Thursday, November 25, 2010

Coexisting With The Arabs - Part 2




(Continued – Part 2

The Pogroms of 1921

On 23 Nissan in the year 5681, (May 1, 1921), Arab mobs began to gather in Jaffa.  That city, unlike Jerusalem and others, was considered a model of Jewish-Arab coexistence. (It is remarkable how many Jewish illusions have risen and fallen during the past eighty years of struggle with the Arabs.)  The Jews and Arabs of Jaffa had extensive commercial relations, and the Sephardic Jews, who had lived there for generations, were almost indistinguishable from the Arabs in their general daily deportment.  Nevertheless, the mobs began to gather.  The heavy sticks and metal bars they carried left no doubt as to their intentions.  For days the Arabic paper Falastin had been agitating against Zionism with particular venom.  Now, in the mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods of Neve Shalom and Menashiya, the mob began to attack Jews in the streets with stones and heavy metal rods, but their major targets were the Jewish stores and homes – with their property and women.

The Jews attempted to defend themselves, and since the mob did not have guns, the police could have easily driven them off.  But the police were Arabs – first and foremost Arabs. Most protected the Arab rioters, while others removed their badges and joined them, shooting at the Jews.  In the first attack, thirteen Jews were killed, and the looting and pillaging spread to other areas of the city.  Gradually, the mob focused on the center of Zionism in the city, Bet Ha’Olim (Immigrant House).

In their simple naïveté and belief that Arabs and Jews could coexist in peace, the Zionists had acquired a large, two-story building in the all-Arab Ajemi section of Jaffa.  At the time there were about one hundred new immigrants in the building that was the symbol of Jewish immigration.  So great was the confidence of the Jews in their ability to live in peace with their neighbors that they had no weapons of any kind.  After all, this was not Czarist Russia.  This was the Land of Israel, the land to which the Jews had come to escape pogroms.

Around 1:00 p.m. the mob began to gather.  Pioneers standing in the street were stoned and beaten.  One Arab attempted to throw a primitive homemade bomb, but it blew up in his hands and he was killed. This only infuriated the mob, which began to approach the building.  The Jews ripped iron posts from the gate and blocked the entrance to the front and side yards.  They beat off the Arabs’ first attack, and several Arabs were carried away by their comrades. It appeared that despite the huge mob, the Jews would be able to defend themselves.

At 2:00 p.m. the watchmen on the roof reported that several policemen wee approaching.  A general sigh of relief arose, until the police – Arabs – arrived.  They suddenly began shooting at the Jews, and two grenades were thrown into the courtyard, killing and wounding several of them.  According to the Book of the Haganah, the attack was led by the head of the prison, Hana Burdkush, a member of a “respectable” Christian Arab family.  The police burst into the yard, shouting to the mob.  “What are you waiting for?  Kill them all!”

Their spirits broken, most of the Jews attempted to flee.  The males who were not fortunate enough to escape were brutally murdered.  Several women pleaded with a policeman to save them.  He took them into an alley, stripped them of their valuables, and tried to rape one of them.  When silence descended on the building, thirteen were dead and twenty-six-hundred wounded, and for the rest of the day, Arabs looted Jewish stores and houses.  Except for the language, the clothing, and the palm trees, it might very will have been Kshinev.

In the early-morning hours of May 2, six Jewish bodies were found in the Abu Kabir section between Jaffa and Tel Aviv.  They included the famous writer Y.C. Brenner, and the news horrified the Jewish community.  The six had been beaten to death, their bodies stripped and mutilated.

The reaction of the Jews was instructive.  Zionist leaders Nahum Sokolow, Pinchas Ruttenberg, Meir Dizengoff, and others met and decided to seek conciliation.  The Jaffa Arab “notables” agreed to accept the offer of peace from the victims, but at the meeting held in the Jaffa municipality, and to the loud applause of the Arabs, Omar Al-Bittar, the mayor, declared that he could not speak for the “Arab nation” and each person would have to use his individual initiative to calm passions.  Nothing daunted, the Tel Aviv Jewish town council announced that “the sheikhs have promised us that they will persuade the inhabitants to be calm”  Those who had lived in European exile in which their safety and security depended on the whim of the Gentile felt right at home in the exile of Ishmael. 

