The 1929 Riots (Tarpat) had, as one partial antecedents, an incident at the Western Wall on Yom Kippur 1928. There was a similar incident in 1925.* See pages 68-69 here.
The British policeman involved was Douglas Duff.
Douglas Valder Duff (a former Black and Tan from Ireland)...fitted well into the pro forma set out for the colonial policeman, but as history has shown, they quickly made the role their own. Duff in particular acquired a reputation for ruggedness and brutality, which was almost unique even in the turbulent interwar period in the colonies. Hated by both sides, anecdotes abound of full blown fist-fights with protesters, whippings (he usually carried a bull whip and a .45 calibre pistol, even when an officer), shots fired over and at protesters; it’s little surprise that he was targeted for assassination by both Jewish and Palestinian groups
On his role in connection with the 1928 incident:
“Going Beserk”: Duff and the Black and Tans at the Wailing Wall
Duff carried an Irish blackthorn baton or club (called a shillelagh) which he occasionally used to whack Palestinians over the head, leaving them unconscious. He carried a Colt 045 pistol on his hip and a Turkish styled whip. He generally bullied his way about, enforcing immediately and spontaneously his ideas of justice or at least whatever measure it would take to maintain order and get a job done...When there was an earthquake that left two “important” female tourists buried in a collapsed hotel in Jericho, he used his whip to coerce local Bedouins to dig them out. When one of the Bedouins attempted to leave before they found the bodies, Duff “hit him with a beautiful left uppercut to his bearded face and sank a right-cross to his heart.” The Bedouin collapsed. Duff ordered him to be wrapped in woven-wire and whipped; the other Bedouin kept digging.17
Inspector Duff 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, 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
17 Duff, Bailing, 153-156 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 Policy5:2 (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), 296297.21 Duff, Bailing, 176-178.
And here is his own testimony from his Bailing With A Teaspoon, pp. 169-174:
Shortly after my return to Palestine I became entangled in what hassince been called "The Wailing Wall Incident". It was my bad luck thatI became the central figure in the biggest Arab-Jewish controversy of theearly years. It happened on the Day of Atonement, the great Jewish festivalof Yom Kippur, 1928.
I accidentally met the British District Commissioner near the HolySepulchre that evening and he invited me to accompany him down to theTemple area, where he proposed to visit some of the religious sheikhs. Wewalked slowly down David Street, which runs from the Jaffa Gate, downhill,across the filled-in Tyropean Valley, to the Gate of the Chain, leading into the Temple area. Immediately to the right of this Gate is the old MekhammeSharia, the Muslim religious court, where matters of dowries, wards, wills,religious and charitable endowments and all questions of divorce are triedby doctors learned in the Islamic canons. There we were met by several ofthe venerable sheikhs, clad in well-brushed, black cassock-like garments,their red fezzes bound with snowy turbans.
We walked into the Sharia court with them, where the District Com-missioner, glancing out of the tall window, studied the Jewish throng at theWailing Wall, a few yards beneath us. The enclosure was filled with wor-shippers, who kept coming and going as they always did in this greatfestival. The time was about four in the afternoon, which it is important toremember, as the great Jewish feast started at sunset that evening. I hadnoticed during one of my visits to the Wall earlier that day that an ordinarybedroom screen was standing about one-third of the way along the flag-stones. In my ignorance I failed to grasp its significance, and, as no one madeany complaints about it, I did not suspect that bane of the Holy Places anInnovation! Real or fancied innovations, planned to establish a precedentand sternly resisted by the opponents of the innovators, caused most ofour fights in the Sacred Shrines, and usually I was very quick to note any.
The District Commissioner saw it (the screen was made of light woodenbattens with panels of thin cloth, constructed to fold in four) and remarkedthat he had never seen such an object at any previous Wailing Wall festival.Those very astute Muslim gentlemen instantly seized their opportunity; Iam quite sure that they had paid no attention to the screen up to the momentwhen the District Commissioner unwittingly gave them their chance toraise a new issue.
