HEVRON – A JEWISH CITY FROM TIME IMMEMORIAL
by David Wilder, Hevron
In honor of ‘Shabbat Hevron’, when Abrahams’s purchase of Mearat Hamachpela [Tomb of the Patriarchs] is in the Torah reading, thousands will make their way to the second holiest city in Judaism to spend an uplifting and spiritual Shabbat praying at the Meara and learning about the city. Arutz Sheva brings you the city’s history, written by the tireless spokesman of the Jewish Community of Hevron.
Hevron is the first Jewish city in the land of Israel , home of our patriarchs and matriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Sarah, Rebecca and Leah.
King David ruled from Hevron for more than seven years before moving the capital to
Jerusalem . Jews have lived in Hevron almost continuously for thousands of years. At Tel Hevron, commonly known as ‘Tel Rumeida,’ artifacts were discovered dating to the era of the Patriarch Abraham. ‘L’Melech’ (King) seals, 2,700 years old, inscribed with the word ‘Hevron’ in ancient Hebrew were uncovered there by archeologists.
Our community offices are in a neighborhood founded in 1540 by Jews exiled from Spain in 1492. When returned to Hebron in 1967, Jews did not occupy a foreign city; rather, they came back home.
Jewish presence in Hevron came to an abrupt end only in August 1929, when Arab riots led to the murder of 67 Jews and the wounding of 70. All survivors were exiled from the city by the ruling British.
Following the riots, massacre and exile in 1929, a small group of Jews returned to Hevron in 1931. About thirty families lived in the city until just after Passover, 1936, when they were expelled by the British.
Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Jews again had access to the first Jewish city in . It must be clearly understood: when returned to Hevron in 1967, Jews did not occupy a foreign city; rather, they came back home.
In 1968 Jews officially came back to Hevron . The day before Passover in April, 1968 a group of families arrived at the Park Hotel in Hevron . The proprietor rented them half of the kitchen, which they promptly koshered. The women and children slept in the rooms; the men and boys slept in the lobby and on the floor. It was the first Jewish Pesach in Hevron in decades.
Moshe Dayan, then Minister of Defense, arrived in Hevron shortly after Passover. Following several weeks of discussions he offered the group two choices: either be forcibly removed from the city, or go live in the Hevron military compound, several kilometers outside the center of the city. This building, originally a British police station, had been transformed into the Israeli military Headquarters of Judea. It was not overly conducive to a civilian lifestyle.
Dayan must have expected that the young families, including women and babies, would soon throw up their arms in frustration at the poor living conditions and leave of their own accord. Dayan was partially correct. The group did eventually leave. But first they lived in the military headquarters for two and half years, until the first neighborhood of the newly founded Hevron suburb, Kiryat Arba, was completed.
There was, however, a yearning to return to Hevron , to Beit Hadassah, to the 450 year old Jewish Quarter, home of the ancient Avraham Avinu Shul, to reside adjacent to Ma’arat HaMachpela. Attempts were made, again and again, all leading to failure. Only in 1979, when Menachem Begin was Prime Minister, did a group of 10 women and 40 children succeed in setting up house in the basement of the old medical center, Beit Hadassah, in the middle of the city. Living in adverse conditions for close to a year, these women and childen became the nucleus of Hevron ‘s renewed Jewish community.
In 1980, following the murder of six young men outside Beit Hadassah, the Israeli government finally gave official recognition and authorization of Hebron ‘s Jewish Community.
The present Jewish Community of Hevron numbers more than 1,000 people, including almost 100 families, hundreds of children, and some 250 post-high school yeshiva students studying at Yeshivat Shavei Hevron in Beit Romano. The reason there aren’t more people living in Hevron is simply because of lack of space. There are not any apartments available.
That is, perhaps, a misnomer. There are apartments available that we are presently unable to utilize. We have been unjustifiably expelled from 12 apartments that we lived in. Clearly, were there more room in Hevron , there would be many more Jews living in the city.
However, in spite of the small size of the community, according to the statistics received from the IDF and Civil Administration, hundreds of thousands of people visit Hevron annually. Worldwide support, including Jews and Gentiles, is overwhelming. Groups from Europe, Scandinavia and even the Far East tour Hevron .
WHY DO WE CHOOSE TO LIVE IN HEVRON?
Again, the answer is quite simple. A few years ago, a group of people associated with the New Israel Fund visited Hevron . Following a short visit on the Jewish side of the city, they crossed the ‘border’ and met with Hevron ‘s Arab mayor, Mustepha Natsche. They asked him whether Jews were allowed to pray at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the second holiest site to the Jewish people in the world. His answer greatly surprised them. He said no. ‘Ma’arat HaMachpela is a mosque, and only Moslems can pray in a Mosque,’ said Arab Mayor Mustepha Natsche. This was reiterated by Natsche’s deputy, Kamal Dweck. In an interview he also stated that Jews and Christians may not pray in the Tomb of the Patriarchs ‘because it is not a church or a synagogue; it is a mosque and only Moslems can worship in a mosque.’ This lie was raised again by the Arab world when Israel put Hevron on its list of Heritage Sites.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs was off-limits to Jews for 700 years. During that time Jews, (as well as Christians), were not allowed inside the 2,000 year old Herodian structure atop the Caves of Machpela. Today we are told by Hevron’s Arab Mayor and deputy mayor that should the Palestinian Authority ever regain control all of Hevron, again this holy site will be closed to anyone not Moslem.
