Today marks an important anniversary, that of a tipping point in the modern Middle East which not only continues to shape our current reality but also serves to remind us of some very important truths about the nature of the ongoing conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Jews.
It was the middle of the morning on April 4, 1920, precisely 94 years ago, during the intermediate days of Passover, and the Jews of Jerusalem thought the danger hanging over them had mostly receded.
Muslims were marking the third and final day of the Nebi Musa festival, and despite fears of large-scale Arab violence, the holiday had thus far passed more quietly than anticipated.
But all that was about to change.
Tens of thousands of Arabs gathered in Jerusalem’s Old City and several speakers began firing up the horde, including the nefarious Haj Amin al-Husseini, who would subsequently be appointed the city’s Mufti.
Amid chants of “Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs!” the crowd descended into a violent frenzy and went on the offensive.
Arab assailants proceeded to attack innocent Jewish men, women and children on the streets, punching, kicking and beating them, as well as hurling stones and other objects.
They broke into Jewish homes, raped Jewish women, and plundered property. Cemeteries and yeshivot were also attacked, with tombstones and Torah scrolls falling victim to the Arab mob’s fury.
Arab policemen, whose task was to maintain order, instead joined in the fray, while the British Mandatory authorities responded with their characteristic lethargy and incompetence.
Over 100 Jews were injured in just the first few hours, and the rioting intensified the following day, leading the British to impose martial law. Finally, after several more days of unrest, the violence was finally quelled.
When the dust had settled, a total of five Jews had been killed and more than 200 wounded, while four Arabs were dead and 25 injured.
Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann along with a senior British military officer insisted that the British Mandatory authorities had actively encouraged Arab leaders to incite the violence due to their hostility towards Zionism.
One month later, in May 1920, the British government dispatched a commission of inquiry, known as the Palin Commission, to investigate.
In predictable fashion, the final report sought to place blame on both sides, criticizing the Zionists for “impatience to achieve their ultimate goal,” as if that would somehow justify an Arab pogrom.
Nonetheless, the commission did note that it was clear that “the incidence of the attack was against the Jews and… was made in customary mob fashion with sticks, stones and knives. All the evidence goes to show that these attacks were of a cowardly and treacherous description, mostly against old men, women and children, and frequently in the back.”
The repercussions of the riots were profound.
Among other things, they led to the organization and establishment of more Jewish self-defense units which became the core of the Hagana, thereby accelerating the process of Jewish independence.
And among the Arabs, the riots crystallized the formation of a “Palestinian national consciousness.”
As Dr. Daniel Pipes noted in “The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine” (Middle East Review, Summer 1989), “In January 1920, Palestinian nationalism hardly existed; by December of that critical year, it had been born.”
But beyond the fact that we are still feeling the impact of the riots even today, it is worth recalling what happened so long ago in the streets of Jerusalem because it serves as an important reminder of what the Arab-Israeli conﬂict is truly all about.
Simply put: it has nothing to do with Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria and everything to do with Jews.
Unless they had extraordinary paranormal powers enabling them to gaze into the future, the Arab rioters of 1920 did not spill innocent blood because Jews would later settle in Beit El and Kedumim in the 1970s and ’80s.
And they did not go on the rampage because they believed in two states, Arab and Jewish, living side by side in peace and security.
They attacked Jews then, as they do today, because they are unwilling to accept a permanent and sovereign Jewish presence in the region.
Their dream today remains what it was back in 1920: to scare us off and clear us out.
Then, as now, the Palestinian Arabs are unwilling to recognize the biblical, historical and moral right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
And then, as now, they are willing to employ violence and terror to advance their goals.
And this is why all the plans, from the Rogers plan to the Reagan plan, from the Oslo accords to the Kerry plan, have accomplished little, because they ignore the cold, hard truth that has been staring us all in the face for the past century: there can be no peace because the Palestinian Arabs do not want peace. What they want is Israel.
The writer served as deputy communications director in the Prime Minister’s Ofﬁce under Binyamin Netanyahu during his first term.