The Nebi Musa Riots

Fringe History

Zvi Besser
The JTown Times

Nebi Musa riots, Credit: Commons

After a two-week hiatus due to my reserve duty and then followed by my catching COVID-19, we are finally back with a new edition to Fringe History!

Today’s column will be a somber one that fits the current atmosphere in Israel – today we speak about the Nebi Musa Riots.

This day in the year 1920 saw another violent week in Jerusalem, only a month after the Battle at Tel-Hai, disaster strikes again.

April 4, 1920 – It’s the second day of Passover, while simultaneously Muslims are celebrating Nebi Musa, a pilgrimage to the supposed grave of Moses (Musa) according to Muslims. Jews say he has no tomb. Two celebrations are occuring simultaneously.

Only this year the festivities would not pass in peace and quiet.

No one knows for certain what set off this deadly day, but there certainly were catalysts.

Muslim religious leaders delivered passionate speeches against Jews who were returning to Israel, stirring a frenzy in their worshippers. A frenzy so great that it caused them to run out and sack the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. The riots lasted from April 4th until the 7th, killing 5 Jews and 4 Arabs; while hundreds more (mainly Jews) were wounded.

The bloody week saw a huge setback in Arab, Jewish, and British relations. After the riots a sense of distrust and malice was felt by all sides.

The Arabs and the Jews distrusted the British for essentially abandoning Jerusalem to anarchy. The Arabs and the Jews, given the bloodshed, were set back once again.

At the time, the British Military Governor of Jerusalem was Ronald Storrs, and the following is what he wrote about that fateful week.

“Enough that for the time all the carefully built relations of mutual understanding between British, Arabs and Jews seemed to flare away in an agony of fear and hatred.

“Our dispositions might perhaps have been better (though they had been approved by higher authority), but I have often wondered whether those who criticized us in Europe and America could have had the faintest conception of the steep, narrow and winding alleys within the Old City of Jerusalem, the series of steps up or down which no horse or car can ever pass, the deadly dark corners beyond which a whole family can be murdered out of sight or sound of a police post not a hundred yards away.

“What did they know of the nerves of Jerusalem, where in times of anxiety the sudden clatter on the stones of an empty petrol tin will produce a panic?

“The Police were but partially trained and wholly without tradition. There was no British Gendarmerie: we had not one single British Constable.” (Storrs, Ronald, The Memoirs of Sir Ronald Storrs, 1937, p. 348).

The outcome of these riots left profound change on geopolitics of that time. The British had decided that there should be a civilian administration ruling British Mandate Palestine and not a military one, while also promising that they would not let British Mandate Palestine follow suit to a Jewish majority or be submissive to Arab rule.

The Jews in response formed the Haganah, which not only played a major rule in the liberation of our homeland, but is as well the predecessor to the I.D.F.

Today we remember those who needlessly lost their lives in the violence of Nebi Musa 1920, and still over 100 years later our countrymen are being gunned down in the street for the same reasons.

Cheers, good tidings, and keep your head on a swivel; may we see peaceful days soon.


Fringe History

The Great Israeli Commando

Zvi Besser
Jtown Times

Meir Har Zion (left) with Ariel Sharon. Credit: Wiki Commons

Today, Fringe History commemorates the life of Meir Har-Zion, one of Israel’s greatest commandos; who died March 14, 2014 from natural causes at 80 years old.

Har-Zion served in the elite Unit 101 under Ariel Sharon commanding its troops. His exploits on the battlefield earned him a deep respect from Moshe Dayan and Sharon, known to many as “The Bulldozer.” Sharon, who would later become prime minister, described him as “the elite of the elite” and Dayan called him “the finest of our commando soldiers, the best soldier to ever emerge in the IDF.”

But who was this man who I can only describe as a certifiable badass – a modern day Maccabi?

Meir Har-Zion fought for our country Israel in the 1950’s in multiple high-level operations like Operation Black Arrow or Operation Elkayam. He commanded soldiers through hell and high water, proving time and time again that our little country was not to be messed with.

In 1955 Har-Zion’s sister and her boyfriend were abducted, tortured, and killed by Bedouins from Wadi Al-Ghar.

This man of war responded by the only way he knew how. Along with comrades of his, veterans of battalion 890, he went to the Israeli-Jordanian armistice line.

Meir Har-Zion. Credit: Wiki Commons

Crossing into the Wadi, he and his men captured six Bedouin men. They interrogated and then killed 5 of them, leaving the sixth man to go back and tell the tale. I like to call that some Middle-East frontier justice.

It is important to note that the men killed likely did not commit the atrocity against his sister but they were members of the same tribe. This may seem to the modern day outsider in 2022 as criminal. But in understanding Jewish post-Holocaust and Bedouin culture/mentality, such a price can be understood. The frontier had its own rules. Har-Zion paid a price as well, albeit a lesser one.

Har-Zion was detained by the IDF for 20 days for his actions but was released and recommissioned to his unit. In the words of Ariel Sharon, a man feared by Arab enemies of the Jews, this was “the kind of ritual revenge the Bedouins understood perfectly.”

Meir Har-Zion served in active duty until sustaining an injury in his arm and throat, almost killing him. He was discharged in 1956 at the rank of captain, having received the Israeli Medal of Courage.

But this would not be the last that we see of this formidable warrior. Fast forward to 1967, the Six-Day War.

Meir Har-Zion (far left). Credit: Wiki Commons

Jerusalem. 1967.

Despite his injuries, which left him unable to use his arm, he joined the fight as a reservist. He linked up with the famous Tzanchanim, or Paratroopers, brigade and helped take the Old City of Jerusalem from the Jordanians.

In a remarkable feat he hunted down a Jordanian sniper across rooftops and killed him with grenades. He would later serve in the Yom Kippur War before finally retiring from combat to live on a farm and write about Israeli politics.

While people today may have varying opinions on Har-Zion and his varying actions, there is no doubt that he was a true Judean warrior. He left his heart in this land, spilling his own blood if it would bear fruit for the Jewish people. He was a truly a soldier’s soldier.

To Meir Har-Zion I say cheers, to you my readers, good tidings.

Meir Har-Zion (top left). Credit: Wiki Commons