1929 Palestine riots

Event Details :

Ivri Date: 18 Av, 5689

English Date: 24 August, 1929

Additional Details:

In the summer of 1929, a long-running dispute between Muslims and Jews over access to the Western Wall in Jerusalem escalated, and erupted into a series of violent demonstrations and riots in late August. During the week of riots, 133 Jews were killed and 339 wounded (mostly by Arabs); 116 Arabs were killed and 232 wounded (mostly by British-commanded police and soldiers).[1]

In September 1928, Jews at their Yom Kippur prayers at the Western Wall placed chairs as customary screens between the men and women present. Jerusalem commissioner Edward Keith-Roach, while visiting the Muslim religious court overlooking the prayer area, pointed out the screen, precipitating emotional protests and demands from the assembled sheiks that it be removed. Unless it was taken down, they said, they would not be responsible for what happened. This was described as violating the Ottoman status quo that forbade Jews from making any 'construction' in the Western Wall area, though in practice a flexible modus vivendi had emerged, and such screens had been put up from time to time. The British issued an ultimatum for its removal. When police officers in riot gear were then sent in, a scuffle took place with worshippers and the screen in question was destroyed. This was hailed by Arab calls for 'death to the Jewish dogs!'. [To clarify: The Jewish worshipers were instructed by British authorities to remove the screen and they refused to do so. When British police arrived to remove the screen the Jews fought with the police. Many Arabs saw this defiance of authority as another Jewish attempt to gain ground in the area by taking over the Al-Aqsa Mosque which is adjacent to the Wall.]

The intervention drew censure later from senior officials who judged that excessive force had been exercised without good reason. Haj Amin al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, exploited the incident to distribute leaflets to Arabs in Palestine and throughout the Arab world which claimed that the Jews were planning to take over the al-Aqsa Mosque. One consequence was that worshippers not infrequently were subjected to beatings and stoning.[2]

On 15 August 1929, during the Jewish fast of Tisha B'Av, several hundred members of Joseph Klausner's Committee for the Western Wall, among them members of Vladimir Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionism movement Betar youth organisation, under the leadership of Jeremiah Halpern, assembled at the Wall shouting "the Wall is ours".[2] They raised the Jewish national flag and sang the Hatikvah, the Zionist anthem. The authorities had been notified of the march in advance and provided a heavy police escort in a bid to prevent any incidents. Rumours spread that the youths had attacked local residents and had cursed the name of Muhammad.[3][4][5] On Friday, August 16 after an inflammatory sermon, a demonstration organized by the Supreme Muslim Council marched to the Wall and proceeded to beat Jewish worshippers and burn Torah scrolls, prayer books[6] and supplicatory notes left in the Wall's cracks, and returned to attack the next day.[2] Responding to subsequent Jewish protests, acting High Commissioner Harry Luke answered that "no prayer books had been burnt but only pages of prayer books." The riots continued, and the next day a young Sephardic Jew named Abraham Mizrachi was stabbed at the Maccabi grounds near Mea Shearim, in the Bukharan Quarter, and died the evening of the following day.[7] His funeral was turned into a political demonstration, and was suppressed by the same force that had been employed in the initial incident. A late-night meeting initiated the following day by the the Jewish leadeship, at which acting high commissioner Harry Luke, Jamal al-Husayni, and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi were present, failed to produce a call for an end to the violence.[2]

On August 20, Haganah leaders proposed to provide defence for 600 Jews of the Old Yishuv in Hebron, or to help them evacuate. However, the leaders of the Hebron community declined these offers, insisting that they trusted the A'yan (Arab notables) to protect them. The next Friday, 23 August, thousands of Arab villagers streamed into Jerusalem from the surrounding countryside to pray on the Temple Mount, many armed with sticks and knives. Harry Luke requested reinforcements from Amman. Towards 9:30 am Jewish storekeepers began closing shop, and at 11:00 20-30 gunshots were heard on the Temple Mount, apparently to work up the crowd. Luke telephoned the Mufti to come and calm a mob that had gathered under his window near the Damascus Gate, but the commissioner's impression was that the religious leader's presence was having the opposite effect. Inflamed by rumours that two Arabs had been killed by Jews, Arabs started an attack on Jews in Jerusalem's Old City. The violence quickly spread to other parts of Palestine. British authorities had fewer than 100 soldiers, six armoured cars, and five or six aircraft in country; Palestine Police had 1,500 men, but the majority were Arab, with a small number of Jews and 175 British officers. While awaiting reinforcements, many untrained administration officials were required to attach themselves to the police, though the Jews among them were sent back to their offices. Several English theology students visiting from the University of Oxford were deputised.[2] While a number of Jews were being killed at the Jaffa Gate, British policemen did not open fire. They reasoned that if they had shot into the Arab crowd, the crowd would have turned their anger on the police.[2]

Yemin Moshe was one of the few Jewish neighbourhoods to return fire, but most of Jerusalem's Jews did not defend themselves. At the outbreak of the violence and again in the following days, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi demanded that weapons be handed to the Jews, but was both times refused.[2]

By August 24, 17 Jews were killed in the Jerusalem area. The worst killings occurred in Hebron and Safed while others were killed in Motza, Kfar Uriya, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

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1. ha'hagana
2. zionism-israel
1929 Palestine riots