1929 Hebron massacre

1929 Hebron massacre

The Hebron Massacre refers to the mass murder of sixty-seven Jews on 23 and 24 August, 1929 in Hebron, then part of the British Mandate of Palestine, by Arabs incited to violence by false rumors that Jews were massacring ArabsFact|date=April 2008 in Jerusalem and seizing control of Muslim holy places. This massacre, together with that of Safed, sent shock waves through Jewish communities in Palestine and across the world.

The survivors were forced to flee Hebron, and their property was seized by Arab residents and occupied until after the Six Day War of 1967. [ [http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/832353.html Hebron protesters demand property taken in '29] ] It also led to the re-organization and development of the Jewish paramilitary organization, the Haganah, which later became the nucleus of the Israel Defense Forces.


Hebron, located 30km south of Jerusalem, is the second holiest site and one of Four Holy Cities in Judaism, and is revered by Muslims as well. It is the location of the Cave of Machpelah, holding the Tomb of the Patriarchs where tradition records that Abraham was buried, and where David was anointed King of Israel and reigned there until his capture of Jerusalem. Its Jewish Sephardic community had lived there continuously for over 800 years under various imperial powers, and the Ashkenazi community had roots there that went back at least a century.cite book |last=Segev |first=Tom |authorlink=Tom Segev |title=One Palestine, Complete |year=1999 |publisher=Metropolitan Books |isbn=0805048480 |pages=pp. 314-327 ]

In Hebron in the early 20s, periods of Arab harassment, involving cursing on the street, occasional beatings, rocks through windows, and disturbances at the Cave of the Patriarchs, would occasionally disturb what was, in many accounts, an otherwise amicable relationship between the Hebron Jewish and Arab communities [‘Hebron had, until this time, been outwardly peaceful, although tension hid below the surface. The Sephardi Jewish community in Hebron had lived quietly with its Arab neighbors for centuries. 'Shira Schoenberg ‘The Hebron Massacre of 1929,’ Jewish Virtual Library http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/hebron29.html ] , notwithstanding a strong tradition of hostility to Jews [Henry Laurens, "La Question de Palestine", Fayard, Paris, vol.2 2002 p.508] . In one such period the Jewish community registered several complaints with the British police, saying that not enough was being done to protect them. The Jews attributed some of the trouble to the Arab nationalist Muslim-Christian Association's activities, which included the spread of anti-Jewish songs and other incitement.

On August 20, 1929, after Arab attacks in Jerusalem, Haganah leaders proposed to provide defense for the 750 Jews of the Yishuv in Hebron, or to help them evacuate. However, the leaders of the Hebron community declined these offers, insisting that they trusted the "A'yan" (Arab notables) to protect them.

The following Friday, 23 August, inflamed by rumors that Jews were about to attack al-Aqsa Mosque, Arabs started to attack Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem. The rumours and subsequent violence quickly spread to other parts of Palestine Mandate, with the worst killings occurring in Hebron and Safed. Other murderous assaults took place in Motza, Kfar Uriyah, and Tel Aviv.

Hebron massacre

All officials in the Hebron civil administration were Arabs. Of its 40 policemen, only one was a Jew. Raymond Cafferata, the Assistant District Superintendent of the Palestine Police Force, had at his command 18 mounted policemen and 15 on foot, of whom 11 were elderly men in poor physical condition. On the early afternoon of Friday, August 23, upon hearing from car-drivers of fighting in Jerusalem, Cafferata deployed special pickets to report any unusual movement from the city and issued a request to headquarters for reinforcements. Intending to travel to Jerusalem, a crowd of 700 gathered at the city's central bus station, and one man gave a speech. Cafferata addressed the crowd, trying to calm them by denying anything happened in Jerusalem. He then took eight mounted officers to patrol the Jewish homes, where he encountered the city's Rabbi, Yaakov Yosef Slonim. The Rabbi pleaded with him for protection, while he came under a hail of stones from an Arab crowd. Cafferata told him and other Jews he came across to return to stay in their homes. After the Rabbi had obliged, Cafferata tried to disperse the crowd using clubs.

