The British Mandate in Palestine was a time of significant change for the social character and demographic feel of Jerusalem. As it grew into a colonial capital and expanding cosmopolitan city, the city became home to a large number of non-elite Arab Palestinians, specifically the fellahin from the villages of the western corridor, who became central to Jerusalem’s social, political, and economic life. A great deal has been written about Jerusalem’s traditional families and their role in the development of the city as a national Palestinian capital, but not much is known about the contributions of Jerusalem’s Arab residents beyond those families. In seeking to rectify that lacuna, this article focuses on the important historical moment of the Buraq Revolt, demonstrating how the city’s evolution as a hub of mass resistance was driven by unprecedented demographic and social changes, resulting in the emergence of what may be called a “new Jerusalem.”
Appeals to the past are among the commonest of strategies in interpretations of the present. —Edward Said
JERUSALEM HAS ALWAYS BEEN at the center of Palestinian national rhetoric, both as an idea and as a symbol. Within the paradigms of nationalist mythology, historians of the late Ottoman period and the British Mandate era have typically focused on Jerusalem’s traditional elite families and their role in its development as a national capital. Beyond the handful of elite families and religious establishments associated with them, the political, social, and cultural life of Jerusalem’s Arab residents has largely been ignored, lending the city a historical image as a bastion of the status quo and of the establishment. While new literature on Jerusalem’s social history has partly rectified this skewed picture, the history of the city as a space for the more popular politics of change and resistance remains largely unexplored. This article seeks to redress that lacuna: it delves into social and political upheaval in and around Jerusalem during the Mandate period, highlighting the role of the “Jerusalem fellahin,” the British colonial regime’s term for the inhabitants of villages and localities adjoining the city. This study also examines some of the changes in political consciousness that precipitated action against the colonial and settler-colonial regimes to which Palestine was subjected.
This article focuses on a specific moment in modern Palestinian history, the Buraq Revolt, a week of riots and demonstrations in late August 1929 whose extreme and widespread violence left more than 240 people dead and resulted in the injury of several hundred others. As I will argue, the week of disturbances was emblematic of a new and different Jerusalem, one that reflected the changing nature of local Arab politics during the Mandate era. By tracing the evolution of Jerusalem through the 1920s and investigating how demographic and social changes directly contributed to triggering the outbreak of riots on that fateful Friday in August 1929, this study arrives at a more nuanced understanding of the nature of political participation in modern Palestinian history and its changing narratives. In doing so, it highlights those segments of the city’s population whose story was not recorded using traditional historical methods. Delving into a myriad of sources generated by the events of what I refer to as the “Buraq moment” in 1929, I have tried to reinsert these important actors into the drama that they helped to construct.1
Understanding the social context of the riots clearly complicates the traditional reading of the Buraq moment as the brainchild of the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, which it clearly was not, and as the beginning of a new stage of middle-class bourgeois politics, which it was only in part.2
The material offered up by this critical moment in Jerusalem’s evolution not only allows us a glimpse into the city as a lived political and social space but also affords us a more comprehensive view of what and who constituted a “Jerusalemite.”
The Buraq Revolt and Mandate Jerusalem
On 23 August 1929, a large crowd of Palestinian Arabs left the central compound of Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary,3 roiling with anger. Their frustration was the culmination of weeks of tension and sporadic violent episodes fomented by Zionists at the holy site.4 Expressing their growing frustration with colonial rule, the crowds gathered inside the compound spilled out onto the streets of the city: the riots immediately engulfed other neighborhoods of Jerusalem, spreading to Hebron the next day, and then to other cities and towns throughout Palestine inside of a week.
What historians would later refer to as the Buraq Revolt or Wailing Wall Riots broke out over control and access to one of Jerusalem’s most contested and holiest sites (al-Buraq for Muslims and the Wailing Wall for Jews) but the disturbances quickly grew, becoming a collective and cohesive expression of resistance to British colonial rule and its implicit endorsement of Zionist settler colonialism. This volatile and complicated episode was a watershed moment for both British Mandate rule in Palestine5 and local Palestinian Arab politics. Political tension had been growing among the Arab population of Palestine ever since the imposition of British rule in 1917 but the bloody events of late August 1929 signaled a watershed: in addition to sowing the organizational and rhetorical seeds of mass political mobilization, they contributed to the long-term vision and practice of resistance emblematic of subsequent historical periods, and marked a major turning point in the drift toward armed conflict in Palestine.