The results of the Jaffa massacre were 45 Jews murdered, 134 wounded, and untold property damage.  It was now 27 Nissan, (May 5), Petah Tikva’s turn.  The news of the Jaffa pogrom encouraged the Arabs of the villages near the large settlement of Petah Tikva to cast covetous eyes on that thriving Jewish colony.  By May 3 all the Arab workers had left, a sure sign of impending attack.  The two small colonies of Ein Hai and Kfar Saba had heard of frenzied meetings in the nearby Arab villages of Kalkilya, Tira and Mishki, where plans had been formulated for destruction of the Jewish settlements.  The Jews evacuated the two colonies, and after being attacked and having part of their cattle plundered by the Bedouins of Abu-Kishk, they arrived, fearfully in Petah Tikva .

On the evening of 26 Nissan (May 4), watchman saw the flames of Kfar Saba and Ein Hai, which had been torched by their Arab neighbors.  Scouts reported that hundreds of Arabs from all the villages in the area were now on their way to attack Petah Tikva.  A group of riders under the leadership of veteran Avraham Shapira rode out to meet the attackers and found them leading away 700 of the settlement’s cattle.  Under a hail of bullets the Jews had to flee.  The Jews in the settlement awaited the Arab attack with sinking hearts.  They had only forty guns, and the Arabs had large quantities of weapons and ammunition.

The attack began.  Desperately the defenders held on within a fixed radius.  The Arabs attacked, looted, and burned houses outside the defense perimeter.  Four Jews were dead, and the colony was on the verge of collapse and slaughter when British troops arrived to save them.

Only courage and miracles saved the large settlement of Hadera and Rehovot from slaughter.  The Book  History of the Haganah (Israel Defense Ministry) describes the attack on Rehovot by Arabs of Ramle: “Thousands of men, women and children came like locusts upon this settlement, with the usual battle-cries: “Eleyhom’ [“Charge them”] and “Itbach Al-Yakud” [“Slaughter the Jews”].  They approached the settlement looting everything in their path and burning huts in the orchards.”

Coexistence in the month of May 1921, forty-six years before the Israeli “occupation” that is the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East….

November 2, 1921, marked the fourth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration that had promised the Jews an enigmatic “national home.”  The Arab press, leaders in the drive for an end to Zionism, called for a day of mourning, a work stoppage, and demonstrations to protest the declaration, which they coined “the death sentence passed on the Palestinian people.”

In Jerusalem, 5,000 Jews were packed into the Jewish quarter, most of them totally unfamiliar with self-defense.  The day of the general strike saw thousands of frenzied Arabs attacking those Jews, mostly Sephardic, who lived in the Muslim quarter.  The Sephardim remained there in the mistaken belief that the Arabs were opposed only to the recent European, or Ashkenazic immigrants.  They were wrong.  To the credit of the Arabs, they did not discriminate against Jews on the basis of communal background.  They killed all- equally.

Among the Jews killed in the first assault was a sexton in the Yeshiva Torat Chaim and nineteen-year-old Yitzhak Mesner, who was stabbed to death while escorting a group of women and children to safety.

At 11:30 hundreds of screaming Arabs headed by Sheikh Vad Al-Halili, attempted to smash into the Jewish quarter.  They were driven back after a sharp struggle in which the sheikh was killed. Five dead Jews and forty injured ones were brought to the hospital, the victims of Arab demands for an end, not to Jewish “occupation,” but the Jewish existence in the land per se.

(Continued next week Part 3 “The Pogroms of 1929 and Jerusalem”)

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