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1929 Hebron massacre: Wikis


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The Hebron massacre refers to the killing 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 Arabs[1] 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.

67 Jews were killed and Jewish homes and synagogues were ransacked; Nineteen local Arab families saved 435 Jews by hiding them in their houses even under their own life risk.[2] [3]

The survivors were evacuated from Hebron by the British authorities. Many returned in 1931, but almost all left again during 1936–1939.[4] 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.



A survivor mourning in the aftermath of the masscare in Hebron.

Hebron, located 30 km south of Jerusalem, is the second holiest site in Judaism, and one of the Jewish Four Holy Cities, and mentioned repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible. (Later, Hebron took on a place of significance for Muslims, though Hebron was almost never mentioned in Muslim literature before the tenth century.[5]) It is the location of the Cave of Machpelah, holding the Tomb of the Patriarchs of the Israelites, where Abraham, the first Patriarch of the Jews (father and grandfather to Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob, respectively), was buried, and where David was anointed King of Israel, reigning there until his capture of Jerusalem. In 1929, the Jewish Sephardic/Mizrachi community had been living in Hebron continuously for over 800 years under various imperial powers, and the Jewish Ashkenazi community had roots there that went back at least a century.[6]

In Hebron in the early 1920s, periods of Arab harassment, involving cursing on the street, intimidation, various beatings, rocks through windows, and disturbances at the Cave of the Patriarchs, would disturb what was, by some accounts, an otherwise amicable relationship between the Hebron Jewish and Arab communities[7], notwithstanding a strong tradition of hostility to Jews[8]. 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 to hatred and violence.[6]

On 15 August 1929, several hundred members of Joseph Klausner's Committee for the Western Wall, among them members of Vladimir Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionism movement Betar youth organisation, under the leadership of Jeremiah Halpern, assembled at the Western Wall in Jerusalem shouting "the Wall is ours".[6] They raised the Jewish national flag and sang the ballad of yearning for freedom and self-determination, "Hatikvah" ("The Hope"), which is the Israeli national anthem. The authorities had been notified of the march in advance and provided a heavy police escort in a bid to prevent any incidents. Rumours spread that the youths had attacked local residents and had cursed the name of Muhammad.[9][10][11] In response the day after the Supreme Muslim Council marched to the Wall and proceeded to beat Jewish worshippers and burn Torah scrolls, prayer books[12] and supplicatory notes left in the Wall's cracks, and returned to attack the next day.[6] The riots continued, and the next day a young Sephardic Jew was stabbed in the Bukharan Quarter, and died the following day.[13] His funeral was turned into a political demonstration, and was suppressed by the same force that had been employed in the initial incident. A late-night meeting initiated the following day by the Jewish leadership, at which acting high commissioner Harry Luke, Jamal al-Husayni, and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi were present, failed to produce a call for an end to the violence.[6]

On August 20, 1929, after Arab attacks in Jerusalem, Haganah leaders proposed to intervene and 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 planning to attack al-Aqsa Mosque, Arabs started to attack Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem. The rumors and subsequent violence quickly spread to other parts of British Mandate of Palestine, with the murders occurring in Hebron and Safed. Other 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 Jewish. 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 Dwek. The Rabbi asked 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.[6]

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.[6]

Early the following Saturday morning, a crowd armed with staves and axes appeared in the streets and attacked and killed two Jewish boys, one stoned to death and the other stabbed. Cafferata shot two of the attacking Arabs 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.[14] 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.[6]

Cafferata testified to the Commission of Enquiry in Jerusalem on 7 November. 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".[15]

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.[6]

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

The Baltimore News header reads: Massacre of women, children at Hebron told by refugees.

In total, 67 Jews were killed 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.[16] Most of those killed 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.[6] These claims were contested by Arab spokesmen. When the bodies were exhumed no conclusions could be made one way or another.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] The last family left in 1947. As of 2008, hundreds of Jews live in Hebron again.

Specific accounts of the massacre

Scene of destruction after the Arab riots.

The House of Eliezer Dan Slonim Dwek

Eliezer Dan Slonim Dwek was born in Hebron in 1900. He was the son of Rabbi Yaakov Ben Yosef Dwek, 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 Dwek, 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 provoke 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 Dwek's house. They had the bombs with them, but the day after they came back to Jerusalem too, because Dwek forced them to leave. The next day, the massacre occurred".[20]

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.[21] Rabbi Slonim Dwek refused to turn over the students and was killed on the spot, along with one of his wives 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, the Arab constables deserted, leading the rioters to where Jews were hiding[citation needed]. 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.'[22]

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[23]

Molchadsky story

In August 1929, Yonah Molchadsky was nearing the end of her pregnancy when, on August 23, the disturbing news reached them that there had been attempts to harm Jews in Jerusalem. The following day, Yonah started to feel labor pains and a doctor was called. "Don't give birth yet, wait a bit," he told her. But the pains got worse and the birth approached, so the family went to the neighboring family, an Arab family, who put them up in their basement. As Yonah gave birth to her second daughter in the basement of the Arab family's house, the masses outside began looking for Jews. Yonah related, after many years of silence, that the mob came to the home of the Arab family, looking for the Molchadskys. "We have already killed our Jews," the Molchadskys' hosts and saviors told the mob, who believed them and departed.[2]

Survivors 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.[24]

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.

