Friday, July 30, 1999

The Lessons of 1929

The Lessons of 1929
July 30, 1999

Not too long ago a journalist visiting Hebron asked me why the Jewish Community of Hebron so stubbornly refuses to accept protection from the Palestinian Authority. “After all,” he stated, “it is probable that in the near future all of Hebron will be part of the Palestinian State, including the Jewish neighborhoods where you live. Then you will have no choice but to accept protection from Yassir Arafat’s police force.”

Exactly seventy years ago, four Jews, three men and a woman, made their way from Jerusalem to Hebron. The woman’s name was then Rachel Yanait. She later married Yitzhak ben Zvi, the second president of Israel. The group came to Hebron representing the Haganah and brought with them weapons. The message they brought was not optimistic. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini was stirring up trouble.  His incitement was likely to lead to violence.

They offered the weapons to Hebron’s Jewish community as a means of protection, just in case the rioting reached Hebron. But Hebron’s leadership was not worried. The previous riots in 1921 left Hebron untouched. Hebron’s Arabs and Jews lived together as one big family. There were Arabs who spoke Yiddish and the Jews spoke Arabic. They attended each other’s weddings and other festivities. The Jewish women left their small children with the Arab neighbors when they attended to marketing. Rabbi Dov Cohen, now 87, then a 17 year old yeshiva student, told us how a group of young men hiked to Tarkumia, a few kilometers outside of Hebron. There, the Arab women greeted them with song and dance.

Hebron’s Jewish leadership refused to take the weapons, saying that they would only be interpreted as a provocation. The four members of the Haganah were politely thanked and sent back to Jerusalem as they had arrived, weapons in hand.

The riots and massacre occurring Friday evening and Saturday morning left 67 Hebron Jews dead and over 70 wounded. First-hand accounts of the atrocities speak of the unspeakable: rape, torture, castration. People were literally hacked to pieces. The British officer, Capperata, did nothing to try and stop the attacks. His Arab police force stood idly by while Jews screamed for help. A small number of Arabs hid Jewish families, effectively saving their lives. But the results spoke for themselves.

The British rounded up the survivors in the police station, then located at Beit Romano. They were left on the basement floor for three days, without food or water. The Jews were then evicted to Jerusalem, bringing to an abrupt end a Jewish community hundreds and thousands of years old. The British also prevented any pictures from being photographed in Hebron. The atrocities were vehemently denied.

After the questioning journalist heard these accounts he continued to query. “Do you then believe that all of Hebron’s Arab residents are terrorists.”

I explained to him that the perpetrators of 1929 massacre were friends and neighbors of the Jews the mutilated and slaughtered. One of the most loved Arabs in Hebron, a man named Issa, worked for the baker, Noah Immerman. Issa spoke Yiddish. Issa tortured his employer and then killed him. “If this is what happened when the Jews and Arabs were on friendly terms, what would happen today if Hebron’s Arabs thought they had the opportunity to repeat their deeds of August 1929 and get away with it?”

However, the lessons of 1929 reach much further than Hebron. During the 1929 riots Jews were killed in Jerusalem, Motza, Jaffa, and Safed. Hebron was the climax of Amin el-Husseini’s incitement. The present Arab leadership, including el-Husseini’s cousin, Yassir Arafat, and his nephew, Feisel el-Husseini, know too that it takes little to stir up the masses. Feisel el-Husseini proved this while orchestrating a decade of Intifada. Arafat proved it almost four years ago following the ‘tunnel opening” in Jerusalem, causing a minor war and leading to the deaths of Israeli soldiers.

The lessons of 1929 must teach us, not only in Hebron, but throughout the State of Israel, that we cannot and must not put our trust or our lives in the hands of anyone except ourselves. Surely we must not depend upon the ‘protection’ of a Palestinian armed force. Almost 300 Jews have been killed since Oslo began on the White House lawn in 1993. This, in spite of the fundamental premise of Oslo that the Palestinians will prevent violence and terror against Jews. Senior military officers admit that without cooperation from the Palestinian police force, Oslo is doomed to failure. In other words, our safety, as individuals and as a country, -  our lives and existance, are in their hands.

In Hebron, in 1929, we learned this lesson once, the hard way. There is no reason why should have to learn the lesson again, be it in Hebron, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or anywhere in the State of Israel.

David Wilder is a spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Hebron

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