They declared it was a barefaced Jewish attempt to seize the Mosqueof El Akhsa and the Dome of the Rock; the thin end of the wedge to snatchone of the holiest places in Islam because it had once been the site of theJewish Temple. If the District Commissioner did not at once take action,they threatened, then he alone would be responsible for a Holy War thatcould rouse all the Muslim races to battle for the blessed shrine from whencethe Prophet made his miraculous Ascension into Paradise. If he did not atonce make the Jews realize that they could not play fast-and-loose with aMuslim holy place (for the Wailing Wall is the sanctuary where the heavenlysteed, El Buraq, stood before taking God's Prophet on his midnightjourney), then he was a false servant to his master the King of England,and he was also betraying the mighty British Empire.
Shadows of 1900 years before, when the Jewish priests howled at poorPontius Pilate that he was no friend of Csesar if he let the Man of Nazarethcontinue to preach sedition!
The D.C. looked extremely worried at the storm he had inadvertentlyraised, and asked what the significance of the screen might be. The sheikhscame straight back at him, all talking at once, pointing out that, in a syna-gogue, the men and women worshippers are segregated from one another.Let the D.C. look at the base of the Wailing Wall. Were not the Jewishwomen all weeping and praying in the smaller section cut off by the screen?Were not the men in the bigger one, assembled without a woman amongthem? Was it not more usual for the Jews to stand anywhere they chosewhile praying at the Wall and not to be divided by sex?
It was true enough. The men and women were divided by the screen.Then was this not absolute proof, the sheikhs shrieked, that the forgotten-of-God (their contemptuous name for the Jews) had instituted a synagogueon this sacred place where they were only allowed on sufferance by thegraciousness of the Muslim?
Matters had been growing tenser during the previous weeks and Irealized that this seemingly trivial incident might easily be the detonator toignite the magazine. The District Commissioner kept calm and made a jokesaying that he would, personally, see that the screen was removed withoutdelay: in fact that he would go down himself and speak to the Beadle ofthe Wall, Rabbi Noah.
He did so, and when the Beadle maintained there was no significance inthe screen, saying that it had been put there merely to give the women alittle privacy in their lachrymose worship, the D.C. agreed that it couldremain until the close of the service, but then must be taken quietly away.He explained, courteously, that the Muslim had objected to it and that hewas sure the Beadle did not want to annoy them. Rabbi Noah promised todo as he was ordered, whereupon the D.C. and I walked to the greatHurvah Synagogue in the Jewish quarter, a few score yards away, to paya courtesy visit on the Festival eve.
I became a little restive after about an hour of the ritual and whisperedto the D.C. that I wanted to return to the "Wailing Wall to make sure thathis orders about the screen were being obeyed. He agreed, although I thoughtthat he did not seem to attach much importance to the matter. When Ireached the Wall the screen was still in position, and Rabbi Noah told me,tearfully, that as it was already the sunset of a most sacred day no Jew wouldtouch it, for that would be servile work within the meaning of the Doxology.He promised me, however, that he would obtain the services of a couple ofChristian workmen during the evening, who could take it away withoutcommitting sin.
Telling him that I must obtain a ruling from the District Commissioner,I walked back to the Hurvah Synagogue, but found that the D.C. hadreturned to the Residency, a Greek Patriarchate building inside the city wallson the route between the Jaffa and New Gates. He offered me a whisky-and-soda when I reported to him, but as he had several other guests he paid littleattention to me beyond telling me to make sure, without offending the Jewstoo much, that the screen was removed by morning.
I had had too much experience in dealing with all sorts of religiousidealists at the Holy Places to act rashly. I scribbled in my note-book an orderaddressed to myself, embodying the D.C.'s instructions to remove thescreen by morning, and stressing that I was to regard it as a matter ofurgency. A short while afterwards I got near my host again and held outmy note-book and a pencil, asking him to sign it. This sort of thing wasnot at all unusual; he had signed plenty of orders for me before and hadoften given me a search-warrant under similar circumstances. He glancedat what I had written and scrawled his name, probably amused at myinsistence. I walked along to his chief clerk's office and got the old GreekChristian to press the official stamp on the order.
