Building for Jews in Hevron is not just a matter of living space
Building for Jews in Hevron is not just a matter of living space

It is a saga of tragedy, struggle and triumph.

Following the bloody 1929 massacre of Jews in Hevron at the hands of Arab terrorists, hundreds of survivors were confined to just a few rooms by the British authorities.  Traumatized and horror-struck, they were denied sufficient food and water. Two days later, they were evacuated to Jerusalem.

As a result of the barbaric  events in Hevron, which occurred over the span of a few hours, Hevron was left devoid of its age old Jewish community.

As Hevron’s Jews left, plunder by local Arabs ensued and Jewish owned property was transferred into Arab hands as squatter’s rights. Synagogues, some that were used for centuries, were torn down or turned into community toilets. Large parts of the Jewish cemetery were turned into farmland.

As the Hevron victims were brought to the cemetery, Arabs - neighbors - watching the procession began to sing in celebration.

The British authorities’ response at the time of the pogrom was slow and inadequate, furthering the continuously growing friction between Jewry and the British Government. When the Hevron Chief of Police, Major Raymond Cafferata was asked to protect the community threatened by violence, he reportedly replied, “The Jews deserve it. You are the cause of all troubles.” Only when the massacre was in progress did he act.

In New York City, 35,000 Jews displayed their horrified reaction as they marched in lower Manhattan to the British Consulate General at 44 Whitehall Street in protest. Some carried banners with anti-British slogans along with American and Zionist flags draped in Black.  One slogan read, “If England can’t fulfill her mandate, let her give it to us.”

In response to the massacre, Arab propagandists accused the Jews of manufacturing evidence, charging the Jews with spreading falsehoods.

The Supreme Arab Council deflected guilt over the horrific events by accusing the Jews of enticing the Arabs to revolt. Realizing the negative publicity, the “Arab Executive Committee” released a statement in response to the British High Commissioner, John Chancellor, on September 1, 1929, who described the violence as “Acts of unspeakable savagery.” Their published denials were entitled, “Scandals of Jewish Propaganda.” It was an audacious attempt to refute the media reports of savagery at the hands of Arabs by claiming that medical examinations by Jewish doctors of the victims were “not impartial”.

As in Eastern Europe, where Jews were so often blamed for causing the destructive pogroms perpetrated against them, so too in Hevron.

The Times of London, which was supportive of Jewish Statehood, demanded a committee of inquiry into the violence, “It is the Government’s duty to make clear that our policy in Palestine is not decided by one Group that wishes to control another. (the Jews)

Six months later, a memorial service was held in Jerusalem for the Hevron victims, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the devastated Hevron Yeshiva, which was being relocated to Jerusalem.

Rabbinic leaders present addressed the crowd, urging the re-establishment of the Jewish community of Hevron. The Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Yaakov Meir, offered a prayer and called for the rebuilding of Hevron. “We must rebuild and greatly expand the Jewish settlement in Hevron. The merit of Hevron’s martyrs will protect the settlement so that no more devastation will be heard in the land.”

He was followed by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, who called on the people not to forget the city of the patriarchs. “Despite the terrible calamity that befell us in Hevron, we proclaim loud and clear that we are as strong now as we were then, (during time of conquest of Biblical Israel) and we will not budge from our land of our aspirations. We must raise the dignity and increase the strength of Hevron, for our roots are planted there.” He concluded his words, “We must rebuild Hevron and increase vim and vigor, while ensuring the peace and safety of every single Jew. Then, with Hashem's help, we will see Hevron rebuilt on its original site, speedily in our days.”

Two years later, a group of thirty families, totaling 161 individuals led by Rabbi Chaim Bajaio returned to Hevron. However, their mission was short lived as they were evacuated by the British in 1936 when Arabs again perpetrated wide scale riots in the Land of Israel. Again, as in 1929, the unjust denial of Jewish rights by the British was an act of capitulation and appeasement. One family managed to remain and they would be forced to leave after the UN voted partition of the land on November 29, 1947--Yaakov Ezra and his son Yosef.

As the State of Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, Hevron was again devoid of a Jewish presence.

On June 8 1967, the fourth day of the Six Day War, Hevron was liberated by the Israel Defense Forces.  For the first time in 2000, years, Hevron was under Jewish sovereignty. For the first time in 700 years, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron was again available for Jews to visit.

The 7th step leading to the Cave of the Machpela, beyond which Jews were prohibited by the authorities to ascend for those 700 years is still in its place as a monument to the past.

No longer are the Jews of Hevron second class citizens, denied basic rights. No longer are visitors around the world, Jews and non-Muslims, denied the right to visit the holy site.

Today’s Jewish community which was officially reinstituted in 1980 continues to grow despite limited space granted to the Jewish community.

The Israeli cabinet’s recent approval of 31 new homes for construction in the Hezekiah Quarter is another step in building the Jewish connection to Hevron. This is the first such permission for construction granted in the H2 section of Hevron in 16 years.

Today’s Jewish community of Hevron is the heir of the ancient legacy that connects the Jews to their holy city. They are returnees who came back in the aftermath of the massacre and expulsions of Hevron’s Jews in the early part of the last century.