Western Wall – Wailing Place of the Jews
The Western Wall is the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people. It is the last remnant of the Temple and Jews gather from around the world to pray here. It has been a place of struggle and of prayer as Jews from around the world draw close to God in prayer. It is the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, the one that was closest to the Holy of Holies when the Temple stood. There are six gates to the Temple Mount situated along the Western Wall all created by Moslems between the early Muslim period and the Ottoman period.
The Western Wall under British rule from 1917-1948 after their conquest of Jerusalem in 1917. Under British rule several attempts were made to purchase the Western Wall section only allowing Jewish prayers to continue without harm to prayers: none of these efforts were successful and opposed by Muslim authorities. In September 1928 disturbances arose when Jews were not allowed to place benches or to “sit” and pray at the Western Wall. So in 1928 when a “mechitza” (a partition) was placed at the wall it sparked a confrontation between the Arabs, Jews and Mandate authorities. However on September 24, 1928, the Day of Atonement, British police resorted to forcefully removing a screen used to separate men and women at prayer. Women tried to prevent the screen from taken down and were beaten by the police; while chairs were pulled out from under elderly worshippers. This made international news and various leaders called for a general strike and a large rally was held which fueled already angry crowd who then attacked the local police station where they thought sheltering of the British Officer involved.
Naturally, the Arabs were concerned that the Jews were trying to extend their rights at the wall ultimately intended to take possession of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The British government issued an announcement explaining that the incident was necessary but regretted it outcomes and blamed the Jewish worshippers at the wall. From this incident widespread an Arab campaign to protest against presumed Jewish intentions to take possession of the Al Aqsa Mosque and a “Society for the Protection of the Muslim Holy Places” was established. The Vaad Leumi in response declared no Jew wants to encroach upon the rights of Moslems and asked that Arab brethren also recognize the rights of Jews regarding the places in Palestine which are holy to them while demanding British administration appropriate the wall for the Jews. From October 1928 forward the Mufti Amin al-Husayni organized demonstrated exclusive claims to the Temple Mount and its surrounding areas: which included adjoining the Wall into a mosque and adding a minaret. appointed Islamic call to prayer and Sufi rites were to be held directly next to the Wall. Naturally, these acts were seen as provocation by the Jews who prayed at the Wall and with protest by the Jews the tensions increased.
In the summer of 1929, the Mufti ordered an opening be made at the southern end of the alleyway which straddled the Wall along with other construction projects in the vicinity restricting access to the Wall which resulted in Jewish protests to the indifferent British. August 14, 1929 after attacks on individual Jews praying at the Wall, 6,000 Jews demonstrated in Tel Aviv, shouting “The Wall is ours.” Followed by the next day, 300 youths raised the Zionist flag and sang the Zionist anthem at the Wall. The day after, on August 16, an organized mob of 2,000 Muslim Arabs descended on the Western Wall, injuring the bedel and burning prayer books, liturgical fixtures and notes of supplication. The rioting spread to the Jewish commercial area of town, and was followed a few days later by the Hebron massacre where 67 Jews were killed and Jewish homes and synagogues were ransacked This led to the re-organization and development of the Jewish paramilitary organization, the Haganah, which is now the Israel Defense Forces.
In response to the 1929 riots the British Government in 1930, appointed a commission “to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the Western Wall aka the Wailing Wall. The League of Nations approved the commission on condition that the members were not British. The Jews requested that the Commission take actions that would recognize The Jews requested that the Commission take the following actions: that Jews be given recognition to the immemorial claim that the Wailing Wall is a Holy Place for the Jews throughout the whole world; that Jews have access to the wall for devotions. Prayers and rituals without interference or interruption; that Jews be permitted to continue the Jewish services under the conditions of decency as a sacred custom that has been carried on for many centuries without infringement upon the religious rights of others; to decree any regulations necessary to devotions and prayers be entrusted to the Rabbinate; and, if approved by Commissioners, a plan to Mandatory Power to make necessary arrangements by which the properties now occupied by the Moghrabi Waqf might be vacated in trade for the Waqf authorities accepting certain new buildings to be erected upon some eligible site in Jerusalem, so that the charitable purpose may still be fulfilled.
The Commissioner David Yellin states,”Being judged before you today stands a nation that has been deprived of everything that is dear and sacred to it from its emergence in its own land – the graves of its patriarchs, the graves of its great kings, the graves of its holy prophets and, above all, the site of its glorious Temple. Everything has been taken from it and of all the witnesses to its sanctity, only one vestige remains – one side of a tiny portion of a wall, which, on one side, borders the place of its former Temple. In front of this bare stone wall, that nation stands under the open sky, in the heat of summer and in the rains of winter, and pours out its heart to its God in heaven.”
However, the Commission finally concluded that the wall, and the adjacent pavement and Moroccan Quarter, were solely owned by the Muslim waqf with Jews having the right to “free access to the Western Wall for the purpose of devotions at all times”, subject to some stipulations such as Jews were forbidden to blow the shofar (which was made illegal), Muslims were forbidden to disrupt Jewish devotions by driving animals or other means. Yet documented reports of harassment to Rabbi’s and worshippers continue throughout the 1930’s. At the conclusion of Yom Kimpur in the 1930’s young Jews continued to blow the shofar, though banned, each year. Their demonstration ended with their arrest and prosecution and they were either fined or imprisoned for 3 to 6 months.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the Old City and the Wall was occupied by Jordan. Provided in the Article VIII of the 1949 Armistice Agreement Israeli Jews had access to the Western Wall, however, for the next 19 years in spite of numerous requests by Israeli officials and Jewish groups to the United Nations as well as other international bodies the armistice agreement was never enforced. During this period neither Israeli Arabs nor Israeli Jews could visit their holy places in the Jordanian territories.
Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War is when the Western Wall comes under Israeli control. When the first paratroopers reached the stones of the Western Wall with emotions high there never has been or will ever be a moment like it. “Nobody staged that moment. nobody planned it in advance. Providence had directed the whole thing with the paratroopers weeping, loudly and in pain, over their comrades who had fallen along the way, the words of the Kaddish prayer heard by Western Wall’s stones after 19 years of silence, tears of mourning, shouts of joy, and the singing of “Hatikvah””. Forty-eight hours after capturing the wall, the military, without explicit government order, hastily proceeded to demolish the entire Moroccan Quarter which stood four meters from the Wall. This was a historical opportunity that will never return since we knew that the following Saturday, June 14, would be the Jewish festival of Shavuot and that many will want to come to pray: we knew it had to be completed by then. The western wall’s narrow easement use to accommodate a maximum of 12,000 per day but now was transformed into a plaza that could hold in excess of 400,000 as it is today.
Jews today can now worship and prayer as they have for generations, teaching the next generation the Word of God and keeping covenant with the God of Israel, He who dwells in His Holy Temple in Jerusalem.