«TOWARDS NAKBA: THE FAILURE OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE, 1922-1939 A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State ...»
In 1928, however, immigrant religious Jews erected a screen to separate male from female worshipers celebrating Yom Kippur at the wall. This action heightened tensions in Palestine over Jewish immigration as rumors, propagated by Hajj Amin, circulated about Jews planning to take over the Temple Mount. This was all cast against the backdrop of expanding Jewish landownership in Palestine, especially in the area around the western end of Jerusalem. In Arab culture, a person can purchase land but that does not entitle him to anything that sits on the land such as orchards and buildings. This was the opposite of the Zionist understanding of land acquisition, in which the land and everything in it belonged to the owner.
While Arab fears over Jewish seizure of the Temple Mount bordered on the paranoid, their fear over increasing Jewish immigration was rooted firmly in fact. As
table 1 shows, Jewish immigration totaled 69,878 between 1924 and 1929:
Table 1: Provenance of Jewish Immigrants into Palestine 1.1.1924-31.12.1929
As Table 1 indicates, the majority of Jewish immigrants came from eastern Europe, with Poland accounting for approximately 48 percent of total Jewish immigration. Eastern European Jews had more immediate reasons to immigrate to Palestine because of government-sanctioned persecutions and pervasive anti-Semitism. Eastern European Ashkenazim had no frame of reference or any respect for Ottoman law. Because of this, many of the immigrants challenged long-established religious taboos. American and British immigrants were more likely to be ardent Zionists but respectful of local custom and tradition. About the origins of the 1929 Riots, the Mandate government stated The conflict of claims, Jewish and Arab, as to the right at the Wailing Wall continued to afford opportunity for disorder. On the Arab side there is suspicion of any Jewish act in the vicinity of the wall, coupled with resentment of the provincial regulations issued by the high commissioner, which are interpreted by certain Moslems as giving authority for Jewish devotions of congregational character which, in the Moslem view, have no sanction. On the Jewish side resentment is caused by acts of Moslems which are not with in the ambit of the provisional regulations of the high commissioner and which tend to make devotions, ether private or public, impossible to fulfill. 138 In August of 1929, Polish members of Betar, the Revisionist Zionist youth organization, demonstrating at the Kotel, claimed that the Wall belonged to the Jews; this event sparked the riots. During the course of the riots, Arab militias attacked the Jewish community in the city of Hebron. The Jewish community in Hebron was one of the oldest Report by His Britannic Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration on the Administration of Palestine and Transjordan for the Year 1929 (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1930), p. 131.
Report for 1929, pp. 4-5.
in Palestine and consisted of Sephardic Jews. Even though the Jews of Hebron were not Zionists, the Haganah offered assistance to the Jewish community. This assistance was declined, however, because the old Sephardic community there felt the Arabs would protect them. The Hebron “pogrom”, as it was called by the Zionists, caused sixty-seven Jewish deaths and forced the remaining Jewish community to flee. Rumors of the murder of children and rapes circulated among the Zionists. In the wake of this violence, the Sephardic community, called the old Yishuv, integrated with the Zionist enclaves. They brought their knowledge of Arab customs and language, as well as the topography of the surrounding country, to the Zionist discourse.
For the Arab community, the Hebron massacre had a devastating effect. First, they hardened the Zionist community against the idea of co-existence. The Arabs had often pointed to the existing Jewish communities and the rights they had as an example of Arab toleration. After the pogrom, the Zionist community segregated itself from the Arab. Zionists boycotted businesses that employed Arabs. 139 The establishment of Zionist institutions accelerated to give Jews an economic advantage in the looming conflict.
Weizmann stated his ideas clearly in a protest rally in September 1929. He said:
As our strength in Palestine grows, there comes a corresponding immunity from the repetition of such assaults. Two things have encouraged the Arabs; the first is the conviction that the Jewish national home is now only a beginning, and the second is the belief that we are still weak enough to make it possible for them to destroy us. By our own efforts we must do everything in our power to render such a state of mind impossible. We must not only make it abundantly clear that the national home is actually in being, but, by solid, concrete achievement, by the ever increasing acceleration of our efforts, we must render ourselves too strong to invite further attacks. 140 Report … 1929, p. 8.
