The tension between Yishuv Jews and Palestinian Arabs over the Western (“Wailing”) Wall of the Ancient Temple in Jerusalem began soon after the establishment of the British Mandate. At the time, a number of Jewish leaders sought to revise the status quo regarding Jewish access to the Wall. Until that point the Jews could pray at the Wall, but they had no formal rights and there was no synagogue at the site. Beginning in the early 1920s the Jews had been asking the British and Muslim officials for rights to worship and to purchase adjacent buildings. These attempts to secure the place as a Jewish site of worship were threatening to the Muslim Arabs, who considered this area a part of al-Haram all-Sharif (“the Noble Sanctuary”), the third holiest site in Islam. The Muslims were concerned that the Zionists would take over the whole area and rebuild the Temple. Under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini, head of the Supreme Muslim Council and Mufti of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Arabs began an extensive campaign, urging the Arab rank-and-file in Palestine as well as Muslim leaders worldwide to oppose the Zionists and defend the Islamic shrines in Jerusalem.

The Wall dispute flared up in the midst of prayer on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, September 1928. A British police officer removed the screen separating men and women, claiming that its installation by the Jews was a technical violation of the rights of worship. Following the incident, Jews and Zionists in the Yishuv and around the world were enraged, in particular due to the fact that the British appeared to favor the Supreme Muslim Council’s side of the matter. In November 1928 Muslim notables from all over the Fertile Crescent and Egypt gathered in Jerusalem under the auspices of the Mufti. Their struggle over Muslim holy places led to the British Government’s reaffirmation of the status quo at the Wall. Yet the Zionists continued to demand possession of the wall while the Muslims, spurred on by the Supreme Muslim Council, harassed Jewish worshipers.

Tension increased as Palestinian Arabs observed with growing anxiety the gradual recovery of the Zionist movement after a few years of decline. First, Jewish immigration began to pick up discernibly from the beginning of 1928. A second source of concern was the Zionists’ plan for enlarging the Jewish Agency to include powerful organizations. Still a third worry was a poor harvest in 1929, aggravating an already existing economic crisis, and affecting many Arab farmers who were then obliged to sell their lands to Jews.

These three developments were a serious setback to the Palestinian Arabs’ cause. The Mufti and his followers in the Supreme Muslim Council assumed an increasingly important role in Palestinian Arab leadership. They set out to curb the Zionist progress, and the Wailing Wall dispute proved just the opportunity to do so. Using Jerusalem’s holy status in Islam, the Mufti could mobilize the Muslim world’s material and moral support for the struggle against Zionism. His fund-raising efforts, which had begun in 1923, intensified with the campaign against the Zionists’ claim to the Wall. He established connections with political and religious leaders throughout Iraq, India, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Transjordan, trying to use their influence to coax the British into acting in favor of the Palestinian Muslims.

What began with a seemingly minor argument over rights of worship at the Wailing Wall was now a major public dispute, involving both Jewish and Muslim communities worldwide. The year-long period of escalation which started in the summer of 1928 culminated in the violent riots of August 1929.


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Goldstein, Yaacov, “The 1929 Disturbances and their Impact on the Formulation of Zionist Positions Concerning the Palestine Problem,” Asian and African Studies, 24(3) 1990, pp. 231–265.

Lundsten, Mary Ellen, “Wall Politics- Zionist and Palestinian Strategies in Jerusalem, 1928,” Journal of Palestine Studies, 8(1) 1978, pp. 3–27.

Porath, Yehoshua, “Israel, State of (Historical Survey)- The Rise of Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem- Keter, 1972, vol. 9, pp. 460–1.

Sela, Avraham, “The ‘Wailing Wall’ Riots (1929) as a Watershed in the Palestine Conflict,” Muslim World, 84(1–2) 1994, pp. 60–94.