Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Reviewing 1920 History in Mandate Palestine

History may never really repeat itself but most of this sounds very familiar to us today.

From "Orientations", the memoirs of Sir Reginald Storrs:

Arab resentment against the Balfour Declaration was now louder as well as deeper. The growing success of violence in Egypt was an open encouragement to extremists, and plaintive grievances were now becoming truculent demands. Both Arabs and Jews were confronted with an Administration that was less of a happy family than the original O.E.TA.; the difference perhaps between the beginning of a picnic, and the end. After eighteen months of peace, and still under purely negative instructions from home, the military and civilian elements began to react differently and not always consistently to the exactions and protests with which they were assailed. On the one
side were the Jewish and Arab politicians supported respectively in England and in Egypt and expecting immediate yet detailed examination of complaints; on the other side a school of thought condemning as unsoldierly all "politika", which, so far as some of us could gather, seemed to mean dealing with people as reasonable beings. And so the time drew near to the Feast of the 'Passover and to Easter Day, 1920.

"Moslems are far more orthodox here than in Egypt," I had written after my first few weeks in Jerusalem, "so is everybody, worse luck." Nabi Musa,' the apex of the Moslem year, was the single occasion on which the Mufti, who rode in the procession, and the Mayor who with the notables received and entertained it in a tent on the crest of the last hill before the Jericho road, were the chief figures in an official ceremony...

...In 1920, when anti-Zionist feeling was already tense, the band, long-promised, was suddenly refused a few days before Nabi Musa (though there was none other in Palestine); but finally, on my urgent application, allowed to perform. I had attended the "Call". The procession of the pilgrims was to be shepherded as before by our Police. Blood runs hot in the Palestine spring but apart from occasional scrapping between the Nablus and Hebron pilgrims, Nabi Musa was normally a blameless (if rather pointless) event...but in 1920 the air was full of rumours and of that nervous quality to which the altitude of Jerusalem undoubtedly contributes. We had made what were then
considered adequate dispositions, though I had more than once represented that the placing of the Jerusalem police force in charge of a young Lieutenant was hardly fair to the City, to me, or to himself. The pilgrims not being expected to arrive at the Jaffa Gate until after midday, I went with my father and mother to Easter Matins at St George's Cathedral, ordering a member of the staff to warn me there as previously, so soon as the procession was within half an hour of Jerusalem. He forgot. As after the Service I was walking with my parents the three hundred yards to the Governorate, my orderly Khalll murmured softly behind me in Arabic: "There has been an outbreak at the Jaffa Gate, and a man has been wounded to death." It was as though he had thrust a sword into my heart. Even now the mere memory of those dread words brings back the horror of the shock. The days that followed have been described by most of those concerned with a bitterness which it is no purpose of mine to increase, nor would I renew grief unspeakable.

And another view:

Vladimir Jabotinsky, a leading Zionist and future leader of a prominent paramilitary organisation (Haganah which operated during the Mandate period), published many articles in the British press suggesting a close involvement between the British Foreign Office and the Zionist leadership.  His first article was published in The Times in February 1918, and dealt with the last days of Jerusalem under the Ottomans, stressing the positive effect of the British occupation in comparison with the weak and inefficient Turkish rule. This article left religious issues aside, and refrained from mentioning words such as ‘crusade’ or‘crusaders’ in order not to alarm Muslim public opinion in the British Empire.

In another article, published few months later, Jabotinsky poured scorn on the old Jewish communities of Jerusalem for contributing, in his view, to the lowering of ‘Jewish prestige in the eyes of the British’ and for resisting the activity of the Zionist Commission, which handed out the funds available as war relief.  Jabotinsky openly criticised those Jews belonging to the old Jewish communities who lived off alms known as halukka. He was also critical of those Jews whose only function was to say prayers before the Wailing Wall. This article also tells us of the mounting tension among the Zionist Commission and the ‘halukka Jews’. The Zionist Commission wanted to show that Jews were different from these stereotypes and that the new Jewish style was represented by the Zionist settlers in Tel Aviv and Rehovoth.

and he continues:

When Chaim Weizmann arrived in the region as head of the Zionist Commission in 1918, members of the military administration expressed their disappointment and surprise.  General Money, Chief Administrator, was highly critical of Zionism, and of British support to the Zionist cause, although his opinions might also have reflected a strong feeling of anti-Semitism: ‘[Jews] were as a class inferior morally and intellectually to the bulk of the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of thecountry’.
Following the occupation of Jerusalem, the Chief Political Officer, Gilbert Clayton, expressed to Sykes his concerns in relation to British support for Zionism, as he feared it might alienate Arab support in the region.

