When Shaykh Dahir al-ʿUmar al-Zaydani died in 1775, he had ruled large parts of Palestine for over half a century. Capitalizing on the forward economy introduced by the Dutch merchant “gone native,” Paul Maashoek (d. 1711), Dahir created a politics of trade and power that brought about the economic flourishing of Palestine and the prosperity of its population for most of the eighteenth century. From his urbanization of the Galilee’s main villages, Tiberias, Nazareth, Acre and Haifa, sprang the merchant class whose subsequent active trading with the West helped quicken the pace of Palestine’s integration into the Europe-dominated world economy.
By the late 17th century Nazareth was no more than a sleepy little hamlet. Within the next five decades, it emerged as an important urban centre. This change was prompted by major economic and political processes that affected the whole of Palestine. In the following I will outline the three main factors that combined to put Nazareth on the map: Europe’s growing interest in the region, and the weakness of the Ottoman Central government, with local chiefs taking advantage of both and acquiring near autonomous status.