. To capture this in the form of a story, we are obliged to delve into the realm of speculation and conjecture. This is, after all, a story of miracles (economic and saintly), and miracles are rarely verifiable in empirical terms. Today it seems the age of miracles in Bethlehem has long since passed. The city bears the scars of decades of occupation, hemmed in by towering walls of enclosure, military checkpoints, and impoverished refugee camps. But in the years of Jubrail’s childhood, a new realm of possibility was only just beginning . . .


1. Jubrail Dabdoub to Anton Dabdoub, Paris, February 10, 1930, private collection of Peter Dabdoub.

2. Marie-Alphonsine’s notebooks are reproduced in full in Sister Praxede Sweidan, Kalimat al-ʿadhraʾ al-mukarrama al-umm Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas (Jerusalem: Latin Patriarchate Press, 2004). This quote comes from the second manuscript, p. 17.

3. Benedict Stolz, A Handmaid of the Holy Rosary: Mother Mary Alphonsus of the Rosary, First Foundress of an Arab Congregation, 1843–1927, trans. Natalie Bevenot (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1938), 97.

4. Ibrahim Yuhanna Dabdoub, “Mukhtasar tarikh ʿilat al-marhum Yuhanna Yaqoub al-Dabdoub” (unpublished memoir, 1923, private collection of Anton Shukri Dabdoub). I have drawn extensively upon this memoir in writing this book. My thanks to Anton Shukri Dabdoub for sharing it with me.

5. Brenda Cooper, Magical Realism in West African Fiction (London: Routledge, 1998), 1. For a broader discussion of magical realism’s popularity among writers in the Global South, see Mariano Siskind, “The Global Life of Genres and the Material Travels of Magical Realism,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Magical Realism, ed. Richard Perez and Victoria A. Chevalier (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 21–66.

6. Salim Barakat, Fuqahaʾ al-zalām (Nicosia: Majallat al-Karmel, 1985), 16.

7. This relationship is explored in my article, Jacob Norris, “Dragomans, Tattooists, Artisans: Palestinian Christians and Their Encounters with Catholic Europe in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” Journal of Global History 14, no. 1 (2019): 68–86.

8. See Penne L. Restad, Christmas in America: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

9. See Ben Highmore, Cultural Feelings: Mood, Mediation and Cultural Politics (London: Routledge, 2017).

10. See, for example, Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Critical Inquiry 7, no. 1 (Autumn, 1980): 5–27.

11. Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children: A Novel (1981; reprint, London: Random House, 2006), 1–2.

12. This refers to criticism leveled by John Paul Ghobrial in “The Secret Life of Elias of Babylon and the Uses of Global Microhistory,” Past and Present 222, no. 1 (2014): 59.

13. Kemal Karpat, “The Ottoman Emigration to America, 1860–1914,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 17, no. 2 (May 1985): 185.

14. For more detail, see Jacob Norris, “Exporting the Holy Land: Artisans and Merchant Migrants in Ottoman-Era Bethlehem,” Mashriq and Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 1 no. 2 (2013): 17–45.

15. A vivid account of the trade is given in Ameen Rihani’s celebrated novel, The Book of Khalid (1911; reprint, New York: Melville House, 2012), 16.

16. Le Matin, 1911 (describing the arrival of Syrians in the early 1890s), cited in Roger Gaillard, Les Blancs debarquent. La Republique exterminatrice. Premiere partie: Une modernisation manqueé, 1880–1896 (Port-au-Prince, 1991), 275–76.

17. Alix Naff, Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), 103.

18. Philip Forzley, ed., Autobiography of Bishara Khalil Forzley, memoir, August 2, 1953, Immigration History and Research Center, University of Minnesota, 8, cited in Gregory Orfalea, Before the Flames: A Quest for the History of Arab Americans (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988), 81.

19. Notable examples include Sarah Gualtieri, “Gendering the Chain Migration Thesis: Women and Syrian Transatlantic Migration, 1878–1924,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 24, no. 1 (2004), 67–78; and Akram Khater, Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender, and the Middle-Class in Lebanon, 1870–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

20. See Jacob Norris, “Mobile Homes: The Refashioning of Palestinian Merchant Homes in the Late Ottoman Period,” Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 83 (2020): 9–33.

21. For more detail, see Jacob Norris, “Return Migration and the Rise of the Palestinian Nouveaux Riches, 1870–1925,” Journal of Palestine Studies 46, no. 2 (2017): 60–75.

22. Examples of this type of literature include Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Jerusalem in the 19th Century: Emergence of the New City (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1986); Ruth Kark and Michal Oren-Nordheim, Jerusalem and Its Environs: Quarters, Neighborhoods, Villages, 1800–1948 (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2001); and Mark LeVine, Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

23. Falastin, August 27, 1913, 2.

24. See Saleh Abdel Jawad, “Landed Property, Palestinian Migration to America and the Emergence of a New Local Leadership: Al-Bireh, 1919–1947,” Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 36 (2009): 13–33.