Britian, Haj Husseini and the Arab Riots of
The British administration did not just wait
on events to foster implementation their policy of increased British control
in the Middle East.
They worked hard, simultaneously on a second
front, in Syria, against the French. In July 1919, a "Syrian National Congress"
demanded the unity of Syria (that is, to include Palestine) and the installation
of Faisal as king. The French expressed a fear that this sudden materialisation
from nowhere of a Syrian national movement and the reversal of the popular
feeling against the Sherifians was the result of a British intrigue. The
British replied with denials and reassuring statements. In fact, Allenby
in Cairo and his subordinates in Palestine, G.O.C. General Bols and his
Chief of Staff, Col. Waters-Taylor, were secretly pressing their home government
to "accept the situation": to jettison their government's pact with the
French, to abandon the Zionists, and to give Syria and Palestine to Faisal.
The plan, in the face of London's official
Zionist policy, it had to be covered by an Arab cloak
The plan, however, could, not be pursued as
a bald British purpose. In the face of London's official Zionist policy,
it had to be covered by an Arab cloak, and quickly. The military administration
itself began creating an Arab organisation that could then be presented
as the authentic voice and representative of "the Arabs" in rejecting and
combating the Zionists and the Zionist policy of the British government.
Here began the history of the first Arab political organisation, the Moslem
Christian Association (MCA). Its first branch, in Jaffa, was organised
at the inspiration of the District Military Governor, Lt. Col. J. E. Hubbard
-- who had formally proposed to his superiors in the administration the
setting up of an Arab organisation -- and under the personal direction
of the district head of British Intelligence, Captain Brunton. Not insignificantly,
the most active and disproportionately numerous early recruits were Christian
Arabs. Years later, a leading member of the military administration, Sir
Wyndham Deedes, admitted that from its inception the Moslem Christian Association
had enjoyed the support and financial aid of the British administration.1
The purposes of the administration were
now pursued by a stream of memoranda of protest and demands by the several
branches of the MCA, dutifully forwarded to London with accompanying evaluations
of their originality, spontaneity, sincerity, and the representative character
of their signatories.
A "situation" had to be created
Memoranda, however, were not enough to generate
quick action; a "situation" had to be created. Col. Waters-Taylor maintained
contact with Faisal in Damascus, urging upon him action to assume power
in Syria from the French. He assured him that the Arabs of Palestine were
behind him and would welcome him as king of a "united Syria," that is,
including Palestine. He urged him, moreover, "to stand up against the British
Government for his principles." Early in 1920, this general effort at persuasion
gave way to more specific inducement; money and arms were provided for
the planned coup.2
In Jerusalem, Waters-Taylor and Col. Ronald
Storrs, one of the original members of the Cairo school and now Governor
of the city, established and maintained regular contact with the handful
of militant Sherifians, notably Haj Amin el Husseini, the young brother
of the Mufti of Jerusalem, and Aref el Aref. In early 1920, Waters-Taylor
suggested to his and Storrs' Arab contacts the desirability of organising
"anti-Jewish riots to impress on the Administration the unpopularity of
the Zionist policy." A detailed critical report of all these activities
was submitted to General Allenby by the political officer of the Palestine
administration, Col. Richard Meinertzhagen. Allenby told him he would take
In March, the coup was carried out in Damascus
and Faisal was installed as king, in Palestine there were riots - against
The spring of 1920 was chosen for action.
In March, the coup was carried out in Damascus and Faisal was installed
as king. In order to achieve a sizeable riot in Palestine, the country
(in the words of the subsequent military Court of Enquiry) was "infested
with Sherifian officers."4 who carried on a
lurid agitation against the Jews. As the court noted euphemistically, the
administration took no action against them.
On the Wednesday before Easter, Col. Waters-Taylor
had a meeting in Jerusalem with Haj Amin el Husseini and told him "that
he had a great opportunity at Easter to show the world that the Arabs of
Palestine would not tolerate Jewish domination in Palestine; that Zionism
was unpopular not only with the Palestine Administration but in Whitehall;
and if disturbances of sufficient violence occurred in Jerusalem at Easter,
both General Bols and General Allenby would advocate the abandonment of
the Jewish Home" (Meinertzhagen, pp. 81-82).
Britain dispanded almost all Jewish regiments,
soldiers and removed Jewish policemen from Jerusalem
That year, Easter coincided with the Moslem
festival of Nebi Musa. Its celebration included a procession starting in
Jerusalem, where the crowd was addressed by the Sherifians and told to
fall on the Jews "in the name of King Faisal." For doubters, there was
an even more convincing argument:
Adowlah ma'ana -- the government
is with us. This was a demonstrable fact; all but a remnant of the Jewish
regiments, that had helped liberate Palestine had been disbanded over the
preceding months; the few remaining soldiers were confined to camp at Sarafand.
On the day of the outbreak, all British troops and Jewish police had been
removed from the Old City; only Arab policemen were left.
