Hebron, Israel –City of Arabs and Jews

Hebron, Israel –City of Arabs and Jews

The city of Hebron is located in the West Bank and with its 120,000 inhabitants it is one of the most densely populated cities in Israel. The city is administered by Palestine and its population consists of Palestinian Arabs and Jewish settlers. For Jews, Hebron is the second holiest city in the world after Jerusalem.

Hebron is located in the middle of a hilly area at an altitude of 930 meters, about 40 kilometers from Jerusalem. The city is important not only to Jews, but also to Muslims and Christians, who revere it as the city of Abraham, the father of all believers. The name Hebron comes from the word “haver”. which means friend. Thus, the name of the city refers to the biblical ancestor Abraham, who was called “friend of God.

The division of the city

The fact that the city is divided into two parts, Palestinian and Jewish, creates unpleasant political tensions. Most of it is run by the Palestinian Authority but the center is controlled by Jewish settlers. A large number of Israeli soldiers move around the city, trying to keep it calm. The disagreement between the two sides in Hebron began in the early 20th century.

The so-called Hebron pogrom occurred in 1929, when local Arabs murdered members of the local centuries-old Jewish community. 133 mostly Orthodox Jews were killed and another 400 were wounded. The surviving Jews chose to flee the town, fearing for their lives. Two years later, however, they returned, but not for long. The British administration decided to evict them to prevent further massacres.

Hebron, Israel - the city of Arabs and Jews

Dividing the city

In the background of this mass murder we can find a connection to the Arab-Jewish dispute over Jerusalem. The Arabs continued their anti-Jewish rage in other parts of the Holy Land, such as Haifa, Jaffa and Tel Aviv. The Jews had already responded to these attacks and began attacking mosques. During the First Arab-Israeli War, 1948-1949, Hebron was occupied by the Arab Legion and later became part of Jordan. In 1967, a six-day war broke out in which the center of the city was occupied by armed Jewish colonists who demanded the return of the property of the people killed in the 1929 pogrom. The city has been under Israeli control ever since, and a large Jewish community has moved there. Palestine has taken control of Hebron.

Hebron, Israel - the city of Arabs and Jews

Dividing the city

From time to time tensions between Jews and Palestinians escalate into violence. In 1994, for example, a radical Israeli rabbi, Baruch Goldstein, stormed a Muslim shrine, shot and killed 29 Arab worshippers who were present and wounded 125 people. Therefore, if you plan a trip to Hebron, it is a good idea to learn in advance about the current situation and events in the city. However, tourists are categorically discouraged from renting cars because they have Israeli license plates. It is safer to use cabs as transportation.

History of the cave

Because of the unrest and the poor security situation, Hebron is not very popular with tourists, but it certainly has a lot to offer. The city is one of the oldest in the Middle East. Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that Abraham buried his wife Sarah in Hebron. Eventually he and his sons Isaac and Jacob found eternal rest in this cave. About 20 B.C. Herod the Great closed the cave and built a magnificent hall over it. During Byzantine rule the building was rebuilt into a church. After the Arab victory over the Byzantines in 638, the church became a mosque. The Crusaders also tried to turn it into a Christian shrine and built much of the building, which can still be seen here today. Eventually, however, Sultan Saladin completed it as a mosque.

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Hebron, Israel - the city of Arabs and Jews

History of the cave

The building was at first open to all people regardless of religion but in the 13th century the Mamluk Sultan Baybars forbade non-believers to enter it. After the Six-Day War in 1967, the mosque remained in Muslim hands but was divided into two parts so that it could be opened to Jews. The entire complex is called the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Arabic for Haram al-Khalil. The building includes a large Jewish synagogue with tombstones of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Leah, and a smaller Muslim mosque with tombstones of Isaac and Rebekah. The entrance, however, is different for each, and although the site has been held in high esteem for centuries, it symbolizes a kind of animosity between these peoples.

Hebron, Israel - the city of Arabs and Jews

Other interesting sites include the 5,000-year-old Abraham’s Oak, located in Mamre. It is said that this tree grows in the place where Abraham used to put his tent. It is also worth visiting the Archaeological Museum, which exhibits items from the Canaanite period to the Islamic period. Other attractions are the tombs of Jesse, the father of King David, Ruth, and Abner.

