This week in history: the 1929 Hebron massacre

Spurred by rumors of an impending takeover of Al-Aksa Mosque, a mob slaughtered 63 Jews while over 400 were saved by local Arab families.

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8 Responses to “This week in history: the 1929 Hebron massacre”

  1. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    Disturbances 1929

    “Altogether in the week of disturbances, 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed and 339 Jews and at least 232 Arabs were wounded. The Yishuv emerged profoundly shocked: Their shield, the British government, for a long moment had lost control, the Arabs had bared their true feelings and their teeth….Ben Gurion and his colleagues perceived that this might undermine their whole enterprise, if the Jews (and the Mandatory government) were to loose heart. So, fairly quickly, expressions of vulnerability and assertions of the implacability of Arab antagonism and British impotence and indifference were repressed. Again guarded optimism, and a feeling that the mobs represented but a small proportion of the Arabs, took hold – for without faith in the future how could the Yishuv develop?”

    Benny Morris: Righteous Victims, Vintage 2001, page 116

  2. Ben Says:

    The riots in Hebron and Jerusalem were aided by anti-Zionist British officials and security personnel, who openly encouraged violence against Palestine Jews. This fact, and the names of the individuals involved, were well-known and widely publicized in the Yishuv at the time. As recently as 25 years ago yet more eye-witness testimony from an Arab resident of Hebron was published in the Haaretz newspaper, describing how a British official had incited the Hebron mob to kill the Jews on that fateful day. Some years earlier, the same newspaper published an interview with the Mayor of Hebron who also told of the British officials’ incitement. The complicity of senior British officials in the 1929 Jerusalem massacre has also been described in several historical accounts and personal memoirs.

    Why is this information excised from English-language history books?

  3. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    “Whitehall sent Sir John Hope-Simpson, a retired colonial official, to look into immigration, Jewish settlement, and land sales. He wrote in a letter that accompanied his final report: “All British officials tend to become pro-Arab, or perhaps, more accurately anti-Jew….Personally, I can quite well understand this trait. The helplessness of the fellah appeals to the British official. The offensive assertion of the the Jewish immigrant is, on the other hand, repellent.”
    Righteous Victims, page 117

  4. Ben Says:

    Hope-Simpson’s comments are anodyne generalities, and don’t refer to the incitement of sectarian violence.

    I am referring to specific documented acts perpetrated by named individuals. We know from eyewitness testimony that the 1921 and 1929 massacres were instigated by senior British officials who “explained” to Amin el-Husseini that the Arabs had to demonstrate their opposition to Zionism violently in order for British sympathizers to be able to push through an anti-Zionist line with their superiors. We know from eyewitness testimony that British police officers incited the Hebron mob, and that all police were mysteriously absent from mixed Jerusalem and Hebron neighbourhoods on the day of the massacre. We know that in order to demonstrate evenhandedness, the British imprisoned Jews for possession and use of weapons to defend themselves and their families, even as the rioters were murdering and maiming Jews wherever they found them.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg.

  5. modernity Says:


    Do you have a link or reference source? That would be very handy.

  6. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    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)

  7. Ben Says:

    modernity: “Do you have a link or reference source? That would be very handy”

    How’s your Hebrew? There are dozens of accounts in various Hebrew-language books, newspaper and magazine articles, that recount these details.

    I wouldn’t rely on Wasserstein in general. The craveness of his account of WW2 Holocaust politics is apoplexy-inducing. Also Benny Morris does not know how to give proper weight to the currents of will and motivation that underlie historical events.

    I’m not a historian, and do not keep lists of references. The Haaretz archives, and those of other Israeli newpapers, have some of the information I mention. Sefer Hevron has many details. Other Hebrew-language histories by authors like Yossef Nedava could help too.

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