You must adhere to whatever is the cause of happiness of the world of humanity. Show affection to the orphans. Feed the hungry. Clothe the needy. Give a helping hand to the unfortunate. Then you will be favoured at the Divine Court. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 9, p. 381.
After World War I ended in late 1918, the first group of Baha’is invited to come to the Holy Land and see Abdu’l-Baha included a Persian man named Avron. That group stayed in Palestine for 57 days in 1919. But here’s the frightening part of Mr. Avron’s difficult trip to get to war-torn Palestine, which features armed bandits:
The journey from Tehran took him three months then—moving by trains and boats and finally by carriage. Friends in Istanbul gave him silver pieces to bring as a gift to the Master in Haifa, but when they passed through Akka, they were accosted by thieves who tore open all their luggage and stole many things. As they took the silver, Mr. Avron said “That silver is for Abdu’l-Baha.”
Suddenly the thieves grew quiet, and said “Abdu’l-Baha fed us, he clothed us, and housed us. Here is your silver for Abdu’l-Baha.” – letter from Margaret Ruhe to Annamarie Honnold, 1972.
During that terrible war, Palestine suffered greatly from a naval blockade in the Mediterranean and armed combat across the entire landscape. Called the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I pitted the armies and navies of the British Empire against the Ottoman Empire, which had allied with the Germans. That part of the conflict, which began with an unsuccessful Ottoman attempt at capturing Egypt’s Suez Canal in 1915, led to a vicious three-year series of pitched battles that probably took a million lives or more. When it was over, the Sinai and Palestine Campaign finally resulted in the British takeover of Palestine and Ottoman Syria, and so weakened the Ottoman Empire that it collapsed a few years later.
Those battles had enormous historic consequences–and formed the modern Middle East. When WWI ended, the land which had previously belonged to the Ottomans for 400 years was partitioned into French-controlled Syria and Lebanon, and British-controlled Mesopotamia and Palestine. Five years later, the Turks revolted against the weakened Ottoman rule and destroyed it, winning independence for Turkey. Then French and British control of the former Ottoman territory ended when the nation of Iraq was born in 1932, Lebanon formed in 1943, Syria in 1946, Israel in 1948, and Jordan became a nation in 1949.
But no one envisioned such a radical transformation or the difficulties it would bring during the three-year blockade and battles in Palestine—except perhaps Abdu’l-Baha.
Even before World War I broke out in 1914, Abdu’l-Baha personally organized extensive agricultural operations in and around the Jordan Valley near Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee—in the exact area where Jesus had preached the Sermon on the Mount and fed the masses nineteen hundred years before. As early as 1912, Abdu’l-Baha began asking Baha’is to farm the land there, grow wheat and other grains, and store, rather than sell, the grain they harvested. They did so for a number of years, and when the blockade and the war began, Abdu’l-Baha’s prescient foresight meant that hundreds and even thousands of people would not starve:
During the war Abdu’l-Baha had a busy time in ministering to the material and spiritual wants of the people about him. He personally organized extensive agricultural operations near Tiberias, thus securing a great supply of wheat, by means of which famine was averted, not only for the Baha’is but for hundreds of the poor of all religions in Haifa and Akka, whose wants he liberally supplied. He took care of all, and mitigated their sufferings as far as possible. To hundreds of poor people he would give a small sum of money daily. In addition to money he gave bread. If there was no bread he would give dates or something else. – Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 63.
I suspect that the aspiring silver thieves who attempted to rob Mr. Avron were among those people who Abdu’l-Baha saved from starvation. Since he reached out the hand of friendship and charitable kindness to everyone, regardless of religion or nationality, and since his deep Faith called on each of us to recognize and fully implement the consciousness of the oneness of humanity, Abdu’l-Baha succeeded in averting tragedy for thousands upon thousands of people. His grain even fed the British Army at one point, and inspired Abdu’l-Baha’s knighthood:
At war’s end the British were quick to recognize (Abdu’l-Baha’s) painstaking accomplishments. He was to be knighted on 27 April 1920, at the residence of the British Governor in Haifa at a ceremony held especially for him. British and religious dignitaries came to honor him on this auspicious occasion. His unselfish acts had won him the love and respect of high and low alike. Abdu’l-Baha consented to accept the knighthood—but he was not impressed with worldly honor or ceremony… Quietly, without pomp, (Abdu’l-Baha) arrived at the right time and the right place and did honor to those who would honor him when he was made Sir Abdu’l-Baha Abbas, K.B.E.(Knight of the British Empire)—a title which he almost never used. – John Ferraby, All Things Made New, p. 127.
When Armistice Day came, on the 11th of November in 1918, the world celebrated the close of its most devastating war in history. The population of the Middle East rejoiced at the end of the hostilities, which had caused so much death and destruction. Most of the people formerly ruled by the harsh hand of the Ottoman Empire reveled at the demise of the despotism and tyranny they had suffered under for so long. The Baha’is around the world, and the thousands of those he saved from starvation, felt that their prayers for Abdu’l-Baha’s safety had been answered.