At 4:00 pm, an Arab crowd began gathering outside the Hebron Yeshiva and throwing stones through the windows. Only two people were inside, a student and the sexton. Upon being hit, the student tried to leave, only to find himself facing the Arab crowd, who grabbed him and stabbed him to death; the sexton survived by hiding in a well. Some hours later a group of mukhtars came to Cafferata. Cafferata attempted to get the mukhtars to assume responsibility for law and order, and asked for reinforcements. Some hours later a group of regional mukhtars came to Cafferata, and they relayed that the Mufti had told them to take action or be fined due to the 'Jewish slaughter of Arabs' in Jerusalem. Raymond Cafferata promised that all was well and bid them return to their villages and stay there. He slept in his office that night.

Early the following Saturday morning, a crowd armed with staves and axes appeared in the streets and killed two Jewish boys, one stoned to death and the other stabbed. Cafferata shot two of the mob and emptied his revolver into the crowd, but his saddle slipped and he fell to the ground, whereupon the crowd began attacking every Jewish house. Cafferata instructed his men to fetch rifles and to open fire, which they did, dispersing a portion of the crowd, but some of the remaining rioters, shouting "on to the Ghetto", managed to break through the pickets. Cafferata continued shooting, hitting many of the rioters, but his efforts were in vain; repeated calls for reinforcements from Jerusalem, Jaffa and Gaza did not produce help in time. Both Jewish and Arab businesses in the Bazaar were looted. ['The Hebron Tragedy. Mr. Cafferata's Evidence', From Our Correspondent. "The Times", Friday, November 8, 1929; pg. 13; Issue 45355; col D.] A consignment of police was sent from Jerusalem but was delayed by other violence on the way to Hebron and arrived hours too late. This later became the source of considerable acrimony.Cafferata testified to the Commission of Enquiry in Jerusalem on 7 November that he had seen an Arab cutting a child's head with an axe. Behind him was an ex-police-constable standing over a woman with a dagger in his hand. Cafferata shot the assailant, who shouted "Your Honor, I am a policeman". "The Times" reported Cafferata's evidence to the Commission that "until the arrival of British police it was impossible to do more than keep the living Jews in the hospital safe and the streets clear [because he] was the only British officer or man in Hebron, a town of 20,000". ['The Hebron Tragedy. Mr. Cafferata's Evidence', From Our Correspondent. "The Times", Friday, November 8, 1929; pg. 13; Issue 45355; col D.]

Many Jews survived by hiding in their Arab neighbors' houses, while others survived by taking refuge in the British police station at Beit Romano on the outskirts of the city. The surviving Jews were later evacuated to Jerusalem. One third of the killed were students of the Hebron yeshiva. After the massacre, the remainder of the yeshiva was also moved to Jerusalem.

On September 1, Sir John Chancellor condemned:-

'the atrocious acts committed by bodies of ruthless and bloodthirsty evildoers... murders perpetrated upon defenceless members of the Jewish population... accompanied by acts of unspeakable savagery.'

1929 Aftermath

In total, 67 Jews were murdered in Hebron; 59 died during the riots and 8 more succumbed to their wounds later. The remaining members, save one woman who refused to go, were placed on trucks and delivered to Jerusalem and all their property was seized by the Arabs. [ [http://avo.co.il/scripts/prodView.asp?idproduct=2765 'Communal relations - Jewish and Arab in the city of Hebron' (2005)] languageicon|he|Hebrew] Most of dead were Ashkenazi men, but there were also a dozen women and three children under the age of three. Seven of the victims were yeshiva students from the United States and Canada. Dozens of people were wounded, including many women and children. Several cases of rape, mutilation and torture were reported in the Jewish press. These claims were contested by Arab spokesmen. When the bodies were exhumed no conclusions could be made one way or another. [Tom Segev (2000) p 330]

Altogether 195 Arabs and 34 Jews were sentenced by the courts for crimes related to the 1929 riots. Death sentences were handed down to 17 Arabs and 2 Jews, but these were later commuted to long prison terms except in the case of 3 Arabs who were hanged. Large fines were imposed on about 25 Arab villages or urban neighborhoods. Some financial compensation was paid to persons who lost family members or property.

Some Hebron Arabs, amongst whom the President of Hebron's Chamber of Commerce, Ahmad Rashid al-Hirbawi, favoured the return of Jews to the town. [http://www.tnr.com/story.html?id=0e100478-298c-438c-a994-e1800474ad19&p=1 Benny Morris, 'The Tangled Truth', "The New Republic", May 07, 2008] 160 Jews did return in the spring of 1931 with Rabbi Chaim Bagaio, but were evacuated, except for one family, again during the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. [ Tom Segev (2000) p 347] The last family left in 1947.

