JERUSALEMIZING HEBRON

By Ariel Natan Pasko

The 28th of Iyar - in the Hebrew calendar - is celebrated as Yom Yerushaliyim - Jerusalem Day - the anniversary of the victory in the Six-Day War, the liberation and unification of Jerusalem. But another, lesser-known day is also celebrated by some, the 29th of Iyar, Yom Hevron - Hebron Day - the anniversary of the liberation of Hebron. They fall on May 30th and 31st this year.

Recently 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.

Hebronis 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 Caveof 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 Hebronby 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 Hebronwas 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 Hebronagain. 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 Judeaand 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 Caveof 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 Hebron.

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!"

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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

(c) 2003/5763 Pasko



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