Palestine: Part 5 – Religious Conflict
In 1920, a new Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (the Sunni Muslim cleric in charge of Jerusalem’s Islamic holy places including Al-Aqsa Mosque) was chosen. He believed the Jews in Palestine were seeking to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem on the site of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque (a series of structures functioning as a site of ancient Israelite and later Jewish worship). The creation of Zionist initiatives in hopes of founding a “Promise Land” seemed to justify these fears. This led to a long confrontation over the use of the Kotel (remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard), also known as the Wailing Wall, owned by the Muslim authorities but sacred to Jews.
1929 Palestine Riots
In late August 1929, this long confrontation escalated into violence. The riots took the form in the most part of attacks by Arabs on Jews accompanied by destruction of Jewish property. During the week of riots from August 23rd to 29th, 133 Jews were killed by Arabs and 339 others were injured, while 110 Arabs were killed and 232 were injured, most of them by the British police trying to suppress the riots.
The Shaw Commission (result of a British commission of inquiry) found that the fundamental cause of the violence “without which in our opinion disturbances either would not occurred or would not have been little more than a local riot, is the Arab feeling of animosity and hostility towards the Jews consequent upon the disappointment of their political and national aspirations and fear for their economic future.”
From 1936-39, a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs in Mandatory Palestine (geopolitical carve out of Ottoman Southern Syria after World War I) against British colonial rule, as a demand for independence and opposition to mass Jewish immigration occurred from 1936-1939. After strikes and other forms of political protest were subdued by the British civil administration using a combination of political concessions, international diplomacy (involving the rulers of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan and Yemen) and the threat of martial law, a violent and peasant-led resistance movement that increasingly targeted British forces was brutally suppressed by the British Army and the Palestine Police Force using repressive measures that were intended to intimidate the Arab population and undermine popular support for the revolt.
Although the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine was unsuccessful, its consequences affected the outcome of the 1948 Palestine war (which we will cover). It caused the British Mandate to give crucial support to pre-state Zionist militias like the Haganah (Jewish paramilitary organization which later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces); while forcing the Grand Mufti into exile.
Palestine: Part 6 – The White Paper