Hebron, Israel - the city of Arabs and Jews

The city is also home to the University of Hebron and the Palestinian Technical University . At the center of all events is the local market, where you can buy a variety of products and handicrafts. The art of glassmaking, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, has made Hebron famous in the past. Today, only one family retains the tradition. Stained glass products can be bought in the medieval Arab bazaar, which has recently been restored and has even gained international recognition.

Hebron

Hebron (Al-Khalil) is a city on the West Bank. 80% of the city is under the control of the Palestinian National Authority and belongs to Area A. 20% of the city is controlled by the Israel Defense Forces.

Hebron is located on a mountain of the same name at a height of 927 meters 30 kilometers south of Jerusalem. The area of Hebron is 74.1 km², the population is 229.26 thousand people, more than 166 thousand of whom are Palestinian Arabs. Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world and is considered by Jews to be a holy city along with Jerusalem, Tiberias and Safed.

Hebron

The history of Hebron

It is known that Hebron was the center of Canaanite culture until 1300. According to the Old Testament, it was home to the Rephaim, giants who were the children of Canaanite women and fallen angels.

History of the Refaim

In the XIII century BC the city was conquered by the Jews and since then lived here continuously until 1929.

In 950 BC Hebron became the first capital of King David. It was here that Absalom, son of David, proclaimed himself king and rebelled against his father. Under King Rehoboam Hebron was one of the most important cities in the south of the kingdom of Judah.

From 597 to 539 BC a large part of the Jewish population of Judea was forcibly removed to Babylonia, after which Hebron was inhabited by the Idumeans. Under Alexander Jannai the city became part of the Hasmonean kingdom.

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Under Herod the Great and his sons Hebron was part of Judea, after which it became part of the Roman province of Judea, later renamed Palestine. During the Roman period Hebron was a small city called Abramius.

The development of Hebron began during Byzantine rule – the city was at a crossroads from Jerusalem to Egypt and through Petra to Jordan. Under Byzantine rule the famous Machpelah Cave, a sacred place for the Jews, was used as a church. The Jews, on the other hand, were expelled and fled from Palestinian cities, including Hebron, to other states.

In 614 Hebron was occupied by the Persian army of Chosroes II, but the Byzantines soon recaptured the city.

In 638, Hebron, like all of Palestine, was conquered by the Arabs. The city was called Khalil al-Rahman. However, the Muslims were much more loyal to the Jews, and they began to return to the city. A synagogue was built near the cave of Machpela. Thanks to Jewish merchants, trade with the Bedouin and other peoples in the Negev desert area intensified.

From 1100-1187, Hebron was under the rule of the Crusaders, who again began to expel Jews from Palestinian cities, and those who did not want to leave were killed. The city was given a new name, Castellum. The Crusaders turned a Muslim mosque into a church and a synagogue into a monastery. By the middle of the twelfth century, not a single Jew remained in the city.

In 1187, Muslim troops led by ruler Salah ad-Din expelled the Crusaders from Hebron. Jews were again allowed to settle in Palestinian cities.

In 1260 the Mamluks conquered Palestine and made Hebron the temporary capital of their province. Although the new rulers were not tolerant of Jews, a Jewish community began to revive in the city. Meanwhile, the invaders issued a law forbidding Jews to enter the sacred cave of Machpelah – they could only ascend up to the seventh step of the eastern entrance of the building. This prohibition was in effect until the Six Day War.

In 1516 the territory of Palestine was conquered by the troops of the Ottoman Empire led by Sultan Selim I.

In 1517, after several battles, the defeated Mameluk army finally left the Palestinian cities. Jews who had been expelled from Spain began to arrive in Hebron. Soon a new community sprang up in the city and a new synagogue, the most beautiful in Palestine, “Abraham Avinu,” was built. The Jewish quarter around the synagogue was home to many rabbis and Torah sages who wrote famous books on Judaism. Also, some Kabbalists from Safed moved to Hebron, which had a significant impact on the spiritual life of the local community. Life in the Jewish quarter was boiling with schools, yeshivas, public institutions, as well as numerous shops and craftsmen’s workshops. By the end of the 17th century, there were almost no Muslims left in Hebron, as in other cities of Palestine.