In that one week, more than 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed, and the ramifications were equally great for the government of Palestine’s entire spectrum of legal, political, and security policy in the ensuing years. While they broke out spontaneously, the riots were the product of dramatic social and economic changes and resulted in increasingly diverse forms of political participation by The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine 8 || Journal of Palestine Studies the local Arab population. The events were not isolated to the few gory days of August 1929, nor were they merely the result of contention over a holy site, as important as that contention may have been.
They were the product of deep-seated frustration and fear regarding the long-term effects of Zionist colonization in Palestine and the future intentions of the British Mandate authorities, reverberated throughout the country, and ushered in a new phase in the Mandate over Palestine. While their precipitating cause was a dramatic and deliberately provocative Zionist demonstration,6 which began at the wall and proceeded through the streets of Jerusalem, the immediate Palestinian reaction quickly evolved into a revolt that signaled a sea change in popular Palestinian politics. The British Mandate period was a time of tumultuous change in Palestine’s economic and political situation, as the British established direct colonial control in coordination with the Zionist settler enterprise that they supported.
The new power structure greatly affected the social character and demographic feel of Jerusalem, which became home to a growing number of non-elite Arab Palestinians. As the city expanded into a colonial cosmopolitan capital, the fellahin from the villages located in Jerusalem’s western corridor—in particular, Lifta, ‘Ayn Karem, al-Malha, and Deir Yassin—were effectively folded into the population of Jerusalem and became central to its social, political, and economic fabric.
By 1929, a little over the end of the first full decade of British rule, Jerusalem had all but absorbed these surrounding localities and the newly incorporated communities not only contributed to the evolution of social relations but also fundamentally changed the politics of the growing metropolis.7
The urbanization of Jerusalem was well under way during the Mandate period following the demise of Ottoman rule.8 The city witnessed a dramatic increase in population as a result of the following factors: the influx of fellahin from the surrounding villages; the arrival of large numbers of Jewish immigrants; improved living conditions that led to lower mortality rates; and Jerusalem’s new function as a colonial capital that attracted bureaucratic and commercial enterprises.9 Population figures point to a distinct Jewish majority in the city, although this must be qualified by the following proviso: by the time of the 1922 census, and certainly by that of 1931, the British had gerrymandered municipal boundaries sufficiently to include every Jewish population concentration (in particular the Zionist settler colonies in the west) and exclude its Arab equivalent (the villages on the periphery) thus giving Jerusalem a distinct—but constructed— Jewish majority.
The villagers/fellahin from such localities as Lifta, Shaykh Badr, al-Tur, Silwan, ‘Ayn Karem, Deir Yassin, Shu‘fat, and al-Malha were considered part of metropolitan Jerusalem’s daytime population but excluded from the overall census count. Conversely, the residents of the new Zionist colonies of Montefiore, Bayit Ha-Karem, Bayit Vegan, Givat Sha’ul, Mekor Haim, Talpiot, and Ramat Rachel were included in the city’s population count, on the basis of official birth registrations.10 Some scholars have argued that if these increasingly suburbanized Arab villages of the periphery had been included in the demographic count of metropolitan Jerusalem, then there would emerge a near parity in numbers between the Jewish and Arab populations of the city.11
The daytime population category also included a large number of new, semipermanent, Arab residents hailing from Hebron. While the British also excluded them from the census figures, these part-time residents had a profound impact on the political and social life of Arab Jerusalem in the 1920s. The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine Autumn 2016 || 9 The Villages of the Western Corridor and the Construction of the Jerusalem Fellah By the end of the first decade of British rule, Jerusalem had expanded enormously, accommodating the new bureaucratic apparatus of the colonial capital, including an expanding middle class of Arab professionals, merchants, and civil servants.12
It was not only a city that housed the acquiescent politics of traditional notable elites; it was also a social and economic center that connected a vast network of surrounding villages and towns and offered educational and market opportunities to a growing number of non-Jerusalemite Arabs from surrounding localities (see fig. 1). The villages and neighborhoods on the western side enjoyed a unique situation within the diverse cosmopolitan city as they found themselves in the path of Zionist colonial expansion, with new Zionist colonies Figure 1. Mandate Jerusalem and its environs. The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine 10 || Journal of Palestine Studies scattered throughout their communities. In addition, the western corridor connected Jerusalem directly with important coastal cities and towns such as Haifa, Jaffa, and Acre, making it critically important in the geostrategic thinking of both the colonial authorities and the Zionist movement.13
By the end of the first decade of Mandate rule, Jerusalem had been transformed and nowhere was the transformation more evident than in the localities of the western corridor. As Salim Tamari has explained, when Jerusalem was made the capital of the country, it attracted and combined a vast array of non-elite populations,14 and its relationship with the villages of what the British administration designated as the city’s subdistrict was transformed.15 Those most affected by this transformation included the villages located inside “the inner rim” of the municipal boundaries and villages in “close proximity” to the city center (five to ten kilometers).16 The villages directly to the west of the city center witnessed some of the greatest changes, because of their strategic location close to the main Jerusalem–Jaffa road and to the expanding Zionist colonies in their immediate vicinity.
