The tragedy of Hebron where sixty-six Jews were murdered and scores wounded, was rehearsed yesterday in the grim courtroom where the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry is holding its sessions.
Assistant Police Superintendent of Police of Hebron, Cafferata, in his testimony drew an indictment against himself, the government authorities and the agents of the Grand Mufti.
Testifying throughout the day he revealed that six hundred Jews were left to the protection of a police force consisting of thirty-nine Arabs and a single Jew, in the midst of a Moslem population of twenty thousand gone mad. Cafferata, the only British police officer in Hebron, declared the authorities refused his request for aid. Cafferata, who was awarded a medal by the British government for heroic action during the Hebron massacre, declared that his Arab officer had never informed him of the Jewish anxiety and of Jewish warnings and petitions for protection.
The courtroom was never so tense as when the shadows began falling in the afternoon and Viscount Erleigh, associate counsel for the Jewish Agency, finished his cross-examination of Cafferata.
The Arab counsel, visibly disturbed, kept up a loud conversation among themselves, forcing Erleigh several times to address Stoker asking him to keep quiet. The ghosts of the victims of the Hebron massacre filled the room, but one felt a tinge of sympathy for Stoker, British barrister, who was obliged to dig down into the police reports for every scrap of evidence reflecting on the conduct of the Jews, attempting to find some extenuating circumstances for the butchery, which he said he was not trying to justify.
The intervention of Stoker was so pointless that R. Hopkin Morris, member of the Commission, interrupted his questioning to ask: “What are you
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trying to prove?” Stoker stammered: “My point is to show lack of discipline among the Jews produced the trouble,” referring to those Hebron Jews who disputed Cafferata’s wisdom in cooping them up in houses without protection. The best statement Stoker was able to make was that the American Yeshiva students gave “trouble.” The trouble referred to was the insistence of the American boys on the Sunday following the massacre to be allowed to telephone and telegraph or communicate with the American consul and their homes. Sir Walter Shaw, displaying weariness with Stoker’s attempt, remarked: “It doesn’t entitle you to kill people for trying to telephone, nor is it incitement.”
Anticipating the single mitigating argument of the Arabs, Erleigh read into the record the statement by the Zionist Executive that the only redeeming feature of the Hebron tragedy was that Moslem neighbors sheltered and protected, often at the risk of their own lives, the terrorized and hounded Jews.
A day replete with shocking details revealed the following facts: Cafferata testified that the elders of a village near Hebron reported to him that the Grand Mufti had ordered them to come to Jerusalem on August 23rd, under penalty of being fined. Upon his reassurance, the elders returned to their village.
The massacre in Hebron, Cafferata stated, was due to the rumors that the Jews were killing the Moslems in Jerusalem. He declared that he was completely ignorant of the speeches being made in the Hebron Mosque, and that the Arab police never told him about the anxiety of the Jews.
Much valuable time was lost before the police began firing on the crowd, Erleigh pointed out. He showed that although the Jews, on the advice of Cafferata, had crowded into several houses, among them the house of Rabbi Slonim, where the most brutal butchery took place, not a single policeman was posted outside these houses, and that the three policemen who patrolled the streets failed to fire a shot, not even when they saw the crowd break into the Hadassah clinic which they wrecked and burned.
Cafferata on the witness stand said that when he ordered a corporal to fire, the corporal asked him whether he meant firing in the air. He said he was obliged to repeat the order “At them and hit them.”
He admitted the Jews might have been saved if concentrated earlier and protected. Not a single Arab casualty was caused by Jews, evidence disclosed, proving that the Jews were utterly defenseless.
Erleigh asked Cafferata if the allegations in the Arab Executive reply to Chancellor’s proclamation were true. The Arab Executive maintained that the Hebron Jews were killed by daggers and swords, “as in every such popular outbreak.” Cafferata answered that the Hebron outrage was not his idea of a popular outbreak.
Cafferata denied Stoker’s suggestion that the Moslem notables kept their promise about calming the people. On the contrary, he said, many notables were among the killers. He saw many of them in Jewish houses which he visited. You could not find a Jewish house without Hebronites outside of it.
