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Zionist visionary Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
Zionist visionary Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

{Originally posted to the author’s website}

I am getting prepared for the upcoming centenary of the formal outbreak of political organized Arab terror and violence directed at the Jewish community in Palestine to thwart the Balfour Declaration and the future Mandate which occurred during Passover 1920.

Following the April 1920 riots in Jerusalem, when Arabs, having been agitated for the past few months and demonstrating against Zionism (as in the case of the Balfour Day dust-up of November 2, 1918* and the exploiting of the April 2, 1920 Nebi Mussa Festival),

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fell upon Jews in the city and murdered 7 while injuring 211, 18 seriously and another 193 of various degrees, the British established the first of their many inquiry commissions, named after Major-General PC Palin.

Already, in January 1919, Jabotinsky had witten to his wife,

“The Arabs draw encouragement from the fact that the British do not uphold their promises; the situation is bound to end up like Kishinev.”

and on February 1 that year, he resigned from the Zionist Commission. He also sent a letter to General Allenby because of “the heavy burden of disappointment, despair, breached promises and anti-Semitism”. Alllenby was furious that a junior officer would criticize him, and immediately released Jabotinsky from military service.

When Jabotinsky understood that Colonel Storrs, Governor of Jerusalem, was ignoring his warnings that the Arabs were planning to carry out a massacre of Jews on the Festival of Nebi Musa, he organized some 600 demobilized soldiers, legion veterans and volunteers, along with Pinhas Rutenberg, thereby establishing the first defense unit in Eretz Israel.

The Palin Commission‘s treatment of Ze’ev Jabotinsky is in part misinformed and prejudiced that I thought it proper to lay it all out.

Russian Bolshevism is undoubtedly working underneath the surface both southwards from the Caucasus to Damascus and in Palestine itself in the very heart of Zionism. Large numbers of the Jewish immigrants hold Bolshevist views and the Paola Zion Club of which Lt. Jabotinsky is said to be the organiser, is a definite Bolshevist institution. Attention is particularly drawn to the remarkable circular issued by this club and printed by Volpert and Company of Jaffa, subsequent to the riots, which definitely throws over the Zionist leaders and declares for the “world Proletariat and the Social Revolution.” The appeal is to the Arab fellah and worker and it is said that the same kind of appeal is being made to the same classes on the other side of the Jordan.

All through the early years of the Mandate, charges of Zionism as Communism (‘Jewish Bolshevism’) were regular staple in the British Mandate administration. Anti-Semitism, as well, was rife. One of the leading officers of the British Military Administration, General Money

made several remarks which would have to be considered prejudicial, claiming that the Jews “… were as a class inferior morally and intellectually to the bulk of the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the country,” and on another occasion referring to the “special characteristics of the Zionist Jewsthemselves, particularly to their exclusiveness, and to the fact that while other communities are ready to act for the common weal, the Jewish view is invariably to their own advantage…”

As even Weizmann was aware, writing in late March 1920 to the Zionist Commission in London:

Relations between the Jews and the Administration have gone from bad to worse. […] In view of possible outbreaks of hostility against us, the Military Authorities have found it necessary to take measures, but the order which has been issued to the troops is in my opinion almost a direct provocation not to do anything in case outbreaks do take place. Weizmann, according to his own definition, was actually predicting a pogrom.

Even American Jews knew this later that year as evidence in this item from September 3, 1920:

To return to Jabotinsky’s treatmentd by the Commission on this issue, while Jabotinsky was friends with Poale Zion members, for after all, they served in the Jewish Legion, and as he was a semi-member of the Zionist Commission and was in contact with all Yishuv elements, he was no Bolshevik.

And now, back to the story of the Jewish defense.

A singular incident was the offer by Mr. Jabotinsky and Mr. Ruthenberg to place at the disposal of the local authorities the volunteer bands which had recently been raised by these two gentlemen in anticipation of some such catastrophe as had occurred that day. The whole history of this movement is extremely unsatisfactory. It seems scarcely credible that the fact that these men had been got together and were openly drilling at the back of the Lemel School and on Mount Scopas should have been known as it undoubtedly was, to the population during the month of March – it was organised after the demonstration of the 8th [by the Jaffa Gate – YM]-

Matson Collection

and yet no word of it reached either the Governorate or the Administation until after the riots. Yet this is what is alleged and this ignorance can only be attributed to the curious defects in the intelligence system which the evidence occasionally reveals.

There also was a demonstration in February. Tel Chai had fallen in March. The British lied to the Commission about the preparations for and the knowledge of Jewish defense.

There was no attempt at secrecy. Mr. Ruthenberg actually went to Brig. General Waters Taylor in March and asked permission to arm the force [!!! – YM]. Brig. General Waters Taylor’s answer to this is that he understood Mr. Ruthenberg to be referring to the question of arming outlying colonies of Jews. He admits that towards the end of March [Lt.] Colonel [Percy B.] Bramley [formerly Deputy Inspector-General of Police of the United Provinces of India,an assistant to Storrs and, later, until 1923, Head of Public Security and which time he was fired due to anti-Zionist opinions] reported that the Jews were drilling on Mount Scopas [sic], but neither of them appear to have associated this with the idea of a defence force. At any rate as the result of his interview, Mr. Ruthenberg appears to have understood that he must not arm his force. After this, Lieut. Jabotinsky asked Colonel Storrs for permission to arm the force – he was at the time drilling daily behind the Lemel School – but he also appears to have left Colonel Storrs under the impression that what he wanted was arms for outlying colonies and to have failed to have made it clear that he had raised a defence force. Dr. Eder in backing this application apparently made it no clearer. The organisers decided to arm their men in spite of the Administration although they were unable to raise more than about thirty pieces – so convinced were they that trouble was coming. It is claimed that the force kept guard in the city on the 2nd, but the police deny all knowledge of this.

