As Israelis and Palestinians struggle with a 21st-century peace process, the
world must face the forgotten history that was so pivotal in determining the
present crisis. In many ways, a turning point was the day Arabs massacred Jews
because they dared to sit at the Western Wall while praying. This simple act of
prayer was so unacceptable to Arabs that it helped launch a worldwide crisis of
hate that provoked a global Islamic jihad, forged an Arab-Nazi alliance during
the Holocaust and still echoes to this day.
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The year was 1929. Jewish
Palestine was still being settled by torrents of Eastern European
The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine included the
provision for a Jewish homeland. The Balfour Declaration, widely endorsed by
many nations, was a matter of international law. But the Arabs in Palestine
refused to coexist with Jews in any way except as second-class dhimmis (non-
Muslim subjects of a Shari’a law state).
Islam had been at war with the
Jewish people since its defining inception in 627 when Muhammad exterminated the
Jews of Medina and launched the Islamic conquest that swept north and subsumed
For centuries, Jews and Christians in Arab lands were
allowed to exist as dhimmis, second-class citizens with limited religious
rights. These restrictions were enforced by the Turks who, until World War I,
ruled the geographically undetermined region known as Palestine, which included
When the Ottoman Empire fell, after World War I ended in 1918,
the British were obligated by the Mandate to maintain the Turkish status quo at
the Western Wall. That status quo, according to numerous decrees under Shari’a,
maintained that Jews could pray at the Wall – the last remnant of the Temple –
only quietly and never sit, even in the heat. Nor were Jews allowed to separate
men from women during prayer.
The Jews revered the Wall as their holiest
accessible place and a direct connection to God. But under Turkish and Arab
tradition, the Wall was not the Jews’ holy site.
Rather, it was revered
by Muslims as al-Buraq, the place where Muhammad tethered his winged steed
during his miraculous ascent to heaven. During that miraculous journey,
according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad flew through the air on his magnificent
horse to the farthest mosque. The farthest mosque was in Jerusalem, hence
al-Aksa, meaning “the farthest.” Therefore, the Western Wall became preeminently
a Muslim holy place, only available for Jewish visitation with permission and
under strict guidelines that would not connote independent worship or
IN 1928, on Yom Kippur, Jews decided to bring benches and
chairs to sit on while they prayed, and they also brought a mehitza, in this
case a flimsy portable partition to separate men from women. This provoked
outrage among Arabs, and the British even tried to pull chairs out from under
people to force them to stand. The offense catapulted Haj Muhammad Amin
al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, to sudden international Islamic
importance, as Muslims everywhere – from India to London – objected to Jews
sitting. Husseini even convened an emergency international conference of Muslims
in Jerusalem to stop Jews from sitting at the Wall to pray.
The mufti and
his machinery also began a nonstop protest movement against the perceived Jewish
encroachment on the Wall. As the chief religious authority, it was Husseini who
directed that the muezzin, the man who calls Muslims to prayer from the minaret,
position himself within earshot of the Western Wall pavement, and then dial the
volume up to rile Jews during prayer and prove Islamic dominance.
same time, it was Husseini who directed the revival of the cacophonous dhikr
ceremony, complete with repetitive shouts of “Allahu akbar,” as well as loud
gongs and cymbals, once again disrupting Jewish prayers with strategic noise.
The mufti also was the one who permitted mules to be herded through the Jewish
prayer area, dropping dung and creating the feel and smell of what one Jerusalem
newspaper termed “a latrine.”
On August 15, 1929, when Jews again marked
Tisha Be’av by sitting, as well as chanting “The Wall is ours,” the Arabs began
yet another in a series of bloody massacres.
The massacres in several
cities culminated in unspeakable atrocities at Hebron.
It began in
Jerusalem. “Itbach al-Yahood! Itbach al- Yahood!” Slaughter the Jews. Slaughter
the Jews. With knives and clubs, the mob attacked every Jew in sight, burned
Torah scrolls and yanked supplication notes to God from the cracks in the Wall
and set them aflame.
