Hebron: Holy To Judaism, Not Islam

By Morton A. Klein
National President, Zionist Organization of America

There has been extensive media coverage in recent weeks about the conflict over Hebron. But one crucial fact is almost never mentioned by the media: Hebron is the second holiest city in Judaism.

Although you wouldn't know it from watching the ABC evening news or reading USA Today, the city of Hebron itself is not holy to Muslims; only one particular site in the city is sacred to them. To Jews, however, the entire city is holy. Indeed, in biblical times King David chose Hebron as the first capital of the Jewish State, long before Jerusalem became the capital.

The Torah describes in considerable detail how the biblical patriarch Abraham paid 400 shekels of silver to the Hittites to purchase a cave and adjoining land in central Hebron. (Genesis 23:1-20) Abraham chose the cave as the burial site for his wife Sarah, and when he died, he too was buried there. So were Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, which is why the cave came to be known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. Two thousand years after Abraham purchased the Cave, Muslims built a mosque on top of it; that is Islam's only religious connection to anything in the city. (Throughout history, Muslims have repeatedly built mosques on top of synagogues or churches, as a demonstration of the alleged supremacy of their religion over the others.)

Hebron contains other Jewish holy sites, as well, including the tombs of the biblical prophet Avner; the biblical matriarch Ruth; Ishai (Jesse), father of King David; and Otniel ben Kenaz, the biblical judge and deputy to Joshua, Moses' successor.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed out (in an interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on June 26, 1996) that "Hebron touches the core of Jewish existence. We're talking about the tombs of the fathers and mothers of our nation, and many centuries of] continuous Jewish settlement that was interrupted only by the 1929 massacre." No wonder Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote in 1968, shortly after Israel liberated Hebron from Jordanian occupation, "I hope Jews will settle in Hebron and in its neighborhood."

Despite the centrality of Hebron to Judaism and Jewish history, the PLO insists that the Hebron Jewish community is an "illegal Israeli settlement," and that its residents should be expelled from the city. Imagine if there were a Jewish community residing in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, and they called for the expulsion of all Muslims from the city. Such a demand would rightly be regarded as racist and ludicrous. Yet when has the Clinton administration, the United Nations or the American media ever questioned the PLO's call for expelling Jews?

According to the PLO, not only should all Jews be kicked out of Hebron, but even Jews who visit the city should have their religious rights restricted. Mustafa Natshe, the PLO-appointed mayor of Hebron, has said (Ha'aretz, June 24, 1996) that if Israeli troops withdraw from the city, "We will agree to permit Jews to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs, but we won't let them pray there." Similarly, the PLO's Religious Affairs Minister, Hassan Tahbub, said (Jerusalem Report, January 25, 1996) that under PLO rule, Jews will not have access "to sites the Palestinians consider to be mosques," including Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs.

In the opening pages of his monumental study, A History of the Jews, the noted historian Paul Johnson writes (p.3) "Hebron is where the 4,000-year history of the Jews began../...Hebron reflects the long, tragic history of the Jews and their unrivalled capacity to survive their misfortunes." Powerful words of truth; if only the Western media would pay them some attention, instead of whitewashing the racist PLO effort to put an end to Jewish Hebron.

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