Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lessons of the Hebron massacre for 'coexistence'

This week marks 80 years since the Hebron massacre, in which 67 Jews were murdered and 70 wounded. The Hebron massacre revealed the ugly face of pure bigotry: the Arab mob did not single out the 'Zionists' among the Jews they killed. They did not single out the Ashkenazim. All Jews were fair game, including the non-Zionists of the old Sephardi Yishuv who had 'lived in peace with Arabs' for generations.

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."

According to 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."

Another story of betrayal is that of Ben-tzion Gershon, a doctor and pharmacist who treated Jews and Arabs in Hebron. He opened the door to an Arab woman who feigned that she was about to give birth. The woman moved aside, and a murderous mob stormed in and gang-raped his wife. When Dr. Gershon begged them to stop, they answered: "If you don't want to see it, you don't have to" – and gouged his eyes out before killing him, according to the testimony of one of Gershon's daughters.

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.


victor said...

Bataween, you could not be more right in saying that coexistence, in and of itself, does not lead automatically to "mutual respect." The Hutus and Tutsis had lived together for generations before the Rwanda genocide. Just because they lived side by side did not prevent some of them from massacring people they had had as neighbors for years.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

off topic/

Martin Peretz presents a discussion of Islamic jihadism as a form of totalitarianism.

Here's a book on the influence of Nazism on the Muslim Brotherhood and on the British-appointed mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini

sammish said...

The 1929's Hebron massacre is mentioned in some detailed in the lastest impressive edited book by Andrew Bostom's "The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism". A must read for anyone interested in jewish history and islamic history.

Although without a doubt the massacre was a calamity for the small Hebron's Yishuv, it pales in severity and cruelty compared to massacres during the same years perpetrated in Morocco and Algeria. I was stunded by the ferocity of massacres, rapes and killing of children in most of the major cities of North Africa described by French authorities and letters of surviving jewish leaders and rabis...

The lesson is that Jews can never be in peace with muslims. Muslims will NEVER leave them alone, even if they open up a bit and extend their hands of friendship, the question is when will the mob rise against the Jews again. Of course, I am speaking generally here. It will take only a rumor or a mad man to trigger the genocidal tendencies of islamic jew-hatred.

Heather said...

This was published in the Wall Street Journal :


Heather said...

The book mentioned at the end of the article can be found here:

Anonymous said...

The article in Pajamas Media, which was the primary source is completely garbeled. First, Rav Ya'akov Yosef Slonim Dwek was the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Rav Me'ir Franko (not "Frank") was the Sephardi Chief Rabbi. Both men were Sephardi-Mizrachim. Slonim Dwek was able to obtain the position based on two Ashkenazi ancestors who made Aliyah in 1844 from Belarus. The fact that they were the son in law and grandson of the Mittler Rebbe accorded them enough respect by the miniscule Ashkenazi Community in Hebron to land the position.

As for who invited the Bocherim to take shelter, that was NOT Rav Slonim Dwek. It was his son, Dan Eliezer Slonim Dwek, a branch manager with Banc L'e'umi ( though then it was known by uts original name). He was a rabbi as well but opted to live like a Chiloni.

The Bocherim were from K'nesset Yisrael, aka Slobodka Yeshiva which had relocated from Lithuania to Hebron only six years earlier. Most Bocherim were Diaspora Aahkenazim and as such spoke no Ladino or Judeo Arabic, the traditional languages of the Hebron Jewish Community.

The "son" being quoted is the son of Dan Eliezer, NOT Rav Ya'akov Yosef. The son, my father, is Shlomo Slonim Dwek, less than a year old at that time. His elder brother Aron, almost 3, was a victim, as was Dan Eliezer, his wife Chanah Orlansky Slonim Dwek, her parents, the father being Chief Ashkenai Rabbi in Zichron Ya'akov who was visiting his daughter and grandchildren. Altogether our family lost 18 members so that nearly 30 Sephardi-Mizrachim were killed, forming the majority of the victims (the final toll if 67 relates to those that died in Jerusalem up to a year after the pogrom from wounds incurred. There were 58 killed in the pogrom itself, and though Muzrachim were the larger of the two it was close to 50:50, until the latter deaths occurred in Jerusalem).

Rav Ya'akov Yosef Slonim Dwek was NOT killed. He allowed Dan Eliezer to have the family home and lived in a flat in a home he leased to an Arab. Dan Eliezer's sister, Ruti, was with their father, Rav Ya'akov Yosef. After the Ethnic Cleansing, three days after the pogrom, Rav Ya'akov Yosef, Ruti and my father Shlomo lived in Jerusalem.

bataween said...

Many thanks for your comment and corrections, which I have tried to incorporate in the post.