Photo Credit: Public Domain / E.P. Tal & co. - Das Palästina Bilder-Buch, E.P. Tal & co./Verlag Wien, 1934
British Police at the Western Wall. 1934

One of the more contentious issues Jews had to contend with at the end of the Ottoman Empire rule in Jerusalem and on into the British Mandate period was whether or not Jews could sit on benches in front of the Wetern Wall.

From Robert W. Nicholson’s thesis here:

“…Jews did not own the Western Wall. Legally, it was the absolute property of the Muslim community: the Wall itself was part of the Haram, and the alley was part of an ancient waqf dedicated to North African Muslims. Islamic tradition venerated the site as the place where Muhammad had tethered his Buraq before ascending into heaven. Under the Ottomans, Muslim ownership was rigidly enforced. In 1840, government officials had denied a Jewish request to pave the alley since it was waqf property and connected to the Haram. Jews were forbidden to even raise their voices or display their sacred books before the Wall. In late 1911, the trustee of the waqf appealed to the Ottoman government to stop elderly Jews from bringing benches to the Wall. The concern was that it would establish a precedent that later generations might imply as a sign of ownership. Similar disputes occurred in 1912 and 1914.

These events show that Muslim attempts to restrict Jewish access to the site had been occurring long before the Balfour Declaration…

…For Storrs, the governor of Jerusalem, the Western Wall courtyard would remain a perennial source of anxiety…The most pressing issue involved, of all things, wooden benches. Elderly and infirm Jews who came to the Wall often brought these benches to sit on during long hours of prayer. Muslims alleged that the benches established a precedent for unlawful Jewish rights in the alley. Storrs combed through Ottoman records to determine what rights the Jews actually had been granted. Muslim authorities provided him with several rulings against bringing benches to the Wall. However, it was known that Muslims often entered into practical arrangements allowing Jews to bring these items anyway. Storrs eventually decided that the benches were illegal and that Jews only had a right of way at the Wall. They had the right to visit, but no more than anyone else.

Storrs tried to persuade the Muslims to allow the benches on humanitarian grounds but they refused…

…On September 28, 1925, Jews brought benches to the Wall for the observance of Yom Kippur. Muslims immediately complained to the government, and Storrs ordered police to remove the benches…He…tried to convince the waqf to build stone benches in the courtyard to obviate the need for the Jews to bring portable ones.


It reached the League of Nations Mandates Commission in the summer of 1926. A  solution came from a William Rappard, a Swiss member of the League of Nations Mandates Commission: a milking stool.

The Palestine Bulletin. July 9, 1926
Milking Stool / Credit: Nerijp Wikipedia


On October 2, 1925, the Histadruth’s Davar newspaper demanded the Wall be handed over to Jewish supervision and control.

An article by A.Z. Rabinovitz also in Davar on October 7, pointed out the perceived legal inconsistencies under the Mandate:

According to the law it is permitted to bring defecating donkeys near the Wall in front of Jews who pray there. But it is forbidden to bring stools…what a sacred law!

In May 1929, High Commissioner John Chancellor suggested another idea: the selling of special licenses to Jews that would allow them to bring benches to the Wall. That way, Chancellor suggested naively, everyone would win.
The Mufti, it need not be emphasized, was not interested in the idea.
On August 23, 1929, the murderous Mufti-instigated riots broke out.
First published on My Right Word.

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Yisrael Medad resides in Shiloh and is a foreign media spokesperson for the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities.