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A Diwan of contemporary life (439)
There was a first Al-Aqsa Intifada, in 1929, which Al-Ahram covered extensively. The site of many demonstrations, some deadly, was Al-Haram Al-Sharif, a part of which Zionists who immigrated to Palestine believed was the last remnant of the Temple of Solomon. Their programme to restore the temple led to a Palestinian revolt which Al-Ahram tabled in chronological order from October 1928 to September 1929. Professor Yunan Labib Rizk* writes about the original uprising
Diary of the first Al-Aqsa Intifada
In the summer of 1929, a wave of violence swept Palestine. Some referred to the events as the "Wailing Wall demonstrations" while others called it "the uprising to defend Al-Haram Al-Sharif." In view of the events in Palestine today, it seems appropriate to term it the first Al-Aqsa Intifada.
The Grand Mufti Al-Sayed Amin Al-Husseini
The many studies on this major event in the history of the Palestinian cause relied to a great extent on the accounts of its immediate participants, whether Arabs or Jews, and on the British Foreign Office archives, as Britain was the protectorate power over Palestine at the time. To a lesser extent they relied on the contemporary press, which is why we have devoted this episode of the Chronicle to Al-Ahram's coverage of the uprising. Not only did Al-Ahram follow the events as they unfolded day by day, but its account is unique not only because of the newspaper's renowned autonomy but also because of the diversity of its sources.
Al-Ahram opens its narrative with a description of the site of the conflict: the Western Wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Al-Burraq Al-Sharif and to Jews as the Wailing Wall and the last remnant of the Temple of Solomon. "The wall is towering, more than 25 metres tall. It is directly connected to Waqf Ibn Mudin, the religious trust land in which are situated numerous hospices, small mosques, holy tombs, residences, homes and other buildings. These buildings extend around the wall except for to the east where Al-Haram Al-Sherif (the holy sanctuary) is located. The adjacent neighbourhood is entirely Muslim; indeed, it is the heart of the Muslim areas of Jerusalem. The area abutting the wall and the waqf (religious endowment) is known as the Maghrebi Quarter as it is inhabited by North African Muslims who derive their livelihood from the activities and proceeds of the waqf property and activities."
The Zionists who immigrated to Palestine began to push a programme for restoring Solomon's Temple. "The Zionists want to demonstrate to world Jewry their zeal for the wall through a campaign by which they seek to solicit funds and milk the pockets of the Jewish rich. That this must be the case is indicated by the fact that most Jews who go to the Wailing Wall are elderly and mostly Oriental Jews. In order to accomplish their aims, the Zionists have stirred up unrest in the area around the Wailing Wall on numerous occasions in recent years. Each time they fell to the Arabs, even though the British have always lent the Zionists as much free rein and assistance as possible. Yet as much as the British government wishes to serve the needs of the Jews, the only way it could face the Arabs, Muslims and the world was to issue a white paper obliging the Jews to restrain themselves and not to persist in their course of action," something which never transpired.
Al-Ahram, 30 October 1928: "The Jews are continuing their assault on the wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the place where the Prophet stood before his ascent to heaven on Al-Burraq. They are persisting in their attempts to obtain rights that would give them a foothold in this purely Islamic holy place before taking possession of it and wresting it from the hands of the Muslim people. In so doing, they will have seized a part of Al-Aqsa Mosque, God forbid."
The article went on to report that the Jews had begun to invade the area in unprecedented numbers, "filling it with prohibited equipment despite the many protests lodged by the Supreme Islamic Council and the Committee for the Defence of Al-Burraq. In an attempt to defend themselves against this invasion, some of our Maghrebi Muslim brothers demanded that the Jews remove the equipment. However, the Jews refused to comply, and when one of their more insolent partisans hurled insults at Islam, a brawl erupted."
Although the clash was limited, it set the scene for an explosive situation.
Al-Ahram, 3 November 1928: "The General Islamic Conference, meeting in Jerusalem to defend the Islamic holy places, elected a 12-member delegation representing Palestine, Syria and Trans-Jordan which held an urgent meeting with the British high commissioner and conveyed to him its alarm and unrest provoked by the attempts of the Jews to encroach on the holy places. The delegation urged the British government to take immediate action to stop the Jews so that Muslims would not be forced to defend their sacred sites themselves, thereby placing the onus on the British government. In addition, the delegation protested against the expropriation law on the grounds that it went against Islamic law and requested, in the name of the conference, that the British government be apprised of the true situation so that the Muslims would not be obliged to adopt a course of non-cooperation with the British government."