I visited the Wailing Wall twice during that night and on each occasionfound the Beadle there. This was not in the least unusual on the Day ofAtonement, and he assured me that some Christian workmen would soonbe along to remove the screen. I told him I should visit him at seven in themorning and that if the screen was then still in position I should remove itwithout further palaver. At half-past six I was eating my breakfast when atrooper ushered in the Beadle, who bowed humbly and gave me a notefrom the District Commissioner saying that, owing to the Beadle's beingunable to obtain non- Jewish labour, he had given him permission to keep thescreen until nine o'clock. Rabbi Noah insisted on retaining the written orderas his authority to show to any policeman at the Wall.
I was still unsuspicious of any intrigue, and at ten to nine I told a reliableArab inspector to take a few men to the Wailing Wall to make sure that thescreen was down. It did not seem important enough a duty to require mypresence at one of the busiest hours in my day, especially as I had no doubtof the Beadle's good intentions.
A quarter of an hour later the very angry Arab officer returned, with histunic in shreds, his face scratched, and die beginnings of a couple of blackeyes! His policemen were in equally bad shape, and boiling with wrath hetold me that a crowd of Jews, mainly women and old ones at that hadattacked his party the moment he entered the Wailing Wall area, where thescreen was not only still erect but had been fixed with iron strappings to theflagstones! There was worse news: a large crowd of Arabs was mustering inthe bazaars, swearing vengeance on the impious Forgotten-of-God who hadseized the sanctuary of El Buraq and were desecrating it by making it intoone of their synagogues!
The situation was explosive and as my two seniors were out of barracksI took immediate action, knowing how quickly such a position could getbeyond all control. I telephoned to Mount Scopus asking for ten Britishconstables in battle-order, and then, grabbing my own steel helmet, walkeddown to the Jaffa Gate to wait for these reinforcements. Meanwhile, thereserve in barracks were paraded and issued with ball ammunition. I hadalready told the native orderly officer to telephone to Police Headquartersto let them know that I had gone to the scene of action and to ask them totake over control.
The British police arrived in record time, and I felt much happier whenI saw four of the old first-year ex-British gendarmes among them. Theylooked very cheerful as they leaped on to the pavement; I heard afterwardsthat they had all insisted on their right to come, saying that there wouldsurely be some action if it was Duff who had sent for them. As we stormeddown the narrow alley of David Street, and dived beneath the arches wherethe covered bazaars cross it near the entrance to the Jewish quarter, I sawthat matters were grown extremely serious. Arabs were pouring downtowards the Gate of the Chain, which is the main entrance to the Templearea, and every man of them bore a dagger in his belt or held a nabout clubin his hand.
The whole city was buzzing like an angry beehive, and we had to cutthrough the throng like an armoured ship's bow; we could not afford to begentle, for scores of human lives hung on the seconds we saved. A hundredyards short of the Gate of the Chain we turned sharply to the right, clattereddownhill and winding round several corners reached the entrance to theWailing Wall
The narrow area beneath the great stone blocks which have stood theresince King Solomon completed his father's work in building the FirstTemple, was packed tight with Jewish worshippers, mainly elderly women,of the older, orthodox type. A great hush fell as we appeared amid the angryroars of the great unseen mob of Muslim mustering on the farther side ofthe great Wall. I distinctly heard the old fighting rally of Islam shouted bya stentorian voice.
"Kill the Jewish dogs! Islam is endangered. Strike!"
The hush lasted only a few seconds before it was shattered by the shrillclamour of the raging women. I grabbed the Beadle and demanded why thescreen was still in position, but poor old Rabbi Noah was beyond speech.Hating violence in all its forms, he was horrified and terror-stricken beyondhis strength, and sagged supinely in my hands. Over the heads of the womenI saw the screen, the symbol of the whole incident.
"Tear it down, Sergeant!" I roared, and led the way through the crowd.It was very hot and the smell of over-heated and under-washed femininityhung cloyingly sweet-sour in that narrow, sun-smitten space. Keepingclosely together we forged our way forward, pushing aside the angry ladiesas they hammered us with umbrellas and sticks, which clattered on ourhelmets; one beldame, who chose me as her particular target, belabouredmy back until her parasol broke. Their fingers slashed and tore, they spatin our faces and shrieked obscenities as they strove to block our passage.
