someone wrote an article entitled, "'Hebronizing' Jerusalem." Others have
thrown around the accusation of "bringing Hebron into Jerusalem." The
central theme of all these articles and slogans is that Jews shouldn't live
in all parts of Jerusalem. There are places in Jerusalem these people believe,
where Jews shouldn't go, like the liberated eastern side of the city.
Imagine, Jerusalem the city Jews have loved for over 3,000 years and pined
to return to for almost 2,000 years. Thus, those of this persuasion are against
Jews renewing neighborhoods, moving back to places they lived before being
expelled in the 1948 War of Independence, re-establishing a loving connection
with every nook and cranny of the City of Gold, the City of G-D.
That's the crux of the problem. Recently some people, only a small minority
of the Jewish people, have been working very hard to convince the rest, that
'settlement' activity in eastern Jerusalem is dangerous and have begun using
the analogy of Hebron to make their point. They claim that letting
'small groups' of Jews move into neighborhoods with Arabs, such as the Jews
have done in Hebron, in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - endangers the
unity of Jerusalem and hurts the security situation. They fail to mention
how important such areas are historically, culturally, and spiritually to
the Jewish people. Areas such as the neighborhood around Shimon HaTzaddik's
tomb - Simon the Righteous was a high priest and great scholar during the
early second temple period (Ethics of the Fathers 1:2) - or areas on the
Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount. But the connection between
Jerusalem and Hebron goes much further.
The analogy of 'small groups' in any case is inaccurate. In Hebron for example,
the media always tells you that there are 500 Jews living among 100,000 or
120,000 Arabs. NOT TRUE! What they 'forget' to tell you is that the population
figure for the Arabs, is for the greater metropolitan area of Hebron, surrounding
villages - suburbs - and all. If you include all the Jews living in the same
areas - Kiryat Arba, and the Hebron Hills towns and villages - there are
close to 10,000 Jews living there, or about 10% of the total population,
hardly a small enclave as portrayed by some. If Jews hadn't been driven out
of Hebron several times over the centuries, their population would have been
much greater. And why shouldn't Jews live there? Hebron is a city that the
Jewish people have had a special connection to for over 3,500 years, longer
in fact than with Jerusalem.
Hebron is first mentioned in the book of Genesis (13:18), where Abraham is
found pitching his tent. Later when Sara, his wife, dies - in Kiryat Arba
that is Hebron, Genesis 23:2 - he buys a field and the burial cave of Machpela
for her (Genesis 23:9, 17-20). In fact all the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, and - three of the four - mothers, Sara, Rebecca, and Leah lived there,
and were buried there in the Cave of Machpela. It was so important to Jacob,
that seeing his end nearing, he called his 12 sons to gather around him,
and promise that when he dies, they will leave Egypt to bring his body back
to Hebron for burial (Genesis 49:29-31). What nation has such a clear link
to its progenitors, where they lived, died, and are buried?
Hebron continued to be an important and holy site to Jews. In fact, so much
so that one of Jacob's great-grandsons - Levi's grandson and Kehat's son
- was named Hebron (Numbers 3:19). Moses and Aaron had an Uncle Hebron.
After the exodus from Egypt, when Moses sent the 12 spies to check out the
land, one of them Calev, took a little detour to Hebron to pray at the family
tomb - the Cave of Machpela (Numbers 13:22). Later, King David established
Hebron as his first capital city. "In Hebron he reined over Judah seven years
and six months, and in Jerusalem he reined thirty three years over all Israel
and Judah" (Samuel II 5:5). Clearly Hebron and Jerusalem are intertwined
in the Jewish people's historical memory.
Jerusalem becomes forever after the Jew's capital city. But Hebron is not
forgotten. So important is it, in fact, that when King Herod - near the end
of the second temple period, goes on a building campaign - building fortress-palaces
for himself such as Masada - and rehabbing the Temple in Jerusalem, he sends
out workers to rebuild the structure around the family tomb in Hebron. To
this day, if you check out the type of stone-work at the Western Wall and
compare it to the Ma'arat HaMachpela - Cave of Machpela also know as the
Cave of Patriarchs - in Hebron, you will see that they are identical. The
fates of Jerusalem and Hebron are truly intertwined.
The Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 68 ce. After the failed Bar
Kochba revolt against the Roman Empire (135 ce), any semblance of Jewish
political independence in Judea ended. Jews were then forbidden to live in
Jerusalem; hundreds of thousands were killed and many were dragged off as
slaves, the land was desolated. Later, Jews returned to live in Jerusalem.
Through a host of occupying empires; first the Byzantine, then the Persian,
Arab, Crusader, Muslim, and finally Ottoman-Turks, Jews continued to live
in their homeland as an occupied people. Jews lived throughout the land,
but Jerusalem and Hebron, Tiberias and Safed held special importance to them
during the medieval period.