Hebron

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the population of the Jewish quarter grew rapidly. Since Jews could not build houses outside the walls of the quarter and there was less and less space, the existing houses were built on top of them. Despite the fact that the Hebron community was very poor, every pilgrim could stay a few days in a guesthouse at its expense.

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At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Chabad Hasidim settled in Hebron. New public institutions and yeshivas soon appeared in the city. Many of Hebron’s Jews were able to work, which improved the economic situation of the community. By the end of the nineteenth century, Jews made up almost a quarter of the city’s population.

At this time the Turkish authorities tightened their attitude toward the Jews. A ban appeared on the purchase of land, and monetary extortions were constantly increasing. During World War I, the Jews of Hebron were again persecuted.

nineteenth century

After the war, Palestine came under the British mandate. Arab leaders called for the destruction of the Jewish community in Hebron, to which the British authorities paid no attention. In 1929 there was a mass pogrom in the city. Sixty-seven Jews were killed and hundreds were maimed. The Beit Hadassah Hospital, where all Hebronian Jews were treated, was looted and destroyed. In 1936, the Jewish population was evacuated from Hebron.

From 1948 to 1967, Hebron was occupied by Jordan. During the Six Day War in 1967 it came under Israeli control.

In 1968, an initiative group led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger decided to renew the Jewish presence in Hebron. A large Jewish quarter, “Avraham Avinu,” emerged.

In early 1997, in accordance with the Hebron Accords, the city was divided into two sectors: H1 and H2. Sector H1, which makes up about 80% of the city and is home to 120,000 Palestinians, was taken over by the Palestinian Authority. Sector H2, which is inhabited by 30,000 Palestinians, remains under the control of the Israeli army to protect the residents of the Jewish Quarter. It is possible to cross from sector to sector through any of the 16 Israeli checkpoints. Armed clashes between the Israeli army, Jewish settlers and Arabs frequently occur in Hebron.

Today there are about 1000 Jews living in Hebron permanently despite the tense political situation.

The sights of Hebron

Tourists visit Hebron mainly to see the Machpela Cave. However, there are other attractions in the city and the architecture of the old part of Hebron resembles that of Jerusalem.

Hebron

Cave of Machpela (Cave of the Patriarchs)

The Cave of Machpela is a huge crypt in the center of the historic part of Hebron. According to Biblical accounts, the Jewish forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried here along with their wives Sarah, Rebekah and Leah. According to tradition, Abraham bought the place from the Hittite Ephron for 400 shekels of silver. The bodies of Adam and Eve are also believed to rest here. In Judaism, the cave is regarded as the second holiest site after the Temple Mount.

Machpela Cave

Above the cave rises an ancient monumental building with walls up to 12 m high. Archaeological research dates it to the 1st century BC but it has been restored several times. Under the building are ancient caves that have never been fully explored because of the religious sanctity of the site. Inside, the room is decorated with marble, with the tombs of Abraham and Sarah in the center.

Machpela Cave

In the Middle Ages Crusader monks discovered the skeletons of several people and fifteen jars full of bones. The remains most likely belonged to Jews who in their lifetime wanted to be buried near the shrine.

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At present, most of the structure (75%) is owned by Muslims and serves as a mosque, and only a small space (25%) is devoted to the synagogue. During the Jewish holidays, however, the entire structure functions as a synagogue, and during the Muslim holidays, as a mosque. Each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists and pilgrims from all over the world visit the main holy site of Hebron. The Jewish holidays of Passover and Sukkot attract a large number of visitors.

The Machpela Cave is open 24 hours a day. Admission is free but tours are available in English, French, Russian, Spanish and Hebrew.

Mamvri Oak

In Hebron there is an evergreen oak under which, according to legend, Abraham received God. The place where the oak grows has long been identified with the biblical oak tree of Mamre. The descriptions of the Mamre oak made by pilgrims in the XII century have survived to this day. In the late 1990s, the roots of the tree had died out completely and the bark dried up. In order to preserve the oak, it was strengthened with metal stanchions. Soon the tree began to give young shoots.

Mamre oak

The Oak of Mamre, 1900

In 2019, the oldest part of the tree collapsed. Now there is a young tree that continues to give shoots. The ancient trunk, on the other hand, will be on display in the Shrine of the Substitute of the Holy Forefathers.

