British Rule of Safed 1918 to 1948

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British Rule of Tzfat
British Rule of Tzfat
צפת בתקופה הבריטי
Other Names:
British Rule, British Era, British Mandate, 1918-1948 History of Safed
History of Safed during the British Mandate era.

In 1918 the British captured Palestine from the Ottoman Turks. They planned to include Palestine as a colony of the British Empire. The British aimed to establish a foothold in the Middle East and advance their interests in the region, specifically vis-a-vis the oil fields of the area. The British Mandate for Palestine began at a time of rising nationalism, both among the Arabs and the Jews of Palestine. The British policy was to appease the Arabs and the Jews of Tzfat suffered. The Arab-Jewish town of Safed was a key player in the events of the era and the British were hard-pressed to keep order in the city.


[edit] Early Years

Following the fall of the Ottoman-Turkish Empire, the British assumed the role of Palestine’s government. The British Mandate for Palestine formalized British rule over Palestine and voiced the British government’s favorable view of the eventual establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

This was greeted with great excitement and anticipation by the Jews of Palestine, including Tzfat’s Jews. The city had suffered greatly under Turkish rule and the prospect of a benevolent government brought a sigh of relief. Even more importantly, many of Tzfat’s Jews were active in the Zionist movement and planned for the day when they would be able to establish an independent Jewish country.

[edit] Community

Along with the new Zionist movement, the community in Safed was split regarding other new innovations and institutions. The city did not have a central town council; rather communal decisions were made by rabbis. The older religious residents opposed attempts to introduce new educational systems. Baron Rothchild’s donations towards establishing a modern Hebrew public school were rebuffed by the establishment and when the school opened, the Ashkanazi families refused to enroll their children.

The new Zionist ideology made inroads into the traditional community in Tzfat. Many young people abandoned the Orthodoxy of their parents to follow a more “modern” path. Young singles and families also moved out of Tzfat to new agricultural settlements nearby including settlements of Rosh Pinna, Mishmar Hayarden, Metulla and Yesod HaMala.

[edit] Relations Between Jews and Arabs

The 1922 British census listed 3000 Jews and 5400 Arab Muslims as living in Tzfat (as well as 350 Arab Christians). Each community lived in its own quarter. These quarters were separated by a central market square where both Arabs and Jews shopped.

[edit] Pogrom

In August 1929 the Arabs of Tzfat, urged on by the Mufti of Jerusalem, crossed over the market square and attacked the Jews. The Arabs rampaged through the Jewish quarter for three days, unimpeded by the British. By the end of the riot, 18 Jews had been killed and dozens injured. Many Jewish homes had been burned. The attack occurred at the same time as the pogrom outbreak in Hebron in which 69 Jews were murdered. The British were chastised by world opinion and, in an attempt to prevent further violence, declared a no-mans-land in the former market square of Tzfat. The British built a staircase through the no-man’s land and guarded it from a watchtower above.

The British also offered safe passage to Jews who wanted to leave Tzfat but few survivors accepted this offer.

Some Jews left Tzfat after the pogrom but most lacked the funds and options to leave. A 1931 British census shows that in the nine years since the 1922 census the Arab population had increased by more than 1000 people but the numbers of Jewish residents remained the same.

More.jpg Read full Zissil article on the 1929 Arab Massacre in Safed

[edit] Self Defense

The Jews of Tzfat, however, did begin to arm themselves and prepare for the community’s defense. Representatives of both the Haganah and the Irgun, the two Jewish paramilitary organizations that were organizing Jewish self-defense throughout Palestine, stored weapons and trained young men and women in Safed. Weapons storage and manufacturing sites were set up in abandoned buildings and ruins, many of which had been destroyed in the earthquakes of the previous centuries.

[edit] Irgun and Haganah

The increased awareness of the need for self-defense came about at the same time as Jews throughout Palestine were struggling against the British pro-Arab stance. Despite continued attacks on civilians, the British refused to allow Jews to keep weapons. Their patrols were aimed at confiscating Jewish weapons and imprisoning Jewish defenders.

The two main self-defense groups were the Haganah and the Irgun. The Haganah was connected to the political wing of the “Histadrut” -- Labor Federation. The Haganah concentrated on preparing for the eventual war with the Arabs. The Irgun actively fought the British and attacked Arabs who they suspected of participating in violence against Jews. Tzfat residents were divided, with part of the population supporting the Haganah while the other part supported the Irgun.

[edit] Menachem Begin

The head of the Irgun, Menachem Begin, was a highly sought-after prize for whom the British searched relentlessly. He spent several months in Tzfat, hiding as Rabbi Israel Sassover in the Herzliya Hotel.

[edit] Oleh HaGardom

The British caught and executed twelve Irgun members. The men were hanged in the Acre jail but the British buried them in Tzfat so as to prevent their supporters from using the more easily-accessed Acre cemetery as a rallying point. Tzfat residents set aside a special area of the cemetery for the “Oleh HaGardom” -- Ascendants to the Gallows -- and supporters and fellow Irgun members, including Menachem Begin, continued to visit the cemetery throughout their lives. After the War of Independence Tzfat's main staircase was dedicated in their memory.

[edit] British Rule Comes to an End

After the Second World War ended Jewish efforts to secure independence increased. Both the Jews and the Arabs eyed Safed as an important military target and prepared for eventual battle. When the United Nations voted to end the British Mandate and allow the Jews to create their own nation, both sides began to prepare to liberate Tzfat, each for their own cause.

In 1946, shortly before the British left Tzfat, they estimated that the Jewish population of the city was 2,400 and the Muslim population was 9780, with an additional 430 Christian Arabs living in the Arab Quarter.

More.jpg Read full Zissil article on the Safed During the War of Independence

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