Al-Ahram, 16 November 1928: "The Islamic conference meeting in Jerusalem for the defence of Al-Burraq Al-Sharif has resolved:
"Firstly, that Al-Burraq is part of the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, that it is a site sacred to Islam by virtue of Qur'anic teachings and that it, its adjacent vicinity and the extensive waqf lands surrounding it in all directions are the sole property of the Muslim people.
"Secondly, the conference asks the government to prohibit the Jews from installing any fixtures for seating, lighting, worship or recitation, whether on a temporary or permanent basis, and to prohibit them from raising their voices and making public speeches, so that the Muslims will not be compelled to undertake such prohibitions themselves, regardless of the cost this may entail.
"Thirdly, whereas the Jews have persisted in their assault on Al- Burraq Al-Sharif, which is an integral part of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the first of the two kiblahs and the Third Holy Place, the conference declares that the continued assault on the Jews upon Al- Burraq Al-Sharif and the failure to take firm action to prevent this will lead to dangerous developments in the Islamic world, whereby the Muslim people will rise to thwart the greatest peril that has descended upon them in the past eight centuries.
"Fourthly, in view of the gravity of the situation and the alarm of the Muslim people, the conference has resolved to send an urgent mission to the high commissioner (The British governor of Palestine) requesting that the government issue as soon as possible an official statement declaring that Al-Burraq Al-Sharif and all other holy places will be protected from all Jewish encroachments."
At this point it seemed that the Arab demands must have had an effect, for calm prevailed throughout the remainder of the year and into the beginning of the next. However, it was more the calm before the storm, an omen of which we see in a report in Al- Ahram of 19 February 1929 concerning renewed Zionist activity to promote the national homeland for the Jews. The report says that a group of prominent Jews concerted their efforts to persuade the British government that easing restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine for the purpose of establishing a Jewish national homeland would serve Britain's strategic interests. It was not long before the political temperature climbed again in that scorching summer of 1929.
Al-Ahram, 22 August 1929: "Some 2,000 Jews gathered in a huge demonstration at the Wailing Wall where the demonstrators sang their national anthem. Similarly, a mass rally was held in Tel Aviv where, following several fiery speeches, the participants staged a large demonstration. In response, following Friday prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, Muslim worshippers held a rally to protest at the aggression manifested by the recent Jewish actions, after which the demonstrators entered the Eastern Wall vicinity. The Jews protested that the Arabs attacked them while they were praying in front of the Wailing Wall and claimed that the Arabs beat them, broke a table that was used for prayer services and burned the religious books and documents that were on the table. In view of the increasing numbers of incidents occurring next to the Wailing Wall, the General Security Agency has moved to rent premises in that area to be converted into a new police precinct station."
In a matter of three days the relatively limited violence had escalated into "major strife," as Al-Ahram put it, extending to all parts of Palestine.
Al-Ahram, 27 August 1929: "The events began when some 10,000 people assembled in Al-Aqsa Mosque to demand the preservation of Al-Burraq. Although the sheikh of the mosque sought to calm the assembled crowd, his appeal was interrupted by calls for jihad (holy war) to protect the Eastern Wall. Following this, the demonstrators managed to make their way to a Jewish colony, in the course of which police opened fire on them, killing four. Some Jews also fired at the demonstrators from their windows.
"The government declared martial law in Jerusalem and distributed leaflets in Arabic, Hebrew and English, prohibiting inhabitants from going out of doors after 6.30pm. Police forces armed with machine guns were stationed in the Jewish quarters. British police forces, fully armed, joined the national police to restore calm. In addition, border patrol forces from Trans-Jordan and auxiliary forces from Egypt were brought in. By the end of the day, as five airplanes circled over Jerusalem, relative calm had been restored although isolated gunfire continued throughout the night in Jerusalem and its suburbs."
Al-Ahram, 28 August 1929: "The Grand Mufti Al-Sayed Amin Al-Husseini issued a statement announcing that the Jews have been granted the right to visit the Eastern Wall (Al-Burraq) on condition that they do not perform religious rituals there. The mufti then referred to the considerable lengths to which the Jews have gone in order to compel the Muslims to relinquish the wall to them. He said that now they have begun to claim the right to pray there 'although they have never availed themselves of this right at any time in the past.'
Jews at the Wailing Wall
"Another statement, issued by the government in Palestine, reported that disturbances erupted when a group of protesters broke off from the procession of the funeral of an Arab man. Police opened fire on the protesters, killing six. Elsewhere, a real skirmish took place in Bab Hamoud and the Arabs seized the village of Ghafoula.