Stoker succeeded in introducing the proclamation signed by the Grand Mufti, the Arab Executive, the Moslem Supreme Council and the Mayor of Jerusalem asking the Arabs to keep calm, denying the Government had armed the Jews, and appealing to them to end the bloodshed, with the assurance that Arab leaders were doing their best to safeguard Arab rights.
Cafferata said he had not seen this statement, which might have had a steadying effect.
Preedy, Government Counsel, re-examined Cafferata and endeavored to improve the impression without criticizing Erleigh’s cross-examination. He read a full report, the gist of which was that the troubles were unexpected, and that the notables and headmen of the neighboring villages had assured Cafferata that nothing would happen when things looked dark. Preedy said Cafferata made the police force stand by, a force which consisted of 18 mounted men and 15 foot police. They were mostly old men and therefore practically useless.
Continuing Preedy said the situation got out of hand when a crowd of 700, including notables, collected in the streets on Friday, shouting, throwing stones at the Jewish houses. The terrorized Jews climbed the roofs. Rabbi Slonim and his daughter were stoned on the street. A section of the crowd invaded the Hebron Yeshiva and killed the solitary student they found there.
Cafferata said that at night the ghetto was quiet as death. He told of the Sabbath eve arrangement for the funeral of the student killed, and that he insisted upon only six mourners to which Rabbi Epstein could not agree without the permission of Rabbi Kook.
He declared he could not prevent the Hebronites from proceeding to Jerusalem, and that he was unable to obtain reinforcements. On Saturday morning two Yeshiva students were killed while hanging on to the horses which formed part of his patrol. The mobs surged around him and stoned the boys to death. He said he shot two Arabs and emptied his revolver into the crowd. He himself was stoned, he declared, when he went to fetch a rifle. The crowd tasting blood, attacked every Jewish house, he declared. While he sent the constables to get rifles, the mob broke into the houses. When the police fired into the mob,
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the crowd defied them, shouting: “On to the Ghetto.” They broke into the bazaar, looting and robbing Jewish and Arab stores indiscriminately. He said he saw an Arab in the act of cutting off a child’s head with an axe, while behind him a constable, whom he knew from Jaffa, bent over a woman with a dagger. He shot the assailant who shouted to him: “Your honor, I am a policeman from the town.”
Quiet was restored at ten thirty. The police prevented the mob from returning to the town. An Arab doctor opened a temporary hospital. At one o’clock the whole Jewish population was in the barracks or in the hospital. It was impossible to do anything except keep the living Jews safe in the hospital, and the streets clear until the arrival of the British police.
Preedy asked Cafferata only one question: “Were you the only British officer in the town?” “Yes,” was Cafferata’s reply. Shaw inquired whether the police hit anybody. Cafferata answered he didn’t see.
Cafferata was followed on the witness stand by Archer Cust, Acting Deputy to the District Commissioner of Jerusalem, Keith Roach. Mr. Cust testified concerning the trouble in connection with the Wailing Wall. He said the trouble became apparent when the Jews complained because European Moslems introduced an orchestra consisting of cymbals, drums and rattles in the garden adjoining the Wailing Wall, during the customary hours of Jewish prayer, especially Sabbath eve.
Civil Secretary Luke, Cust testified, asked the Mufti to order the nuisance stopped, which the Mufti promised. On the following Friday, however, the orchestra reappeared, rendering any attempt at prayer impossible.
Luke again instructed the Mufti to end the noise which Cust said was definitely intended to annoy the Jews, since it had nothing to do with the Moslem religion and was in no other way necessary.
Preedy asked the witness, in connection with the building suspension order, if it had had a repercussion in the Moslem world. Shaw smilingly asked, which-the Moslem world or the Wakf authorities?
He said the construction was ordered suspended on June 22, but that it continued until July 5. Rabbi Kook, Chief Rabbi of Palestine, not knowing that the government had authorized the building, protested vigorously.
When Preedy sought to have the witness state what the Jewish objections to the building were, Shaw interrupted: “We all know. We read the papers.”
“Acute electricity” was Cust’s description of the feeling engendered among the rabbinical authorities by the continued building.
There was no session of the Inquiry Commission today, the Commission planning to tour the areas attacked. On Saturday, it will sit in order to hear the testimony of Captain Farraday of Safed. On Monday, Armistice Day, it will hold no session.
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