I reached the flimsy screen first, but as I did so a Jewish worthy, clad ina long caftan and a fur-trimmed wide-caved hat, caught hold of it andshouted in English that he meant to die where he stood and that we wouldhave to take him along with the screen. None of our female attackers werestruck by any of us and not a Jewish man was injured as we stormed ourway out with the screaming rabbi clinging convulsively to the wreckage ofthe screen, which we carried in our midst. We reached the narrow laneleading to the Dung Gate at a point where there was a break in the housesopening on to the cactus-covered slope of the Tyropean Valley, opposite thespring of the great arch of the bridge, which once connected the Temple withthe Upper City. There I halted my party, turned them about, ordered thesergeant to throw the shreds of the screen into the valley, and when theRabbi refused to loosen his grip, he went down the twenty-foot-steep slopewith it. The British police, veterans of many Jerusalem street fights, tookup a strong defensive position in a deep archway, where we could beattacked only in front.
The crowd of furious women believed they were fighting sacrilegiousinfidels who had offered their religion a deadly insult in its most sacredshrine on the holiest day of the year, and would have torn us to pieces ortrampled us to death, an unthinkably humiliating and disgraceful end forany man conscious of his masculinity, and already ashamed of the sordidpart he was being forced to play in fighting females.
Fortunately for us the situation changed as soon as the shrieking womenrealized that we were holding an impregnable position. They screamed withhysterical fear and fright, and a wild stampede started as the whole crowd of .worshippers ran shrieking uphill towards David Street. We wheeled outof our archway and mingled with them, keeping our ranks very tight aswe were carried along, for I was afraid of what might happen when thatcrowd of insanely-shrieking Jewish women met the mob of angry Arabsthronging the main street above. At the intersection of the lane with DavidStreet we resumed our line, facing downhill towards the Gate of the Chain,while three of the British police moved quickly up to the junction of thecovered bazaars, to stop the hordes of rage-filled Arabs flooding in from theMuslim quarter, and also to block the main entrance to the Jewish quarter.
I still maintain that that day we prevented a general massacre of Jewsin those cobbled, sun-drenched narrow streets. Not a single Jew wasseriously injured; even the Rabbi, who had clung to the screen, sustainedonly a few abrasions and bruises. A few of the Arabs who tried to attackthe terror-stricken torrent of Jews had their sconces cracked by our rifle-butts, but that was all.
No one who has not served in the Holy City can realize how quicklyghastly rumours can spread; within fifteen minutes the furthest alleywaysof Meashorem and Mustashfa outside the walls were filled with white-facedfolk watching the shopkeepers as they frenziedly clamped their shutters,while tales of a massacre in the Old City grew more horrifying with eachrepetition.
The first person in authority to arrive on the scene was the Inspector-General, at the head of a strong posse of armed police. He looked very-angry until I gave him my report, whereupon he left at once for Headquartersso that he might have fuller control of the situation.
After him came a senior officer of the Legal department, who accusedme of having used the most brutal methods against the Jewish worshippers.He would not allow me to say a word, and consequently I became extremelyangry. When he asked me how many had been killed by the police I turnedon him savagely and bade him to look round for any wounded or dead hecould find, and when he failed to find any to come back to me and apologize.He was very angry at being addressed in such a way by so junior a personas myself, but I was past caring what might happen to my career; I havealways detested the men of the long gown, especially when they presumeto interfere in scenes of action.
After a couple of hours the blaze died down, and I was ordered toreport to barracks, where I found my own senior officer and the Inspector-General. They asked me why I had caused such a flurry over so simple amatter as removing a screen. I explained what had happened and thesignificance of the screen, but they still seemed to think that I had actedrashly in forcibly removing it, and told me that I should have asked forhigher authority before taking such drastic action.
I again explained the swiftly-mounting Arab fanaticism but I was toldthat I should not have acted on my own responsibility in so dangerous asituation. I gaped at that, and said that I had not taken any initiative buthad merely obeyed the orders of the District Commissioner, and producedmy note-book with my very definite orders to remove the screen at all costs,with the D.C.'s signature beneath it. That ended my personal responsibility,but I knew only too well how close I had become to being made the officialscapegoat. As it was I made very powerful enemies, for the "Wailing WallIncident" burgeoned into far greater importance than any of us imaginedpossible on the day when it occurred.