The 1929 Hebron and Safed Massacres: Israel Remembers

On Aug. 24, many Israelis woke up remembering a dark day in their history. Eighty-seven years ago, dozens of Jewish people were cruelly slaughtered inside two of Israel’s four holy cities, Hebron and Safed – though the cities are located more than 200 kilometers apart. The Hebron and Safed massacres – outrages sparked by falsities and racism – are somber reminders of the tension between Arabs and Jews that, although no longer nearly of the same scale, continues to trigger conflict today.

While the historical conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Jews has been going on for centuries, the 1929 Hebron and Safed massacres brought it to its zenith of violence. While the two people groups had enjoyed a nearly six-year reprieve, by 1928, tensions had flared and violent outbursts were common once again. The source of the newly risen disputes: the right for Jews to pray at the Western Wall – also known as the Wailing Wall. The conflict heightened when Muslim leader Haj Amin al-Husseini declared that Jews had placed Arab mosques and other holy Muslim sites in danger. With new numbers of Jews coming back to settle in these lands, Arabs felt threatened by the growing Israeli presence. Believing that the Jews opposed them in some way, Arab hatred turned into violence.

To once again appeal for the right to pray at the Western Wall, the Jews organized a demonstration in the Jewish city of Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 1929. Six thousand Jews chanted, “The wall is ours!” A day later, hundreds of Jews marched to the Wailing Wall to protest in support of their right to worship there. On Friday, Aug. 16, the Supreme Muslim Council organized a rally that was triggered by an incendiary sermon. The demonstrators trooped to the Western Wall, where they burned prayer books and notes written by hundreds of Jewish supplicants and placed into the wall’s cracks.

British involvement at the time seemed to do little to assuage the violence. Only one British police officer was in Hebron, unprepared for the hostility that was about to take place. Arabs had been protesting the Balfour Declaration, which promised support for a national home for Jews in Palestine. As tensions mounted about Jewish settlers, warnings about the violence went unanswered by British authorities until the worst had already happened.

Friday, Aug. 23 marked the beginning of the horrific, violent reaction to the Jews’ protests. Arab anger spread outward from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and for the next 24 hours, Jews were maimed and brutally slaughtered. According to several reports, several Arab police officers joined the angry mobs instead of protecting the people. Sixty-seven Jews were killed in Hebron, the center of the worst violence, while Safed incurred a total count of 18 murdered Jews. In all, by the end of Aug. 24, 133 lives were cruelly taken, and more than 300 other people were injured. It became an unspeakable, bloody mark on the history of these two holy cities.

A small museum in the Old City of Hebron – established by the Jewish settler historian Noam Arnon – displays evidence of the massacre that took place nearly nine decades ago: a photograph of a girl struck over the head with a sword, her brain spilling out; a woman with bandaged hands; people with their eyes gouged out. These are the well-documented atrocities committed by an Arab mob of people seeking to drive their Jewish neighbors out of Hebron.

Today, Safed still stands in the northern region of the nation Israel, while Hebron is centered within the West Bank. Hebron is known as the final resting-place of the biblical prophet Abraham, so it holds a special place in the heart of the Jewish people. While Hebron now contains a large number of Palestinian Arabs as well as Jewish settlers, the two people groups’ tensions still rank among the highest in the country. Sectors are laid out in the city, either Jewish quadrants or Palestinian ones. Friction remains in the city of Hebron between the two peoples, as little has changed in Jewish-Arab relations. Although the horrific and widespread type of tragedy that occurred in 1929 has not taken place since, it does not mean there is peace in the region today.

This article originally appeared on Philos Project, August 24, 2016, and reposted with permission.