Although western Jerusalem was home to the largest portion of the subdistrict’s Jewish population, Arab land ownership and population there were also significant.17 The entire subdistrict of Jerusalem stretched over an area of 1.57 million dunams— 88.4 percent Arab-owned, 2.1 percent Jewish-owned, and 9.5 percent that was classified as public lands.18 In the western sector, 231,446 dunams belonged to Arab villages, 6,897 dunams were Jewish-owned, and 14,629 were public lands.19
This western sector was home to two of the largest Arab villages in the entire subdistrict, namely ‘Ayn Karem and Lifta.20 Located on fertile land, the western villages had historically enjoyed good agricultural returns. Rich soil and a high rainfall differentiated the villages to the west and south of Jerusalem from those on the eastern slopes of the city, where the soil was poorer and semi-arid conditions prevailed. The construction boom that came with British rule further improved economic conditions in these localities, which were already significantly better off than other villages in the subdistrict. Lifta, in particular, represents a prime example of the transformations of the period. By the end of the first full decade of British rule, it had become a vital hub for the growing construction industry.
In addition to its active and lucrative quarry, Upper Lifta’s myriad building projects expanded the village to the extent that it became contiguous with the growing Arab-Jewish suburb of Romema.21 Stretching over a vast area in the western sector of Jerusalem, Lifta enjoyed the benefits of being a prime real estate location in the midst of a serious construction boom.22 An improved transport network further connected inner rim villages to the close proximity ones, both to each other and to the city center. And the four largest in the western corridor—Lifta, ‘Ayn Karem, Deir Yassin, and al-Malha—gradually established relations with the Jewish and mixed neighborhoods that dotted the region, leading to growing economic ties between Deir Yassin and the Zionist colony of Giv’at Shaul, for example.23
This village also benefited from the surrounding construction boom, establishing a stone quarry in 1927 and contributing to the growing ranks of laborers employed by the British administration and the emerging construction industry.24 Although all of the area villages had dealings with local Jewish communities, Lifta was probably the only one that was physically intertwined with the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, particularly Upper Lifta (which was contiguous with Romema, as mentioned earlier).25 As a result, the people of Lifta had substantial contact with the Zionist colonies and Jewish neighborhoods of Giv’at Shaul, The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine Autumn 2016 || 11 Mahne Yehuda, and Mea Sha’rim.26
Thus, while the end of Mandate rule wrought devastation for the vast majority of western Jerusalem’s Arab residents, the early and middle Mandate periods fostered an environment that extended the contemporary definition of a Jerusalemite to include these traditionally non-elite fellahin whose economic and social contributions were integral to the city’s growth and prosperity.27 In spite of this integration, or more likely because of it, the residents of the western villages were central to the disturbances that rocked Jerusalem in August 1929, even though current historiography offers little detailed analysis of their role owing to a dearth of reliable sources. Given the circumstances of their expulsion during the Nakba, most Palestinians left their homes with little or no material that could historically reconstruct their former lives.28 Reliance on British accounts, albeit partial, has its own problems, of course, since narrating the story of a community through the voice of its colonizers is not the preferred method.
But in light of the circumstances, and given the critical role of this population in the revolt, it would leave incomplete the story of this pivotal period to ignore these accounts. The New Political Jerusalemite: The Western Corridor Rumbles in Protest The Jerusalem riots and the outbreak of the Buraq Revolt were the logical culmination of the transformational processes described above. As the boundaries between village and city gradually eroded, the isolation characteristic of village life also receded, allowing for the flourishing of new social, economic, and political relationships.
In the path of some of the most concentrated areas of Zionist settlement, the Palestinian villages in the western corridor found themselves on the front lines, so to speak, at first witnessing settler colonialism, and subsequently resisting it. For their part, the British authorities were well aware of the profound changes under way and realized that these communities posed an impending challenge to their control of the city. Although the forces of the Palestine Police monitored Arab activities throughout Jerusalem during the protests and subsequent riots, their focus centered mostly on villages within the western corridor. A careful reading of British documents produced during the revolt—police reports, personal accounts, and testimony before the Shaw Commission of inquiry into the causes of the riots—uncovers the new dynamic that was under way in Jerusalem.
