During my youth in Poland, I asked a group of Poles why they felt a need to beat up Jews, and they responded that the very presence of Jews was a “provocation. – Menachem Begin
In an otherwise unproblematic 2010 Guardian review (that we just came across) of a book by Martin Gilbert, titled ‘In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands’, there was the following remarkable claim:
The influx of Zionist pioneers into Palestine from 1897 onwards, and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, had a fateful impact on Jewish-Muslim coexistence. In such a bitter conflict we are all parti pris and even a scrupulous recorder like Gilbert is drawn into polemics and apologetics. For example, in detailing the shocking Arab riots of 1929 – in which 133 Jews were killed and 339 wounded – he might have mentioned that the violence was fueled in large part by the provocations of Zionist activists at the Wailing Wall (as with Ariel Sharon’s walkabout on the Temple Mount before the second intifada)
Leaving his specious claim about Sharon and the intifada aside, its first important to point out that the ‘1929 Riots’ refers to several massacres that year – one in Jerusalem that the author is referring to, one in Hebron and one in Safed.
Regarding the Jerusalem incidents, to blame “Zionist activists at the Wailing Wall’ for the Arab massacres is nothing but a propagandistic historical fabrication.
The following was written by Ricki Hollander, Senior Analyst at CAMERA, on the 1929 massacres:
In September 1928, a small group of Jews erected a “mechitza” (a divider to separate men and women during prayers) for Yom Kippur prayers at the Western Wall. The British forcibly dismantled the divider, but Haj Amin al Husseini [the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem] used this incident as a pretext to incite Muslims. He accused the Jews of attempting to seize Muslim holy sites, including the al Aqsa Mosque.
A virulent propaganda campaign calling for jihad against the Jews resulted in the frequent beating and stoning of Jews worshipping at the Wall and culminated in widespread, murderous riots across Palestine in August 1929.
August 15, 1929 was Tisha B’Av, the day on which Jews commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple. Thousands of Jews marched to the Wall to protest British restrictions on Jewish prayer there, and to reaffirm their Jewish connection to the holy site. They displayed their nationalistic fervor by singing Hatikvah (later to become Israel’s national anthem). The following day, mobs of armed Arab worshippers inflamed by anti-Jewish sermons, fell upon Jewish worshippers at the Wall, destroying Jewish prayer books and notes placed between the stones of the wall. On August 17, a Jewish boy was killed by Arabs during ensuing riots in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bukharan.
According to the Davar newspaper of August 20, 1929, incitement against the Jews was rampant, especially in the Jerusalem and Hebron area. Rumors were spread that Jews had cursed Islam and intended to take over their holy places; Muslims were told that it was their duty to take revenge. “Defend the Holy Places” became the battle cry.
On August 23, more than 1000 Arabs launched attacks on Jews throughout Jerusalem. Forty-seven people were killed. This was followed by widespread attacks on Jews throughout Palestine. Again, the British forbade Jews to organize armed self-defense units and within several days, 133 Jews had been killed and 339 wounded. Arab attackers sustained high numbers of casualties (116), almost all of whom were killed by British police trying to quell the violence. Jewish leaders reported that Arab attacks showed evidence of organized warfare; Arab assaults on Jewish communities extended from as far south as Hebron to Haifa, Safed, Mahanaim and Pekiin in the north. A state of emergency was declared and martial law was imposed by the British.
Additionally, the Palestine Inquiry Commission appointed by the British Government to investigate the riots unequivocally declared that “the [violent] outbreak in Jerusalem on August 23rd was from the beginning an attack by Arabs on the Jews for which no excuse, in the form of earlier murders by Jews, has been established”.
In fact, beyond the predictable agitprop employed after the 1929 riots by the Palestine Communist Party, it’s difficult to find any source parroting the claim that ‘Zionist provocations’ caused the anti-Jewish violence.
Indeed, there appears to be no historical dispute regarding the fact that Arab mobs, fed by antisemitic incitement (including the propagation of conspiracy theories by Muslim religious leaders), engaged in brutal, unprovoked attacks on Jewish men, women and children over a series of weeks.
However, some Jews reportedly sang Hatikvah at the Western Wall.
So, according to the Guardian contributor, it wasn’t antisemitic incitement and widespread anti-Jewish racism, but nationalistic Jewish songs which provoked the Arabs to kill them.
Though we’re all too familiar with such perverse Guardian logic by which Jewish victims are in some way always to blame for the Palestinian violence perpetrated against them, the mere ubiquitousness of such moral inversions shouldn’t render them any less appalling.
(This post was revised to make it clear that the Guardian review in question was published in 2010.)