A recent book about the Jews of Hebron by Jerold Auerbach goes into detail of not only that horrible day but the entire history of Hebron Jews. The details of the slaughter itself are chilling to the point of disbelief, and are summarized in this Tablet column today by Seth Lipsky.
By August, trouble was sensed by the one British police officer in the town, Raymond Cafferata. He was told by both Arabs and Jews in Hebron that “any trouble” was “out of the question.”Were the Arabs of Hebron as tolerant of Jews before the massacre as the Jews there claimed? Or was this a psychological defense mechanism that the Jews employed to shut their eyes to the truth?
Yet that same week a Jewish teacher named Haim Bagayo was warned, “This time we are going to butcher you all.” Earlier that day, there had been clashes in Jerusalem, in which three Arabs and three Jews died. The Jews of Hebron, Auerbach writes, “refused to believe that their Arab neighbors, with whom they had lived in relatively peaceful coexistence for four centuries, meant them harm.” Cafferata noted that in Hebron “everything appeared normal.” But before the day was out, Arabs began to attack Jews with clubs, and Jewish shops were quickly shuttered.
The first to die was a student, Shmuel Rosenhaltz, who was set upon as he studied, alone, in the main yeshiva. The Jews were warned to stay inside their homes. Early the next morning, Arabs, screaming “Allah akbar” and “Itbach al Yahud,” or “kill the Jews,” began surging through the streets. Two Jewish youths were stoned to death outside the house of the Heichel family. Some 70 Jews sought refuge inside a relatively large house, owned by Eliezer Dan Slonim. Almost the whole family of Slonim—his wife, Hannah, and their son, his father-in-law, who was the chief rabbi of Zichron Yaakov, and his wife—were among 22 persons who were clubbed or stabbed to death and, in some cases, disemboweled. The Slonim’s one-year son survived, having been hidden under dying Jews.
Rabbi Hanoch Hasson was murdered, along with his family. A pharmacist, Ben-Zion Gershon, who’d served both Arabs and Jews, “had his eyes gouged out before he was stabbed to death,” Auerbach relates. His wife’s hands were cut off before she and their daughter were killed. Mr. Goldshmidt was tortured, his head held over a kerosene flame, before he, his wife, and one of their daughters were killed. Twenty-three corpses were discovered in the Anglo Palestine Bank, where women were raped on a floor covered with thick pools of congealing blood. Rabbis Meir Kastel and Tzvi Dabkin and five of their students were tortured and castrated before being murdered. The killings went on for two hours, and the final death toll reached 67.
The truth may very well be the latter. A book written in 1905 called The Jews of Many Lands, by Elkan Nathan Adler, describes Hebron Arabs as being the most intolerant of all:
Hebron, or Khalil, the "City of Friendship," is perhaps the oldest city of the Holy Land, and in interest it vies with Jerusalem itself. Among us Jews it is reverently described as " the Burial Ground of our Fathers," and a pilgrimage thither is highly esteemed. The Mohammedans regard it with even more reverence as a sacred place than Jerusalem, for is it not the last resting-place of Abraham—el Khalil Allah—the friend of God and His great prophet? Their regard, although flattering to the founder of our race, carries with it the disadvantage that it makes the Hebronites the most fanatical of the followers of Islam, and the most intolerant. Christians cannot live at Hebron, and Jews there are treated as dogs. Curses both loud and deep greeted us as we walked round the Great Mosque, which encloses the Cave of Machpelah; but, as we did not understand the meaning of the imprecations or appreciate the delicacy or appropriateness of the choice epithets applied to us, and, as the missiles thrown at us were not well aimed, we could afford to treat our reception with amused nonchalance. Nowhere in the East did I meet with such bigotry as at Hebron, and it did not surprise me to learn that Dr. Stein, the medical man whom we sent out there some time ago, has no Mohammedans among his clientele, because the Hebronites, unlike the Mohammedans who live in Jerusalem and elsewhere are too utter fatalists to believe that medicine can arrest the progress of disease or the angel of death.The 1948 war also had many examples of Arabs, considered friendly neighbors of Jews for generations, "suddenly" turning on them and butchering them, or cheering on those who tried.
If there are to be any lessons for Jews from the past hundred years, it is that being slightly paranoid is probably a much more accurate posture than feeling overly secure, and that it may be a fatal mistake to believe otherwise.