In the film, "What I Saw in Hebron"[25] 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 followers of the Jerusalem Mufti as well as local chapters of the (Arab) Muslim-Christian Societies.

The survivors interviewed in the film say that the Arabs from the villages essentially wanted to kill only the new Ashkenazim, because they saw Ashkenazim as more vulnerable and less chance of retribution to follow. When the riots started, representatives of the Arabs came to the chief Hebron Rabbi, Rabbi Slonim Dwek, 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 Dwek told them, "We Jews are all one people." He was the first person to be killed in the riots, as he held his eldest son, 4 years old in his hands, who was also ripped to pieces.[26] 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.

See also


  1. ^ Segev, Tom (2000) p 319
  2. ^ a b Haaretz. Survivor of 1929 Hebron Massacre recounts her ordeal by Eli Ashkenazi. Last accessed: 12 August 2009.
  3. ^ Independent 26 January 2008 A rough guide to Hebron: The world's strangest guided tour highlights the abuse of Palestinians
  4. ^ Segev, Tom (2000) p 318...A few dozen Jews lived deep within Hebron, in a kind of ghetto where there were also several synagogues. But the majority lived on the outskirts, along the roads to Be'ersheba and Jerusalem, renting homes owned by Arabs, a number of which were built for the express purpose of housing Jewish tenants.
  5. ^ A History of Palestine, by Moshe Gil & Ethel Broido
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Segev, Tom (2000). One Palestine, Complete. Metropolitan Books. pp. 314–327. ISBN 0805048480. 
  7. ^ ‘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
  8. ^ Henry Laurens, La Question de Palestine, Fayard, Paris, vol.2 2002 p.508
  9. ^ Levi-Faur, Sheffer and Vogel, 1999, p. 216.
  10. ^ Sicker, 2000, p. 80.
  11. ^ 'The Wailing Wall In Jerusalem Another Incident', The Times, Monday, August 19, 1929; pg. 11; Issue 45285; col D.
  12. ^ "Zionism & Israel Information center - Palestine Riots of 1929". Retrieved 2007-04-25. 
  13. ^ J.Bowyer Bell, Terror out of Zion: The Fight for Israeli Independence, Transaction ed.Prologue p.1 name
  14. ^ 'The Hebron Tragedy. Mr. Cafferata's Evidence', From Our Correspondent. The Times, Friday, November 8, 1929; pg. 13; Issue 45355; col D.
  15. ^ 'The Hebron Tragedy. Mr. Cafferata's Evidence', From Our Correspondent. The Times, Friday, November 8, 1929; pg. 13; Issue 45355; col D.
  16. ^ 'Communal relations - Jewish and Arab in the city of Hebron' (2005) (Hebrew)
  17. ^ Tom Segev (2000) p 330. The Department of Health report to the Shaw Commission said: "A complete post mortem record of the cause of death in the case of the killed was not obtainable at the time, in view of the large number of wounded that had to be dealt with by the limited medical staff. As a result of external inspection by the Senior Medical Officer and British Police Officer no mutilation of bodies was observed. A subsequent exhumation demanded by the Jewish authorities with the object of proving or disproving deliberate mutilation took place on September 11th. Twenty bodies were exhumed and examined by a specially appointed Committee consisting of the Government Pathologist, Dr. G. Stuart, and two non-official British doctors, Dr. Orr Ewing and Dr. Strathearn. The representatives of the Jewish authorities asked that the remaining bodies not be exhumed. The alleged mutilation of bodies was not confirmed by the Committee." Minutes of Evidence, Exhibit 17 (page 1031).
  18. ^ The New Republic. 'The Tangled Truth', by Benny Morris, May 07, 2008, book review of Hillel Cohen's (2008) Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 Translated by Haim Watzman University of California Press, ISBN 0520252217
  19. ^ Tom Segev (2000) p 347
  20. ^ Katinka, From then till now, Hebrew, p. 271 and archive of the Haganah
  21. ^ The Hebron Massacre of 1929 by Shira Schoenberg (Jewish Virtual Library)
  22. ^ cited Benny Morris, Righteous Victims:: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999Alfred 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 Oded Avishar (ed) [Sefer ha Hebron(Book of Hebron)(Heb.1970) and The story of Hebron - 75 years from Tarpat Toby Klein Greenwald May 28, 2006
  23. ^ 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).
  24. ^ Jerusalem Post Hebron Jews' offspring divided over city's fate. Verified 27 Apr 2008.
  25. ^ "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.
  26. ^ Hebron Diary, daughter of a survivor tells story of film "Things I saw in Hebron". Verified 27 Apr 2008.


Segev, Tom (2000). One Palestine, Complete; Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate. Translated by Haim Watzman of Metropolitan Books, Little, Brown and company. ISBN 0805048480 and ISBN 0-316-64859-0.

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