Friday prayers at Haram al-Sharif, as well as a lively market for food and other goods, attracted large numbers of people from the surrounding towns and villages to the traditional social and economic center of Jerusalem. According to police reports, the situation throughout the evening of 23 August had grown more dangerous as “large bodies of fellahin moved [on Jerusalem].” 29 In his testimony to the Shaw Commission, the official British inquiry into the causes of the Buraq Revolt, Acting Commandant of Police Major Alan Saunders spoke at great length about the trouble he expected whenever crowds of fellahin gathered in a single place, emphasizing that the “nature” of the Palestinian fellah added an element of tension to the situation in the city. Saunders told the commission that very few Jerusalem Arabs—by which he meant the city’s traditional urban elites—carried weapons and that those who caused trouble were mainly mobs “composed of the fellahin and the typical riff-raff of the city.” 30
He further contended that the threat of The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine 12 || Journal of Palestine Studies disturbances in Jerusalem from the actions of the fellahin and of the bedouin population resulted from their points of access to the city. His police force had secured the Old City, he explained, thus muting the level of violence within its walls, but the rapid spread of the disturbances to the new city was due to the outside nature of people motivating the riots, namely the fellahin who came in from surrounding villages and who by this time had become an uncontested extension of the city’s social and political fabric.31
Sir Boyd Merriman, the chief counsel for the Zionist Executive appointed to appear before the commission, asked Saunders numerous questions, specifically about the people of Lifta. In doing so, he urged Saunders to characterize in his words their nature and to describe prior police experience of this particular village. In the succeeding two days of testimony, a slow and purposeful demonization of “the Palestinian fellah” emerged, wherein the people of Lifta were collectively labeled as criminals who acted on their base tendencies—part of broader British as well as Zionist efforts to construct events as the work of inherently criminal elements and to deny the political causes of the riots.
During the ensuing criminal trials of the “insurgents,” in the winter and spring of 1930, this demonization took on its full expression.32 Identifying and naming individuals after a particular village, as a “Liftawi,” for example, without any specific personal details, further dehumanized the vague category of fellah. In the British police’s colonial lexicon, this term referred less to a person’s identity as a peasant, or their relationship to the land, than it did to an indistinguishable group of people deemed incapable of sophisticated political participation and therefore naturally prone to so-called criminal behavior.
Thus, for example, in the week preceding the riots, an individual from Lifta had been involved in a violent incident that resulted in the death of a man from one of Jerusalem’s Jewish colonies. While specific details remain unclear, there was an altercation between a Jewish settler who repeatedly trespassed on the land of a Palestinian Arab from Lifta and the property owner in question.33 For the British police, the incident was further evidence of the villagers’ questionable nature (and by extension serves as further evidence of the derogatory British view of Palestine’s fellahin). But the manner in which the story has been remembered and even memorialized among Palestinians from the area reinforces their own general view of Jerusalem’s fellahin as steadfast in resisting the colonization of their land, and thus a Palestinian national narrative has emerged that privileges the place of the fellahin over that of the traditional elites. The police focused on the people of these villages precisely because they were the core participants in the violence that engulfed Jerusalem.
In addition to describing Lifta as “a place of not very good repute . . . from a Police point of view,” the testimony of various members of the police force also pointed to village natives as major contributors to the events taking place. In the week preceding the outbreak of the Jerusalem riots, the police had sent several officers to Lifta to monitor activities there. In fact, Jerusalem Area Police Officer Aubrey Oswald Less traveled to Lifta a number of times and recalled a growing sense of frustration among the local population.34 On 18 August, Less had gone to the village clubhouse where a meeting of the Young Men’s Muslim Association was taking place, and he heard local men complain about their brutal treatment at the hands of both Jews and police officers in Jerusalem.
