Inspector Duff [Douglas V. Duff, a former “Black and Tan” who rose to the rank of the Police Inspector for Jerusalem] seems to have played a dubious role at the outset of the Western Wall Incident of 1928. The Wailing Wall, or Western Wall of the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. In the 1920s, tensions mounted between Palestinian Muslims and Zionists over ownership, control, and access to the Wall. The Western Wall incident of September 1928 sparked rivalry and violence that spread across Palestine. By the end of the following year, the violence left 133 Jews and 116 Arabs dead.18
In September of 1928, just prior to the Jewish holiday of Yon Kippur, the Jews erected a screen across the alley that ran along the Wall. Inspector Duff visited the Wall area with the District Commissioner of Jerusalem, Edward Keith-Roach and exchanged words with the leader of the Ashkenazi community, “beadle Noah Gladstone” [Rabbi Noah Baruch Glasstein], there that same evening. The Jewish leader promised to have the screen removed by the next morning, but this did not happen.19 The following day [Monday, September 24, 1928], Inspector Duff sent a few of his local police down to remove the screen. When they returned tattered and beaten, he called for ten British officers, in battle gear, from nearby Mount Scopus. Once they arrived, Duff was pleased to find that four of the ten were his old comrades, also former “Black and Tans.” They hurried down to the Wall, pushing through the crowds, and removed the screen, as Jewish women hit them with their parasols. After tearing down the screen, a Jewish man clung to it as Duff and his men pushed through the angry crowd. Duff then threw the remains of the screen down into the Tyropean Valley, along with the man who was still clinging to it.20
In the days that followed the “Black and Tans” removal of the screen at the Wailing Wall, Douglas Duff became a public enemy of the Zionist Jews in Jerusalem. Zionists quickly criticized the “brutal” tactics of the British Palestine Police. One incident occurred, which Duff recorded later in his account of events, which sheds light on his bearings and psychological outlook. He and other police went to disperse a Jewish demonstration in the new part of Jerusalem. The angry crowd attacked their two trucks and forced Duff and the other police to retreat to a police outpost. Soon afterward, when the District Superintendent and a dozen troopers arrived, he ordered Duff not to show himself to the crowd. Defying these orders, Duff flung open the door and charged outside yelling, kicking and swirling his whip. As he describes it, “Once again I experienced that strange and utterly sublime ecstasy of ‘going berserk,’ as my barbarian forefathers had done. I had no consciousness of what I was doing as I sprang at that crowd.” The crowd dispersed as the other officers and troopers came out of the outpost. But, reminiscent of the Irish Rebellion, in the weeks that followed, three attempts of assassination were directed at Duff.21
18 Studies on the Wailing Wall disturbances of 1928-1929 include: Philip Mattar, “The role of the Mufti of Jerusalem in the Political Struggle over the Western Wall, 1928-1929,” Middle Eastern Studies 19:1 (1983), 104-118; and Martin Kolinsky, “Premeditation in the Palestine Disturbances of August 1929?” Middle Eastern Studies 26:1 (1990), 18-34; and Lawrence Davidson, “Competing Responses to the 1929 Arab Uprising in Palestine: The Zionist Press versus the State Department,” Middle East Policy 5:2 (1997), 93-112.
19 Duff ’s account submitted to the District Superintendent of Police, W. F. Wainwright, CO 733-163-4, 0001, p. 126. A similar account was submitted by a certain American named Author Raus to the Zionist Executive of Palestine with copies provided to other Zionist organizations and to the British Mandate Government. In Raus’ account, the beadle had not agreed to take down the screen, but rather Keith-Roach was informing him that Duff would take the screen down the following morning. Arthur Raus to Colonel Kisch, 3 January 1929, CO 733-163-4, 0001, p. 143-145.
20 Duff, Bailing, 169-177. See also Tom Segev’s narrative of the events in his One Palestine, Complete (New York: Henry Holt, 2000), 296 - 297.
21 Duff, Bailing, 176-178.