Mamre oak

Holy Trinity Monastery (Holy Forefathers Monastery)

There is a Russian Orthodox male monastery in sector H1 under the control of the Palestinian National Authority about 3 kilometers from the Cave of Machpelah.

Holy Trinity Monastery

In the second half of the 19th century, a two-story stone house for Christian pilgrims was built near the Mamre oak tree through the efforts of Archimandrite Antonin, the chief of the Russian spiritual mission in Jerusalem. Because of the difficult situation in the city, which was dominated by Muslims, the question of building an Orthodox church on this site was raised only in 1904. Permission to build a temple was received only in 1914, after which the Church of the Holy Forefathers was built.

In 1997 the monastery was transferred to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Peculiarities of visiting Hebron

Hebron is the most interesting city in Palestine, but the situation here is extremely depressing. On the two hills between which the city sits, you can see one Israeli military base each.

Hebron

In the areas of the city under the military control of Israel, there are soldiers of the border guards who constantly patrol the streets and monitor all movements. There are observation towers on the roofs of many houses, and Israeli snipers can fire a rubber bullet at any time if they deem someone’s behavior suspicious. For your own safety, it is necessary to behave naturally, not to express violent emotions and not to take pictures of the soldiers.

The teenagers here are extremely aggressive and they like to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers for fun, but tourists can also get hurt. Moreover, the Hebron Arabs are convinced that the visitors take their pictures in order to pass them on to the Israeli security forces.

The orthodox Jews carry weapons in case the Arabs attack – a pattern seen only in Hebron.

Hebron

Both Palestinian and Jewish families can live in the same house, but the house will be separated by bars, barbed wire or metal sheets: Israeli authorities try to protect their citizens from attacks by Palestinians. Streets in many places are also blocked by high fences or concrete walls.

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Hebron

The city markets were bustling with life a few years ago, but now they are closed and walled off. The streets are deserted and tourists are rare in Hebron.

Hebron

The Climate

Despite its proximity to Jerusalem, the climate of Hebron is markedly different from the capital. It has a fairly hot summer and warm winter, but because of its location in the mountains of Hebron rainfall in the summer, which is rare in most regions of Israel.

Hebron

The hottest months in Hebron are July and August. Temperatures during this time is kept in the range of +30 ° C. In windless weather, even heat-loving tourists can hardly stand the heat, and the red-hot gadgets can not be taken in hand. In the summer months in Hebron, it’s very easy to get burnt. If a light breeze blows, the heat is much easier to bear. At the same time, after sunset, it gets noticeably colder.

There is no autumn in Israel: the hot summer is followed sharply by winter. At the end of November, the weather turns cold, with heavy downpours and piercing, penetrating winds. The rainy season ends in February.

The most comfortable weather in Hebron for tourists from the midlands – from March to late May and from late September to mid-November.

How to get to Hebron

Since there is no international airport in Palestine, tourists can get to Palestinian cities only via Israel.

From Jerusalem

To get to Hebron take a bus to Kiryat Arba at the central bus station in Jerusalem and check the timetable on the Egged bus company website.

From the checkpoint at the exit of Kiryat Arba walk through the checkpoint to the Arab part of Hebron, where the main attractions are. The route takes about 20 minutes.

Alternatively, take the blue Arab bus from the bus station near Damascus Gate to Azaria and change to the yellow bus to Hebron.

By renting a car, getting to Hebron from Israel is much easier: it does not take long to check the documents at the checkpoint, and you can drive right up to the cave of Machpela – there is a parking lot nearby. Since Machpela is under Israeli military control, tourists will have to undergo another document check.

Also in the capital of Israel is possible to buy an organized tour of Hebron. Groups are always accompanied by armed guards. Hebron guides are local Jews who prefer to focus on the current political situation in the city, rather than its historical significance. The soldiers patrolling the streets, however, calmly treat the tourist groups. The guides think thoroughly about the route and do not allow tourists to take an extra step aside, explaining that they care about their safety.

From Bethlehem

If you want to stay in Palestine for a few days and see the most interesting sights, it is more convenient to stay in Bethlehem – it’s easy to find accommodation there on Booking or AirBnB. From Bethlehem there are shuttles to Hebron. The best way to find out the schedule and exact departure point of a minibus is to ask the owner of the accommodation.

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