When Less returned to the same clubhouse four days later, he noted the residents’ growing rage: “If the Government does not protect us, we shall have to protect The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine Autumn 2016 || 13 ourselves,” he quoted them as saying.35 In hindsight, these sentiments were an ominous warning of what was to come. On the morning of Friday 23 August, Corporal William Charles Black, a Palestine Police Force officer stationed in Jerusalem during the riots, noted in his diary that he had witnessed a group of six hundred to seven hundred Jews being attacked by a group of about one hundred Arabs from Lifta near Jerusalem’s Mahneh Yehuda neighborhood.36
In an attempt to protect the Jews, Black was patrolling the area accompanied by Constable Youthed, and the two came under heavy pistol and rifle fire from Arab attackers located on a rocky patch of land protected by stone walls south of Jaffa Road. Black wrote in his diary entry that he quickly sent for reinforcements from police headquarters and approached a large house that he identified as the source of the fire. Noting that they had at least two rifles and half a dozen or more automatic pistols, he wrote, “The Arabs continued to fire on the Jews but not at me, and a tall well-built Arab who speaks excellent English and whom I believe to be the Mukhtar of Lifta came out and spoke to me . . . the firing ceased and I asked him why he was attacking the Jews and breaking the peace, he told me that he was defending his home and his people.” 37
Calling this “nonsense” (Black’s words), the corporal told the presumed mukhtar that if he could rein in his people, the Jews would be quiet. Black then notes that “the Arabs” resumed firing as soon as he turned his back, advancing further toward where the Jews were hiding, at which point he opened fire and killed at least one man. Soon afterward, reinforcements arrived and were charged with continuously patrolling the Zionist colonies in the area. Protecting these Zionist colonies proved to be a formidable task for the limited British police force, especially on 24 and 25 August, after which additional troops were sent out to secure the Jewish enclaves.
The British held the natives of the local villages, particularly Lifta, responsible for the series of attacks on the colonies as well as for “the trouble” in the center of Jerusalem. Lifta, “as bad a village as there was around Jerusalem,” was blamed for the severest violence witnessed during the riots. In the early afternoon of 23 August, another officer of the Palestine Police Force, Sergeant Alan Sigrist, reported that a group of “400 strong Muslim fellahin . . . shouting and waving swords and knives” tried to break through the police barricade right outside Jaffa Gate in central Jerusalem.38
Sigrist describes how Major James Munro allowed sixty to seventy of them to pass through the police cordon and go up Jaffa Road toward Lifta and says that he was ordered by Munro to follow the Arabs as they proceeded along the main thoroughfare. (In his own testimony to the Shaw Commission, Munro explained that the men were led by a very tall, well-built and well-dressed Arab, a description that was congruent with Corporal Black’s depiction of the mukhtar of Lifta, but since neither man recorded the name of the person in question, his identification remains uncertain). As they proceeded peacefully along Jaffa Road, the men encountered a group of Jews who taunted them verbally, at which point, Sigrist continues, “They fell on the Jews and at the same time with my police I attacked the Arabs and after liberal use of our batons we drove them off.” 39
Sigrist then describes how the police rounded up these “disruptive Arabs of Lifta” and took them to the Russian Compound (the central police station and jail on Jaffa Road). The police paid a number of visits to the village following reports from the surrounding Zionist colonies that Arabs from Lifta were firing on them. In his testimony to the Shaw Commission, Major The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine 14 || Journal of Palestine Studies Munro explained that the police had deployed seven basic patrols (patrol cars with Model-T Ford military tenders) throughout Jerusalem following Friday noon prayers on 23 August, and that he had headed one of these as it followed a group of men from Lifta through the city streets, going on to the village in the early evening to investigate their alleged attacks on Jewish colonies. For his part, Boyd Merriman (chief counsel of the Zionist Executive) claimed that at least four of the people from Lifta had been armed, and that they had displayed their weapons in the demonstration outside Jaffa Gate as well as in the confrontation with the Jewish colonists on their way back to the village.40 Merriman contended to the commission that “trouble-makers” from Lifta were one of the major factors in the spread of violence, initially to the surrounding Zionist colonies, and then to other Palestinian towns and cities.41
These “trouble-makers,” first the fellahin and later the residents of Hebron, whom the British often conflated with one another, were behind the riots. It is noteworthy that all these accounts belie repeated historical claims that the fellahin/rioters were controlled by or acting at the behest of the Mufti of Jerusalem. Rather, given his cooperation with the police, the Mufti was an element of the British security apparatus and not the force behind the riots and the subsequent revolt. From Riots to a National Revolt: Jerusalem Reverberates Within twenty-four hours of the riots breaking out, the Palestine Police were stretched to the limit. In spite of constant patrolling, they were outmaneuvered by the local Arab population who clearly benefited from their intimate knowledge of the landscape.42
In Qalandia (on the eastern side of Jerusalem where the British maintained a small air base), protesting Arabs advanced on the colony of Atarot from the direction of Ramallah. Meanwhile, at the other end of the city’s outskirts, police patrols were kept busy around the colony of Talpiot and by a series of attacks on Mekor Haim where the residents’ consistent complaints brought out the Officer Commanding, Royal Air Force, and Acting Commandant of Police Major Saunders on a reconnaissance mission. Although the officers were not able to intercept an attack, reports of houses being set on fire reached the Russian Compound before their return there. They decided to bring two more armored cars into the arena from Jaffa to assist the overwhelmed police patrols around the colony of Hartuv (built on the land of the Arab village of Artuf). By dawn on 24 August, the spark of the revolt had been lit. The police reported that the tension had significantly appreciated as the “trouble radiated outward and the circumference of the disturbed area increased.” 43
News of the events in and around Jerusalem had spread beyond the city, and the police were helping the inhabitants of the Jewish colonies to evacuate and also awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from Egypt. In an attempt to dislodge large groups of Arabs assembling all along the Jerusalem–Hebron road all through Friday evening and into Saturday afternoon, the British resorted to low-flying sorties of Royal Air Force fighter planes. While the spark of the revolt was lit by the events in and around Jerusalem, the violence quickly spread to other towns and cities, effectively culminating in a national revolt throughout the country.
