First ever official speech by a Prime Minister in Hebron attracts a large crowd.
“Hebron will never be Judenrein” stated Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu in Hebron on Wednesday, the first time a sitting prime minister has ever spoken at an official state function in the historic city. Standing outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, burial site of the Biblical founding fathers and mothers, Netanyahu stated, “we did not come to dispossess anyone, but neither will we be dispossessed. We have secured the freedom of religious worship for all: Jews, Muslims and everyone. If were not here, that would not have happened.”
Today, over 700,000 tourists come to Hebron every year, and many came Wednesday for the historic event marking the 90th anniversary of the Hebron massacre. In August of 1929, the Jewish community suffered deadly rioting at the hands of their Arab neighbors. Sixty-seven unarmed Jewish civilians were killed with knife and ax attacks. The British deported the survivors.
“We are not foreigners in Hebron,” Netanyahu added “We will stay here forever. We always remember the eternal call of Caleb Ben Jephuneh, who was faithful to Hebron,” he said referring to the Israelite leader who our sages teach visited the cave of Machpela in Hebron during the scouting mission described in the Bible in Numbers 13:22.
Netanyahu also made reference to King David who ruled from the capital city of Hebron for seven years before relocating to Jerusalem.
International news outlets mentioned Netanyahu’s trip and noted other senior government officials who accompanied him such as Miri Regev and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who spoke at the cemetery during the memorial service. Both called for Israel to apply sovereignty in the city.
Yishai Fleisher, Hebron’s international spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that Netanyahu’s visit signified that Jews living in Hebron was a consensus issue. It means Hebron is recognized by the country’s top leaders, he explained.
The last time a prime minister visited Hebron was in 1998 when Netanyahu, in his first term as Israel’s leader, made a condolence call to the family of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan who was murdered in his home by a member of a Palestinian terrorist group.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres traveled to Hebron in 1976 after Arabs ransacked the Tomb of Machpela on Yom Kippur, destroying several Torah scrolls.
The streets of Hebron’s old city were abuzz with tourists from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and around the country. The day started in suburban Kiryat Arba, Hebron’s sister community at the cultural center where a series of speakers discussed the dark days of 1929.
Among them was President Reuben Rivlin, marking the first ever occasion a prime minister and president visited Hebron in the same day. “Hebron is not an obstacle to peace. It is a test of our ability to live together, Jews and Arabs, to live decent lives side by side,” Rivlin stated. “Here in Hebron, the City of the Patriarchs, in a cave that was bought for full price, our right to this land was established as just and moral, a right to property over which is and will always be incontestable,” he added. “From that time and until the brutal massacre of 1929, the city was one of the four holy cities with continuous Jewish settlement that was renewed again after the victory in the Six-Day War.”
He also countered the false claim that the massacre targeted only “Zionists” in Hebron. The small provincial community was attacked indiscriminately from Sephardic to Ashkenazic, young and old, men, women and children. In several documented cases Arab rioters murdered their Jewish neighbors and co-workers, instigated by Haj Amin Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who later became an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler.
“The riots of 1929 were directed against all Jews of all views, simply because they were Jews. No distinction was made,” Rivlin explained. “It was indeed Zionism that concluded after the terrible massacre that times had changed, that we would forever have to protect ourselves by our own means, and that all Jews are responsible for each other’s safety.”
Also speaking at the event was 86-year-old Yossi Kruchik, who shared his family history in the city. Born in Hebron in 1933, Kruchik’s father led the return to the city two years after the massacre. It was Tzvi Kruchik who warned residents to flee the city when tensions rose. But many failed to heed his call, falsely believing their normalized social interaction with their Arab neighbors could withstand the rumor mill being drummed up by Arab nationalists. Kruchik’s took his young family out of the city, and returned in 1931, hoping to revive the community. His son Yossi was born in 1933 and the family lived there for several years.
But rumors of a second massacre spread and the family again fled Hebron. By 1936, the British again decided the best way to prevent violence was to remove the Jewish community in its entirety.
Kruchik toured family members through the streets of the old city and pointed out Beit Shneerson, where he was born, and Beit Hadassah where his brit milah ceremony was held. He added that after the Six Day War in 1967 liberated the city, he was contacted by the young enthusiastic settlers. Although Kruchik thought it would be too much to relocate after 40-some years, he successfully recruited young couples to join Rabbi Moshe Levinger’s nascent settlement movement.
Also in attendance and singled out by Rivlin was Ruth Peleg, whose family survived the riots. She displayed to reporters a photo of her mother Haya Kieselstein, then 18-years-old, with her head and arm bandaged. Also appearing in the photo are Peleg’s injured grandfather and uncle. Peleg noted they were saved by a sympathetic Arab family who hid them in the corner and covered them. Netanyahu also mentioned the fact that there were multiple instances of Arabs rescuing Jews in the riots.
Other speakers included: Dr. Michael Vilinsky, an expert on terrorism who discussed Arab incitement — Noam Arnon, who gave details about Hebron’s rabbis, several of whom were murdered and how the community worked to recover — Yossi Sa-Nes, a nephew of a massacre survivor who discussed his family’s Sephardic roots — Yossi Ahimeir, chairman of the Jabotinsky Institute — Herzl Makov, president of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center — Arye Naor, author of “Jabotinsky’s New Jew” — Yifat Ehrlich, journalist — and Gideon Mitchnick, of the Jabotinsky Institute which co-sponsored the lecture series.