The mob in the Old City, armed with clubs
and knives, first looted shops. Then it caught and beat up or killed Jews
and raped Jewish women. The Court of Enquiry -- itself a creation of the
administration -- summed up: "The Jews were the victims of a peculiarly
brutal and cowardly attack, the majority of the casualties being old men,
women and children" (p. 76).
Zeev Jabotinsky and Pinchas Rutenberg had
in the preceding days hastily organised a Jewish self-defence unit. Their
way into the Old City was barred at the gates by British troops.
In the first flush of enthusiasm, a British
military court compounded the offence in traditional fashion: The defenders
were punished. Jabotinsky was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment
and twenty of his followers were given lesser terms. But Haj Amin and el
Aref had operated too openly for any government publicly to ignore their
guilt. Though they escaped across the Jordan, they were sentenced in absentia
to ten years' imprisonment each.
"A Pogrom in Jerusalem"
The British government, however much whitewash
it was willing to splash over the events in Jerusalem, had to react to
the outcry that went up in Europe and the United States at the phenomenon
of a pogrom in Jerusalem. Nor could it ignore the factual inside information
it received. Meinertzhagen, as a representative of the Foreign Office,
sent a new, detailed report derived from an independent intelligence unit
he had established. This, time, he bypassed Allenby and wrote directly
to the Foreign Office.
As a result, the sentence on Jabotinsky
was quashed; the most obvious conspirators, including Bols and Waters-Taylor,
were removed; the military regime was replaced by a civil administration.
Storrs, more subtle than his colleagues, remained, and he was not alone.5
The Arabist purpose of the Cairo school did not change but was carried
over into the civil administration of Palestine and pervaded and finally
dominated the Mandatory regime.
It did not succeed in creating an Arab "nation"
in Palestine in 1918
It did not succeed in creating an Arab "nation"
in Palestine. In 1918, at the height of his campaign to register Arab achievements,
Colonel Lawrence himself had cautiously confessed in one of his confidential
"The phrase Arab Movement was invented
in Cairo as a common denominator for all the vague discontents against
Turkey which before 1916 existed in the Arab provinces. In a non-constitutional
country, these naturally took on a revolutionary character and it was convenient
to pretend to find a common ground in all of them. They were most of them
very local, very jealous, but had to be considered in the hope that one
or the other of them might bear fruit."6
In 1919 and 1920, despite the historic transformation
that had taken place around them, the Arabs had not changed. When in July
1920 the French in Syria decided on a firm stand and ordered Faisal to
leave the country, he meekly complied. The popular forces which his British
sponsors attributed to him did not show themselves. In Jerusalem that Easter,
even the Arab mob in the marketplace, before they attacked Jews, had to
be fired by religious incitement, by the invocation of a living king, by
the visible evidence that their victims were defenceless, and by the assurance
that their violence would be welcomed by the British rulers.
"Arab national feeling," he wrote, "is based
on our [British] gold and nothing else"
The political officer to the administration
went even further: "Arab national feeling," he wrote, "is based on our
gold and nothing else" (Meinertzhagen, p. 83).
In the early years of the civil administration,
there was still a running policy conflict between the British statesmen
who had been responsible for, or associated with, the negotiations with
the Zionists and the undertakings made to them and the purveyors of Laurentian
pan-Arabism. The Laurentians, however, contrived to fill key posts in the
Palestinian administration, and some of them were inevitably recruited
to fill the posts in the Middle Eastern Department of the Colonial Office,
which in 1921 took over responsibility for Palestine.
The Cairo-Khartoum school, moreover, found
an unexpected ally in the first chief of the civil administration, Sir
Herbert Samuel. Samuel, precisely because he was a Jew, soon found himself
in the position of either following the advice of his subordinates or being
considered insufficiently British. In striking contrast to his English
soldier-successor, Lord Plumer, who adhered as best he could to the status
quo and to the brief he had from Whitehall, Samuel allowed his administration
to develop naturally the anti-Zionist themes of the military administration
it had replaced. An anti-Zionist official named Ernest T. Richmond, in
government employ as an architect, was manoeuvred by Storrs (as is now
made clear by the British government archives) into the post of assistant
secretary (political), whose duties were formally those of chief adviser
to the High Commissioner on Moslem affairs.7
British advice to Arab agitator-leaders
Richmond, receiving a salary to carry out
the London government's official policy, openly spent his time in the administration
on efforts to undermine it. He gave advice to the Arab agitator-leaders.
He became their intermediary and self-appointed spokesman. It was at the
initiative and under the tutelage of Richmond, Storrs, and their colleagues,
and under their inspiration, that the Sherifian instigators of the pogrom
of 1920 were now brought back into the arena to build up a political machine
so that they could claim to speak for the "Arabs of Palestine."