Weizmann, Letters, Series B, Volume 1, p. 566.
Weizmann promoted the acceleration of institution building. In his conception, Jewish settlements were not enough to ensure a permanent Jewish state in Palestine. Jews needed to establish sustainable industries independent of Arab or British control. One example was the construction of a port in the Jewish city of Tel Aviv; this removed Jewish dependence on the Arab ports in Jaffa.
The second way the Hebron violence negatively affected the Arab community was that it poisoned its relationship with the British Mandatory government. While the Mandate government under Sir John Chancellor did not explicitly blame the Arab population for the riots or the massacre at Hebron, the military did collectively punish the Arab communities. Officials arrested large numbers of people and demolished Arab homes. The British documents on the 1929 riots stated that “the collective punishments ordinances were applied to the towns and villages whose inhabitants were guilty of participation in the concerted attacks on Jews at Hebron, Safad, Motza, Artuf, Beer Tuvia, and heavy fines were inflicted.” 141 Ben-Gurion placed the blame on the British, who he felt were hindering Jewish expansion. He argued that the legal situation in regards to Ottoman prohibitions of Jewish rights at the wall was a deliberate attempt by the Mandate government to get the Zionists and Arabs to fight one another. He also feared Arab violence against Zionist settlements.
In the wake of the Hebron massacres Ben-Gurion used the threat of Arab violence against Jews to begin expanding Zionist defense capabilities and reorganizing the Haganah.
Following the 1929 riots, the Mandate government under John Chancellor 142 deemed Jabotinsky a dangerous political agitator. His rhetoric about Jewish self-defense Report … 1929, p 7.
High Commissioner of Palestine from 1928-1931.
and the colonization of Palestine and Transjordan earned him a reputation as a militant.
After Jabotinsky left for a speaking tour of Europe and South Africa, the British Government prevented him from returning to Palestine. This decision proved to be short sighted. So long as Jabotinsky remained in Palestine, the British were safe from Revisionist attacks. By exiling Jabotinsky, the British removed any restraints that kept the extremists within Revisionist Zionism, like later Nobel Prize winner Menachem Begin, in check. After 1929, Revisionist anger began to focus on the British themselves as obstructions to the Jewish state.
The Haganah, established following the First World War as a loosely aligned paramilitary group designed for Jewish self-defense, changed relatively little between 1920 and 1929. The riots of 1929, however, brought drastic changes. The Haganah was firmly under the control of Ben-Gurion and the Histadrut. Ben-Gurion argued that if the Zionists were to protect themselves from Arab attacks, they must organize their military wing. Following the riots, membership expanded exponentially. Whereas prior to 1929, membership was limited to war veterans and farmers, after the Hebron massacre all Jewish teenagers and adults, both men and women, from the Kibbutzim were encouraged to enlist in the Haganah. This recruitment campaign met with great success. Several thousand people from the major cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa joined as well. To train these large numbers of recruits, the Haganah adopted British military programs and created an officers’ corps. The most drastic change to the Haganah was the quality of its arms. Most kibbutzim established armories for light arms. The weapons themselves streamed in from Jewish communities in Europe, who were outraged by the events in Hebron. The Haganah also established an underground weapons manufacturing complex to replace weapons confiscated by the British. By 1931, the Haganah was an army in almost every sense of the word. Nevertheless, the Haganah adopted a policy of restraint, Havlagah in Hebrew, for dealing with Arab attacks. In short, the purpose of the Haganah, as the name suggests, was to defend, not attack.
