The Cave of the Patriachs in Hebron.
The Cave of the Patriachs in Hebron. Photo by Hagai Ofen
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On this day in 1929, the infamous massacre of the Jews of Hebron by Palestinian Arabs began. Unrest had spread to the city from Jerusalem, where a week earlier the grand mufti, Haj Amin al Husseini, helped spread rumors that Jews were killing and raping Muslims and were planning to burn down Al-Aqsa Mosque. By Thursday, August 22, Jews were being attacked in established Jewish communities like Safed and Motza, as well as in Hebron. Over a 24-hour period, one British police officer in Hebron, Raymond Cafferata, attempted to keep Jews and Arabs separate and dispel the inflammatory rumors.

Many of Hebron’s 800 Jewish residents took refuge in Beit Romano, the British police station, and a large number of Jews were protected by their Arab neighbors. But the violence was nonetheless devastating, leaving 67 Jews dead, many of them students at the Hebron Yeshiva. Arab rioters at one point told local rabbi Yaakov Slonim, who had opened his home to frightened Jews, that they would spare the town’s Sephardi Jews if he would turn over the Ashkenazim. When he refused, Slonim was killed.

When the riots died down, Mandatory officials directed the remaining Jews in Hebron to leave town. They did, and resettled in Jerusalem. Although 160 Jews returned to the town two years later, they had all left again by the time of Israeli Independence. Only after the Six-Day War in 1967 did Jews return to Hebron. Today, there is a settlement of some 500 Jewish residents in the heart of the city of more than 160,000 Palestinians.