My Mother’s Family — Part 17

Early in 1920 my grandfather and grandmother endured another terrible loss. Their youngest son, Yosaleh, who played one day in the yard close to the fence got his knee wounded by a piece of broken glass. It seems that a tiny part of the glass penetrated the knee but the wound was small, was not painful and the boy did not complain. A few weeks later the wound became very painful and the child developed a temperature which kept growing higher.  Doctor Abushdid and Doctor Shami did not discover the reason for this illness, neither could other doctors which grandfather who got very anxious summoned. The situation became worse and Doctor Abushdid said that there might be pus within the knee and he therefore suggested an operation which was carried out at the clinic of Doctor Pohovsky by Doctor Pohovsky himself and in the presence of Doctor Abushdid and Doctor Belkind. The operation did not find pus in the knee. The change of dressings after the operation caused the child more pain than the pain from the illness which was getting worse. Grandfather sat near the child day and night and read stories to him so as to alleviate his pain. Finally grandfather called a Concilium of 6 doctors who decided that the problem must be within the knee-bone itself. They operated again and broke open the knee-bone but found nothing. The pain was getting worse and while Dr. Abushdid stated that the child was in mortal danger Dr. Pohovsky said that they could take him home and treat him there and so they did. After a short improvement the illness became much worse and on February 14,1920, after a month of agony, the child died. The sorrow of my grandfather at the death of his daughter Leah was nothing compared with his sorrow at the death of his youngest son. This handsome and good boy was very much like his father, and my grandfather considered him as his true spiritual heir. He was a disciplined and excellent pupil at school (he was at Gymnasia Haivrit “Herzliah”) and was loved by all his teachers and friends. My grandfather was never consoled of his death and never returned to be the same man which he was before. His energy dimmed and his strong will to always act for the good of the public and community left him. At 60 my grandfather crossed the peak of his life and although he remained a tall and erect man, with a magnificent appearance and an iron hand – sorrow creeped into his grey eyes and the spark of life which used to sparkle in them until then vanished and disappeared.

The family decided that grandfather had to travel abroad in order to rest and strengthen after the disasters and troubles which he endured during the last five years. They decided that he should go to Switzerland for there was no better place than Switzerland to rest your soul and heal your body. A journey of this kind, from Jaffa to Europe when two years have not yet passed from the end of the first World War and in certain areas the fighting was still raging, the mere procedure of changing one’s citizenship from Austrian to one of the British Mandate and receiving a passport containing all the required visas was a difficult and complicated procedure. The railway network was still in a state of disorder. Grandfather joined his daughter Rachel, her husband Henry Amzalek and their two sons who left Jaffa for Egypt on their way to England and found out right away how difficult it was going to be for him. At the Kantara railway station the wagons were split and while his daughter, son-in-law and their eldest son went on to Egypt in a front wagon the rear wagon containing my grandfather with the younger son remained in Kantara. My grandfather had no choice but to board a train which went to Port-Said and when he got there, at midnight, he woke-up his good friend Jacques Mushly which was still the chief-engineer of the middle-eastern railway network and now resided at Port-Said. Mushly sent my grandfather with the child to Alexandria where the rest of his daughter’s family was waiting by the ship they were about to board. This was not a successful start for a man who was travelling abroad to recuperate.

Grandfather went to Paris first and then to Switzerland. He made many beautiful excursions in Switzerland but within his heart he went on weeping. By the end of summer he returned to Jaffa.

Previously, towards the end of October 1918, when he returned with his family from Damascus to Neve-Zedek and found his house half destroyed he decided that it was not worth while to rebuild it and so he sold it as is. They then went to stay at the Salant Hotel and early in January 1919, after he completed the rehabilitation of his business and his shop in Bustros Street he decided to live in the flat which was over this shop.

On May 1,1921 grandfather went down to his shop as he used to do every day. Most of Jaffa’s Jewish laborers were getting ready to hold a parade honoring Labor Day and wave the Red Flag at the head of the procession. The Jaffa Arabs had shown already that morning signs of agitation. At noon when grandfather went up to his flat for lunch the shop-assistant came up and said that the Arabs were rioting and attacking the Jews of the city and there is a rumor that Jews were murdered at Pioneer House in the Ajami suburb. Bustros Street, where grandfather’s shop and flat were, led from the Arab suburb of Ajami to the Jewish suburb of Neve-Shalom. Grandfather left his lunch and went down quickly to close his shop under lock and key. Before he managed to return up to his flat a flow of incited Arabs appeared, running like madmen and waving clubs, knives and guns ans shouting “Aleihum”. Grandfather saw among them some Arabs which he knew so he called out to them in Arabic trying to stop the crowd and calm it but to no avail. While trying to influence them to stop his arm was hit strongly with a club. But he went on shouting to them words of reproach before he gave up and went up to his flat.

