"I think that people don't talk enough about the 1929 riots," said 98-year-old Abraham Kiryati. "Unfortunately, the story is like ancient history for my children and grandchildren."
Kiryati, was born in Hevron in 1921, as was his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, descendants of Spanish expellees. They lived in the city for centuries. He remembers the peace before the 1929 massacre and the chaos which engulfed his family afterward.
"Until the pogroms, we lived among real "cousins," but then happened what happened. There was news that the Jews conquered the Temple Mount and murdered Arabs and it drove the Hevron Arabs out of their minds. Imagine that neighbors came and slaughtered those who lived near them, with whom they were friendly and even close. It's hard to explain."
August 18 marked the 90th anniversary of the 1929 riots, in which 140 victims were murdered throughout the country and some 340 were wounded. Eight days earlier, on Tisha B'Av, several Beitar [Revisionist Zionist organization] members protested for the Jews' right to freedom of worship at the Kotel. The demonstration sparked rage in the Arab public. In the days following Tisha B'Av, riotous demonstrations and speeches were held against the Jews, conducted by Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the anti-Semitic Mufti of Jerusalem. On Friday, September 17, hundreds of armed Arabs with sticks and knives arrived at the Temple Mount and began a campaign of murder and destruction against the Jews in the city. The events spread from the capital to many places in the country, and only ceased six days later.
The small settlement in Israel buried its dead and tried to treat the many wounded, some of whom suffered from the cruel amputation of their limbs. Many Jews lost their property and many communities were abandoned, either temporarily or permanently. The residents of Kfar Uriah, for example, were hiding in the house of Sheikh who lived nearby, but their village was robbed and set on fire. It was only resettled 15 years later. The settlement on Har Tuv was also burned and some of its residents returned to it a year later. Both Beer Tuvia and Motza were evacuated and other residents returned to settle there a year later. Pogroms took place in other places as well such as Tel Aviv, Gedera, Ein Zeitim, Ramla, Safed and others.
Despite the fact that the pogroms took place all over Israel, the 1929 riots are most connected in most people's minds to the city of Hevron. Half of those murdered were slaughtered in the ancestral city, and the rioters there were particularly cruel. Hundreds of years of living together didn't help the Jews against their neighbors' lust for murder. They used an axe to murder the pharmacist Ben-Zion Gershon Hapisach, who treated them devotedly for 40 years, not before torturing his daughter in front of him. They didn't even have mercy on the banker Eliezer Dan Slonim that everyone, Jews and Arabs, trusted implicitly. They broke into his house and shot him with his own gun and then continued to slaughter whoever they could.The witnesses to the Hevron massacre are diminishing as the years go by. Kiryati is one of the last ones alive who knew the Hevron as it was before the massacre. However, even he prefers not to say too much anymore because his memory is beginning to falter.
Yossi Seh-Nes is the nephew of Abraham Kiryati. A long-standing career in the public service has led him to be the mayor of Netivot, the Consumer Protection Authority director, the director of the Ministry of Communications, etc. Today he spends all his time building the family tree and studying the history of the land of Israel. An important chapter in this story is captured by the 1929 events because a large number of the residents of Hevron at the time were immigrants from Spain, and they have extensive family ties.
"My great grandfather, Eliyahu Kapiloto, built a house outside the Hevron ghetto together with Rabbi Slonim. Today, these houses are in Area A and not under Israeli control. My grandfather was the first electrician of the Cave of Patriarchs and a long time before 1929, he placed electric lights above the graves there."
Seh-Nes talks about what happened to the family that bitter day. "The Arabs moved between the houses and reached the distant houses of Rabbi Slonim and Kapiloto. My great-grandfather stood on the stairs, protected the house and was stabbed deeply. His wife, Rebecca Kapiloto, shouted, 'I have gold under the bed, take it and leave.' They took it and left. When their son, Musa Capilotto, saw his father being stabbed, he fled to a chicken coop and hid there. My great-grandfather helped bury the dead and later died from an infection from his stab wound."
How was the story passed down in your family? Did you talk about it?
"What happened to us reminds me of what happened to my wife, who is a second-generation Holocaust survivor. There were some who talked about it, but the majority did not. When I was a teenager, my grandfather told me how, as the electrician, he was rescued from a near massacre in the Cave of Patriarchs when they realized that a Jew was in the mosque. His brother told me how he was saved from the 1929 massacre but no more than this. Think of the fact that those murdered in Hevron were their relatives. My grandmother, for example, lost ten relatives in one day. In retrospect, I understand that it was a huge trauma."
Noam Arnon, the spokesperson for the Jewish community in Hevron, explains the significance of the pogroms. "That year, the total number of Jews in Israel was 150,000, of which about 140 were murdered - one out of 1,000. This is as if 6,500 men, women and children were murdered in Israel today. That's a horrific number that can give an idea of the shock of the community. "
As if the loss of soul and property were not enough, there were also negative diplomatic consequences of the pogroms. "Following the progroms, the British established a commission from which the White Paper eventually rolled out, which severely restricted the immigration of Jews to the country because the British feared the Arabs. They understood that the Arabs could carry out a coordinated terrorist attack throughout the country."
But the pogroms and their dire consequences also had a second side: the understanding that the British could not be trusted. "In Jerusalem, the Defense Organization, which was very small and only in its infancy, pushed back the rioters and saved several neighborhoods," Arnon explains. In Tel Aviv as well, members of Haganah and Beitar pushed back the rioters at the cost of their lives.
"The leadership understood that a defense network was established and invested in resources, the purchase of weapons and mobilization of manpower. Ultimately, the pogroms were the warning light that saved the Jewish community in Israel 19 years later. The Haganah was the base of the IDF, which saved the Jews in Israel and won over the enemies during the War of Independence. "