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The Jaffa riots were a series of violent anti-Jewish riots in Palestine on May 1-7, 1921, in which Arab mobs murdered Jewish inhabitants, destroyed property and engaged in wholesale looting. The rioting began in Jaffa and spread to other cities.

The events

On the night of 1 May 1921, the Jewish Communist Party (precursor of the Palestine Communist Party) distributed Arabic and Yiddish fliers calling for the toppling of British rule and the establishing a "Soviet Palestine". The party announced its intention to parade from Jaffa to neighbouring Tel Aviv to commemorate May Day. On the morning of the parade, despite a warning to the 60 members present from one of Jaffa's most senior police officers, Toufiq Bey al-Said, who visited the party's headquarters, the march headed from Jaffa to Tel Aviv through the mixed Jewish-Arab border neighbourhood of Menashia (Manshiyya).[1]

Another large May Day parade had also been organised for Tel Aviv by the rival socialist Ahdut HaAvoda group, with official authorisation. When the two processions met, a fistfight erupted.[1] Police attempted to disperse the about 50 communist protestors,and Muslims and Christians intervened to help the police against the Jews. A general disturbance quickly ensued and spread to the southern part of town.[2]

Dozens of British, Arab, and Jewish witnesses all reported that Arab men bearing clubs, knives, swords, and some pistols broke into Jewish buildings and murdered their inhabitants, while women followed to loot.[citation needed] They attacked Jewish pedestrians and destroyed Jewish homes and stores.[citation needed] They beat and killed Jews in their homes, including children, and in some cases split open the victims' skulls.[1]

At 1:00 pm, an immigrant hostel run by the Zionist Commission and home to a hundred people who had arrived in recent weeks and days was attacked by the mob, and though the residents tried to barricade the gate, it was rammed open and Arabs attackers poured in.[citation needed] The stone-throwing was followed by bombs and gunfire, and the Jewish hostel residents hid in various rooms. When the police arrived, it was reported that they weren't shooting to disperse the crowd, but were actually aiming at the building.[citation needed] In the courtyard one immigrant was felled by a policeman's bullet at short-range, and others were stabbed and beaten with sticks. Five women fled a policeman firing his pistol; three escaped. A policeman cornered two women and tried to rape them, but they escaped.[citation needed] A fourteen-year old girl and some men managed to escape the building, but each was in turn chased down and beaten to death with iron rods or wooden boards.[1]

The violence reached as far as the otuskirts of Abu Kabir. The Jewish Yitzker family owned a dairy farm on the outskirts of the neighborhood, in which they rented out rooms. At the time of the riots, Yosef Haim Brenner, one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew literature was living at the site. On May 2nd, 1921, despite warnings Yitzker and Brenner refused to leave the farm and were murdered, along with Yitzker's teenaged son, his son-in-law and two other renters.[3]

High Commissioner Herbert Samuel declared a state of emergency, imposed press censorship, and called for reinforcements from Egypt. General Allenby sent two destroyers to Jaffa and one to Haifa. Samuel met with and tried to calm Arab representatives. Musa Kazim al-Husseini, who had been dismissed as Jerusalem's mayor on account of his involvement in the previous year's Nebi Musa riots, demanded a suspension of Jewish immigration. Samuel assented, and two or three small boats holding 300 Jews were refused permission to land, and were forced to return to Istanbul. At the same time, al-Husseini's nephew, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a decision that later faced much criticism.