"The government of Palestine issued a statement declaring that calm has been restored in Jerusalem and that security is being maintained by the British infantry, as planes, armoured vehicles and British police patrol all quarters of the city. Since the beginning of the disturbances, 14 Jews, 10 Muslims and three Christians have been killed; 37 Jews, 20 Muslims and one Christian have been critically wounded, with five dead as a result of their injuries; and 66 Jews, 32 Muslims and 14 Christians have sustained minor injuries."
Al-Ahram 31 August 1929: "We can say that for 12 days Palestine has been in a state of virtual upheaval. Transportation between Palestine and the other countries has been interrupted and Palestine intelligence has placed all telephones under surveillance. Tensions rose in Haifa yesterday as anger spread when the alarming reports arrived on the number of Palestinians who died in Jerusalem and on the fate of Muslims targeted both by the police and gunfire from the Jews. These reports spurred the Muslims of Haifa to plan a major demonstration. They also asked the local government to take urgent measures to prohibit Jews from assembling on the streets so as to forestall a confrontation between them and the Muslims, to confiscate all firearms in the possession of the Jews and to prosecute Jewish leaders on the grounds that the attacks against Muslims took place at these leaders' orders.
"Although the government responded that it would consider these demands, no action was taken to disperse the Jews who remained gathered in Al-Hamoud Square and the Jewish commercial centre until late in the evening. Unfortunately, a British policeman fired his gun by accident. When the Muslims heard the report, they thought the Jews had begun to attack, at which point the Muslims rallied and marched towards the colony of Hadarha Karmel, where they pelted the residents' windows with stones and shouted at them to come out onto the streets and fight.
"The following morning, tensions soared as rumours spread that the Muslims would stage violent demonstrations throughout the city. Leaflets on the recent events in Jerusalem circulated by the Hebrew press fuelled the flames, and Jews assembled in Hadarha Karmel and in the commercial centre as though challenging the Palestinians to confront them. As the state of alarm grew, the heads of the Christian denominations formed a delegation to meet with the governor and inform him that if the government failed to prohibit the Jewish rallies and clashes erupted, then they would be forced to come to the aid of their Muslim brothers.
"At 6.00pm on Sunday, the Palestinian Muslim Youth Association hosted a general conference at its premises to discuss the current situation. Later that evening, a group of Muslims were passing through Harat Al-Yahud when the inhabitants flung open their windows to pelt them with stones, injuring several. In response, the Muslims rioted and attacked the Jewish alley, where they threw stones at windows and attacked some Jews, inflicting various wounds.
"The following day proved even bloodier. Skirmishes began in the vegetable market and spread to Al-Khamra and the commercial district. There, the skirmishes escalated into a fierce battle between Palestinians and the Jews, with the stones and sticks of the former pitted against the stones, bullets and empty bottles of the latter. When the British police arrived they had no alternative when faced with this appalling incident but to open fire, and the ensuing engagement claimed numerous lives and wounded nationals, Jews and police alike."
Al-Ahram, 1 September 1929: "The events in Palestine reverberated throughout Iraq. A huge demonstration was staged in Baghdad in which protesters called for the downfall of Zionism and support for the Arabs. At the time the demonstration was held, the Jews of Iraq issued a statement declaring their condemnation of Zionism and their solidarity with the Arabs.
"In Damascus yesterday, youths and students staged a massive demonstration. Police clashed with the demonstrators, of whom 20 were arrested and charged. This stirred great indignation in the Syrian capital which was on tenterhooks awaiting for their release."
Al-Ahram, 3 September 1929: "A delegation of Jews called on the deputy governor of the Southern Province to request a written guarantee for their safety so that they can reopen their stores in Jaffa Market. The government official responded that as general calm prevailed and the Arabs were peaceful, they had no reason to fear an attack if they reopened their stores, although he refused to grant them a written pledge.
"Meanwhile, the government took the precaution of arranging armed patrols of the streets, with instructions to strike at any demonstration or assembly that disrupts the peace. It also suspended the publication of all Palestinian and Hebrew newspapers. As a result, the Hebrew University newspaper, Sawt Al-Arab, Filastin, Ha'aretz, Durhayawm, Dafar and other newspapers have not appeared for a week.
"In addition, among the ships in the ports of Haifa and Jaffa are two torpedo boats, two cruisers and an aircraft carrier which are patrolling the shores between these two cities. In Jaffa, 1,300 soldiers have landed and most, after a period of rest in the city, have been taken in large transport vehicles either to the suburbs or to destinations that have not been disclosed."