Using the Jerusalem riots, which sparked the Buraq Revolt, as a prism through which to examine larger cultural and political change enables modern historiography to challenge traditional readings The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine Autumn 2016 || 15 of Jerusalem as a symbol and space of elitist power. Significant elements among the traditional urban leadership neither foresaw nor supported the violent uprising: it was Jerusalem’s non-elite residents who were at the center of an episode that would fundamentally change the relationship between Palestinian Arabs and their British occupiers and contribute to the evolution of Palestinian resistance to colonial domination. About the Author Rana Barakat is assistant professor of history and contemporary Arab studies at Birzeit University in Palestine. Her research interests include the history and historiography of colonialism, nationalism and the culture of resistance.
She is the author of a forthcoming book on the Buraq Revolt and the construction of a history of resistance in Palestine.
1 For further explanation of the moment see Rana Barakat, “Thawrat al-Buraq in British Mandate Palestine: Jerusalem, Mass Mobilization and Colonial Politics, 1928–1930” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2007).
2 For a critical analysis of the Mufti’s political role, see Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006). 3
The complex of Muslim places of worship that makes Jerusalem Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina.
4 Khalidi, The Iron Cage, pp. 72–75.
5 Mandate Palestine here refers to the era of formal British rule, both military and civil, in Palestine that began in 1917 and ended with the handover of the Mandate to the United Nations in May 1948.
6 Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate (New York: Henry Holt, 2000), pp. 295–313.
7 Reinforcing the new demographic and political significance of the “Jerusalem fellah,” the growing colonial capital also welcomed what could be described as “Hebron Jerusalemites.” That is, throughout the 1920s, Palestinian Arabs from Hebron (al-Khalil) and its surrounding villages migrated to Jerusalem, either relocating or establishing a second residence there.
8 Justin McCarthy, The Population of Palestine: Population History and Statistics of the Late Ottoman Period and the Mandate (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), p. 67, table A3–5; p. 68, table A3–7.
9 Michael Dumper, The Politics of Jerusalem since 1967 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), pp. 60–61.
10 Dumper, The Politics of Jerusalem, p. 62.
11 Michael Hudson, “The Transformation of Jerusalem, 1917–1987,” in Jerusalem in History, ed. K. J. Asali (Northampton, MA: Interlink, 2007), p. 258. Hudson argues that including the population of the peripheral villages would create a far different picture of Mandate Jerusalem. Walid Khalidi has estimated that 1948 population figures for these villages are as follows: Lifta (2,550); al-Malha (1,940); Deir Yassin (610); ‘Ayn Karem (3,180). Walid Khalidi, ed., All that Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992), pp. 678–79.
12 For an in-depth analysis of the diversity of late Ottoman and Mandate-era Jerusalem, see Salim Tamari, ed., Jerusalem 1948: The Arab Neighbourhoods and Their Fate in the War (Jerusalem: Institute of Jerusalem Studies & Badil Research Center, 1999).
13 For a complete analysis of the fate of these villages, see Tamari, Jerusalem 1948. In the introduction, Tamari explains how the villages were attacked and destroyed by Zionist forces throughout the The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine 16 || Journal of Palestine Studies winter of 1947 and spring of 1948 to achieve a near complete transfer of their Arab populations. Most of them were subsequently occupied and resettled by Jewish immigrants who came to Israel after the 1948 war.
