August 5, 2001
A few years ago an older man, together with a younger woman, walked into my office, here in Hebron. Seeing them, I asked how I could be of assistance. The gentleman said to me, “My name is Shalom Goldshmidt. My father, Moshe Goldshmidt, was murdered here in Hebron in 1929. I’m here with my daughter, who has never yet visited Hebron. I was told that perhaps you could take us up to the cemetery so that we might visit his grave.”
After picking myself up off the floor, I agreed, and drove them up to the ancient Jewish cemetery adjacent to the Tel Rumeida neighborhood. There, Rabbi Moshe Goldshmidt’s son and granddaughter stood silently by his final resting place, at the plot where 58 of the 67 massacred Hebron Jews were interred.
The Goldschmidt family, Rav Shalom, his son Moshe who lives here in Israel, and his daughter Bassy, became close friends of mine. Every Shabbat Chayai Sarah they spend Shabbat with us in Hebron. A couple of years ago Rav Shalom spent another Shabbat with us. The date was the 18th of Av, exactly 70 years after the slaughter when his father was killed. That day too, was a Shabbat. But it was not a day of rest. It was a day of blood.
Rav Shalom was only four and a half years old at the time. Yet he described the events had happened the day before, and as if he had then been a teenager. He told me how he and his family, mother, father, and two sisters, lived in a house above an Arab family. His father was a butcher and a follower of the Chabad Lubovitch Rebbi, who had just visited Israel and also Hebron. Rav Shalom continued with his story:
“Other families came up to our house. One of the women was pregnant. The Arab murderers started banging on our windows and front door. The other families starting jumping down to the back courtyard, begging the landlord for mercy. Seeing the pregnant woman, the landlord’s wife took pity and allowed them in.
Meanwhile, my father was trying to hold the door closed, preventing the Arabs from breaking in. But they used axes and broke down the door. They stabbed my mother and one of my sisters. I ran into another room with another sister and hid under the bed. Nobody had to tell me to be quiet. I was petrified. The Arabs grabbed my father and pulled him into a room. Later, when all was quiet I remember seeing my father stretched out, dead. The Arabs tortured him and killed him, burning his head over a kerosene stove.
My mother was badly hurt, but recovered, as did my sister. We later moved to Jerusalem where my mother opened a store. She refused to remarry until all of us had grown up.”
It wasn’t too long ago that journalists visiting Hebron would ask me, “why don’t you trust Arafat? Why don’t you give him a chance? He’s not a terrorist anymore and he’s said that he’d protect you, so why don’t you at least try?”
My answer was not very complicated: “In 1929 there weren’t any so-called settlers. There wasn’t a Jewish state. There were about 1000 Jews who lived in harmony with their Arab neighbors. They so trusted their neighbors that they refused to keep any weapons for self-protection. The day before the riots began, 4 Jews from Jerusalem visited Hebron, bringing weapons with them, and offering them to the Jewish community in Hebron. Yet Hebron’s leadership declined, saying that the weapons would only serve as a provocation. They were sure that their good friends, their Arab neighbors, would protect them.
It’s true that today not all the Arabs in Hebron are terrorists, but then again, in 1929 not all of them were terrorists either. Yet the consequence of trusting the Arabs was a horrid massacre resulting in the expulsion of the remaining Jewish community by the British.
Today too, not all the Arabs in Hebron are terrorists. Yet the potential for exactly the same kind of carnage exists today, as it did then. That is why we cannot, and will not, every put our lives in the hands of our Arab neighbors.
There were those, who hearing my explanation, turned their noses up, the expression on their face saying it all, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. The Arabs have changed.”
Tomorrow is the 72nd anniversary of the 1929 – Tarpat massacre. I ask them, all of those who would ‘trust’ Hebron’s Arabs:
Do you remember two 12 year old boys from Tekoa, stoned to death by Arabs only weeks ago? Do you remember the two Israeli soldiers, murdered and mutilated, only a few months ago. Do you remember 10 month old Shalhevet, shot in the head by Arab terrorist forces here in Hebron, this past March. Or the Kahane couple, or Gilad Zar, or Dr. Shmuel Gillis, or the shephard Yair Har Sinai. Almost 140 Jews, murdered in cold blood. Yet the year is not 1929. It is 2001. Seventy two years later. Yet the deeds are identical. The people are the same. And the lessons are yet to be learned.
Today there is a state of Israel. There is a Prime minister and a defense minister. There is an Israel Defense Forces, whose job is to protect Israelis in the State of Israel. In 1976 the Israeli government sent soldiers to rescue Jews in Entebbe from an otherwise sure death at the hands of terrorists. Yet today, twenty-five years later, the Israeli government refuses to provide adequate protection here, in Israel, in Hebron, even in Gilo in Jerusalem. The government prefers to put our lives, our lives here in Hebron, and our collective lives in the State of Israel, in the hands of mass murderer, Yassir Arafat, trusting him, trusting his word, trusting his signature, trusting his good will.
In 1929, that mistake cost the lives of 67 Jews in Hebron, and the eviction of the rest of the community. What might that same mistake cost us today?
With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder