Context needed for reference to 1929 Hebron massacre 

(Originally appeared 11/09/10, The Nation, letters section)


It saddens and surprises me that an editor of The Nation writing about the Arab-Israeli conflict (http://www.thenation.com/article/155400/postcard-palestine) has failed to provide the proper context for an important story.

Christopher Hayes states, “In 1929 Arab rioters killed sixty-seven of the small number of Jewish residents of the city (several hundred were saved by their Arab neighbors, who hid them in their homes), and the last Jewish resident left the city in 1948.”

All well and good. However, the writer, like most people, fails to recognize that the massacre in Hebron in 1929 was part of regionwide riots between Arabs and Jews that began several days earlier in Jerusalem.

Your piece would have us assume that Palestine Arabs killed Hebron Jews for . . . why? A fit of racist ethnic cleansing? Is that what the local settlers there told you? Why do you offer no explanation or context for an infamous massacre? An incredible omission, I’d say.

Significantly, the bloody riots in Jerusalem started after Zionists there paraded nationalist banners at the Wailing Wall in a brazen provocation against Ottoman-era bans of such displays that had been in force for many years. These and other Zionist actions at the Wailing Wall (at the time owned and maintained by Arabs) were specifically designed to provoke a violent reaction among local Palestinians. Well, it worked.

Once the killing in Jerusalem started, that news along with false rumors of Jewish attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque spread quickly to Hebron, where the local Palestinians, in an unjustified fit of faux revenge, killed the non-Zionist religious Jews, whose small community had lived in Hebron in peace for hundreds of years.

In fact, the August 1929 riots in Jerusalem, Hebron and elsewhere resulted in “207 dead and 379 wounded among the population of Palestine, of which the dead included eighty-seven Arabs (Christian and Moslem) and 120 Jews, the wounded 181 Arabs and 198 Jews.” according to official British casualty lists, as recounted by American journalist James Vincent Sheean reporting from Palestine during these troubles.

James Vincent Sheean’s landmark 1935 book Personal History devotes an entire chapter titled “Holy Land” to the August 1929 riots. On the Hebron and Jerusalem bloodshed, Sheean concluded, “I was bitterly indignant with the Zionists for having, I believed, brought on this disaster.”

You absolutely need to read Sheean’s account.

James Vincent Sheean’s credentials as a world-class journalist and author are above reproach. Personal History was named as one of the 100 best works of twentieth-century American journalism by New York University’s journalism department. Although it is, sadly, out of print, you can usually find Personal History in any decent library or bookstore.

From rebel strongholds in the Western Sahara, to revolution in China, to the Spanish Civil War, to early Communism in Russia, to Mussolini’s takeover in Italy, to Gandhi’s final struggles in India, to 1940s civil rights in the American south, and so much more, Sheean had a knowledge and understanding of the world’s political order that few people of his time attained.

In addition, his work was so renowned and focused on social justice issues that Sheean’s articles and books were banned outright by Nazi Germany.

Though it’s rarely cited now even among knowledgeable academics, the “Holy Land” chapter of Personal History remains an indispensible tool for any serious student of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Especially for anyone writing about historical references to the continuing troubles in Hebron. Because if you knew about the origins of the 1929 massacres in Jerusalem and Hebron, Mr. Hayes’s article would have had a different tone and approach.

Mr. Hayes owes it to the dead on both sides to report the truth. Andhe owes it to the unindictable reportage of James Vincent Sheean. A clarifying addendum in the next issue of The Nation would be a good place to start.

Lawrence J. Maushard

Portland, OR

Nov 9 2010 – 2:29am

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