False rumours began reaching Hebron from Jerusalem that the blood of thousands of Muslims was flowing like water. The Arabs of Hebron were called on to avenge their brothers. Early on Saturday 24 August 1929, the Jewish Sabbath, Arab mobs, armed with clubs, knives, and axes, began to gather. The Arab women and children threw stones, the men ransacked Jewish houses and destroyed Jewish property. With only a single British police officer in Hebron (Raymond Cafferata), the Arabs entered Jewish courtyards unopposed.
According to this article*, the head of the Sephardi community in Hebron "Rabbi (Ya'akov) Slonim ( sic : actually the head of the Ashkenazi community on account of two ancestors from Belarus), who had tried to shelter much of the Jewish population in his own home (Sic: it was actually the Rav's son, Dan Eliezer Slonim Dwek, who invited the Bocherim to take refuge in his home and was later murdered, not Rabbi Yaakov Slonim), 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 (Dan Eliezer worked for a bank, although also a rabbi) refused to turn over any of the students and was killed on the spot, along with his wife and young child. In the end, 12 Sephardi Jews and 55 Ashkenazi Jews were murdered."
Rabbi Slonim's son (not correct - Shlomo, the son of Dan Eliezer is being quoted here - ed) , his family's only survivor of the Hebron massacre:
Given the good relationship he enjoyed with his Arab neighbors (my emphasis-ed), local Jews believed they would be safe in his home."
"They were wrong. As the Arabs came to the home, the people inside tried to bar the door with their bodies, but they couldn't hold back the mob, he said.
"After bursting in, the Arabs killed 24 people with knives and machetes. Among them were Slonim's father, his mother, Hannah, 24, and her parents who were visiting for Shabbat. They also fatally wounded his older brother, who was only four. He succumbed to his wounds several days later in Jerusalem and was buried there."
Of course, there is no doubt that some Arabs acted honourably and saved Jews. Indeed it has become almost fashionable, as the Haaretz columnist Tom Segev does, to emphasise that Arabs hid over 300 Jews in 28 homes.
"Some Arabs showed great courage in protecting Jews that day. One Arab landlord refused to allow his Jewish tenants to be murdered. He stood fast outside the door of their home, even when a fellow Arab put a sword to his throat and drew blood. The landlord refused to budge and finally the mob relented."
Examples abound of Arabs saving Jews in the Iraqi pogrom of 1941 known as the Farhoud, which claimed the lives of 179 Jews and in the Libyan pogrom of 1945, in which 130 Jews were murdered.
In her book, A sense of purpose, Suzy Eban describes how in 1929 her grandparents in their farmhouse on the road to Jerusalem at Motza were forewarned by an Arab employee of the approaching mob. Thanks to her, they were able to barricade themselves in, and survived unscathed.
On the other hand, their neighbours, the Makleff family, who worked closely with Arabs, were not so lucky. Their 'involvement with Arabs', as Suzy Eban puts it, did not save them from being murdered. Only two members of the Makleff family survived.
The idea that familiarity leads to mutual respect underpins umpteen modern interfaith and coexistence initiatives. If Arabs and Jews live together, talk to each other, play music together, so the thinking goes, then harmonious relations, and ultimately, peace, will follow.
Events such as the Hebron massacre also show that familiarity can breed contempt or festering resentment. Jews caught up in the Farhoud and the Libyan pogrom recognised among their Arab assailants the butcher, the milkman, the gardener.
The lessons of the Hebron massacre are that coexistence is not simply a matter of living together. They are that incitement fuelled by false rumours, unchecked anger at grievances real or imagined, and sheer greed and opportunism, can turn ordinary people into violent monsters.
Remembering the Hebron massacre (Wall St Journal - with thanks: Heather)
Anti-Jewish violence in Palestine (CAMERA)
Pierre van Paassen's article: Days of our Years (excerpt)
*The article in question contains quite a few errors, we now understand from Shlomo's son, the great grandson of Rav Yaakov Slonim Dwek. He maintains that 30 Sephardi/Mizrahim were killed including 18 members of his family, a total of 58 in Hebron. The figure of 67 is the final toll including those who died of wounds incurred up to a year later - about 50 per cent Sephardim/Mizrahim. Please read his comment in the thread below.