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.