Another Tack: The May Day massacre of 1921

There was no occupation when Arabs massed in Jaffa, hysterically chanting 'slaughter the Jews.'

There's no telling where the final ideological resting place of intellectually restless Yosef Haim Brenner - one of the Second Aliya luminaries and founding giants of modern Hebrew literature - would have been had he not been slain before reaching his 40th birthday. He might have evolved into a nationalist like initially-leftist Moshe Shamir, or followed his socialist leanings to the farthest radical fringe. Speculations are moot. Brenner was a full deck of cards from which any hand could have been dealt. Nothing was irrevocably predetermined when Arab marauders took his life on May 2, 1921. As it was, they murdered a thinker quite fascinated by Arabs. Not that they cared much. Ironically, nowadays the Right - tendentiously almost always dubbed "the extreme right" - is regarded as Zionism's firebrand, the component of our body politic which, alas, most incenses our enemies. The Left, in contrast, is cast - chiefly by its own hardly impartial spokespersons - in the role of the peacenik of the equation, the accommodating, sane, pacifying side. Arabs hardly subscribe to the current bias of Israel's own Left-dominated media and academia. They never really did. As Brenner's tragic fate undeniably illustrates, to our enemies a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. Our enemies are equal-opportunity assassins. They spill Jewish blood without discrimination, without first bothering to verify the political orientations of prospective victims. Brenner was perhaps the most famous casualty of one of the 20th century's forerunner Arab intifadas - the gory prototype of what we witness today and which our would-be annihilators and their gullible (and not-so-gullible) domestic and foreign cheerleaders insist is mere response to Israeli occupation. THERE WAS no occupation when the 1921 intifada erupted on May 1. On that hot day the British police permitted a group of Labor-Zionists to hold a May Day parade in then-tiny Tel Aviv, but denied the same privilege to Jewish communists, who rallied anyway in Neveh Shalom, the second-earliest Jewish neighborhood adjacent to Jaffa. The two groups of leftist Jews collided and exchanged a few blows. But while the Brits energetically chased several communists through Neveh Shalom's winding narrow lanes, they doggedly turned a blind eye to the thousands of Arabs massing in Jaffa, all brandishing clubs, knives, hatchets and metal pipes and hysterically chanting "itbach el-Yahud (slaughter the Jews)." With no British presence to cool their ardor, rioters began attacking Jewish passersby. The only representatives of the law were members of Jaffa's Arab constabulary. But rather than quell the rampage, they helped turn it into "a full-scale pogrom," according to Izhak Ben-Zvi, who three decades later would become Israel's second president. In a May 11, 1921 letter of protest to British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel, Ben-Zvi charged that "the Arab policemen themselves led the onslaught on the Jewish Immigrants Hostel in Jaffa's Ajami quarter. They shot Jews with weapons supplied them by the government." Sounds familiar? Ben-Zvi continued: "Rather than disperse the rioters, the police encouraged them and distributed firearms to the incited rabble. They ignited the flame of murder, fanned by confidence that the government sides with them and that they can massacre Jews with impunity." The hostel provided temporary shelter to newcomers who had just come off the boats at Jaffa's primitive port. Dozens roomed there when the mobs tried to burst into the courtyard. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to break down the gate, Jaffa's senior Arab police officer, Tewfik Sa'id Bey, assured the besieged Jews that he had come to restore order and rescue them. Trapped and unarmed, the relieved immigrants let him in. To their horror he tossed hand grenades and ushered in the screaming throng baying for their blood. Fourteen Jewish lodgers were hideously butchered and scores wounded. The gruesome orgy spread quickly, like wildfire. It soon reached the outskirts of nearby Abu Kabir, a settlement of Arab migrants from Egypt. Where South Tel Aviv's teeming Derech Kibbutz Galuyot now stretches, the Jewish Yitzker family set up a modest dairy farm - in seeming idyllic coexistence with the neighbors. The pessimistic brooding Brenner boarded there with two other authors - Yosef Luidor, 28, and Zvi Gugig, 25. All three writers were home that fateful May Day, as was farm-owner Yehuda Yitzker, 54, and his teenage son, Avraham. The women and younger children travelled to town for the socialist celebrations. When the dreadful scale of the Jaffa mayhem became apparent, Yitzker's son-in-law Zvi Schatz, also a literati, hired a car and came out to take everyone at the homestead to safety. Yitzker refused to budge and Brenner backed him. Unable to convince anyone, Schatz stayed with them. The next morning another car was dispatched from Tel Aviv. Five mutilated corpses were discovered on the pathway outside the house. Luidor's body remains missing. THE MOBS would have invaded Tel Aviv too had units of the Jewish Legion (formed by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Yosef Trumpeldor in World War I) not intervened in time. The British lost no time to expel the Legion for preventing more carnage. London soon backed down from its Balfour Declaration undertakings and issued the first of several anti-Jewish white papers that would follow every Arab terror offensive. As is still the case, Arab aggression handsomely pays off. In his letter Ben-Zvi noted that "the rioters were never disarmed" and that the British "never so much as referred to what happened as 'murder and looting' but as 'regrettable clashes,' which they sought to contain with 'moral persuasion.' Over 20 Jews were arrested to convey the impression that this was no anti-Jewish attack but a chance conflict." Reminiscent of today's artificially evenhanded prattle about the "cycle of violence?" The more things change the more they stay the same. It goes against our ingrained wishful thinking to acknowledge that enduring Arab animosity has nothing to do with the desperation which the Jewish state's birth supposedly fomented among so-called Palestinians, with the occupation which supposedly represses them or even with the supposed aspiration to found a Palestinian state which the Jews supposedly foil. In 1921 there were no traces of the above pretexts - so prevalent in the manipulative Arab narrative, so popular among progressive sorts here and almost universally accepted as gospel abroad. Brenner, who considered it paramount to revolutionize both the Jew and the Jewish lot, was slaughtered - as were other Jews before and after him -for no other reason than being Jewish. Today, exactly 88 years later, this remains an essential underlying truth, unamended by the twists and turns of our survival-against-the-odds saga in this land. If we mulishly deny that Jew-hatred is the moving force behind hostilities still unleashed against us, we only fool ourselves. We turn ourselves into the dupes of a genocidal enemy's cynical propaganda machine. Suckers ultimately become easy prey.