Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Sheik Takes Stand in Own Defense in Trial for Instigating Hebron Massacre

October 20, 1929
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Sheik Taleb Markah took the stand in his own dedefense yesterday as the alleged instigator of the Arab massacre at Hebron. Carefully coached, looking down at his counsel for approval, after every question, until he was requested by the judges to look up at them when making his answers, Taleb endeavored to have his alleged pacification of the crowd on Friday, serve as an alibi for his innocence in the bloody massacre Saturday.

In the story which he told on the witness stand, he declared: “Friday, while in the shop of Sholom Ben Hyim. I heard a boy outside shouting ‘Riot!’ I went out and beat the boy, and then reported the matter to the police, returning to dissuade the crowd excited over the reported riots in Jerusalem, which I did not believe. I did not iticite the crowds. I never made a speech in my life. After I dispersed the crowd, in the presence of Cafferatta, everything was quiet. I knew about the murder in the Yeshivah, but I did not think conditions in Hebron abnormal. That night I did not leave the house. But Saturday morning I was with Slonim and walked with him from Schneerson’s Hotel. Then I went to my shop. I. sat there from eight-thirty to eleven, and was not among the attackers of Slonim. I knew nothing until nine o’clock.”

Several weak questions were put to the defendant by the prosecutor, Zaki Temini, the Moslem who succeeded El Alami. He showed the same indifference as his predecessor, to such a point that the judges took over the cross-examination themselves. Zaki Temini is further handicapped by his ignorance of the English language.

The peculiar situation of a trial being sabotaged by the prosecuting attorneys, developed in the trial. The first State Attorney, El Alami, resigned from the prosecution after it had become evident that he had been entirely inactive, asking the witnesses no questions. The new State Attorney, Zaki Temini, acted in a similar way. He spoke only in Arab, his questions being translated for the court by the

(Continued on Page 4)

(Continued from Page 3) head of the criminal investigation department of the Palestine government, Mr. Cosgrave.

When Sheik Taleb was on the witness stand, the State Attorney asked him questions running along the same lines as the defense lawyers, with the obvious intent of facilitating matters for the accused. A curious fact in connection with this situation is that the Arab prosecuting attorneys were appointed by Attorney General Norman Bentwich, a Jew. Originally a British attorney, Mr. Drayton, had been appointed. He was well versed in all the details of the case and had prepared himself for the trial. At the last moment he was recalled by Mr. Bentwich, who replaced him by the Arab attorney, El Alami.

Mr. Bentwich, against whom a fierce Arab campaign is being waged, most probably wishes to impress the public with his impartiality and fairness toward the Arab case by appointing an Arab prosecuting attorney. The Arab prosecutor, openly sympathizing with the defendant, created the rare situation of compelling the judges to assume the role of prosecuting attorneys.

Under cross examination, Taleb declared that he is a friend of the Jews, whereupon Presiding Judge Corrie asked him, “Why do people who are friends of yours charge you with the instigation of the massacre?” In reply, the defendant declared the charges are the invention of others, not the Jews of Hebron. No Moslem leaders supported the idea of the riots, he asserted. Pointing out that Taleb’s testimony contradicts the testimony of Cafferatta. Assistant Police Superintendent of Hebron, the Judge asked Taleb: “Is he a liar?”

Taleb, responding, said that on Friday he saw an automobile with twenty Moslems, armed with swords, ready to proceed to Jerusalem. He stopped them, and dissuaded them from their purpose when Cafferatta approached and told them to go. This incident was at no time mentioned in Cafferatta’s testimony.

When Taleb asserted that the Jews of Hebron should be grateful to him. Judge Defreites asked him: “What for? Why did you, as an Elder and a member of the Arab Executive, hide yourself in your shop at a time of unrest and danger? Why did you not go to the District Officer? Why were you not busy on Saturday? Did you know what responsibility rested on you?”

Answering evasively, Taleb asserted that he is an active nationalist politician, while the religious communities are with Grand Mufti Amin el Husseini, who controls the Moslem Supreme Council, adding that the Hebron Jews are not Zionists and that he had nothing against them.

With Zaki Temini, another Moslem attorney, on the staff of the Attorney General. as public prosecutor. in place of El Alami, who did not appear in the Jerusalem District Court Thursday morning, the trial of Sheik Taleb Markah was resumed before noon, the court having adjourned the case earlier on the failure of the prosecutor to appear.

The chief witness in the morning was Esther Labe, who gave simple, clear and impressive testimony, imitating on the witness stand the shouting Moslem mob. “From the balcony on my house I saw the Arabs leave the Mosque on Friday, shouting: ‘The religion of Mohammed is a sword to kill the Jews.’ Taleb, waving a stick read a paper to the cheering, yelling mob, who immediately proceeded up the road and began throwing stones. The drivers of a herd arriving from Jerusalem began shouting: ‘Our Moslem brothers are being slain in Jerusalem. In the name of the Prophet, take revenge on the Jews. All who have arms should follow. No women should come’.”

The judges were visibly impressed by the fact that the witness actually saw the mob leaving the mosque.

Recommended from JTA