As of 2006, hundreds of Jews live in Hebron again.

Specific accounts of the massacre

The House of Eliezer Dan Slonim

Eliezer Dan Slonim was born in Hebron in 1900. He was the son of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, the Rabbi of Hebron. Eliezer was a member of the city council, appointed by the government. He was also a director at the Anglo-Palestine Bank. Eliezer had excellent relations with the British and the Arabs, who had assured him that no riots would occur.

Baruch Katinka, a member of the Haganah tells about his encounter with Eliezer Dan before the massacre::"Two days before the massacre, they told us about a need to go to Hebron with 10-12 people with weapons in order to defend the place. I believe we were 10 men and 2 women... We came to Hebron after midnight, and went into the house of Eliezer Dan Slonim, the head of the bank in the area and the head of the community. We woke him up and told him that we brought weapons and people. He started yelling and said that if he wanted any weapons he would request them but there's no need for them because he has an understanding with the Arabs, they need the credit, they're under his influence, and that they will not harm him. On the contrary he said, new faces in Hebron might just tease them. During the argument, two Arab policemen went in and ordered us to go to the Police. The officer Cafferata met us in pyjamas and asked us who we were and what were we doing. We said we came for a walk. The officer preached us how dare we walk around during this time and said we must go back to Jerusalem escorted by the police. Two men stayed with suitcases in Silonim's house. They had the bombs with them, but the day after they came back to Jerusalem too, because Silonim forced them to leave. The next day, the massacre occurred". [Katinka, "From then till now", Hebrew, p. 271 and archive of the Haganah]

After the first victim was killed on Friday, 40 people assembled in Dan's house, confident that because of his influence, no harm would come. On Saturday, the rioters approached the Rabbi and offered him a deal. If all the Ashkenazi yeshiva students were given over to the Arabs, the rioters would spare the lives of the Sephardi community. [ [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/hebron29.html The Hebron Massacre of 1929] by Shira Schoenberg (Jewish Virtual Library)] Rabbi Slonim refused to turn over the students and was killed on the spot, along with his wife and 4-year-old son (another son, 3 years old, survived). In the end, twelve Sephardi Jews and 55 Ashkenazi Jews were murdered.

Raymond Cafferata

After the massacre began, most of the Arab constables deserted, leading the rioters to where Jews were hidingFact|date=October 2007. Cafferata testified:

'On hearing screams in a room I went up a sort of tunnel passage and saw an Arab in the act of cutting off a child's head with a sword. He had already hit him and was having another cut, but on seeing me he tried to aim the stroke at me, but missed; he was practically on the muzzle of my rifle. I shot him low in the groin. Behind him was a Jewish woman smothered in blood with a man I recognized as a [n Arab] police constable named Issa Sheriff from Jaffa in mufti. He was standing over the woman with a dagger in his hand. He saw me and bolted into a room close by and tried to shut me out-shouting in Arabic, "Your Honor, I am a policeman." ... I got into the room and shot him.' [cited Benny Morris, "Righteous Victims:: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999"Alfred A. Knopf, 1999, 2001 p.114; Tom Segev, "One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate",Little Brown & Co, 2000 p.323. See also Bernard Wasserstein, "The British in Palestine: The Mandatory Government and the Arab-Jewish Conflict 1917-1929", London: Royal Historical Society, 1978. It should be noted that some survivors testified that more than one of the Hebronite Arab policemen joined the riot. See [http://www.hebron.org.il/hebrew/article.php?id=295 Oded Avishar (ed) [Sefer ha Hebron(Book of Hebron)(Heb.1970)] and [http://www.hebron.com/english/article.php?id=260 The story of Hebron - 75 years from Tarpat Toby Klein Greenwald May 28, 2006] ]

