February 2, 2011

Morris studies Jaffa riots

It has been said that history is an argument without end. In his Honors project, senior and The Knox Student Sports Editor Kevin Morris hopes to sort through the questions surrounding the Jaffa riots in Palestine in 1921.

The Knox Student: Tell me about the riots.

Kevin Morris: They began on May Day in Jaffa and Tel Aviv. At the time, Tel Aviv was a bustling suburb of Jaffa. It was comprised mainly of enlightened European Zionists. Being that May Day is the workers’ day, they had a protest and were parading through the streets. There was another protest with Soviet Jews who were inclined to Bolshevism. The protests clashed, but they were quelled pretty quickly. There are lots of different theories positing why this happened, but it turned into an Arab vs. Jewish affair.

Basically, for seven days, there were sporadic attacks. British authorities tried to stem the violence. (They controlled Palestine at the time.) Ninety-five people died. It was a central point in the history of Palestine. On the one hand, you have Jaffa, the cultural center of Palestine, and Tel Aviv, a suburb. Tel Aviv then rises to become the capital of Israel, and Jaffa is kind of a relic of Arab culture. It also marked a breaking point for Arabs and Jews, as well as the British, who were no longer quite so favorable to unmitigated Jewish immigration.

TKS: How are you investigating the riots?

KM: I’m basically just evaluating the current historiography of the riots and kind of using what other historians have said to see what questions have arisen from what they’re written. I’ve been coming up with questions that maybe haven’t been addressed. I’m really just raising questions and discussing possible explanations.

TKS: How did you become interested in this topic?

KM: I’ve been doing research on that period since I was a sophomore at Knox. The riots kept coming up in various things I would read, but not too extensively. So, in the meanderings of research, I came across this official document by the British government called the Final Report of the Haycraft Commission of Inquiry. It was their determinations of why the riots occurred. It was very interesting. It’s a very multifaceted event. I dealt with it a little more in an independent study during the spring of my junior year.

TKS: Why do you think it’s important to study and understand this topic?

KM: I guess with history as an academic pursuit, what’s of import is in the eye of the beholder. It’s more of interest than of import, and it’s interesting to me because there are so many different parties involved. There are questions about Bolshevism, questions about orientalism, questions about Britain’s cost cutting strategies.

TKS: How have you balanced Honors and the rest of your commitments?

KM: It’s been difficult, but sometimes it’s good to be able to put down your project for a while and clear your mind with other activities, then come back and write a few paragraphs. It’s always in the back of my mind. I guess it’s kind of a question of how much sleep you want to get.

Anna Meier

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