Page 8.   A visit to Hebron

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       When my wife and I visited Israel last summer, our goal was to look at some of the problems and seek hopes for peace.  In earlier essays I’ve described visits to Tel Aviv and to Efrat, a Jewish town south of Bethlehem within the West Bank.  One of our more difficult visits was to Hebron, to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs, the site which Abraham purchased from Machpelach when Abraham first arrived in Canaan.  The city is holy to both Jews and Muslims, and has been problematic for many years.

         Our hosts in Hebron were members of the Christian Peacemakers Team ( , an interdenominational group organized by Mennonites and devoted to trying to prevent violence.

        There were Jews in Hebron from ancient times until 1929, when many were killed and expelled during a time of rioting.
(For a Wikipedia article on this, see )

 A Jewish settlement was founded in 1968 at Kiryat Arba, just east of Hebron, but in 1971 it was still very small.  It attracted many members of the very right-wing Kach party, which is now banned in Israel as a terrorist organization.  It now has 7,000 or so residents, with others living nearby or in small settlements (typically looking like apartment houses) within Hebron itself.

        When I first visited Hebron in 1971, it was relatively peaceful and prosperous, drawing many tourists.  Both Jews and Muslims prayed in the large building over the Cave, called by locals the Ibrahimi Mosque and by Jews the Cave of the Patriarchs.  In 1994 the American immigrant Dr. Baruch Goldstein entered the Mosque and opened fire, killing 29 Muslim worshippers and wounding 150, effectively ending short-term hopes for peaceful coexistence in Hebron.  Jewish settlers have established themselves on rooftops in the city, protected by the Israeli army and throwing garbage on the residents below.  The building over the cave is divided into Muslim and Jewish sections, heavily guarded by the Israeli military.

For an article on a relatively recent move-in of Jews into Hebron, see

       There is major fear on each side of attacks by the other.  The Palestinians regard the Jews as invaders.  They report that some years on Purim, drunken Jews have rampaged through town shooting and smashing windows.  In an attempt to separate the two, the Israeli military retains control of much of the city, with numerous roadblocks, and restricts who can go where.  Providing a route from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Patriarchs meant prohibiting Muslims from using a street that had been a major shopping street for the Palestinian population. 

        The strange shape of the Jewish-controlled area in the heart of Hebron complicates day to day life no end.  Palestinian children walking to school must pass Jewish areas.  Some were attacked, and members the Christian Peacemaker Teams started walking with the young pupils. Then some settlers attacked the CPT people, who suffered broken bones without fighting back. This reached the attention of the Knesset, which ordered the Army to accompany the children walking to school.

          Is there a hope for peace in Hebron?  Not soon.  Even most Israelis see the Jewish settlements in and near Hebron as part of the problem, not part of the solution.  Descendants of the Jews who lived in Hebron have urged the settlers to leave, in the hope of promoting peace.   But it is believed by many that an attempt to remove the most radical of the settlers by force would be very violently resisted, and the Israeli Army is, pointedly, not in the business of fighting with Jews.   The presence of international observers - from the UN, from the European Union, from voluntary groups like the CPT - may possibly have some calming effect.

        In the meantime, the disruption in day-to-day life for the residents, and the extremely poor state of the economy, lead to increasing hatred and terrorism and more occasions for possibly violent confrontations. 

      Hebron does have a functioning city government, which tries to maintain schools, city services, and police protection in the Palestinian areas.  Unfortunately, the US and Israeli boycott of the Palestinian government meant that when we were there, the schoolteachers and other city employees had not been paid for several months, further depressing the economy.  In the view of many, this boycott and economic  is as likely to be as effective as the US boycott of Cuba, and to lead to desirable changes just as quickly.  I hope that our leaders will see that talks and economic support for peaceful activities are in the interests of all parties.

Ordman Net Home

What's next? From here you can go on to other sections of material.
Page 1: Introduction
Page 2:  Kfar Shalem
Page 3: Duheisha Refugee Camp
Page 4:  Universities
Page 5: The Wall / Security Barrier
Page 6:  Bethlehem
Page 7:  Efrat
Page 8: Hebron
(More to come)