On Sunday morning [April 4], as soon as they heard of the trouble, Messrs. Ruthenberg and Jabotinsky went to the Military Governor and offered the services of themselves and the force they had raised to assist in restoring order. What actually took place is narrated by Mr. Ruthenberg and as Colonel Storrs admits its general accuracy, it may be accepted. In the course of conversation both men admitted having arms; Mr. Jabotinsky as an ex-British officer – Mr. Jabotinsky was principally concerned in raising the Jewish Battalions which served with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Palestine – surrendered his arm when ordered to do so. Mr. Ruthenberg was persuaded to give his up and it was not returned to him. A discussion ensued in which Ruthenberg and Jabotinsky refused to surrender the arms their men possessed but asked for the men to be armed by the Administration and used. Colonel Storrs said he must refer the matter to the Chief Administrator and arranged a meeting for the afternoon.

At 4 p.m. they again met and Colonel Storrs tried to restore confidence in the Administration by relating the measure taken to protect the Jews. Messrs. Ruthenberg and Jabotinsky approved, but insisted on the Arab police – against whom by this time there were many complaints – being disarmed and the Jewish youth being armed under their responsibility if the Administration considered it necessary. As a compromise Colonel Bramley suggested the formation of a body of special constables to which Ruthenberg and Jabotinsky agreed, but Colonel Storrs refused. A number of other propositions were discussed and agreed on. During the evening and night the Jewish leaders made use of their men in a limited way as Colonel Storrs had promised that nobody should be arrested if they did not collect in bands. (It is only fair to state that Colonel Storrs denies giving any such promise), They patrolled the city and collected information. The events on Monday and Tuesday decided the authorities to use the force and on Tuesday Mr. Ruthenberg was summoned to the Governorate and informed by Colonel Storrs and Colonel Beddy O.O. Troops, that the Administration had decided to use his men and asked how many he could produce. It was explained they were to be used as special constables not armed.

Late that night Mr. Ruthenberg was asked for a hundred men to be presented at 8 a.m. the next day. These they succeeded in presenting at the time and place named. Two companies of about fifty men were actually sworn in when the Administration decided to suspend the order and it was not proceeded with. It was Mr. Jabotinsky who selected the men and he was in constant consultation with the officials up to the time of his arrest on April 7th. On the 18th April Mr. Ruthenberg writes to Colonel Storrs stating that calm having been restored to the city, he had demobilised the “Self Defence”, to which Colonel Storrs replied with the decidedly disingenous letter of the 21st April, asking what was meant by “Defence Corps” as the Administration had no cognisance of such a body. Mr. Ruthenberg admits that in arming the corps “the wishes of the Administration were disregarded for the reasons already alleged – but subsequent events proved we were right”. The Administration disclaims all responsibility for Mr. Jabotinsky’s arrest and places the onus upon the Military – yet the Legal Officers of the Administration were employed to draw the charges. This Court is unable to extend its mission into an inquiry into the conduct of the subsequent Military Court; but in view of the preceding circumstances into which the Court has been obliged to probe very thoroughly: the undoubted cause for anxiety among the Jewish Community, the admitted purely defensive intention of the organisers of the force, the constant consultation into which both the local officials and the Military entered with its leaders after the disturbances had broken out, the actual enrolment of a portion of the force as special constables with the active help of Mr. Jabotinsky: taking all these matters into account, together with Mr. Jabotinsky’s record as the organiser of the Jewish Battalions for the service of the British Army, the Court feels itself obliged to record its opinion that the arrest and prosecution of Mr. Jabotinsky was ungenerous. No doubt the persistent impression that the Jews were in some way concerned as aggressors as well as the Arabs, in spite of the fact that the Arab casualties were practically negligible, is largely responsible for the attitude of the Military Authorities;

Jabotinsky spent the rest of April, having been arrested on April 7,

all of May and June in Acco Prison with another 19 of his fellow self-defense activists.

They were released on July 7:

Here is a report on his speech after returning to Jerusalem:

Description from the Hebrew press, Haaretz, of the riots:

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* From Jabotinsky’s letter to Weizmann of November 12, 1918:

But all came to a head on the 2nd November. As you know, we had orders from you to celebrate the day – I must confess I personally was not in a mood for celebration, but since it was desired in London, efforts were made to arrange the thing decently. In both Jerusalem and Jaffa, Arab notables made representations to the government protesting against the proposed festivities. In Jerusalem, the Mufti, the Mayor and the Inspector of Education told Col. Storrs  that there was a “movement” among the Arabs to attack the procession. He answered that offenders would be put in prison and made wear prison garb whoever they might be. So they promised to discourage the “movement”. No one of the Arab notables came to the manifestations either in Jerusalem or in Jaffa. The procession was advised by Major Hadad Bey not to pass the Jaffa Gate, which they obeyed, but two schools – all children living in the Old City – had to go that way anyway. They were attacked by a group of Arabs, children and teachers were beaten and blue-white banners torn. Two of the ruffians were arrested and sentenced to 4 months imprisonment…But in the meantime the same Arab notables made a step of much greater importance. On the morrow of the celebration a deputation of about two hundred Arab leaders, Moslem and Christian, headed by the Mayor of Jerusalem Kazim Husseini  (the Mufti did not go this time) presented to the Governor a petition…”

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