Louis Bols, the last Chief military Administrator, became disillusioned with Zionism after the Nebi Musa riots in April 1920; in fact, he acknowledged that the Zionists were not ultimately claiming a ‘National Home’ but a Jewish state.  The only pro-Zionist member of the military administration was Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, the Chief Political Officer who held the office from March 1919.  He supported the Zionists as he claimed they would be the most loyal friends to the British in the Middle East, and he added that the administration should have been purged of anti-Zionist elements.

Although the members of the military establishment were concerned with the political situation, they never publicly expressed opinions about it. The military proved to be more concerned with practicalities than politics. They saw the Zionist Commission as a threat to their legitimacy, as the bureaucratic apparatus of the Zionist Commission was running almost in parallel with the British administrative one.  The Commission was officially charged by the Foreign Office to carry out, under Allenby’s authority, the steps necessary to establish in Palestine a Jewish National Home...

...The Arab Muslim-Christian associations emerged in support of the incorporation of Palestine into Syria and with anti-Zionist petitions addressed to British authorities with the aim of stopping Jewish immigration.  In March 1920, the Syrian Congress declared Faysal king of Syria and Palestine; Arabs who had hoped to be incorporated into his kingdom fuelled large nationalist demonstrations in Jerusalem, which also took on an anti-Zionist nature.

...Curzon (the Minister of Foreign Affairs) expressing his concern: ‘though I do not anticipate any immediate trouble in Palestine, there is always the risk of isolated cases of Jews being killed, of reprisal by the Jews, or of extensive Arab raids along the Palestine border’. The atmosphere depicted was not idyllic. Vladimir Jabotinsky, meanwhile, wrote to Weizmann on 12 March predicting that a pogrom was liable to break out any day.  Considering the tone of a letter from the Arab Club to Allenby, it is possible to see how early signs of a riot were clearly visible: ‘we declare that we cannot accept the Jews in our country. Should they be permitted to do what they intend doing, we shall fight against them till death.’

and a description of the riots:

...Aref al-Aref, the editor of the popular nationalist newspaper al-Suriyya al-Janubiyya (The Southern Syria), published since 1919, declared: ‘if we don’t use force against the Jews, we will never be rid of them’. In response the crowd chanted ‘Nashrab dam al Yahud’ (We will drink the blood of the Jews).  From a balcony, Musa Kazim al-Husayni also spoke, and after his speech the crowd roared: ‘Palestine is our land,the Jews are our dogs!’ Pictures of Faysal were also displayed, and he was acclaimed as King of Syria and Palestine.

At this point, the riot began just inside Jaffa Gate...The following day the looting and violence continued, albeit on a smaller scale, though two cases of rape against Jewish women were reported...The reported casualties amounted to 251, of whom 9 died and 22 were critically wounded. Five Jews and 4 Muslims had been killed; the great difference was in the number of wounded: 211 Jews were reported wounded, as opposed to 21 Muslims and 3 Christians. Seven British soldiers were also wounded;

...the Muslim-Christian Society, writing to Storrs in the aftermath of the riots, accused the Jews of disturbing the peace of Jerusalem which led to the ‘massacre of a number of innocent Muslims and Christians’.  Arabs systematically looted Jewish shops, while Jews fired upon Arabs with illegally owned guns. The difference in the number of casualties may be explained by the number of Arabs in the city. On an average day the Jews were the majority in Jerusalem, but the number of Muslims in the city had soared due to the celebrations.

And there's also this history at that time at that source:

...Storrs not only worked towards the amelioration of Jerusalem’s built environment, but he also made efforts to restore the city’s‘moral image’. Non-licensed public bars within the walls were closed, and distilling was prohibited except in private homes. In licensed bars, alcohol was not served between 2 pm and 6 pm, and between 8 pm and 5 am.

Prostitution was also regulated. It was a very sensitive issue; Jerusalem might have been a ‘holy city’ but it was, first and foremost, a living city, and likely not a very religious one. Prostitution was common before the war, and increased after the war: the British presence meant that more money was available for this kind of service, so an increasing number of women from poor backgrounds became members of the ‘world’s oldest profession’.

Brothels were forbidden within the walls of the city, and they were allowed only in Feingold Street (a courtyard on Jaffa Road), in the neighbourhoods of Nahalat Shiv’ah, and in the Milner Houses. Women with sexual diseases were liable to imprisonment if caught having sex, due to the possibility of transmitting the disease to members of the military force.

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