Haj Amin el Husseini was hiding across
the Jordan to avoid serving his jail sentence. Since no other candidate
for this kind of leadership had appeared among the Arabs, Samuel was persuaded
by Storrs to pardon Haj Amin -- and his colleague Aref el Aref -- as a
"gesture"; and they returned to Jerusalem. When the incumbent Mufti of
Jerusalem died soon afterward, the Moslem religious leaders convened as
an electoral college to recommend a short list of three candidates from
whom the High Commissioner would have to make the appointment. Haj Amin
entered the contest. He had no special qualification to be the head of
Moslem community in the city. He was twenty-years old and his education
must have been over well before he was twenty-one, since he had served
in the Turkish Army certainly before 1917. In the poll, he received the
lowest number of votes and thus could not be included in the recommended
list of three.
Haj Husseini appointed by British as Mufti
of Jerusalem - even though he received the lowest number of votes from
the Moslem community
Richmond launched an energetic campaign to
get Samuel to appoint him nevertheless. He urged upon him the "expert"
view that the poll was unimportant, that Haj Amin was the man the "Moslem
population" insisted on. A virulent agitation was let loose within the
Moslem community against the successful candidate, Sheikh Jurallah, who
was described, among other things, as a Zionist who intended to sell Moslem
holy property to the Jews. Samuel gave way. He did not in fact send Haj
Amin the letter of appointment and it was never gazetted. Haj Amin simply
"became" the Mufti of Jerusalem. Thus, this man, imposed on the Moslem
community, became and remained, for most of the crucial years of the Mandate,
the director and spearhead of the war on Zionism. The Moslem dignitaries,
whom even the backward Turks had not accustomed to such outrageous interference
or dictation, nevertheless took the hint. They knew now beyond any doubt
what the British power expected of them.
When he started on his career, however,
Haj Amin's followers were few, and he had no sources of finance for the
political task projected for him. This, too, had been thought of. The administration
then set up a body called the Supreme Moslem Council. Haj Amin, now clothed
with the authority of Mufti and authentic favourite of the British, was
elected its president without difficulty. His position was entrenched:
The appointment was for life, so that no opposition could ever unseat him
democratically. He and his pliant subordinates became the arbiters of all
Moslem religious endowments and expenditure. Many Moslems became dependent
on him for their livelihood. He controlled an annual income of more than
£100,000, for which he was not accountable. (By today's values,
this would be equivalent in purchasing power to about $2 million.) Such
was the origin of the organised "national movement" of the "Arabs of Palestine."
Haj Husseini's next attack, the defenceless
Yeshiva community of Hebron in 1929
The means of organising propaganda and violence
against Zionism and the pattern of its organisation were thus assured.
A short localised attack took place in 1921 and simultaneous onslaught
in several areas in 1929. This latter attack was again distinguished by
the choice of helpless, defenceless people as its target-in Hebron the
bulk of the community of rabbis and yeshiva students and their wives and
children were slaughtered -- and by the blatantly benevolent neutrality
of the British forces of law and order, one of whose first acts was to
disarm the Jewish villages. In 1936 came the last and most protracted offensive,
officially organised by an informal political body called the Arab Higher
Committee; it was led by Haj Amin el Husseini, still Mufti and still President
of the Moslem Supreme Council.
In the intervening years, the men of the
Cairo school -- as they progressively increased their dominance in Palestine
as well as over the central policies in the Colonial Office and the Foreign
Office -- were able to deepen and diversify their campaign against Zionism.
During those years, their propaganda identified Zionism with Bolshevism
-- an image carrying instant demonic conviction with devout Christians
as well as devout Moslems. During those years, the Lawrence myth was built
into the popular history of the age, and with it the story of the "Arab
Revolt" gained credence. Now the Arabs, and even the Arabs of Palestine,
gradually came to play a major role in the liberation of the country from
the Turks. Now, too, the claim promoted by Lawrence and embellished by
Oriental imagination about how the Arabs had been "let down" by the British
was broadcast as historic truth. The very real and significant Jewish share
in Allenby's campaign in Palestine on both sides of the Jordan was not
The Balfour Declaration had become a document
to protect the rights of Arabs, not Jews
The Balfour Declaration was somehow twisted
at one and the same time into a discreditable transaction and a meaningless
document that promised the Jews nothing, and guarenteed the rights of Arabs
over Jews in Palestine.
During those years, in order to match the
unique relationship of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, the "rights
of the Palestine Arabs" were manufactured and endowed with the fictitious
historical continuity which serves as the substance of present-day Arab
1. J. E.
Hubbard to Occupied Enemy Territory Administration, November 20, 1918.
Israel State Archives, Pal. Govt. Secretariat File No. 40. Quoted in Y.
Porat, Tsemihat Hatenua Ha’aravit Hapalestinait 1918-1929 (Tel Aviv, 1971),
Unholy Memories, p. 9.
Middle East Diary 1917-1956 (London, 1959), pp. 55-56.
of Court of Enquiry, FO 371/5121, p. 38.
Szold, the American Zionist leader, described Storrs as "an evil genius,
who despises Jews." Marvin Lowenthal, Henrietta Szold (New York, 1942),
6. T. E.
Lawrence, Secret Despatches from Arabia (London, 1939), p. 158.
7. FO 371/5267
file E 9433/8343/44; FO 371/5268 files E 11720/8343/44, 11835/8343/44.
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