September 23, 2004

When Jerusalem was an international city

In some quarters it is proposed to solve the problem of Jerusalem by making it an international city. How quickly people forget, it has already been tried. From Sarah Honig:

Before we attained national sovereignty (which some of us are eager to lose in Jerusalem all over again), the British ruled the holy roost, having secured a mandate from the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations. That was when Muslims began to evince emotional attachment to the Western Wall, where they claimed the prophet Muhammad tethered his steed Burak. Jewish wailing was tolerated there occasionally, following remittance of an exorbitant fee for the privilege - providing Muslim sensibilities weren't offended.

The problem was that there was no telling what would give offense.

THUS IN 1919 the Wakf declared that wooden benches, used by the old and infirm, were an insufferable desecration of Burak. The British promptly removed them. Meanwhile, Arabs began to regularly drive cattle and laden donkeys right through crowds of Jewish congregants. A muezzin was dispatched in 1920 to sound his loudest chants precisely during Jewish services.

Then the Wakf stirred a fuss over the shofar blown on holy days in front of the Wall. Eager to please and dispense international justice, the mandatory authorities outlawed the annoying blasts, beginning on Rosh Hashana, 1921.

Youths from the Revisionist Movement made it a point to sound the shofar at the Wall at the end of each Yom Kippur, judging this wasn't exclusively a religious issue but one of Jewish national self-respect. It was no mean feat, considering that in the name of their international mandate the British infiltrated undercover agents into the narrow alleyways adjacent to the Wall to apprehend potential transgressors with shofars in hand. To outsmart them, a number of horns were smuggled each time, usually secreted inside young women's bras. Several trained shofar blowers were always on hand, in case one was nabbed by detectives.

Between 1921 and 1947, not a single Yom Kippur concluded without the illegal shofar being heard at Judaism's holiest site. In fact, a new ritual was born. Reb Aryeh Levin (spiritual patron of underground prisoners) and the chief rabbis marched to the central Jerusalem jail after the close of each Day of Atonement with food to break the fast of the shofar blowers who had been arrested for their dastardly deed.

But the Wakf's shrillest outcry was raised in 1928 over a flimsy partition put up to segregate male and female worshipers at the Wall. The British lost no time in rectifying the situation and tearing down the offensive screen.

Jewish opinion of all political shades was outraged, but the premeditated disruptions at the Wall grew increasingly violent, till trumped-up tales of Jewish takeover attempts at the Temple Mount sent Arabs rioting countrywide on August 23, 1929. The bloodbath lasted for an entire week.

The rampages began in Jerusalem, but the most notorious massacre was perpetrated in Hebron, where 67 men, women and children were hideously hacked to death in a homicidal frenzy and the centuries-old Jewish community was dispossessed. Smaller Jewish enclaves in Gaza, Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus were likewise dislodged.

The final verdict on the atrocities was handed down in 1931, when a League of Nations committee also prohibited the shofar.

Sound familiar?

Posted by David Boxenhorn at September 23, 2004 08:46 AM
Comments & Trackbacks

Familiar indeed.

The problem with the idea of an international city is purely practical: someone has to supervise and moderate such an arrangment. Such third party has to be absultely detached and disunterested in order for it to work. Never going to happen.

Posted by: Alisa at September 26, 2004 08:06 AM Permalink

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