14 By the end of the Mandate period, Jerusalem was the second-largest city in Palestine (99,320 Jews and 65,010 Christians and Muslims). See Rochelle Davis, “The Growth of the Western Communities, 1917–1948,” in Tamari, Jerusalem 1948, pp. 51–52.
15 Salim Tamari, “The City and Its Hinterland,” in Jerusalem 1948, pp. 74–89.
16 Aziz Dweik, “A Topology of Jerusalem Villages and Their Functions” [in Arabic], Shu’un tanmawiyya 5, no. 2/3 (Winter 1996): pp. 134–36, cited in Tamari, “The City and Its Hinterland,” p. 77. The villages of the inner rim included Issawiyya, al-Tur, Abu Dis, Silwan, and Sur al-Bahir; while the villages categorized as in “close proximity” included Lifta, al-Malha, Qalunya, Qastal, Deir Yassin, Bayt Safafa, al-Walaja, Jura, and ‘Ayn Karem.
17 The term “western Jerusalem” is used in a strictly geographic sense here. The division of Jerusalem into “West” and “East,” West Jerusalem being the Jewish city and East Jerusalem the Arab one, was a consequence of the 1947–48 war and the establishment of the Israeli state and Jordanian control of East Jerusalem.
18 Khalidi, All That Remains, pp. 266–323.
19 Khalidi, All That Remains, pp. 266–323.
20 The populations of these villages, as well as the vast majority of the Arabs in the western sector, were driven from their lands in winter and spring of 1947–48. (See Khalidi, All That Remains, pp. 266–323; as well as Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 49–60; and Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007), pp. 66–68.
21 Sherif Kana’ana and Lubna Abdul Hadi, Lifta, Destroyed Village Series, monograph no. 12 (Birzeit: Birzeit University Publications, 1991). The boundaries of the village were delineated by Sur al-Bahir and Bayt Safafa to the southeast, al-Tur to the east, Bayt Hanina and Shu‘fat in the northeast, and ‘Ayn Karem and al-Malha to the south/southwest.
22 Families living or owning land in Upper Lifta (as opposed to older structures in Lower Lifta) benefited from the construction boom and the village grew into a main suburb (and virtual extension) of Jerusalem proper. Kana’ana and Abdul Hadi, Lifta, 1991.
23 Sherif Kana’ana and Nihad Zeitawi, Deir Yassin, Destroyed Village Series, monograph no. 4, 2nd ed. (Birzeit: Birzeit University Publications, 1991).
24 This phenomenon gave rise to constant grievances by local Arab laborers over the differential wage rates they received as compared to their local Jewish counterparts (who often received nearly double the regular Arab wages). For more on this see Henry Rosenfeld and Shulamit Carmi, “The Origins of the Process of Proletarianization and Urbanization of Arab Peasants in Palestine,” in Studies of Israeli Society, vol. 1, Migration, Ethnicity, and Community, ed. Ernest Krausz (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1980).
25 Tamari, “The City and Its Hinterland,” in Jerusalem 1948, p. 79. Although the Arab residents of Lifta were driven from their homes in 1948, many of the structures in Upper Lifta remain standing and have been integrated into the expanded suburb of Romema. See Kana’ana and Abdul Hadi, Lifta, p. 29.
26 Lifta was located five kilometers west of Jerusalem. According to Khalidi, Lifta’s population was 2,250 and land ownership was recorded as follows (in dunams): Arab, 7,780; Jewish, 756; public, 207. (All that Remains, pp. 678–79.) Many natives of Lifta also lived in other neighborhoods outside the village proper where they had either bought land or houses or rented property. For example, the village mukhtar (Muhammad al-‘Isa Ihmaydan) owned an impressive manorial residence in the neighboring mixed Arab-Jewish town of Romema while maintaining another home in Lifta. This structure remains standing (it was confiscated after the tumultuous expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from this area in 1947–48) in what is now the heart of West Jerusalem. (Morris has shown The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine Autumn 2016 || 17 that the Haganah, the Irgun, and the Stern Gang repeatedly raided the suburbs of Romema and Lifta during December 1947 and January 1948. According to Morris, “These raids, as was their intention, caused the evacuation of the Arabs of Lifta and Romema.” The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, pp. 49–51.) Although the three-story house has been converted into offices and residential flats, a plaque with the words “Mukhtar of Lifta” remains prominently displayed on the exterior of the structure.
