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A minor Betar dispute

by on October 5, 2022

In 1925 Ze’ev Jabotinsky founded the World Union of Zionist Revisionists, or Revisionist Party, in order to revise a Zionism he believed had been diluted. It has evolved into the Likud Party. The youth wing of the party was called Histradut-Noar ha-Zioni ha-Activisti al Shem Joseph Trumpeldor (Organization of Zionist Activist Youth in the Name of Joseph Trumpeldor), Bruce Hoffman tell us in Anonymous Soldiers.  It was referred to as Brit Trumpeldor, or shortened even further to the acronym Betar.  Betar affiliates “were soon active throughout Poland and neighboring eastern European countries”.  The first Betar training school, which consisted of military preparedness, political awareness seminars, and “attention to personal appearance,” opened in Tel Aviv in 1928.  Many of the Jewish immigrants who arrived in Palestine during 1929 were Betar trainees, and they were instrumental in the violence of that year.[1]

“The catalyst for the turmoil that would engulf Palestine at the close of the 1920s was a minor dispute that erupted over Jews bringing chairs and benches with them while worshiping at Jerusalem’s Western Wall,” Hoffman tells us.  Detailing the significance and history of the Wall as “Judaism’s most sacred landmark” and “Islam’s third-holiest shrine” Hoffman reminds us that “the prevailing consensus in the 1920s” was that it, the Wall, “belonged to Muslims.”  Jews were allowed access to the wall “by sufferance and custom, rather than legal right.”  To Muslims, he said, the effort by Jews “to alter the status quo by bringing chairs and benches to the wall, however modest, were harbingers of further designs to rebuild the Jewish temple”.[2]

According to David Brog,

During the centuries they ruled Jerusalem, the Muslim Ottomans never permitted Jewish worship on the Temple Mount. In fact, they even restricted Jewish worship at the Western Wall – that small portion of the Temple Mount retaining wall where Jews were permitted to pray. In particular, Jews were not permitted to make any physical changes – even temporary ones – to the area allotted for their worship.[3]

Brog, head of Christians for United for Israel until recently, tells us that the the British, during the Mandate period, “decided to maintain this discriminatory status quo.”  Mentioning nothing of the Betar, Brog merely informs us that as the Jewish population expanded in Jerusalem during the 1920’s they became more resentful of the “restrictions”.

On September 23, 1928 – the eve of Yom Kippur – Brog informs us that “a group of Jews gathered at the Western Wall for prayer. Some brought a makeshift partition made of wooden frames covered with cloth to separate between the male and female worshippers as required by Jewish law. Nearby Muslim officials were quick to notice the partition and to demand that it be removed. The British police did so the following day.”[4]

Brog considers fault only with the leader of Palestinian Arabs at the time, Haj Amin al Husseini.  Al Husseini, Brog says, “was not satisfied with this victory.”  Brog says al Husseini accused Jews of ‘unlimited greedy ambitions’ against Islam’s holy sites “and warned that they intended to destroy the Temple Mount mosques and rebuild the Temple.”  Brog suggests “the only greedy ambitions on display were Husseini’s ambitions to rid Palestine of its Jews”.  In the year that followed, “Husseini used this imaginary threat to raise his profile abroad and his power at home,” Brog tell us.  Not mentioning Betar or any actions by Jews in Palestine Brog informs us merely that “On August 23, 1929, this steady drumbeat of incitement finally boiled over into violence.”[5]  It was at this time that ‘The first real revolution on Palestinian land’ began, according to Palestinian researcher Ziad al-Hassan.[6]

David Green does not consider the Jews blameless for the “disturbances” of 1929.  He lays much responsibility, though, on the grand mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who pushed “mutual fear and suspicion,” spreading the familiar threat through the decades that  “the Jews intended to conquer the Temple Mount and to desecrate or even destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque.”[7]

A regular demonstration “in defense of the wall” organized by Jews on August 14, 1929 led to the situation in Palestine to spiral out of control.  While six thousand people gathered in Tel Aviv, Hoffman says, denouncing the Mandatory government to the chant of ‘the wall is ours!’ later in the day three thousand Jews “converged on the wall for a prayer meeting and vigil that lasted until midnight.”  The next morning “the pious Jews coming to worship at the wall were joined by some three hundred Betarim wielding truncheons.”


Before I continue to describe the events of 1929, and the surrounding years, further, it’s important to understand why it matter and why I’m telling describing this. The violence that began over a “minor” dispute during The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) tells us that while the Day of Atonement is important, it is a Day like any other day in which humans choose disputes, violence, and retribution. I would hazard a guess that nobody involved the violence of that Day of that year actually apologized, much less atoned, for what happened. Few probably ever thought about the enduring consequences of that time. To truly atone we must understand the consequences and we must work to make amends.