A splinter group broke away from the Haganah and formed the Irgun Zeva'i Le'umi, or “the national military organization.” Founded in 1931 by Commander Avraham Tehomi, most members of the Irgun, including Tehomi, were ideological disciples of Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism. The Irgun was the militant manifestation of the extreme elements of Revisionist Zionism. These extremists believed that the Jews’ right to establish themselves in Palestine held precedence over any and all Arab rights or claims. Following the 1929 riots, Irgun members concluded that only armed resistance against the Arabs and the British would ensure a Jewish state. The Irgun not only rejected the Haganah policy of restraint against Arab attacks, it also blamed the British for failing to prevent the massacre in Hebron. It is important to note that Jabotinsky himself did not support the idea of attacking the British military, although he did reject the policy of selfrestraint for dealing with Arab attacks.
While the ideological split between the Haganah and the Irgun was wide, there was a great deal of co-operation between the two groups. 143 They served two different functions for the common goal of Jewish security. The Haganah was capable of protecting the large settlements from large-scale Arab attacks. The Irgun was created for rapid response attacks against Arabs and later the British. The Irgun had a terrorist wing, which later became known as Lehi. Together, the Irgun and the Haganah gave the Jewish For more on the ideological split between the Haganah and the Irgun, see Schechtman, ch. 24.
community an institution that gave them a decided advantage over their Arab neighbors.
The Jews had both a professional military and a covert paramilitary squad. The Jewish population, both male and female, possessed a basic level of military training.
As the Jewish population was becoming more militant, it was also growing in numbers. The rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler’s ascension to the German Chancellorship in 1933 gave the Zionist movement new impetus. Weizmann joined with Ben-Gurion in advocating an increase in Jewish immigration. For the Jewish Agency, the rescue of Jews from Nazi control became paramount. What followed was the rapid increase in the number of Jewish immigrants from Europe. Table 2 shows the increase in German Jewish
numbers relative to other European states:
Table 2: The British Tables of Immigration from Europe in 1934
Although Poland continued to be the place of origin for the majority of immigrants, German immigrants now comprised the second largest group. German immigrants as a whole were not ardent Zionists; rather, they were fleeing a rapidly declining political situation. Many of them were doctors, lawyers, and academics. By 1938, Germany had replaced Poland as the primary country of origin with 4,223 immigrants compared to 3,269 Polish Jews. A total of 12,868 Jews immigrated into Palestine in 1938 with 12,056 coming from Europe. The Mandate Government stated that “towards the close of the Year illicit immigration of Jews from countries of Central and Eastern Europe appeared to be on the increase, doubtless as a result of the further deterioration in the political, social, and economic situations of Jews in those countries.” 145 The rising number of Jewish immigrants sparked the Arab riots of 1936, a turning point in the history of the Mandate. In April 1936, Hajj Amin al-Husseini called for a general strike to protest Jewish immigration. The Grand Mufti also demanded Arab selfrule under a national Arab government, led by the “Arab Higher Committee 146 ” which formed in August of the same year, and the banning of the sale of Arab land to Jews. The Grand Mufti’s fear was that the Arabs would be a minority in the future Palestinian state.
Report by His Britannic Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration on the Administration of Palestine and Transjordan for the Year 1934 ( London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1935), p. 36.
Report by His Britannic Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration on the Administration of Palestine and Transjordan for the Year 1938 ( London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1939 ), p. 29.
Consisting of Jamal Effendi al- Husseini, Ahmad Hilmi Pasha, Fuad Effendi Saba, Yacoub Effendi Ghussein, the Mayor of Jerusalem Dr. Hussein Fakhri Effendi al Khalidi, and Hajj Rashid Effendi Ibrahim.
Calling Arabs to strike was both a protest against that possibility and a tactic to head off more violent factions. According to Weizmann, the Grand Mufti and the mayor of Jerusalem set aside their differences and believed that “they could exercise a moderating influence on their more violent colleagues.” 147 They were wrong. Despite the power that Hajj Amin held within the Arab community in Palestine, once reports of violence began to circulate in the countryside, he was unable to control the strike.