What happened during the Arab riots of 1920-1921?
The first Arab riots of the Mandate period took place in Jerusalem in the intermediary days of Passover, in March 1920 (“Bloody Passover”). They were instigated by Arabs acting on unfounded rumors of Jewish actions against Arabs. The British military authorities did not intervene in the Arab attacks, while Vladimir Jabotinsky and other Jews were arrested for organizing a self-defense league. In April 1920, Joseph Trumpeldor and others were killed in the defense of Tel Hai, a settlement in the Upper Galilee. These developments led to the founding of the Haganah on June 15, 1920.
Haj Amin al-Husseini emerged as one of the leaders of the 1920 Arab riots in Palestine and incited the masses to murder Jews and loot their homes. While only in his late twenties, he became the youngest ever Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921, supported by the British.
May 1921 brought new violence in Jaffa followed by large-scale attacks on Rehovot, Petah Tikva, and other Jewish areas. The death toll among the Jews was 47 with 140 wounded. Yosef Hayyim Brenner, the distinguished socialist pioneer and author, was among those murdered. Arab casualties of 48 killed and 73 wounded were almost entirely due to British military action. The main lesson was the power of the Arab masses and the relative ineffectiveness of the Jewish defense.
Sir Herbert Samuel, The High Commissioner, yielded to the demonstration of power: he ordered a temporary halt to Jewish immigration and began negotiations with the Arab Executive Committee. The outcome of these negotiations was the June 1922 White Paper issued by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill.
The riots were investigated by the Haycraft Commission, who said in their summary report:
- The racial strife was begun by the Arabs, and rapidly developed into a conflict of great violence between Arabs and Jews, in which the Arab majority, who were generally the aggressors, inflicted most of the casualties.
But then the Commission rationalized the cause of the attack, in a pattern that is still seen in the 21st Century:
- The fundamental cause of the riots was a feeling among the Arabs of discontent with, and hostility to, the Jews, due to political and economic causes, and connected with Jewish immigration, and with their conception of Zionist policy as derived from Jewish exponents.
This pattern repeated itself over the decades: Arab riots with Jewish casualties, British official inquiry, followed by appeasement of the Arabs.