April 20, 1799
In July 1798, after a successful campaign in Egypt against the Mamelukes, Napoleon Bonaparte had captured both Cairo and Alexandria. Napoleon was hoping to end British control of trade and open a French route to the east. The British Navy moved in, defeated the French fleet and cut Napoleon off from leaving Egypt by sea to return to France.
After several months in Cairo, in February 1799, Napoleon again went on the offensive. Aware that a Turkish force was preparing to move against him, Napoleon moved 13,000 of his forces from El-Arish in the Sinai to Gaza where he defeated the Turkish forces. Following the victory at Gaza and another at Jaffa, the French troops resumed their march northward toward Haifa.
Reaching Acre on March 20th, Napoleon began to siege the city (shown in the illustration). The siege would last much longer than Napoleon had believed as the British helped to defend the city. As the costly siege stretched into April, he hoped to win support of the Jews of Palestine in his campaign. On April 20th, he issued the proclamation which promised, “The great nation which does not trade in men and countries as did those which sold your ancestors unto all people (Joel 4:6) herewith calls on you not indeed to conquer your patrimony; nay, only to take over that which has been conquered and, with that nation’s warranty and support, to remain master of it to maintain it against all comers.”
Despite the promise made by Napoleon, there was much evidence that most Jews in Palestine, especially in Jerusalem, were fearful of the French and assisted the Turks in fortifying the city. By June, Napoleon’s army was plague-ridden and decimated and he moved back into Egypt.