Sunday, March 17, 2013

From A Mechitza at the Western Wall to A White Paper

The 1929 Riots in Mandate Palestine had, among its roots, an incident that occured a year previously when, during Yom Kippur services, the mechitza (partition screen), was removed, thus setting off a competition for the rights of the Jews to that site.

From Davar, September 25, 1928, the next day:

The British Police "win"
at the Western Wall
- because of a piece of cloth

Some historical material about the follow-up investigation and decisions how to manage the holy site and its ramifications:

HC Deb 03 December 1928 vol 223 cc813-4 813
Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why the White Paper Cmd. 3229, purporting to deal with recent incidents at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, contains no mention of alleged infringements of the status quo by the Moslem religious authorities; if he intends to issue a further White Paper on this aspect of the matter; and whether he is now in a position to make a statement as to the addition of further masonry courses to the wall itself by the Moslem religious authorities and the other alleged infringements of the status quo?

Mr. AMERY The White Paper is confined to the incidents which formed the subject of the question put to me when I undertook to lay that Paper before the House. It does not deal with matters in regard to which, as I have already informed the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I am awaiting further reports from Palestine. I am not prepared to anticipate either the nature of those reports or the action which I shall take when I receive them. As I stated in my reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman on 28th November, I am not satisfied that there has been a violation of the status quo by the Moslem authorities.

Lieut. Commander KENWORTHY How will the right hon. Gentleman make the further information known? Will he issue a further White Paper?

Mr. AMERY I will consider in what way.
Lieut. Commander KENWORTHY Will the right hon. Gentleman let me know when he has the information, so that I can put a further question, if necessary?   Mr. AMERY Yes, Sir.

The White Paper of November 1928 mentioned above? 


British Government Issues White Paper on Wailing Wall
London, Nov. 27 (JTA) – Asserting that the status quo, as established under the Turkish regime, was infringed by the Jewish worshippers at the Jewish Holy Site on September 24, the Day of Atonement, the White Paper of the British Government concerning the Wailing Wall incident, made public today, contains a statement of the facts and a declaration that the administration of Palestine intends to maintam the established Jewish right of access to the Holy Site.
The White Paper, written by Col. Leopold H. Amery, Secretary of State for the Colonies, refers to the communique of the Palestine Government dated the 26th of September and explains that the intervention of the police was caused, as the Jewish action constituted an infraction of the status quo of the Wall. The paper further explains the Jewish rights to the Wall during the Turkish regime, underlining the ruling of 1912 prohibiting Jews to erect a screen on the wall pavement. The White Paper emphasizes this year's innovations at the Wall on Yom Kippur were made the cause of the complaints of the Mufti in charge of the Wakf (Moslem religious property) to the Palestine Government necessitating immediate action, according to the practice not to create precedent contradictory to the status quo the Palestine government is obliged to maintain under the terms of the mandate.
Concerning the complaint that no Jew was among the police executing the order, this happened because, upon the urgent request of the Chief Rabbinate, all Jewish policemen had been released from service for the Yom Kippur holiday. In future, steps will be taken insuring a Jewish officer's presence at the Wall on all such occasions. The further complaint that the Palestine government should have consulted Jewish authorities before taking action, is not substantiated, because if the infringement of the status quo was committed with the knowledge of these authorities, they were aware of the possible consequences from the experience on Yom Kippur, 1925. If, however, the Jewish authorities were ignorant of the innovations introduced, they cannot reasonably expect the Palestine government's countenancing the unauthorized act of subordinates.
The British Government regards it as their duty and have the intention to maintain the established Jewish right of access to the pavement in front of the Wall for the purposes of devotion. They are also entitled to bring appurtenances as permitted under the Turkish regime. It is inconsistent, however, with the duties of the Mandate, to endeavor to compel the Moslem owners to accord extended privileges.
The chances are also lessened for a mutual arrangement between Jews and Moslems because public opinion in Palestine has removed the incident from the religious orbit into a political and racial question, which has intensified the difficulties. Nevertheless, the Palestine Government has approached the Zionist Executive, as well as the Moslem Council, suggesting that they agree on a mutual protocol regulating the conduct of services in a manner satisfactory to the normal liturgical requirements without prejudice to the legal rights of the Moslems. In this connection the government has also instructed the senior officer to feel out the ground with both parties as to whether an arrangement is possible which, if achieved, the British Government would cordially welcome as preventing a recurrence of the unfortunate incident, the White Paper declared.

But there was this comment:

White Paper Made Wailing Wall Situation Worse Says London “Jewish Chronicle”

London, Nov. 30 (JTA) –
Says Government Prejudiced Mutual Agreement by Weight Given Moslems (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

...The suggestion of the White Paper that Jews and Arabs reach a mutual agreement with regard to this matter is to be welcomed. The Government, however, has prejudiced such a possibility by the heavy weight given in the document to the Moslem position. The action of the British Government is reminiscent of the famous Lincoln story that his wife wanted a room painted green while he favored red. They finally compromised by painting the room green.
The explanation of the Government which makes the Jews appear as having a concession from the Moslems is severely limiting the right of the Jews to pray at the Wall. Palestine is no longer a Turkish province. A radical overhauling of the Wall regulations must be effected in the spirit and terms of the Palestine Mandate. The interpretation given by the Government is contradictory. The reasoning of the Palestine Government that the Wall is a purely Moslem sacred shrine is obviously wrong in view of the ancient Jewish rights to the Wall. The present ruling is deplorable, since it makes the repetition of similar incidents not only possible but unavoidable, states the paper.

A previous exchange that month:

HC Deb 19 November 1928 vol 222 cc1361-2 1361

16. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has now taken legal advice on the action of the Moslems in Jerusalem in erecting masonry constructions on top of the Kotel Maaravi or Wailing Wall in violation of the status quo; and whether he has now issued orders that new construction on this ancient wall be forbidden?
Mr. ORMSBY-GORE No, Sir; I have found it necessary to obtain more precise information on certain points before taking legal advice, and I am consulting the Palestine Government by telegraph on these points.
Lieut. Commander KENWORTHY Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how it is that when a temporary structure is erected at the foot of the wall for the Feast of the Passover by the Jewish community the police remove it by force, while the Arabs are allowed to put stone structures of a permanent character on the upper courses of the wall?
Mr. ORMSBY-GORE The hon. and gallant Gentleman, I am afraid, is misinformed. It has no connection with the Feast of the Passover whatever, and a full account of what has happened has been given in an answer by my right hon Friend, and in putting a supplementary question the hon. and gallant Gentleman is giving a misleading view of the situation. The whole question is what exactly is the status quo that we maintain under the clause of the Mandate. There are various questions to be cleared up before high legal advice can be asked on that point.
Lieut. Commander KENWORTHY It is obvious that we are favouring one religious denomination as against another.
Mr. ORMSBY-GORE No, certainly not. If there is one thing that His Majesty's Government and the Palestine Government are determined to do it is not to favour one as against the other.
Lieut. Commander KENWORTHY Will the right hon. Gentleman see to it that that answer is conveyed to the Government in Palestine?
Mr. ORMSBY-GORE It has been conveyed again and again, and it is in the terms of the Mandate. It would be very unfair to charge either Lord Plumer or his predecessors with infringing the spirit and letter of the Mandate.

By the way, this gentleman, Mohamed Ali, mentioned below, was buried in the Temple Mount compund, in the Western Wall:

HC Deb 03 December 1928 vol 223 cc812-3 812
11. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will state the circumstances under which Mohamed Ali, the Indian Moslem agitator, was recently permitted to enter Palestine, where he has been making attacks upon His Majesty's Government in Palestine upon the terms of the mandate and on the Zionists and their programme generally; and why this agitation by a Moslem, not an inhabitant of Palestine, is permitted in territory where we hold a mandate under the League of Nations?
Colonel HOWARD-BURY On a point of Order. Is it in order under the guise of a question to make these attacks on our Mohammedan fellow subjects?
Mr. SPEAKER It is never in order, in the guise of a question, to make attacks upon anybody.
Mr. AMERY I understand that Mohamed Ali was given permission to pass through Palestine in transit, provided that his stay did not exceed three days. I have no information as to his activities while in Palestine, but I am glad to know that I can count upon the vigilance of the hon. and gallant Member in helping me to deal firmly with agitators who make attacks upon His Majesty's Government.
Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY I do not know that I can reciprocate that trust. Will the right hon. Gentleman make inquiries as to these extraordinary public attacks made by this alien in Palestine on His Majesty's Government in Palestine?
Colonel HOWARD-BURY is not Mohamed Ali a British subject?
Mr. AMERY I believe he is a British subject. I will consider whether inquiries should be made into anything that he may have said.


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