Several days later the violence spread to Hebron.  A city where Arabs and Jews had lived in peace for four hundred years, no one thought there would be violence in Hebron.  The “carnage” led to sixty-four dead Jews and fifty-four wounded, and the end of the ancient Jewish community in Hebron.  “The remaining 435 persons were evacuated three days later ‘practically naked and barefoot’ having lost everything,” Hoffman says of the community.[8] 

Of all the violence that began on August 23, David Green says, “the worst of the violence against Jews took place in Hebron.”  Green refers to Hebrew University professor Hillel Cohen, who suggests that because of 1929 the difference between Sephardic Jews who had been neighbors and acquaintances of the Arab population and the recent arrival of the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe “lost its significance in 1929.”  Following the devastation of August, 1929, all the Jews “were seen as part of a movement that intended to create a Jewish majority, if not an actual state, in the land.”[9]

On August 29, for reasons that Hoffman can only provide conjecture, in the spiritual and immune-to-violence city of Safed “an Arab mob rushed into the Jewish quarter and within twenty minutes had killed fifteen Jews and injured thirty-three others.”

What had begun, eleven months earlier, as a dispute over furniture, Hoffman says, “ended in August 1929 with the deaths of 133 Jews and injuries to 339 others.  Arab casualties were nearly as high – 116 killed and 232 wounded.[10]

In response to the widespread violence a commission sent by the British Government found that ‘Jewish immigration and land purchases’ lead Arabs to ‘fear for their economic future’ in which ‘they may be deprived of their livelihood and placed under the economic domination of the Jews.’  Although “the commission’s report called for an explicit policy regulating land and immigration that would have, in effect, curtailed the Zionist program in Palestine” this was postponed until further study of immigration, land settlement, and development.[11]

Because the Shaw Commission in March was postponed, it was left to the Hope-Simpson Report, issued on August 30, 1930, to provide recommendations to the British Government.  The findings of the Hope-Simpson commission included that fact that “almost 30 percent of Palestinians were landless, presumably because of Jewish land purchases, and that Palestinian unemployment was exacerbated by a Jewish boycott of Arab labor.”  The conclusions of the Hope-Simpson Report were incorporated in a policy paper – the Passfield White Paper of 1930 – “which recommended restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchases consistent with the economic absorptive capacity of Palestine.”[12]

Although these conclusions that Tony Greenstein called, in 2018, devastating, the recommendations to the British Government were never implemented. Greenstein, an anti-Zionist British activist says that the Hope-Simpson Report found that “despite the warm words of the Zionists about how much they valued the Arabs, their policies were designed to systematically exclude them from the land and employment.”  In fact this was the policy of Labour Zionism.  The right-wing Revisionist Zionists “were happy to employ Arabs as cheap labour” while “the Labour Zionists fought to exclude Arabs regardless of cost.”  Although a true socialist answer would have been for Jewish-Arab workers to combine to fight for high wages,” he says, this was anathema to Labour Zionismt, which was more racist than the Jewish right-wing.  Citing an internal memorandum of the Histadrut Greenstein says ‘the Jewish Labour Movement considers the Arab populations as an integral element in this country’ and that displacing the Arabs would ‘run counter to the moral conception lying at the root of the Zionist movement.’  Here, Greenstein says, is an early example of Zionist hasbara (propaganda) at its finest.  Zionism historically, he reminds us, “has always proclaimed its adherence to peace whilst waging war.”  To understand Zionism it is best to assume the opposite of what it says.[13]

[1] Bruce Hoffman, Anonymous Soldiers, pp 27-28

[2] Bruce Hoffman, Anonymous Soldiers, p 25

[3] This is slightly different than, but appears to agree with, Bruce Hoffman’s statement that in the 1920s “Jew were allowed access to the wall by sufferance and custom, rather than legal right”.

[4] David Brog, November 19, 2014,

[5] David Brog, November 19, 2014,

[6] See an article by the AlJazeera staff, November 11, 2015 found at

[7] David B. Green Aug 23, 2016 7:51 AM

[8] Bruce Hoffman, Anonymous Soldiers, p 32-34, describing Hebron

[9] Green again cites Hillel Cohen’s work, in which Shmuel Y. Agnon (1888-1970) as saying about the Arabs following the massacres of 1929 that ‘my attitude is this. I do not hate them and I do not love them; I do not wish to see their faces’.  Agnon was likely living in Jerusalem at the time.  For the quote see David B. Green Aug 23, 2016

[10] Bruce Hoffman, Anonymous Soldiers, p 32-34, describing Hebron and Safed.  David Brog confirms these numbers, calling the violence of 1929 pogrom a pogrom against the Jews.  David Greene adds that of the 110 dead Palestinian Arabs, nearly all had been killed by British forces.  See David B. Green Aug 23, 2016

[11] The quotes and description of the Shaw Commission of March, 1930, can be found at

[12] The quotes and description of the Hope-Simpson Report can be found at

[13] Tony Greenstein on June 15, 2018 accessed 7/1/18.  Emphasis and in the original.

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