After the expulsion of Jews from Spain (1492), Hebron's Jewish population
began to grow; Spanish Jewish exiles resettling in Hebron became evident
by the beginning of the 16th century. In the second half of the 16th century,
you find the rising power of the Hebron, on the one hand, and the decline
of Safed as a spiritual and economic center, on the other. Toward the end
of the 16th and at the beginning of the 17th centuries some of the most important
kabbalists - Jewish mystics - of Safed moved to Hebron. Kabbala and
mysticism made a deep impression on the Jewish life of Hebron. By the 17th-18th
centuries, a large flourishing community lived in Hebron, whose main economy
was grape growing and wine production. But the Arab-Muslim hordes, as they
so often would do, went on a religiously inspired rampage - Islam forbids
wine or any alcohol - and they killed, forcibly converted, or drove out many
from the Jewish community. But Jews continued to live there, eventually recovering,
and by the end of the 19th century, the Jewish population reached 1,500.
There was even a hospital in Hebron by 1895.
With the outbreak of World War I, young men were conscripted into the Turkish
army. The channels of financial assistance from Europe were blocked, hunger
and plagues decimated the population, and Hebron was almost entirely emptied
of its Jewish inhabitants. After the British captured Hebron in 1918, and
with the war's end, Jews began to move back to Hebron again. By 1929, the
Jewish population rose to 700 - out of a population of 18,000.
But in the summer of 1929, Arab riots gripped the Palestine Mandate. Jews
were attacked and killed all over; Jerusalem and Hebron were hard hit. The
Arab attack in Hebron was well planned and its goal well defined, the elimination
of the Jewish settlement of Hebron. The rioters did not spare women, children,
or the aged; the British didn't intervene. Sixty-seven Jews were murdered,
60 wounded, the community was destroyed, synagogues razed, and Torah scrolls
burned. However, those who survived did not surrender and 35 families went
back to resettle in 1931. The community slowly began to rebuild itself, but
everything was again destroyed in the upheavals of 1936 - the Arab riots
of 1936-39 lasted three years. On the night of April 23, 1936, the British
authorities evacuated the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron. The Jewish settlement
of Hebron thus ended and only one inhabitant remained there until 1947.
After the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria,
what they named, the West Bank, including the eastern part of Jerusalem and
Hebron. For 19 years, until the Israeli victory in the 1967 Six-Day War,
Jews were denied access to their first and second holiest places, the Western
Wall and Temple Mount area in the old city of Jerusalem, and the Cave of
Machpela or Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. When the Jews came to visit
Hebron after the war, they found the old Jewish quarter destroyed and the
Jewish cemetery almost obliterated. According to the 1967 census, conducted
by Israel, Hebron had 38,309 inhabitants, all of whom (except 106 Christians)
were Muslim. But Jews again looked forward to resettling their beloved
This re-settlement effort encountered opposition though, from both the local
Arabs and from official Israeli sources. The re-settlers had to fight for
official recognition and the right to build a Jewish township in Hebron.
David Ben Gurion - the first Israeli prime minister - wrote from his home
at Sdeh Boker, on Jan. 25, 1970: "However, don't forget: the beginnings of
Israel's greatest king were in Hebron, the city to which came the first Hebrew
[Abraham] about eight hundred years before King David, and we will make a
great and awful mistake if we fail to settle Hebron, neighbor and predecessor
of Jerusalem, with a large Jewish settlement, constantly growing and expanding,
very soon. This will also be a blessing to the Arab neighbors. Hebron is
worthy to be Jerusalem's sister."
Finally in 1970, the Israeli government decided to allow Jews to live there
officially and began building 250 apartments on an empty hilltop, which became
the Hebron neighborhood of Kiryat Arba. Erev Rosh HaShana - before the Jewish
New Year - 1971, Jews moved from the Hebron Military Compound to the newly
founded Kiryat Arba.
The struggle by Jews to live in Hebron has continued for centuries. Empire
after empire conquered the Land of Israel, expelled or murdered Jews, and
made life extremely difficult for those who survived. But Jews did survive,
and returned to their homeland. In 1948 they re-established their political
independence after nearly 2,000 years, declaring the State of Israel. Unfortunately,
not all of their land was liberated in 1948; that had to wait until the 1967
Six-Day War. Jews have always returned to Jerusalem, their holiest
city, and the site of their temple. Jews have always returned to Hebron,
their second holiest city, and the burial place of the Jewish people's founding
Fathers and Mothers.
These two holy cities have been intertwined in Jewish history almost since
the beginning. You see, those who have said, "Hebron is coming to Jerusalem"
got it backwards. Just as the Israeli government over the years has devoted
special budgets to help develop Jerusalem, to re-settle Jews in Jerusalem,
and to beautify it, something befitting the Capital of the State of Israel
and Judaism's holiest city; so too should the Israeli government devote special
budgets to help develop Hebron, to re-settle Jews in Hebron, and to beautify
it, something befitting the former Capital of the Kingdom of Israel, and
Judaism's second holiest city.
As David Ben Gurion said, "Hebron is worthy to be Jerusalem's sister!"
Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant.
He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis.
His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites,
in newspapers, and can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko.
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