Thursday, August 02, 2007

Yarzheits - Hebron and Tzfat massacres

Today is the anniversary of one of the bloodiest organised pogroms to happen in Israel in recent times. In 1929 Arab riots led to massacres in both Hebron and Tzfat. In Hebron, this resulted in the removal of all Jews from the city, ending hundreds of years of Jewish life in that city. All together 133 people were killed in these few days in a murder spree organised by the leaders of the Arabs in Israel (from the Mufti down).

And the saddest thing, is that in a google search on for 'Hebron massacre', the majority of links are about Baruch Goldstein! (I'm not defending what happened there, but it shows how the world has changed and history is being rewritten!)

From the ADL website

I believe I was the first Jew to reach Safed from the outside after the massacre there. One Friday morning we heard that there had been a pogrom in Safed. We read the official announcement: "On August 29, at 6:15, disturbances broke out in Safed. The army arrived on the scene at 8:35 and immediately restored order. There were some fatal casualties and many houses were burnt. The Jewish inhabitants were at once transferred to safety. Since then calm has prevailed in Safed."

August 29 was a Thursday. Throughout the day rumors continued to come in that the pogrom in Safed was still going on. But Government House provided us with no further information about events in Safed, which was included in the jurisdiction of the Haifa district commissioner. We had enough experience not to trust the reassuring official announcement...

We set out on Saturday morning. . . I could not believe my eyes. . . I met some of the town's Jewish elders, who fell on my neck weeping bitterly. We went down alleys and steps to the old town. Inside the houses I saw the mutilated and burned bodies of the victims of the massacre, and the burned body of a woman tied to the grille of a window. Going from house to house, I counted ten bodies that had not yet been collected. I saw the destruction and the signs of fire. Even in my grimmest thoughts I had not imagined that this was how I would find Safed where "calm prevailed."

The local Jews gave me a detailed description of how the tragedy had started. The pogrom began on the afternoon of Thursday, August 29, and was carried out by Arabs from Safed and from the nearby villages, armed with weapons and tins of kerosene. Advancing on the street of the Sefardi Jews from Kfar Meron and Ein Zeitim, they looted and set fire to houses, urging each other on to continue with the killing. They slaughtered the schoolteacher, Aphriat, together with his wife and mother, and cut the lawyer, Toledano, to pieces with their knives. Bursting into the orphanages, they smashed the children's heads and cut off their hands. I myself saw the victims. Yitshak Mammon, a native of Safed who lived with an Arab family, was murdered with indescribable brutality: he was stabbed again and again, until his body became a bloody sieve, and then he was trampled to death. Throughout the whole pogrom the police did not fire a single shot. The British police commander, Farradav, walked up and down the main street of the town, where everything was quiet, and did not go down to the scene of the massacre...

The district commissioner defended his own conduct. He said he had known that the situation there was serious, and had therefore demanded that troops be sent in, but they had arrived too late. . . I was unsparing in my criticism of him for not having visited Safed. I said that this showed in the clearest possible way that the government was to blame for what had happened. Riots had been taking place for the past seven days, seven whole days since the Hebron massacre. Incitement to violence in the Safed mosques and provocative stone throwing and threats in the streets had been daily occurrences. The warship and troops had already arrived by then. The looting, destruction, burning, and killing had begun already on Thursday evening and continued all that night and all the next day. Why, then, had the government put out its falsely reassuring announcement?

Instead of protecting the Jewish population and its property, the police commander had evacuated four thousand Jews from their homes to the courtyard of Government House, leaving their homes to be looted and burned. While the looting and killing were still going on, the police were searching the Jews for arms...

My thoughts about the Safed tragedy gave me no peace for a long time. How had such a thing happened? What was the explanation for the terrible loss of Jewish life and property, 18 killed, about 40 wounded, and 200 houses burned and looted?

Jewish Virtual Library

For some time, the 800 Jews in 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 3 days, Hebron turned into a city of terror and murder. By the time the massacres ended, 67 Jews lay dead and the survivors were relocated to Jerusalem, leaving Hebron barren of Jews for the first time in hundreds of years.

The summer of 1929 was one of unrest in Palestine. Jewish-Arab tensions were spurred on by the agitation of the mufti in Jerusalem. 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 throughout their communities, saying that Jews were carrying out "wholesale killings of Arabs." Meanwhile, Jewish immigrants were arriving in Palestine in increasing numbers, further exacerbating the Jewish-Arab conflict.

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. The Sephardi Jews (Jews who were originally from Spain, North Africa and Arab countries) spoke Arabic and had a cultural connection to their Arab neighbors. In the mid-1800s, Ashkenazi (native European) Jews started moving to Hebron and, in 1925, the Slobodka Yeshiva, officially the Yeshiva of Hevron, Knesset Yisrael-Slobodka, was opened. Yeshiva students lived separately from the Sephardi community, and from the Arab population. Due to this isolation, the Arabs viewed them with suspicion and hatred, and identified them as Zionist immigrants. 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 started throwing rocks at the yeshiva students. That afternoon, one student, Shmuel Rosenholtz, went to the yeshiva alone. Arab rioters later broke in and killed him, and that was only the beginning.

