British Soldiers at the Kotel, 1933
This is a photograph of the Kotel from 1933 taken by Sinai Alexandrovich. In the foreground, there is a police booth with a sign saying “police” in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. Next to the Kotel are several British policemen in uniform sitting in relaxed positions. In front of them are three women praying by the wall. Two of the women are draped in shawls and seem to be immersed in prayer.
The picture is from the time before the Western Wall plaza was expanded, as can be seen from the narrow space between the police booth and the Kotel itself. During the British Mandate the Kotel was the focus of much dispute between the Arabs and the Jews, which peaked in 1929 following the Arab riots that included attacks on Jews at the Kotel. In response to the riots, the British government appointed a commission “to determine the rights and claims of Muslims and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall.” The commission concluded that the Kotel and the surrounding area was owned by the Muslim Waqf but that Jews had the right to free access. Restrictions were placed on public worship, however, for fear of antagonising the Arab population. Among the restrictions was the prohibition on bringing chairs or benches to the Kotel; hence the women in this photograph are standing. Other restrictions included a prohibition on erecting a partition between men and women, shelves for prayer books, and an Ark containing the Torah scrolls and on blowing the Shofar.
Police presence at the Kotel increased heavily after the riots. Although the early 1930s saw relative calm return to the area, the British authorities were unwilling to leave it unprotected.
Jewish Studies teachers can use this photograph to discuss the centrality of the Kotel to Jews throughout the ages.
Jewish History teachers can use this resource to examine the tensions between the Jewish and Arab populations in pre-state Israel and the British response.
Religious Studies teachers can use this resource when discussing the centrality of Jerusalem to both Jews and Muslims.
In Civics lessons, teachers can show this photograph when discussing religious freedom and the way to manage shared holy sites.
Where was this photo taken?
When was this photo taken?
Who are the people in uniforms?
What is their job?
How are the women by the Kotel dressed?
What are the women doing?
What is the small booth in the foreground?
What languages are written on it?
Reading Between the Lines
What can this photograph tell us about the situation in Jerusalem at the time?
Why are there three languages on the sign of the police booth?
What order are the languages written in?
Can this order teach us anything?
Why are there so few people at the Kotel?
Why is there a police booth at the Kotel?
Imagine that you were visiting the Kotel in 1933.
How would you have felt?
How would you have reacted to the restrictions?
Suppose you are visiting the Kotel and areas in the vicinity. Are there restrictions there today? Why? How do you feel about this?
Look at satellite pictures of the Kotel today.
How has the site changed?
Have you visited the Kotel? Do you remember your first visit?
How did you feel?
Write a letter to a non-Jewish organisation explaining the enduring importance of the Kotel to the Jewish People.