Fighting went on for several days and spread to nearby Rehovot, Kfar Sava, Petah Tikva, and Hadera.[1] British aircraft dropped bombs "to protect Jewish settlements from Arab raiders."[4]

Immediate aftermath

The riot resulted in the deaths of 47 Jews and 48 Arabs, with 146 Jews and 73 Arabs being wounded. Most Arab casualties resulted from clashes with British forces attempting to restore order.[5]

Thousands of Jewish residents of Jaffa fled for Tel Aviv and were temporarily housed in tent camps on the beach. Tel Aviv, which had been previously lobbying for independent status, became a separate city due in part to the riots. However Tel Aviv was still dependent on Jaffa, which supplied it with food, services, and was the place of employment for most residents of the new city.[1]

The newspaper Kuntress, whose author and co-editor Yosef Haim Brenner was one of the victims of the riots, published an article entitled Entrenchment. The article expressed the view that the Jews' outstretched hand had been spurned but that they would only redouble their efforts to survive as a self-reliant community.[1]

Some villages whose residents had participated in the violence were fined and a few rioters were brought to trial. When three Jews, including a policeman, were convicted of participating in the murder of Arabs, international outcry ensued. Although the Supreme Court ultimately acquitted them on grounds of self-defence, the incident served to continue the crisis of confidence between the Jewish community and the British administration. Three Arab men were tried for the murder of Brenner, but were acquitted due to reasonable doubt. Toufiq Bey al-Said, who resigned from the Jaffa police, was shot in the street; his assassin was dispatched by veterans of Hashomer in retribution for Brenner's murder, though another Jewish man was wrongly accused and acquitted.[1]

The Arab leaders submitted a petition to the League of Nations in which they expressed their demands for independence and democracy, noting that the Arab community contained sufficient educated and talented members to establish a stable representative democracy.[1]

Investigative Commission

High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel established an investigative commission headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Palestine, Sir Thomas Haycraft (see Haycraft Commission of Inquiry). Its report confirmed the participation of Arab policemen in the riots and found the actions taken by the authorities adequate. The report angered both Jews and Arabs: it placed the blame on the Arabs, but said that, "Zionists were not doing enough to mitigate the Arabs' apprehensions."[1] The report concluded that, "the fundamental cause of the violence and the subsequent acts of violence 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." .[6]

Highlights from the report include:

"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."
"A large part of the Moslem and Christian communities condoned it [the riots], although they did not encourage violence. While certain of the educated Arabs appear to have incited the mob, the notables on both sides, whatever their feelings may have been, aided the authorities to allay the trouble."
"The [Arab] police were, with few exceptions, half-trained and inefficient, in many cases indifferent, and in some cases leaders or participators in violence."
"The raids on five Jewish agricultural colonies arose from the excitement produced in the minds of the Arabs by reports of Arabs being killed by Jews in Jaffa. In two cases unfounded stories of provocation were believed and acted upon without any effort being made to verify them."

That motif would be repeated in the 1929 Hebron massacre:

"In these raids there were few Jewish and many Arab casualties, chiefly on account of the intervention of the military."


In a speech in June 1921, Samuel stressing Britain's commitment to the second part of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, declared that Jewish immigration would be allowed only to the extent that it did not burden the economy. In line with this interpretation, Jewish immigration was suspended. Those who heard the speech had the impression that he was trying to appease the Arabs at the Jews' expense, and some Jewish leaders boycotted him for a time.[1]

Britain's policy regarding its League of Nations Mandate to Palestine changed to "fixing by the numbers and interests of the present population" the future Jewish immigration. Thus a popular contemporary criticism was that Samuel had revised the Balfour Declaration and Mandate from establishing the Jewish National Home into creating an Arab National Home.

New bloody riots broke out in Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem on November 2, 1921, when five Jewish residents and three of their Arab attackers were killed, which led to calls for the resignation of the city's commissioner, Sir Ronald Storrs.[1]

See also




  • ISBN 0-7475-7366-2 City of Oranges: Arabs and Jews in Jaffa, Adam LeBor
  • ISBN 1-56663-189-0 Weathered by Miracles: A history of Palestine from Bonaparte and Muhammad Ali to Ben-Gurion and the mufti, Thomas A. Idinopulos)

Template:Arab-Israeli Conflict

ar:اضطرابات يافا es:Disturbios de Jaffa de 1921 fr:Émeutes de 1921 en Palestine mandataire id:Kerusuhan Jaffa it:Moti di Giaffa he:מאורעות תרפ"א no:Jaffa-opptøyene yi:תרפ"א ראיאטן

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