In 1929 violence erupted in several Palestinian cities and in the process of mutual blame and recrimination, Arabs and Jews began to develop their conflicting narratives which have moved further apart over time.
The Western Wall (Kotel in Hebrew) in Jerusalem, is a constant source of potential trouble between Jews and Arabs even today. It is all that is left of the third temple built by King Herod the Great and destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. It stands on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif in Arabic) and is the site of the western boundary of the temple built by King Solomon and is thus holy to Jews and Arabs alike. The Wall now forms part of the boundary that encloses the Mosque of Aksar and the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock. The rock is particularly holy to Moslems because, from it, Mohammed ascended to Heaven upon El Buraq, his white horse.
While the Wall had been accepted as Moslem property by Jews and Moslems alike, it had been the custom in the Mandate era for Jews to pray there freely.
Certain rules were understood by both Jews and Arabs. Trouble arose when these rules seem to be infringed. When Moslems remove weeds from 'their' Wall, Jews protested and when Jews placed seats or screens near the Wall, Moslems protested.
The trouble over the Western Wall could have erupted a year earlier. On 24th. September, 1928, the Day of Atonement, Arabs were waiting in alley ways ready to attack the Jews who had erected a screen to separate female and male worshipers. Douglas Valder Duff, formerly of the Port Police in Haifa but now an Inspector in charge of Jerusalem's Old City, at the instigation of the district governor, Edward Keith-Roach, ordered his police to remove the screen by force. The Jewish press railed against this irreverent action although it had prevented another serious riot in which many Jews would have been killed.
Trouble rumbled on and in the summer of 1929 it erupted again in earnest. It couldn't have come at a worse time. Most of the top-ranking police officers and a goodly proportion of other ranks were out of Palestine on home leave as were the
high commissioner and district governors. Only about 90 British police were left in Palestine under the command of Deputy Inspector-General Major Alan Saunders OBE.
On August 14th, the eve of a Jewish Holy Day commemorating the destruction of the first and second Temples, about 6000 Revisionist Zionists assembled in Tel Aviv to protest against infringements of Jewish rights at the Western Wall. Many travelled on to Jerusalem and next day marched with a police escort to the wall, waving flags, leaflets and singing Hatikva. The following Friday, 2000 Muslims marched to the wall and desecrated Holy Books. The acting High Commissioner, Harry Luke. put the armoured TJFF in Transjordan on the alert.
The next day, the Sabbath, a young boy was stabbed and died on the Tuesday. The British Police had to use force to keep order at his funeral near Jaffa Gate and the Main Post Office.
Saunders assumed command of the whole Jerusalem district and put acting district commander Harrington in charge of the Old city. The commander of the police school, Kingsley-Heath was put in charge of the New City. The British Police force prepared for riots but once again had to rely on local police, most of whom were Arabs.
On Friday 23rd tens of thousands Arabs charged into Jerusalem and assembled for morning prayers carrying makeshift weapons. Jews, anticipating the worst, fled from the Old City
Kingsley-Heath ordered his men to confiscate the Arabs' weapons.
Saunders met the Mufti before noon, The Mufti promised his people would not break the law unless provoked.
About 12.30 a frenzied Arab mob burst out of the gates of the old city. Luke, from his office near Damascus Gate, ordered the armoured unit stationed in Ramleh to move to Jerusalem. Kingsley H-Heath and his men kept most of the mob from charging into the Jewish areas but some managed to reach the Montefiore Quarter and attack the Jewish residents there.
Luke sent a cable to London demanding the immediate dispatch to Palestine of an infantry battalion and another cable to the Royal Navy command in Malta for similar reinforcements. By 4 pm 70 British civilians, including 28 visiting theology students were mobilized.
Next day another 188 British men were enlisted and Luke telephoned the Acting High Commissioner in Egypt for help. Several platoons of from the British Brigade flew from Cairo to Atarot and Brigadier Dobbie arrived by train with the rest of his battalion the following day.
For the people of Hebron, however, these military forces arrived too late.
Next- Massacre at Hebron 1929