Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Portrait of Tensions in Palestine in 1933

Recently by chance I came upon a copy of the 1933 book, This Mighty Hour! The Message of These Stirring Times by Arthur S. Maxwell (1896-1970), a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Later in the 1950s Maxwell would write The Bible Story, a ten volume retelling of the Bible for children.

This Mighty Hour discussed world conditions as they were in 1933. It can be quite useful to see how people of the time viewed events to get a better understanding of the situation. Among many other things he also discussed the situation in Palestine as it was in 1933.

At the time much of the Arab world including Palestine was ruled by Britain and France as part of the (somewhat incomplete) implementation of the Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916. Like America before 1775 there was widespread resentment within the Arab world at being ruled by foreigners and the Arab people of all religions, including the Palestinians, yearned for independence.

Also the British authorities overseeing Palestine allowed Jews to migrate there and join the Jewish community there which was named the Yishuv (settlement). Since the 1880s there had arisen a nationalist movement which dreamed of creating a Jewish state. It arose partly as a response to the horrors of anti-Semitic persecution in Tsarist Russia. The leaders of the Yishuv dreamed of creating a Jewish state. To fulfill this dream in 1901 the nationalist movement had founded the Jewish National Fund which used donations from Jews in the diaspora to purchase Palestinian land for Jewish immigrants in order to bring the dream of a Jewish state into reality. Among the Yishuv the ideal of self-labor and Hebrew labor arose to encourage the Yishuv to employ Jews. The dream of the Yishuv's leaders would become real after an insurgency against the British authorities and the Israeli War of Independence in 1947-9.

Below is what Maxwell wrote about the situation in Palestine on pages 116-120. He mentions tensions regarding the purchase of land and the 1929 riots.


In Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Arabia, Trans-Jordania, there have been similar heart-stirrings since the war. Great promises were made to some of the native peoples of these countries as compensation for their services at the front.  Allegiance was purchased with dream-pictures very difficult to fulfill. Here again old ambitions revived and national aspirations blossomed forth. 
In Palestine, however, a serious complication arose. Seeming to forget the feelings of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs already in possession, Mr. Balfour, in his famous proclamation, virtually handed the country over to the Jews. At least, that is what the Arabs thought when they heard the story of the proposed Jewish National Home. And when they saw the Jews begin to pour into their country from all parts of the world, buying up the land and little by little taking possession of it as their fathers long ago took it from the Canaanites their worst fears seemed to be justified. 
They could not resist the tempting offers of Jewish gold, and yet they bitterly resented the wholesale loss of their heritage. Many indeed did not realize what they were doing when they made the exchange. They were glad enough to be paid four or five times what they thought their land was worth; it was in many cases more money than they had ever expected to see in their lives; but they did not appreciate the fact that they could not return to their homes again, that they must drift into the cities or begin to farm again elsewhere. And oft-times their money was spent before a new holding could be obtained, and all that remained to them was a deep-rooted sense of injury. 
The simmering pot of racial and religious passions boiled over in August, 1929, at the Wailing Wall, claimed as a holy place by both Jews and Mohammadans. Following a dispute as to the right of the Jews to worship there, stones were thrown. Then knives were drawn. The trouble spread. For several days the Arabs engaged in an organised slaughter of Jewish families all over Palestine. It was a ghastly exhibition of murderous fanaticism. When at last order was restored an inquiry was held, and it was admitted by Arab witnesses that practically the whole Mohammadan population was united in hostility towards the Jews because of the fear that they were being dispossessed of their country.
A statement made at the time by the Grand Mufti and president of the Supreme Moslem Council is of special significance:- 
"What has happened in Palestine," he said, "will reverberate in every corner of Moslem Arabia. It is not a religious controversy but a national rebellion in which we have the sympathy and support of all the Moslem Arabs of Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and North Africa. British bayonets may impose tranquility for the moment, but ultimate peace in Palestine and Arabia will never be made so long as the Arabs are forcibly deprived of their rights, their land, and their independence." 
Anyone who has been to Palestine cannot but have noticed the tense feeling that exists between the rival factions. Talking with a Jew in Jerusalem one day, we asked him whether he thought there was any possibility of the Jews recovering possession of the Temple Area and replacing the Mosque of Omar with a modern replica of the temple of Solomon. He replied optimistically, expressing confidence in the power of gold to overcome all religious scruples. The Rothschild millions, he said, might even accomplish this seemingly impossible transition. But we were quickly disabused of this fantastic notion. The sight of an angry mob of Moslems expelling an intruder from the precincts of the mosque was a sufficient answer to such questionings, and convincing evidence that the spirit that burns within the heart of these dwellers in Jerusalem today is the same spirit that burned in the hearts of their forefathers. 
The situation all through Palestine is still full of peril. There is little doubt that, but for the presence of the British, there would soon be general upheaval. If the restraining hand were for any reason withdrawn, the Jewish colonists would instantly be at the mercy of a frenzied and fanatical mob, supplemented by Arabs from Trans-Jordanian and elsewhere, who would swarm to their kinsmen's aid to complete the destruction of their hated enemies. 
What happened in 1929 may not, as the Grand Mufti said, have been a religious controversy; but call it what one may, there are certainly all the elements present for a holy war of the first magnitude. And if such a war should ever break out, judging by the temper of modern Mohammadanism, it would be conducted with all the ferocity of the holy wars of old.
These primitive peoples may have absorbed something of Western culture, but at heart they remain as they ever were. They may have cast off their eastern cloaks for morning suits, exchanged the fez for the trilby hat, adopted new methods of eating, installed wireless and other products of European and American factories in their homes; but underneath all this veneer of civilisation the soul of the Arab, the Turk, the Egyptian, remains untouched. There has been no large conversion to Christianity. No people are more impervious to its teachings. The fiery fanaticism that murdered the Jews in 1929 and massacred the Armenians during the war is by no means dead. The appetite for blind savagery is unabated. Beneath apparent serenity glows a veritable volcano which, in its ultimate eruption, must bring incalculable sorrow upon mankind.


