The Hebron Massacre
(August 23, 1929)
For many years, the small Jewish community in the ancient city of Hebron lived
in peace with their tens of thousands of Arab neighbors. But, on the
night of August 23, 1929, the tension simmering within this cauldron
of nationalities bubbled over and for a period of three days, Hebron turned into a
city of terror and murder as the Arab residents led a rampaging massacre against the bewildered and helpless Jewish community.
By the time the massacre ended, 67 Jews
lay dead - their homes and synagogues destroyed - and the few hundred survivors were relocated to Jerusalem. The aftermath
left Hebron barren of Jews for the first time in hundreds of years.
Destruction at the Avraham Avinu Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter
The summer of 1929 was one of unrest in Palestine as Jewish immigrants were arriving in increasing numbers and the agitations of the mufti in Jerusalem spurred on Jewish-Arab tensions. Just one day
prior to the start of the Hebron massacre, three Jews and three Arabs
were killed in Jerusalem when
fighting broke out after a Muslim prayer service on the Temple Mount.
Arabs spread false rumors and libels throughout their communities, saying that
Jews were carrying out "wholesale killings of Arabs."
Hebron had up until this time been outwardly peaceful,
although tensions hid below the surface. The Sephardi Jewish community (Jews who were originally from Spain, North Africa and
in Hebron had lived quietly with its Arab neighbors for centuries. Theses
Sephardi Jews spoke Arabic and had a cultural connection with the the Arabs of Hebron. In the mid-1800s, Ashkenazi (native European) Jews started
moving to Hebron and, in 1925, the Slobodka Yeshiva - officially called the
Yeshiva of Hevron Knesset Yisrael-Slobodka - was opened.
lived separately from both the Sephardi Jewish community and from the Arab population. This isolation fed the Arab views that these "Zionist immigrants" were suspicious and thus hated. Despite the general suspicion,
however, one yeshiva student, Dov Cohen, still recalled being on "very
good" terms with the Arab neighbors. He remembered yeshiva boys taking
long walks late at night on the outskirts of the city and not feeling
afraid even though only one British policeman guarded the entire city.
On Friday, August 23, 1929, that tranquility was lost.
Arab youths began the riots by hurling rocks at the yeshiva students as they walked by. That afternoon,
student Shmuel Rosenholtz went to the yeshiva alone. Arab rioters
broke in to the building and killed him. Rosenholtz's was but the first of dozens of murders.
On Friday night, Rabbi Yaacov Slonims son
invited any Jews fearful of the worsening situation to stay in their family house. The rabbi was highly
regarded in the community, and he kept a gun. Many of the Jews in the community took
this offer for shelter. Unfortunately, many of these people were eventually murdered there.
As early as 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning - the Jewish Sabbath -
Arabs began to gather en masse around the Jewish community. They came in mobs, armed with clubs,
knives and axes. While the women and children threw stones, the men
ransacked Jewish houses and destroyed Jewish property. With only a single
police officer in all of Hebron, the Arabs were able to enter Jewish courtyards with literally no
Jewish Home in Hebron Plundered
Rabbi Slonim, who had tried to shelter the Jews,
was approached by the rioters and offered a deal. If all the Ashkenazi yeshiva students were given over to the Arabs, the rioters would spare
the lives of the Sephardi community.
Rabbi Slonim refused to turn over
the students. The Arabs killed him on the spot.
By the end of the massacre, 12 Sephardi Jews
and 55 Ashkenazi Jews were murdered.
A few Arabs did try to help the Jews. Nineteen Arab
families saved dozens if not hundreds of Hebron's Jews. Zmira Mani wrote
about an Arab named Abu Id Zaitoun who brought his brother and son to
rescue her family. The Arab family protected the Manis with
their swords, hid them in a cellar along with other Jews they had
saved, and eventually found a policeman to escort them safely to the police station
at Beit Romano.
The Beit Romano police station turned into a shelter for the Jews
on the morning of Saturday, August 24. It also became a synagogue when the Orthodox
Jews gathered there said their morning prayers. As they finished
praying, they began to hear noises outside the building. Thousands of
Arabs descended from Har Hebron, shouting "Kill the Jews!" in Arabic.
They even tried to break down the doors of the station.
For three days, the Jews were besieged in Beit Romano by the rampaging Arabs.
Each night, ten men were allowed to leave the building and go to Hebrons
ancient Jewish cemetery to conduct a funeral for any Jews murdered that day.
Following the massacre, the surviving Jews of Hebron were forced to leave their city and resettle in Jerusalem.
A number of Jewish families tried to move back to Hebron, but were removed
by the British authorities in 1936 at the start of the Arab
In 1948, Israel gained its independence from Britian, but Hebron was captured by King Abdullah's Arab Legion
during the War of Independence and ultimately annexed to Jordan.
When Israel finally regained control of the city in 1967,
a small number of survivors from the massacre again tried to reclaim their old
houses. Then-Defense Minister Moshe
Dayan supposedly told the survivors that if they returned, they
would be arrested, and that they should be patient while the government
worked out a solution to get their houses back. Years later, settlers
moved to parts of Hebron without the permission of the government, but
for those massacre survivors still seeking their original homes, that
solution never came.
Sources: Arutz Sheva (August 1, 1999); The
Jerusalem Post (July 23, 1999).
Photos Courtesty of United States Library of Congress Archives