This was not new; they had done this in years and decades past. But this year, the Arabs decided that such a partition was an unacceptable structure, symbolizing Jewish attachment to Jerusalem, and they told the British authorities to take it down or risk mass riots.
While the elderly Jews at the Wall pleaded to at least allow the screen to stay until the fast was over, the British took the Arab side. Ten armed policemen with steel helmets came on Yom Kippur morning and destroyed the screen, while Arabs chanted "Death to the Jewish dogs!"
The British felt that the screen was a provocation to the Arabs and it was easier to cave to Arab demands than to risk riots.
Of course, it emboldened the Arabs to riot anyway, as they did in 1929, killing some 135 Jews.
After the 1929 Arab riots, the British caved again, forbidding Jews from bringing chairs and Torahs to the Wall and also from blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to placate the angry Arabs and avoid new "disturbances."
The entire British policy during the Mandate period can be characterized that way. The British agreed to limit Jewish land purchases and to limit Jewish immigration in the face of Arab threats.
All of this was "legal." Jews who violated these rules - by immigrating to Palestine, by blowing the shofar on Yom Kippur - were acting "illegally."
The Arabs, of course, weren't basing their objections on legal issues. They simply hated the Jews and feared their increasing power. The British were willing accomplices because they could be counted on to cave to Arab pressure. After the fact, they could justify their actions by saying that they were simply enforcing the rule of law.
The appeasement policy didn't work. The Arab uprising in the 1930s was as much against the British as it was against the Jews, and it took that long for the British to finally realize that their appeasement in the previous decade only encouraged more violence.
But it was too late. The net result of this legal, immoral British policy was that millions of Jews who could have been saved from the Holocaust by fleeing Europe to Palestine were murdered instead.
Today, the Obama administration is saying that Jews do not have the right to build anything even in the Old City of Jerusalem. Not in the Jewish Quarter, not near the Western Wall - nothing.
"We're talking about all settlement activity, yes, in the area across the line," [State Department spokesman Ian Kelly] said, referring to neighborhoods in Jerusalem over the Green Line, or pre-1967 armistice line, in response to a question on where America's calls to halt construction in the settlements would be applied.The official reason is that such construction is "illegal." The real reason is because this administration fears Arab pressure and threats, just as the British did.
It wants to appease the Arabs in a foolhardy attempt to gain their trust, just as the British did.
The Arabs are more than willing to use this new leverage to demand the Americans add more and more restrictions on the Jews, just as they demanded from the British.
The next logical question to ask the State Department would be - would the Obama administration consider erecting a removable screen at the Western Wall an illegal expansion of the Old City Jewish "settlement"?