Sunday, August 26, 2012

1929 Redux?

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Last week a young woman from Toronto visited me at my office here in Hebron. She told that her name was Slonim, that her family was from Hebron, that her family was miraculously saved during the 1929 massacre.
I told her, yes, members of the Slonim family were holed up in Rabbi Ya'akov Slonim's home. The Rabbi's Arab landlord, hearing about the impending riots, stood at the door of the house, refusing to allow the marauding Arabs to enter. They put a sword on his throat, threatening to kill him if he didn't move. He didn't budge. They drew blood. He stood his ground. Finally, they left. The building's residents survived, including her grandmother.
The young woman's eyes bulged. 'That's the exact story my grandmother told me," she exclaimed.
Not far from Rabbi Ya'akov Slonim's house is Beit Hadassah - the Hadassah House in Hebron, was built in 1893 as a medical clinic for Arabs and Jews in the city.  It served the community for 26 years.
Today Beit Hadassah is home to Jewish families in Hebron. A small synagogue is located on the ground floor. The basement floor is rather unique. There is the Hebron Heritage Museum, detailing the magnificent history of Israel's first Jewish city, some 3,800 years old. Many of the groups touring Hebron visit this site. It provides, as I am wont to tell visitors, a taste of Hebron's Jewish history, over the centuries. 
Perhaps the most difficult and emotional room in the museum is a memorial to victims of the 1929 riots and slaughter. At least 67 Jews were murdered in Hebron, with over 70 injured. A total of over 130 Jews were killed throughout pre-state Israel, in Jerusalem, Tzfat, Motza and other places.
The accounts are documented and the events well-known. On Thursday, August 22, that being the 16th day of the Hebrew month of Av, a group of Jews from the Haganah, led by Mordechai Shneerson, came to Hebron and met with its Jewish leadership. 'Mufti Amin el-Husseini is inciting. There's going to be trouble. Take weapons to protect yourselves.'  Hebron's Jewish leaders refused. 'The Arabs are our friends. The protected us in the past, and will do so again now. We've already met with them. Weapons will only act as a provocation.' 
The Haganah representatives left with the weapons they'd brought for Hebron's Jews, who remained defenseless. They paid dearly for their error in judgment. The next day rioting commenced. One Hebron Jew, a yeshiva student, Shmuel Rosenhalz, was murdered just prior to the beginning of Shabbat. British police officer, Major Raymond Cafferata, told the Jews to stay home and lock their doors. The next morning Arabs went house to house, torturing, raping, pillaging and killing.  Virtually nothing was done to help the Jews. True, there were Arabs who saved Jews. But not enough. At least 67 were killed. Three days later, the survivors were expelled. 
Following recitation of the account, and viewing of the horrid photos in the room, I repeat, to just about anyone and everyone visiting with me, two messages: First, in 1967, when Israel liberated Hebron, it did not conquer and occupy a foreign city. It came home. Second, Israel always has to be able to protect itself. When we leave our fate in the hands of others, this is the result.
In theory, the lesson need only be learned once, the hard way. Unfortunately Israel continues to make the same mistake, time and time again. Since Oslo was signed, putting much of Israel's security in the hands of our neighbors, over 1,500 Jews have been killed in cold-blooded terror attacks. Since abandonment of Gush Katif and Gaza, well over 10,000 rockets have been shot into Israel. Those attacks continue, to this very day.
This is particularly significant at present: To Israel's north we are witness to a barbaric slaughter of men, women and children. I'm no great fan of Syria, or its Arab population. They have warred against Israel and killed our citizens. However, politics aside, it is difficult to watch a twenty-first century bloodbath, perpetrated by one man trying to hold on to power, with virtually nothing being done to stop him and the carnage. World powerstis and hiss, but that's about it.
North east of Damascus, less than a thousand miles away, sits another Bashar Assad, this one going by the name of Ahmadinejad. He doesn't care a whole lot more about his hometown folks in Teheran than does the butcher in Damascus. But his target is different. About 590 miles away, (that being some 1,500 kilometers) is Tel Aviv.
So what's the lesson to be learned? Crystal clear. If we – if Israel waits for someone else to protect us, to ensure our security, the loss is liable to be much greater that the Jews massacred in 1929. The world watches as Syria burns; why should they act different while, G-d forbid, Israel burns? Hebron's 1929 Jewish population was decimated, while others watched from the sidelines. Would world leaders act any differently from Raymond Cafferata?
Why were Hebron's 1929 survivors expelled, following the riots? Years ago I was told, by a man whose family survived, that his father wrote to the British high commissioner, asking that very question. The answer was short and to the point. 'There were more Arabs than Jews in Hebron and you couldn't continue living together. It was easier to expel the Jews than the Arabs.'
What might today's international 'high commissioner' declare, following an Iranian attack on Israel? Might not the state of Israel face the fate of Hebron's 1929 Jewish survivors?
1929 Redux?

All photos: David Wilder