Last week, the Israeli prime minister’s spokesman Mark Regev spoke feelingly to American broadcaster Greta Van Susteren (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkMPVOx4wyw) of “These mendacious allegations that somehow Israel is threatening the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem when nothing can be further from the truth … Israel has meticulously always protected the holy sites of all faiths, but nevertheless the Islamic extremists were putting out these accusations, these conspiracy theories, about so-called Israeli intentions, and unfortunately they were echoed by the Palestinian Authority, by President Abbas and his people, and this created a crisis which fed the violence…”
These present events invoke the anti-Jewish rioting by Arabs that broke out in Eretz Israel in August 1929: Jerusalem on the 23rd, Hebron on the 24th, and Safed on the 29th. I once blogged about one woman’s reminiscences of the Hebron riots here, and gruesome reading they make (http://daphneanson.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/they-stuck-sword-down-his-wifes-throat.html). A video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3tMvGgCEx0) contains further testimony from survivors, and for the terrible details see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1929_Hebron_massacre.
The [London] Times (14 September 1929) contained a report by its Jerusalem-based “special correspondent” examining “The Outbreak and its Causes” of the riots, which happened, incidentally, when many senior members of the Mandate administration were on leave. “To understand the explosion in Palestine, it is necessary to review the immediate causes of the outbreak,” he began. “For convenience, the point of departure may be taken as Thursday, August 15, when the younger Zionists asked leave to celebrate the feast of Ab [Av], which commemorates the destruction of the Temple, by marching in procession to the Wailing [sic; Western] Wall and holding a service there. Previous requests had been refused. This year, though the Wailing Wall had become a bone of contention between Moslem and Jew, the request was granted, under certain restrictive conditions.”
He went on:
‘So on August 15 the Jews marched out escorted by the police, and in the Old City all went well. But at the Wall they broke the agreement, unfurled the Zionist flag, and sang the anthem “Hatikvah”. The Moslems were indignant and arranged a counter-demonstration for the morrow, which was the eve of the Prophet’s Birthday. After prayer in the Aksa Mosque they swarmed through the Bab-el-Magharba (Moorgate) to the Wailing Wall and marched along the Wall. They did no damage worth mention, and satisfied with this reprisal for what they deemed an encroachment on their rights, withdrew in good order into the sacred area about their chief mosques (the Haram esh Sherif [Temple Mount]).
On Saturday, the 17th, at a Jewish football match, the ball was kicked into a beetroot patch belonging to a Moslem. It could not even be returned without a brawl. A Jew was stabbed, but the police prevented serious fighting. On the Saturday and Monday there was considerable effervescence in the city, but nothing occurred beyond some attacks on Arabs passing through the Jewish quarters to and from their villages. On Tuesday, the 20th, the victim [Avraham Mizrachi] of the “football scrimmage” died in hospital, and the question of his funeral added a new complication. To avoid a collision efforts were made to get the Jews to bury him at dawn. The younger Jews refused, and demanded a processional funeral to the Wailing Wall. The authorities objected. Their view prevailed, and the Jews agreed to adhere to the traditional route past the Damascus Gate out to the cemetery at the foot of Mount Scopus, and to hold the funeral at 6 a.m. It was not until 10 a.m. that it started. All went well until the procession reached the Post Office where the street bifurcates. Here the younger Zionists tried to break the police cordon. The police resisted and several Jews were struck with batons. Eventually the procession was forced back on to the agreed route and the funeral ended quietly.
Thursday was outwardly calm, but there was electricity in the air. Towards evening groups of armed Moslems drifted in from Nablus and Bethlehem, and their convergence towards the Old City continued throughout the night and the next morning. It was known that trouble was brewing. The authorities, scenting danger, took the customary precautions, and brought in the armoured cars of the Royal Air Force from Amman to Ramleh.
As soon as the midday prayer was over the unprecedentedly large congregation tumbled out of the Haram into the Old City. The main body went towards the Jaffa Gate. All were armed. Many carried a miniature arsenal round their bodies; most had knives, and as they passed they brandished bludgeons and shouted excitedly. A group went to Herod’s Gate, where they murdered the Jewish lawyer Mr Wiener [London-born Harold Marcus Wiener, who in addition to being a lawyer was a biblical scholar and archaeologist], who had spent all his time and money in trying to reconcile Jew and Arab. At the Damascus Gate a Jewish family of four persons was brutally murdered by another group.
On reaching the Jaffa Gate the main body split up into two. One went towards the station, crossed the bridge and entered the old Montefiore quarter, where an orgy of crime ensued. Some seem to have returned to their villages after these exploits. But the rest, with the parties from the other gates, attacked Sheikh Badr and Mea Sh[e]arim, north of the New City, where they split again into bands which roamed over the quarter, leaving death and destruction in their wake. The situation was quite out of hand …’
So as well as summoning armoured cars from Ramleh and declaring a curfew, the authorities requested all British residents to enrol as special constables, and by 4 p.m. they had 100, including students and their principal from the Anglican theological college Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, who were visiting the Holy Land.
The Times correspondent continued:
‘By now bands of armed Arabs were roaming everywhere, attacking everyone who looked like a Jew. The Old City, however, was quiet. Towards evening the bands withdrew to the outskirts and “sniped” from the hills around the city. This continued all night – in fact, for several nights. The handful of British police and special constables had an exacting time. But what they lacked in numbers they certainly made up for in energy and influence, for no sooner did any of them appear than the looters made off.’
Reinforcements were rushed in from Egypt, and on Sunday a battalion of the South Wales Borderers arrived under Brigadier (later Lieutenant-General Sir) William Dobbie, who would subsequently play a key role in restoring order to Jaffa.
‘By this time Jerusalem was not the only storm centre,’ the correspondent reported. ‘Saturday morning saw riot and violence at Hebron, Ramleh, Lydda, Nablus, and Beisan. The worst excesses were at Hebron, where Jews were murdered with almost inconceivable brutality, and Kolonia, near Jerusalem, where the Jews were butchered and their farms set on fire. Into the flames were cast the bodies of two Jewish children who had already been killed. But once the troops arrived they averted fresh calamities.’ Had it not been evident by Friday, 30 August, that there were enough troops in Palestine equal to any eventuality, ‘the Friday prayer would have again been followed by rioting. That the day passed without any serious outbreak save at Safed showed that the crest of the outburst had passed.’
The correspondent stressed that he did not mean to usurp the role of the Commission of Inquiry, but nevertheless could not avoid making certain observations, which included:
‘That there has been Zionist provocation is certain, but nothing the Jews could have said or done could justify the utter brutality with which they were attacked. In the light, moreover, of one’s knowledge of what took place in Egypt in 1919, the way in which the Jerusalem affair was speedily followed by trouble in other places, and the infiltration of armed Moslems into the city on the eve of the outbreak, arouses more than a suspicion that there was some preconcerted plan. The activities of some of the more prominent Moslems, and notably by one of the Ulema [Islamic religious scholars], tend to confirm this impression…’
The Times later reported (11 November 1929) that, testifying before the Commission of Inquiry, Captain John Alexander Mulloy Faraday, assistant commissioner of police at Safed, where Arab violence towards Jews had broken out on 29 August, noted that although Safed was not “a Zionist town” and Jews had been living there for many years alongside Arabs, cries of “The faith of Mohamed has risen with the sword!” and “We want no Jews in Arab Palestine!” were among the sentiments hurled.