Attacks spread throughout the land. Jews were
stabbed, shot, beaten with rocks, maimed and killed in various towns and
suburbs. The chaos continued for days. With thousands of dagger- and
club-wielding Arabs swarming throughout the city hunting Jews, wire services
transmitted headlines such as “Thousands of peasants invaded Jerusalem and
raided all parts of the city.”
Martial law was declared. Armored cars
were brought in from Baghdad. British airplanes swept in to machine-gun the Arab
marauders. Violence continued to spread throughout Palestine. Jews fought back
and retaliated with bricks and bars and whatever they could find. Then, on
August 23 and 24, 1929, Hebron became a bloody nightmare.
Arab mobs went
from house to house, bursting into every room looking for hiding Jews. Religious
books and scrolls were burned or torn to shreds.
The defenseless Jews
were variously beheaded, castrated, their breasts and fingers sliced off and, in
some cases, their eyes plucked from their sockets.
Infant or adult, man
or woman – it mattered not.
The carnage went on for hours, with the Arab
policemen standing down – or joining in. Blood ran in streamlets down the narrow
stone staircases outside the buildings. House to house, room by room, the
savagery was repeated.
One young boy, Yosef Lazarovski, later wrote of
the horror: “I remember a brown-skinned Arab with a large mustache breaking
through the door. He had a large knife and an axe that he swung through the
doorjambs until he broke through. [He was] full of fury, screaming, ‘Allah
akbar!’ and ‘Itbach al-Yahood!’...
My grandfather tried to hold my hand,
then [he tried] to push me aside [and hide me], screaming, Shema Yisrael... and
then I remember another Arab... with an axe that he brought down on my
Not a single victim was simply killed. Each was
mutilated and tortured in accordance with their identities, the specific
information provided by local Arabs. The Jewish man who lent money to Arabs was
sliced open and the IOUs burned in his body. The Jewish baker’s head was tied to
the stove and then baked. A Jewish scholar who had studied Koranic philosophy
for years was seized, his cranium cut open and his brain extracted. Another man
was nailed to a door. Some 67 Jews were brutally murdered.
dispatched special investigative commissions which determined that under the
Shari’a status quo, Jews were not permitted to sit. Jews were even blamed for
provoking the massacres by deliberately sitting.
The mufti used the Wall
controversy to continue his campaign against the British and the Jews. As part
of that war, he led a broadly accepted, international and popularly accepted
Arab and Islamic alliance with Nazi Germany. Eventually, when the British tried
to arrest him, he fled to Iraq. There, the mufti and Nazi agents helped inspire
the 1941 Farhud, a two-day spree of killing, looting and raping the Jews of
ONCE THE British finally helped restore order, the mufti fled
again, this time to Germany, where he was taken under the personal auspices of
Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. He formed a 8,000-man plus Muslim Waffen-SS
division, which partnered with the bloodthirsty Ustasha in Croatia to commit the
most heinous crimes in the hell that was the Holocaust. The Ustasha wore Jewish
eyeballs on necklaces.
The alliance with the Nazis spanned every aspect
of the war, from intelligence offices in Paris to plans, to parachute units, to
artillery battalions, to a plan to exterminate all Jews in Palestine. This
alliance was more than one man, the mufti of Jerusalem – it was a movement of
popular international Islamic fervor that stretched across the Middle East and
After the fall of Hitler, the legacy of hate continued in the
postwar expulsions of a million Jews from Arab lands.
fervor that ignited the massacres of 1929 surfaces even today. Intifadas arise,
riots erupt and the Arab rallying call, spoken and collectively remembered,
continues to be in Jerusalem – where Jews should not be permitted to sit at the
Western Wall when they pray.The writer is the author of
IBM and the
Holocaust. This article is drawn from his recently released book,
Farhud, Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance during the Holocaust (Dialog 2010).