Friday night, Rabbi Ya’acov Slonim’s son invited any fearful Jews to stay in his house. The rabbi was highly regarded in the community, and he had a gun. Many Jews took him up on this offer, and many Jews were eventually murdered there.

As early as 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Arabs began to gather en masse. 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 Hebron, the Arabs entered Jewish courtyards with no opposition.

Rabbi Slonim, who had tried to shelter the Jewish population, 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 and was killed on the spot. In the end, 12 Sephardi Jews and 55 Ashkenazi Jews were murdered.

A few Arabs did try to help the Jews. Nineteen Arab families saved dozens, maybe even hundreds of Jews. Zmira Mani wrote about 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 who they had saved, and found a policeman to escort them safely to the police station at Beit Romano.

The police station turned into a shelter for the Jews that morning of August 24. It also became a synagogue as the Orthodox Jews gathered there and 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.

The Jews were besieged in Beit Romano for three days. Each night, ten men were allowed to leave to attend a funeral in Hebron’s ancient Jewish cemetery for the murdered Jews of the day.

When the massacre finally ended, the surviving Jews were forced to leave their home city and resettled in Jerusalem. Some Jewish families tried to move back to Hebron, but were removed by the British authorities in 1936 at the start of the Arab revolt. In 1948, the War of Independence granted Israel statehood, but further cut the Jews off from Hebron, a city that was captured by King Abdullah's Arab Legion and ultimately annexed to Jordan.

When Jews finally gained control of the city in 1967, a small number of massacre survivors 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.

From Zionism-Israel

The Hebron Massacre of 1929

In August of 1929, Arabs instigated violence in the Jerusalem area that spread to most of Palestine. The violence began in Jerusalem and soon spread to Hebron, Motza, and Safed, all old Jewish communities in Palestine that supposedly lived in harmony with their Arab neighbors, rather than Zionist settlements.

In Hebron, the Jewish community which had been there for hundreds of years, refused the help proffered by the Haganah underground when it seemed that Arab agitation was beginning. They trusted their neighbors.

The principle instigators were Haj Amin El Husseini and Aref el Aref. Aref el Aref, along with Husseini, had been responsible for previous riots. He had now been appointed district officer of the Beersheba district. Aref el Aref paid a visit to Hebron shortly before the riots and preached an inflammatory sermon on Thursday, August 22. Rumors were spread that the Jews had killed Arabs in Jerusalem, that the Jews had burned down the Al-Aqsa mosque (supposedly this was documented with a fake photo) or that the Jews were planning to build a synagogue near the wailing wall.

There are many indications that the Arabs, as well as the British had advance warning of the disturbances, yet the British did nothing to try to head them off. There was one British policeman in Hebron, Raymond Cafferata. He commanded a force of 18 mounted police and 15 on foot. Of these, all but one were Arabs. Eleven were over age and there was but a single Jew among them.

Beginning about 3 PM on Friday, August 23, there was agitation in Hebron. People returning from prayers in Jerusalem were claiming that the Jews were killing Arabs there. Arabs began stoning the Hebron Yeshiva. An orthodox Yeshiva student tried to leave the Yeshiva building and was stabbed to death. Cafferata now managed to quiet things down for the present.

The riots began in earnest, however, on the morning of Saturday, August 24. Arabs killed 64 to 67 Jews in Hebron and wounded many others. Babies were beheaded. Old rabbis were castrated. There were incidents of rape, torture and mutilation. Hands and fingers were torn off bodies, apparently for jewelry.

Cafferata and the Jewish policeman shot at the rioters and killed 8 of them. The Arab policemen fired in the air. Cafferata called for reinforcements, but these arrived only about noon, five hours later. The British had a total of 292 police in Palestine and were busy dealing with disturbances elsewhere presumably. Cafferata, not a friend of the Jews, 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 Sherif 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."
(Bernard Wasserstein, The British in Palestine: The Mandatory Government and the Arab-Jewish Conflict 1917-1929, Oxford England, Basil Blackwell, 1991)

About 435 Jews survived by hiding with their Arab neighbors. They were hidden by 28 families who risked their lives to save the Jews.

About noon, British reinforcements arrived. Arab prisoners were forced to bury the dead in mass graves. They starting singing in celebration during the proceedings.

After visiting Hebron, the High Commissioner John Chancellor wrote to his son:

I do not think that history records many worse horrors in the last few hundred years...

I am so tired and disgusted with this country and everything concerned with it that I only want to leave it as soon as I can.

The surviving Jews were evacuated by the British, but some returned and lived in Hebron until the riots of 1936.

May Their Souls Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

No comments:

Post a Comment