Al-Ahram, 5 September 1929: "The Jews of Jaffa staged a boycott of Palestinian merchants. Yesterday, a Jewish woman entered a Palestinian store but before she was able to complete her purchases a Jewish man rushed inside, admonished her for patronising Arab stores and then assaulted her physically in order to force her not to buy. Another development with powerful implications is that the Jewish banking establishment, known as the Anglo-Palestine Bank, has begun to refuse to honour cheques made out by Arabs. In response, the Palestinians have begun to boycott Jewish firms and the Jewish bank.
"Reinforcements are arriving in the north from Haifa in great numbers, while government offices remain open throughout the week. Haifa is now calm and people have returned to their jobs but the 6.00pm curfew remains strictly in force."
Al-Ahram, 11 September 1929: "From the Al-Ahram special correspondent: I have had assurances from an American source that the American consul in Jerusalem has determined that those who attacked the American students in the recent strife in Jerusalem were Jews, not Arabs. The consul telegraphed this information to President Hoover. In addition, 50 Americans in Palestine wired the US president to convey a similar message. They complained that contrary to his statements released over the news services, nine American students had received bullet wounds in their backs inflicted by Jews. Meanwhile, the high commissioner has ordered the authorities in Safd to assemble the 26 American Jews there and provide them with round the clock protection."
Al-Ahram, 15 September 1929: "The high commissioner has drafted a law in accordance with which tribunals composed of British magistrates will be formed to hear the criminal appeals arising from the recent disturbances. In addition, the secretary of the colonial office has announced that a British commission is to be appointed to investigate the recent disturbances. His statement met with scepticism among the Palestinians who fear that the commission members will be pro-Zionist or Jews and who, therefore, insist that the League of Nations appoint the commission members from nationalities that are non-British and neutral.
"Meanwhile, calm still prevails in the north, although there was a brief moment of alarm when two Arabs were assassinated by Jews. Also, the Jewish colonies in those parts are still subject to attacks by Bedouin marauders. The day before yesterday, Bedouins raided the Tabour colony and seized a flock of its sheep. British soldiers apprehended the thieves and returned the goats to the colony."
Al-Ahram, 19 September 1929: "The investigations being undertaken by the authorities in Palestine have so far determined the following:
1. The Arabs who were killed or wounded in Jerusalem had been shot by bullets from guns and rifles or struck by the fragments of grenades;
2. That only the Jews possessed grenades;
3. That the first woman to be killed was the wife of Ali Al- Attari, that the first child to be killed was hers and that the first family to be attacked was this family;
4. That the events of Hebron only erupted after news reached the city of the murder of an Arab family in Jerusalem and the atrocities that were committed against it;
5. That the official British coroners report established that the bodies of the Jews who died in Hebron had not been defiled or mutilated."
Al-Ahram, 19 September 1929: "Authorities Sympathise with Jews"
"The high commissioner has asked the colonial office to approve £10,000 as relief for Jewish victims. The office agreed and disbursed £2,000 of this amount for immediate use. In addition, the high commissioner ratified the decision to waive the £75,000 debt owed by the Jewish municipality of Tel Aviv to the national treasury. In yet another show of sympathy for the Jews, following negotiations between the Zionist Society and the government, the high commissioner agreed to send an armed force to escort the Jewish 'victims' who fled to Tel Aviv from Gaza during the recent disturbances so that they can pack up their belongs in their homes and stores in Gaza and bring them back to Tel Aviv where they have decided to take up permanent residence."
Al-Ahram, 19 September 1929: "Al-Ahram and the Palestinians"
"The Palestinian people have praised Al-Ahram for its valiant stand on the recent events in Palestine and for its keenness to send reporters and publish the truth about what transpired. In fact, Al- Ahram has been commended by other newspapers, some of which published the interview that Al-Ahram's correspondent in Haifa conducted with respected British officials in the office of the high commissioner. Moreover, a prominent Syrian living in Egypt who is working to promote the Palestinian cause abroad wrote to one of the political organisations in Haifa to provide him with reports as extensive and thorough as those which the Al-Ahram correspondent in Haifa sent to his newspaper."
Clearly, Al-Ahram had every right to congratulate itself over its coverage of the first Al-Aqsa Intifada, as it does today for its coverage, three-quarters of a century later, of the second Al-Aqsa Intifada.
* The author is a professor of history and head of Al-Ahram History Studies Centre.
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