Hebron – a reminder of 1929

August 23-24 is the 80th anniversary of the 1929 massacre by Arabs of 67 defenceless Jewish people in Hebron. 

Hebron, located 32 km. south of Jerusalem in the Judean hills, is the site of the oldest Jewish community in the world, which dates back to Biblical times. Abraham purchased the field where the Tomb of the Patriarchs is located (photo) as a burial place for his wife Sarah. According to Jewish tradition, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are buried in the Tomb.

Hebron was one of the first places where Abraham resided after his arrival in Canaan. King David was anointed in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years. One thousand years later, during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, the city was the scene of extensive fighting. Jews lived in Hebron almost continuously throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman periods.

It was only in 1929 – after the 67 Jews were murdered and the remainder were forced to flee – that the city became temporarily “free” of Jews.  Jews tried to return in the 1930’s but this was prevented by the British. After the 1967 Six-Day War, the Jewish community of Hebron was re-established, including at nearby Kiryat Arba. 

The events of 1929 are summarised in the Jewish Virtual Library  and Wickepedia.  Here are some eyewitness accounts, a filmmakers discussion, a memorial video, footage of Jewish houses from prior to 1929. and the recent commemorative service, and an article by David Wilder on what it means to him to live in Hebron.

Jonathon Mark has provided some context to the significance of the events in The New York Jewish week. His article provides a reminder that “for years, when Jewish pioneers first returned to the Holy Land, the New York Times covered Hebron as a Jewish city rather than a settlement. When U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau visited Hebron in 1914, the Times (July 12, 1914) reported that the streets were festive and decorated, “Jewish school children sang songs of welcome,” with no indication that Hebron’s Jewish community was anything but indigenous. The Times called Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs by its Hebrew name, the Machpela.  In World War I, when British troops first entered the area, the Times (Dec. 8, 1917) again emphasized Hebron as a Jewish place”.

This is very relevant when he considers that “The crux of the argument against the settlements, often cited in The New York Times, and elsewhere, is the Fourth Geneva Convention that precludes a country from having its civilians settle in land that was conquered in war. But this August, every Israeli paper is commemorating 1929 and a murderous Arab riot that essentially ended — or “ethnically cleansed,” if you will — a Jewish community dating back to biblical times. If Jews were returning to homes and buildings that they only left after an ethnic cleansing, rather than first arriving after a military conquest, is it still a violation of the Geneva Convention?”  and indeed as Jonathon Mark adds, “Although every major American paper has written about the settlements this summer, sometimes at length, stirred by the Obama administration that has made the “freezing” of settlements the crux of a peace plan, so far we haven’t seen a single American paper that has pointed out that some of the settlements, especially Hebron, are hardly settlements but old Jewish cities.”

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