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1929 Palestine riots: Wikis


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The 1929 Palestine riots (also known as the Western Wall Uprising or the Buraq Uprising) refers to a series of demonstrations and riots in late August 1929 when a long-running dispute between Muslims and Jews over access to the Western Wall in Jerusalem escalated into violence. During the week of riots, at least 116 Arabs and 133 Jews[1] were killed and 339 wounded.[2]


Sequence of events

In September 1928, Jews at their Yom Kippur prayers at the Western Wall placed chairs and 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 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.

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 by distributing 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 Jewish worshippers not infrequently were subjected to beatings and stoning.[3]

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".[3] They raised the Jewish national flag and sang the Hatikvah, the Israeli 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.[4][5][6]

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[7] and supplicatory notes left in the Wall's cracks, and returned to attack the next day.[3] 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.[8] 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 Jewish leadership, 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.[3]

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.[3] 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.[3]

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.[3]

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 Uria, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.


Hebron massacre

In Hebron, Arab mobs killed 65-68 Jews[9] and wounded 58. The lone British policeman in the town, Raymond Cafferata, was overwhelmed, and the reinforcements he called for did not arrive for 5 hours (leading to bitter recriminations). Hundreds of Jews were saved by their Arab neighbours, who offered them sanctuary from the mob by hiding them in their own houses[3] while others survived by taking refuge in the British police station at Beit Ramon on the outskirts of the city. When the massacre ended, the surviving Jews were forced to leave their homes[10] and were evacuated by the British,[3] while their property was seized by the Arab residents and occupied by them until after the Six Day War of 1967.[11]

This massacre had a deep and lasting effect on the Jewish community of Palestine.

Safed massacre

In Safed, 18 Jews were killed (some sources say twenty) and 80 wounded. The main Jewish street was looted and burned.

Commission of Enquiry

A commission of enquiry led by Sir Walter Shaw took public evidence for several weeks. The main conclusions of the Commission were as follows.[12] [Material not in brackets is verbatim.]

  • The outbreak in Jerusalem on the 23rd of August was from the beginning an attack by Arabs on Jews for which no excuse in the form of earlier murders by Jews has been established.
  • The outbreak was not premeditated.
  • [The disturbances] took the form, in the most part, of a vicious attack by Arabs on Jews accompanied by wanton destruction of Jewish property. A general massacre of the Jewish community at Hebron was narrowly averted. In a few instances, Jews attacked Arabs and destroyed Arab property. These attacks, though inexcusable, were in most cases in retaliation for wrongs already committed by Arabs in the neighbourhood in which the Jewish attacks occurred.
  • [In his activities connected to the dispute over the Holy Places] the Mufti was influenced by the twofold desire to confront the Jews and to mobilize Moslem opinion on the issue of the Wailing Wall. He had no intention of utilizing this religious campaign as the means of inciting to disorder.
  • the matter of innovations of practice [at the Wailing Wall] little blame can be attached to the Mufti in which some Jewish religious authorities also would not have to share. connection has been established between the Mufti and the work of those who either are known or are thought to have engaged in agitation or incitement. ... After the disturbances had broken out the Mufti co-operated with the Government in their efforts both to restore peace and to prevent the extension of disorder.
  • [No blame can be properly attached to the British government for failing to provide armed reinforcements, withholding of fire, and similar charges.]
  • The fundamental cause ... is the Arab feeling of animosity and hostility towards the Jews consequent upon the disappointment of their political and national aspirations and fear for their economic future. ... The feeling as it exists today is based on the twofold fear of the Arabs that by Jewish immigration and land purchases they may be deprived of their livelihood and in time pass under the political domination of the Jews.
  • In our opinion the immediate causes of the outbreak were:-
    1. The long series of incidents connected with the Wailing Wall... These must be regarded as a whole, but the incident among them which in our view contributed most to the outbreak was the Jewish demonstration at the Wailing Wall on the 15th of August, 1929. Next in importance we put the activities of the Society for the Protection of the Moslem Holy Places and, in a lesser degree, of the Pro-Wailing Wall Committee.
    2. Excited and intemperate articles which appeared in some Arabic papers, in one Hebrew daily paper and in a Jewish weekly paper...
    3. Propaganda among the less-educated Arab people of a character calculated to incite them.
    4. The enlargement of the Jewish Agency.
    5. The inadequacy of the military forces and of the reliable police available.
    6. The belief...that the decisions of the Palestine Government could be influenced by political considerations.

The Commission recommended that the Government reconsider its policies as to Jewish immigration and land sales to Jews. This led directly to the Hope Simpson Royal Commission in 1930.

A minority report asserted far more involvement on the Mufti's part.

Hope Simpson Royal Commission, 1930

The commission was headed by Sir John Hope Simpson, and on October 21, 1930 it produced its report, dated October 1, 1930. The report recommended to limit the Jewish immigration due to the lack of agricultural land to support it.


Altogether 195 Arabs and 34 Jews were sentenced by the courts for crimes related to the 1929 riots. Death sentences were handed down to 17 Arabs and 2 Jews, but these were later commuted to long prison terms except in the case of 3 Arabs who were hanged. Large collective fines were imposed on about 25 Arab villages or urban neighborhoods. Some financial compensation was paid to persons who lost family members or property.[13]

A few dozen families returned to Hebron in 1931 to reestablish the community, but all but one family were evacuated from Hebron at the outset of the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. The last family left in 1947.

The Arabs in the region, led by the Palestine Arab Congress,[14] imposed a boycott on Jewish-owned businesses following the riots.[15]

See also


  1. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 9, 2005, "A Time of Change; Israelis, Palestinians and the Disengagement"
  2. ^ NA 59/8/353/84/867n, 404 Wailing Wall/279 and 280, Archdale Diary and Palestinian Police records.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Segev, Tom (1999). One Palestine, Complete. Metropolitan Books. pp. 295–313. ISBN 0805048480.  
  4. ^ Levi-Faur, Sheffer and Vogel, 1999, p. 216.
  5. ^ Sicker, 2000, p. 80.
  6. ^ 'The Wailing Wall In Jerusalem Another Incident', The Times, Monday, August 19, 1929; pg. 11; Issue 45285; col D.
  7. ^ "Zionism & Israel Information center - Palestine Riots of 1929". Retrieved 2007-04-25.  
  8. ^ J.Bowyer Bell, Terror out of Zion: The Fight for Iraeli Independence, Transaction ed.Prologue p.1 name
  9. ^ Jewish News, Jewish Newspapers -
  10. ^ The Hebron Massacre of 1929
  11. ^ Hebron protestors demand property taken in '29
  12. ^ Great Britain, 1930 : Report of the Commission on the disturbances of August 1929, Command paper 3530 (Shaw Commission report).
  13. ^ Annual reports to the League of Nations; Palestine Post
  14. ^ Feiler, Gil. "From boycott to economic cooperation ...." Google Books. 2 September 2009.
  15. ^ Feiler, Gil. "Arab Boycott." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Avraham Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 54-57


  • Levi-Faur, David, Sheffer, Gabriel and Vogel, David (1999). Israel: The Dynamics of Change and Continuity. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-7146-5012-9.
  • Morris, Benny Righteous Victims.
  • Shapira, Anita (1992) Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881–1948. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Shaw Commission enquiry report
  • Sicker, Martin (2000). Pangs of the Messiah: The Troubled Birth of the Jewish State. Praeger/Greenwood. ISBN 0-275-96638-0.
  • Wasserstein, Bernard. The British in Palestine.
  • Zertal, Idith (2005). Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-85096-7.
  • Mattar, Philip (1988). "The Mufti of Jerusalem". New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06462-4

External links


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