Yoel Bin-Nun

More than 100 years later: Has anything changed?

Jews flee the Old City of Jerusalem during the Arab riots of August 1929, United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division

First question: Who wrote the following? When? And why?

Among the dead and the common there are Jews from all denominations, from all classes, from all parties: Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Yemenites and Persians, workers and merchants, pious rabbis and free educated people. The enemy did not distinguish between them. Let us, therefore, stop making such distinctions ourselves. Let us be united by the Great Oppressor … and then he will get the opposite of what he wanted.

Answer: This is what the historian Yosef Klausner wrote after the pogrom in the Old City of Jerusalem on Passover 1920, in which seven Jews were murdered (including those who died of their wounds), about a month after eight Jews were killed in Tel-Hai on 11 Adar 1920 (Joseph Trumpeldor among them).

The pogrom in the Old City began with incitement in the Nebi Musa mosque (called this because Muslims changed the Torah and moved Moses’ tomb across the Jordan River to the Judean Desert), and the main instigator of the massacre against them was Amin al-Husseini, at the time just 25 years old.

A year later, right after Pesach 1921, disturbances broke out in Jaffa and Petah Tikva.

Question: Who wrote at the time – “The Holocaust came upon us suddenly”?

Answer: Moshe Shertok (later Sharett)!

Question: Who wrote, just shortly beforehand – “Tomorrow it may be that the Jewish hand writing these words will be stabbed”?

Answer: Yosef Haim Brenner, who was murdered at the time in the ‘Jaffa riots’ near his orchard east of Jaffa.

In the Jaffa riots of 1921, 47 Jews were murdered by Arabs in response to Jewish immigration to Jaffa and the establishment of Jewish settlements in the area. After that, the Jewish community began to establish ‘Jewish defense’ organizations.

Question: Who appointed Amin al-Husseini as the ‘Chief Mufti of Jerusalem’, and why?

Answer: He was appointed by the British High Commissioner, Lord Herbert Samuel, a Jew and a Zionist who strongly supported the Balfour Declaration and its implementation within the framework of the British mandate. After the murders in Jaffa, Samuel was convinced that ‘we need to calm the spirits’ of the Arab-Muslim public and thought (a shocking thought for a peace-seeking Jewish-Zionist), that such an appointment would ‘calm’ the mufti himself and his believers. And for the same reason, he also temporarily suspended Jewish immigration!

Question: How long did it take for the British to realize the terrible mistake they made in appointing the mufti? And what happened in the meantime?

Answer: It took about 15-16 years for the British to realize their mistake. In the meantime, the ‘events of 1929’ broke out in which 133 Jews were murdered. In the ‘Great Arab Revolt’ (1936-1939) at least 400 Jews were murdered – some say closer to 500.

With the rise of Nazi Germany, the mufti was among the first to identify with Nazism. It was only after the “Great Arab Revolt” broke out in 1936 – inspired by the mufti and led by him – that the British decided to deport him when they realized that he was instigating the populace against British rule. For three months in 1937 the mufti hid in Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the British feared a harsh Muslim reaction to the ‘desecration of Al-Aqsa,’ and so, refrained from entering… After a time, he fled to Lebanon and then to Iraq, where he led the revolt against the British in 1941. The revolt failed, but the loyalists of the mufti succeeded in perpetrating a pogrom against the Jews of Iraq (the Farhud) in which 179 Jews were murdered. He then travelled to Germany to offer full support to the Nazi regime, and made great efforts to encourage the Nazis to destroy the Jewish settlement in Israel. He continued these efforts even after the collapse of Nazi Germany, and after the great Palestinian failure in 1948 in what they refer to as the ‘Nakba.’ To this day, masses of Palestinians identify with him and his approach.

And one final question: Who said the following, and when did they say it?

Let’s not fool ourselves – we are not facing terrorism but war. This is a national war that the Arabs have declared on us. Terrorism is only one of the means of war.” Continuing, he said: “We must assume that the war against us will get worse. The Arabs will not get tired that quickly. They will only get tired when we get tired, that is, when we get tired of our Zionist ambitions… If instead of mobilizing all our forces to endure this war, we start fighting among ourselves – then this is a sign of fatigue. We have losses – very bitter losses – and they will last perhaps hundreds of years.

A closing answer: These are the words of David Ben-Gurion, in a speech made to his colleagues, in 1938 in the midst of ‘Great Arab Revolt,’ about ten years before he made the decision to announce the establishment of the State of Israel.

Those whose awareness of the hatred of the Palestinians against the Jews first came in the aftermath of the massacre on Shabbat Shemini Atzeret, an event that occurred more than a century after all this began, would benefit from revisiting several chapters in Zionist history.

About the Author
Dr. Rabbi Yoel bin Nun is one of the founders of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He received his rabbinic training at Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav and his Ph.D. from Hebrew University. In 1986, he established Michlelet Yaakov Herzog for training Jewish Studies teachers, especially in Bible instruction. Between 2000-2006 he served as the Rosh Ha-Yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKibbutz HaDati in Ein Tzurim.
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