27 In the later stages of 1947 and throughout 1948, Zionist forces conducted thirteen operations for the capture of Jerusalem. As Khalidi has explained, the main objective of the proto-Jewish state was to clear the Jerusalem–Jaffa road for the free movement of Zionist forces from Jerusalem to the heart of the coastal populations; and to empty the area of the western sector of Jerusalem of its Arab Palestinian population to create an exclusively Jewish demographic reality in this gravely important region. See Walid Khalidi, “Plan Dalet,” in From Haven to Conquest, ed. Walid Khalidi (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987). The text was also reissued as “Special Feature: Plan Dalet Revisited,” in the Journal of Palestine Studies 18, no. 1 (Autumn 1988): pp. 3–51. With the exception of parts of Abu Ghosh and half of Bayt Safafa (split nearly in half in 1949 by the Green Line that divided East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem), the Arab Palestinians throughout the western corridor fled or were expelled as a result of war.
28 Personal accounts, although extremely important, mainly concern the devastating experiences people suffered in 1948. It should be noted that in addition to all that was lost in 1948, for Arab Palestinians this important history of the dynamic changes in the Mandate period was also exposed to attempted erasure by their expulsion.
29 Great Britain, Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August 1929, Minutes of Evidence (London: Colonial Office Publications, 1930), p. 23.
30 Great Britain, Minutes of Evidence, p. 23.
31 The reports reflect the attention paid to finding and disarming fellahin throughout the day— including carrying out searches in Silwan and preventing Arab attacks on Jews in Bayt Safafa. Among the most widely reported attacks were those on various Zionist colonies immediately surrounding Jerusalem; the reports reflect attacks by mobs of armed Arab fellahin from nearby villages. The National Archives (TNA): AIR 20/5996/ff 3−20.
32 For more on the colonial criminalization of this kind of subaltern resistance, see Rana Barakat, “Criminals or Martyrs? Let the Courts Decide! British Colonial Legacy in Palestine and the Criminalization of Resistance” [in Arabic], Omran, the quarterly journal of the Arab Center for Research and Political Studies, no. 6 (Autumn 2013): pp. 55–72. Available in English at Publications, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 9 March 2014, http://english.dohainstitute.org/ release/e3c59e5b-e961-431d-bde2-9a51293167dd.
33 Although British police and administrative records are not clear on the specifics (colonial sources often ignored the more personal and fine-grained details), it is widely known among Lifta’s former inhabitants and their descendants. The story concerns one of the town’s wealthy landowners (several of whom owned land throughout the Jerusalem area and not just in their own village) who grew so annoyed with a particular Jewish immigrant trespassing on his property that he took matters into his own hands. I heard various versions of the story from several individuals with roots in Lifta and now living in the Jerusalem-Ramallah area and in Amman, Jordan. This version of the incident is the most detailed that was recounted to me, and was obtained from interviews conducted in Jerusalem in November 2005 and October 2008 with Khawlah Abu Ta’a, the granddaughter of the landowner in question. Known as Abu Siam, ‘Abd al-Rahman Siam died in Jordan in 1964, and no one I spoke to had been present during the incident or knew anyone who had been present or had firsthand knowledge of it. The story is remembered as an episode from a time when power was not the exclusive prerogative of non-Arabs and is laced with the everpresent undertones of yearning for life (or imagined versions thereof) before the Nakba. In some sense then, Abu Siam represents the longing of these refugees, and the story must therefore be understood as an evocation and memorialization of the past, rather than as a precise rendition of it. The Jerusalem Fellah: Popular Politics in Mandate-Era Palestine 18 || Journal of Palestine Studies
34 Corporal Black’s testimony, in Great Britain, Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August 1929, Minutes of Evidence, pp. 388–91.
35 Black’s testimony, Minutes of Evidence, p. 390.
36 Exhibit Number 7G, p. 4 (read in Minutes of Evidence, pp. 31–32).
37 Exhibit Number 7G, p. 4 (read in Minutes of Evidence, pp. 31–32).
38 Sigrist’s report, Exhibit Number 7G, quoted and read in the midst of testimony, Minutes of Evidence, pp. 31–32.
39 From the testimony of Major Munro, Minutes of Evidence, pp. 78–79; also Sigrist’s report, Minutes of Evidence, p. 31. In his report, Sigrist was not clear about how many Arabs he and his men killed. Arab victims were rarely recorded by name.
40 Munro, Minutes of Evidence, pp. 78–80.
41 Munro, Minutes of Evidence, pp. 78–80. 42 TNA: AIR 20/5996//ff 23–24. 43 TNA: AIR 20/5996//ff 23–24