When he went out to his balcony he saw how the rioters entered the Jewish cobbler’s shop which was on the opposite side of the street and ransacked it while an Arab Policeman who was watching did nothing to stop them. Although many of the rioters had knives and pistols the Arab Policemen did not try to disarm them. In the afternoon a Christian-Arab friend of grandfather named Abu-Anton came to grandfather’s house and told him, his eyes filled with deadly-terror, that the wild Muslims murdered more than one hundred Jewish men and women at Pioneer House which belonged to an Arab by the name of Rok. He also told grandfather that the dead and wounded were being moved to Tel-Aviv. His estimate of the dead at Pioneer House was exaggerated. The Arabs murdered “only” 32 Jews at Pioneer House.There were also 80 wounded Jews in Jaffa. In the early evening grandfather went out again to the balcony and saw the British Officer which was nicknamed “Major John” standing in the middle of Bustros Street with a loaded rifle and shooting at Arab rabble which were trying to enter the street, coming in from Ajami. As evening came grandfather decided that it would be very dangerous to remain with the family in this flat at Bustros Street. Just as he came to this conclusion a Sergeant of the British Police arrived with a message from the Commandant of Jaffa, Colonel Byron, saying that he was posting the British Police to guard this street and all its residents. Therefore grandfather decided to stay but did not forget to get the arms which he always had in his home and load all of them with a bullet in the barrel and a closed safety-catch. He also put on his gun-belt which held his heavy revolver.

Grandfather writes in his memoirs that on May 2nd and 3rd the rioters were still killing Jews in the side-streets and alleys of Jaffa in full view of the Arab Police. The funeral of the 32 dead was held in the afternoon of the 3rd. Up to this day there was an Arab watchman at the old cemetery of Tel-Aviv in Trumpeldor Street. When he saw this big funeral he ran away as fast as he could and never returned. That evening a “State of War” was declared. On the 4th of May the State of War was in full force. All the shops were closed. In addition to the Arab Police there was a British Army force in the city but the streets are full of Arab rioters and the Army did not disperse them. On the 5th of May Arabs from 30 villages assaulted the Petah-Tikva colony. There were dead and wounded on both sides. On the 6th of May the situation calmed down. 3 British warships arrived at Jaffa harbor and disembarked soldiers which reinforced the small British Military force which was based in Jaffa. On the 7th of May grandfather went out to the street and told the soldiers that he wished to see the Commanding Officer. When he met him he told him that he was asking to be allowed to go to the Jewish suburbs of the city in order to check the condition of the Jews who are there. The Commanding-Officer ordered two armed soldiers to join grandfather and defend him. When he reached “Warsaw Houses” he found the Kalechman family in an isolated and dangerous condition so he gathered the whole family and took them to his home for the rest of the month.

On the 13th of May the Arabs decided to boycott the Jews so as to starve them and stopped buying and selling anything to or from Jews. They posted young Arabs at the entrance to every Jewish shop preventing anybody from entering. On the 15th of May the British Governor of the town of Ramleh convinced the High Commissioner that if he does not stop the Jewish immigration to Israel 50,000 Arab villagers will attack Jaffa and destroy it completely. The High Commissioner stopped the Jewish immigration until further notice. In one of the ships two Christians arrived from Bulgaria to Jaffa and the Arabs who thought that they were Jewish insisted that they show them if they were circumcised or not. On the 16th of May the shop was reopened by grandfather. The Jewish civil workers who came to Jaffa went into the shop to hear what happens there and what resulted from the economical boycott which the Arabs started. The Prince of Wales arrived in Jaffa by ship and disembarked to have lunch at the Hotel Kaminitz. The hopes which the Jews had about the Prince convincing the High-Commissioner to renew the immigration came to naught. On that very day the British jailed Avraham Shapira who was the Chief of the watchmen and who organized the defence of Petah-Tikva. He was found to own a small pistol. At the same time Arab rioters were walking around in the colony with unconcealed arms without the British laying a finger on them.

The mayor of Jaffa, the Arab Omar El-Bitar did nothing at all as long as the riots lasted but sat in his office or home doing nothing to calm the riot and enforce peace and order in his city. As soon as the Prince of Wales arrived the honorable mayor boarded the ship and greeted the Prince in the name of all the city’s residents, including the Jews. The Christian Arab residents did not participate in the riots and expressed their contempt of the Muslim activities. During those days there was great hostility between the Muslim Arabs and the Arab “heretics”. Very slowly the city calmed down. The Police was not to be seen in the streets. Instead of the Police large numbers of Arabs holding clubs and whips were roaming the streets of the city. Despite the quiet the feeling of safety did not return to the city. The opinion of the Jews and the Christian Arabs was that the security now was much worse than what it was during the Turkish regime. A large number of Jews left Jaffa and moved to Tel-Aviv. On the 23rd of May all the Arab rioters and inciters were released from jail. The city filled with traffic. The British Government invited all the important people of the country to visit the warships and gave free travel-vouchers by train to those who are out of Jaffa. It was strange to see many important Jews attending this happy event, especially Jews from Jerusalem. Grandfather who believed that the British will act here as they acted in Egypt in 1882 and force the Arabs to pay compensation for loss of life and property was disappointed once more.


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