The Balfour declaration was issued without consulting the Palestinian people who were already there. The Palestinians made it clear that they opposed it as soon as they learned of it.

Intriguingly the author makes no mention of Palestinian Christians. Many of the Palestinian Arabs were Christians and this is true today but the author talks of them as Arabs and Muslims. The Palestinian Christians are left unmentioned. Instead the author complains that there had been no mass conversion to Christianity within Mandatory Palestine.

Recently PCG had a British columnist visit their headquarters who downplayed the importance of land in the tensions between the State of Israel and the Palestinians. And yet back in 1933 Maxwell wrote of the Palestinians being worried about those who dreamed of a Jewish National Home "buying up the land," that "they bitterly resented the wholesale loss of their heritage" after their land was sold to the Yishuv, that they did not fully understand what selling land to the Yishuv would mean, that they had "the fear that they were being dispossessed of their country." Just fifteen years later about 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and their land by the forces of the Yishuv. The fear of dispossession proved well founded.

In regards to the sale of land it needs to be mentioned that before the rise of the nationalist movement to create a Jewish state the practice in Palestine regarding farm land was that when the landlord sold it the tenant farmers were simply left to continue farming. The ownership could change but the farmers were secure in knowing that even in such an eventuality they would still be on the land. But when the persons of the nationalist movement began to purchase land using the Jewish National Fund the Yishuv wanted the farmers themselves to be Jews and not Palestinian so the Palestinian farmers were kicked out of their farms. To the Palestinian farmers who were used to having the land change ownership without being personally affected this was a terrible shock.

As Palestinians observed this behavior continuing many Palestinians called for land to not be sold to the Jewish National Fund in order to protect their farms. But as the call went out it also became quite manifest that some landlords would choose to sell the land despite widespread opposition to such transactions among the Palestinian people. Some of those landlords were absent from the land and did not perceive how the Palestinian people viewed these sales.

The author is rather vague about what happened in the riots of August 1929. 133 Jews and 129 Palestinian Arabs were killed in that terrible paroxysm of violence.

One reason for the start of the riots was tensions over arrangements at the Wailing Wall. Among Palestinians there was the fear that the Yishuv wanted to build a Third Temple. And then in 1933 Maxwell happens to talk to a man of the Yishuv who was optimistic that such a thing could be done. Who this man was is left unmentioned. Most likely he was unimportant but it is saddening to see that the author would choose to mention a man saying such inflammatory and unrealistic things in writing this book.

At one point the author talks of "Jewish gold." He also states that this individual in Jerusalem talk of the "Rothschild millions." Such talk is regrettable. We must always guard ourselves against reducing peoples to simplistic stereotypes. It is wrong to stereotype people.

The last paragraph is quite regrettable reading it today with his dire view of Arabs, Turks and Egyptians. In a sense he was foreseeing the advent of decolonization but he viewed it as something to be feared and loathed even though his own nation had gained independence after fighting the military forces of Britain. As the colonized peoples of the world gained more education and experience many yearned for independence. It proved untenable to maintain colonialism once the colonized perceived that they were fully capable of managing their own affairs for themselves and that they did not need the colonizers to rule over them.

Reading this book from 1933 reminds us that the tensions in the Holy Land have been ongoing for a long time. The length of this problem makes a solution producing lasting peace even more urgent. We must not lose hope that such a thing cannot be made and just accept this bloodshed and turmoil as a fact of life. Peace is possible. May peace soon come to the Holy Land.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent find of contemporary opinions not tainted by modern revisionists! The Rothchilds did indeed pour millions into Palestine. As early as 1920's one held deed to The city of David. Now so disputed by the illegal palestinian inhabitants trying to keep the jews out who creep in house by house. Terrible situation. It used to be an empty hill when Rotchild acquired the C of David. Ambassador College worked with the Rorhchilds on the Tell Hazor digs aswell, like cofdavid and if course the Temple Mount digs. What a legacy as compared with the archeological havoc the Palestinians have caused on the Temple mount by dumping the top layer on a waste site. I am diagusted by any hampering of archeological science. Unfortunately it is part of politics now. Perhaps we should just let Erdohan restore the Ottoman Empire again and return Arabia, Palestine and Syria to the Turks. Lawrence Lawrence..... . remember that kid....? Now the owner of the largest beer producer in the world. Btw that book looks like MOA.