In a square behind a row of shops in modern Tiberius, you can see the 18th century mosque of Daher al-Omar. Still impressive, even in its current delapidated state, the mosque is a remnant from a relatively brief window of religious tolerance during the centuries of Muslim domination of the Holy Land.
Daher al-Omar was a local Bedouin whose father had been a tax collector for the Ottoman government. He took over from his father in the 1720’s , and then carved out a personal domain for himself in the Galilee, by playing off the two local Ottoman rulers – in Damascus and Sidon. He kept Istanbul off his back by ensuring the regular flow of taxes. Tiberius became Daher’s seat of power, and you can still see the protective walls he built there, as well as his mosque. By the 1740’s he had extended his rule as far as the Mediterranean, and rebuilt the cities of Akko and Haifa.
What made Daher al-Omar unique among all the various Muslim rulers was his attitude towards both Christians and Jews. During his rule, he facilitated the building of the beautiful Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth; the decorated wooden iconostatis (chancel screen) in this church is one of the most spectacular of its kind. He also re-established the Jewish community of Tiberius, by inviting the celebrated Rabbi Haim Abulafia of Istanbul to set up a synagogue there. No doubt this also helped him in his relations with the Ottoman authorities, with whom the Istanbul Jewish community had some influence.
His downfall came in 1775 when, after extending his rule as far south as Jaffa, he came to be seen as a threat to the pilgrimage routes between Damascus and Mecca. With this, he finally provoked the ire of the Sublime Porte who sent a large army and navy after him. He fled, but was captured and killed by his successor Ahmed al-Jazzar – builder of the eponymous mosque in Akko. Outside of Tiberius, we can still see a number of fortresses built by Daher al-Omar – such as at Tzippori and Yehiam – in addition to part of the walls of Akko.