Nineteen local Arab families saved dozens, perhaps hundreds, of the Jews. Zmira Mani wrote of an Arab named Abu Id Zaitoun who brought his brother and son to rescue her and her family. The Arab family protected the Manis with their swords, hid them in a cellar along with other Jews whom they had saved, and found a policeman to escort them safely to the police station at Beit Romano [Zmira Mani (later renamed Zmira Meshorer), "What I saw in Hebron" ("ma shera'iti beħevron"), Haaretz, Sep 12, 1929, reprinted in: Knaz, Yehoshua (ed.) (1996)."Haaretz - the 75th Year", Schocken Publishing, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, pp. 33-34 (in Hebrew).]

urvivors controversy

Descendants of the survivors are divided, with some claiming they wish to return, but only once the occupation is over. Other survivors and descendants of survivors support the new Jewish community in Hebron. [ [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1145961357122&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull Jerusalem Post] Hebron Jews' offspring divided over city's fate. Verified 27 Apr 2008.]

Noit Gevas, daughter of a survivor, discovered that her mother had written an account of the massacre, published in Haareetz in 1929. In 1999 Gevas released a film containing testimonies of 13 survivors that she and her husband Dan had managed to track down from the list in "Sefer Hebron" ("The Book of Hebron"). Originally intended to document the story of the Arab who had saved Gevas's mother from other Arabs, it became an account of the atrocities of the massacre itself. These survivors (most of whom no longer live in Israel) are mixed as to whether they can forgive, but none of them hate the Arabs.

In the film, "What I Saw in Hebron" [ [http://www.brandeis.edu/jewishfilm/Catalogue/films/whatisawinhebron.htm "What I Saw in Hebron"] , The National Center for Jewish Film, Israel, 1999, 73 min, color, Hebrew & Arabic w/ English subtitles. Verified 27 Apr 2008.] the survivors - now very elderly - describe pre-massacre Hebron as a kind of paradise surrounded by vineyards, where Sephardic Jews and Arabs lived in idyllic coexistence. The well-established Ashkenazi residents were also treated well - but the Arabs anger was roused by those they called the "Ashkenazim" - students of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who had came to redeem lands in the Holy Land and establish a Zionist community in Hebron.

The survivors interviewed in the film say that the Arabs from the villages essentially wanted to kill only the new Ashkenazim. When the riots started, representatives of the Arabs came to the Ashkenazi rabbi, Rabbi Slonim, with a proposal - if he allowed them to kill 70 students from the yeshiva in Hebron, they would not kill the other Ashkenazim or the Sephardim. Rabbi Slonim told them, "We Jews are all one people." He was the first person to be killed in the riots. [ [http://www.angelfire.com/il/FourMothers/HEB111.html Hebron Diary] , daughter of a survivor tells story of film "Things I saw in Hebron". Verified 27 Apr 2008.] Noit Gevas's aunt thought that it all happened because in Hebron, there was an alienated Jewish community that wore streimels, unlike the Sephardi community, which was deeply rooted, speaking Arabic and dressing like Arab residents. Noit Gevas's mother had never wanted to tell the family anything. But in the contemporary article, she had told how Abu 'Id saved them and that the Arabs in Hebron were friends of the family, it had been Arabs from the villages and not the ones from Hebron who had done it. And she said that it all happened because of the Ashkenazim.

Abu 'Id, saviour of Gevas's mother, shows off documents about the location of the house in which the Jews were hidden - the house where he lived with his father. The IDF confiscated the house, and today it houses a kindergarten for the settlers.

Noit Geva says "I learned a lot about the issue of Ashkenazim and Sephardim. I discovered who I am, where I came from. I also discovered another thing - that the government wants the settlers to sit in the place where peace-loving Hebron Jews once resided. It's a fact that they let the settlers stay there, while they don't allow other Jews who want to return to do so. The reality is very complicated. There's no black or white. We have to find a solution for peace quickly.".


ee also

* 1938 Tiberias massacre
* Shaw Report
* Beit HaShalom
* Army of Shadows, Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948

External links

* [http://www.zionism-israel.com/Hebron_Massacre1929.htm The Hebron Massacre of 1929 - Zionism-Israel.com]
* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/hebron29.html The Hebron Massacre of 1929 - Jewish Virtual Library]
* [http://www.professors.org.il/docs/eye.htm - Eyewitness accounts]
* [http://www.hebron.org.il/hebrew/gallery.php?id=189 Photos of the massacre and survivors]
* [http://hebron.web.aplus.net/english/article.php?id=253 Photos of some of the victims]

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