What happened during the Arab riots of 1929?
Tomb of the Patriarchs, Hebron
From 1922 through 1928 the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Palestine was relatively peaceful. However, in late 1928 a new phase of violence began with minor disputes between Jews and Arabs about the right of Jews to pray at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem. These arguments led to an outbreak of Arab violence in August 1929 when Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem, fomented Arab hatred by accusing the Jews of endangering the mosques and other sites holy to Islam. Observers heard Husseini issue the call: Itback al-Yahud “Slaughter the Jews!”
On August 22, 1929 the leaders of the Yishuv met with the British Deputy High Commissioner to alert him of their fears of a large Arab riot. The British officials assured them that the government was in control of the situation. The following day the Riots of 1929 erupted throughout the Palestine Mandate, lasting for seven days.
On Friday, August 23, Arab mobs attacked Jews in Jerusalem, Motza, Hebron, Safed, Jaffa, and other parts of the country. The Old City of Jerusalem was hit particularly hard. By the next day, the Haganah was able to mount a defense and further attacks in Jerusalem were repulsed. But, the violence in Jerusalem generated rumors throughout the country, many carrying fabricated accounts of Jewish attempts to defile Muslim holy places, all to inflame the Arab residents. Villages were plundered and destroyed by Arab mobs. While attacks on Jews in Tel Aviv and Haifa were thwarted by Jewish defenses, there were Jewish deaths in Hebron, where 67 Jewish men and women were slaughtered and Safed, where 18 Jews were killed, as well as scattered other losses totaling 133 Jewish deaths, with more than 300 wounded.
The Arab violence in Hebron was one of the worst atrocities in the modern history of Israel. On the afternoon of Friday, August 23, 1929 Jerusalem Arabs came to Hebron with false reports of Jews murdering Arabs during the rioting there, even saying thousands of Arabs had been killed. Despite the fact that Jews and Arabs in Hebron had been on good terms, a mass of frenzied Arab rioters formed and proceeded to the Hebron Yeshiva where a lone student was murdered. The next day, the Jewish Sabbath, the killing continued as an Arab mob of hundreds surrounded homes where Jews sought refuge, broke in and murdered scores of Jews in a bloody rampage.
The dead Jews that day included Eliezer Dan Slonim, a man highly esteemed by the Arabs. He was the director of the local English-Palestine bank whose many clients were Arabs, and was the sole Jewish member of the Hebron Municipal Council. He had many friends among the Arab elders, who had promised to protect him. Twenty-two people died in Slonim's house that day including his wife and two young children.
By the end of the riot, during which the British police did nothing to protect the Jews or stop the violence, sixty-seven Jews were dead and hundreds wounded. The survivors were isolated in a police station for three days while the Arabs rampaged through their houses, stealing and destroying Jewish property, unmolested by the British authorities. At the end of the three days the Jews were sent to Jerusalem, exiled from their homes for the crime of being a victim of the Arab riot. Hebron's ancient Jewish quarter was empty and destroyed. For the next 39 years no Jew lived in Hebron, not until after it was liberated by the Israeli military during the Six Day War in 1967.
The British Colonial Secretary, Lord Passfield, announced the formation of a Commission of Inquiry, which began its investigation of the riots in September 1929. (see Shaw Commission of Inquiry) A British expert was engaged to study the matter (the Hope-Simpson Report), and a new policy whitepaper was issued by Lord Passfield (the 1930 White Paper)