There are those who are skeptical. How then, can one explain what happened to Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem. According to the Olso Accords this holy site was to remain accessible to Jews. However, following the killing of an Israeli soldier at the tomb, Jews were forced to abandon it. The result was the total destruction of the building which was burned to the ground. And if the Arabs had their way, Kever Rachel would have long ago been turned over to the Palestinian Authority. They claim that her tomb, too, is only a Muslim site.
The only reason that Ma’arat HaMachpela is still accessible to Jews is because there is a permanent Jewish presence in the city. The disappearance of the Jewish Community of Hevron would be tantamount to abandoning our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
Could any Jew, be they religious or secular, dream of abandoning the Fathers and Mothers of our people?
What is our goal, living in Hevron? Despite media reports, the goal of Hevron ‘s Jewish community is not to expel the Arabs living here. Anyone of any race or religion should be able to live in Hevron .
However, we demand that our Arab neighbors accept the fact that the Jews have an eternal, legitimate right to live in the first Jewish city in the land of Israel . This is our goal: living normal lives, just as anyone else, anywhere in Israel. Our goal is to ensure that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to live in Hevron . Our goal is to make sure that all Jews will have access to Ma’arat HaMachpela, that Jews will never again be told that this holy site is ‘off-limits’ because ‘you are Jews.’
Others ask: how can you stay in Hevron ? It is so dangerous. How can you risk the lives of your families and children in such a place? It was May 2001, about eight months after the Oslo War — otherwise known as the second intifada — began. Daily, Hevron ‘s residents were attacked by terrorist gunmen from the surrounding hills transferred to the control of the Palestinian Authority several years earlier. At 11 one night I was still in the office, five minutes from our home. Again, the sound of gunfire could be heard from the Abu Sneneh and Harat al-Shech hills The phone on my desk rang. It was one of my daughters, Aderet, then 16. Breathless, she exclaimed, ‘Dad, they’re shooting again.’ I answered lackadaisically, ‘Yeah, I hear it.’ In other words, ‘What’s new — it’s the same, every day.’
‘But they shot into our apartment. And I was standing there,’ my daughter cried.
Arriving home, I discovered five holes in a wall opposite the window in the children’s room. Aderet and Ruti had been standing not more than three feet from where the bullets hit. Miraculously, they weren’t injured.
Today, Aderet is married with two children of her own. And she too lives here in Hevron . Another of my married daughters, with three children, also continues to live in the city. Why not leave, due to the danger? Jews in Hevron are willing to risk present dangers because acquiescence can only be defined as a reward for terrorism. Arab terror seeks to expel us from our homes, using murder as a means to an end. However, ‘our homes’ include not only those in Hevron but also in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa . New Palestinian textbooks contain maps of ‘Palestine’ that include the entire state of Israel .
Eviction from Hevron, the first Jewish city in Eretz Yisrael, would be tantamount to the removal of Americans from Boston or Philadelphia upon terrorist demands. Except, of course, that American history is less than 250 years old; Jewish history in Hevron is more than 3,700 years old.
Hevron, home of Abraham, is not just the place where Judaism got its start. It is the source of monotheism for all peoples of the world. Jewish people in and around the world support a strong, vibrant Jewish presence in Hevron . We do not expect any Israeli government to attempt to follow in the footsteps of Arab Nazi Mufti Amin el-Husseini and the British and expel Jews from the city. In any case, we would never abandon our homes. Besides which, why should the state of Israel be forced to chop off its roots to appease Arab terror? We know the result of eradicating the roots of a tree. God forbid that should happen!
Present Defense Minister and Former Prime Minister Barak once blessed Hevron as follows: ‘The test of the renewed Hevron Jewish community, which is the same test of the Arab majority, is the ability to develop good neighborly relationships. Mutual honor and a joint effort are necessary to overcome the scars, the pain and the difficult reminders left from the despicable carnage which desecrated this holy city.’
Hevron ‘s Jewish Community could not agree more with this statement. The time has come for our Arab neighbors to stop shooting at us, to stop trying to kill us for no other reason than because we are Jews living in Hevron . Perhaps they believe that by killing us, or by attempting to murder us, they will scare us away. They cannot be further from the truth, because Hevron is the heart of the Jewish people, the life-blood from which the Jewish people derives its sanctity. This is a simple truth that everyone should not only understand, but also agree with. We truly hope and pray for the day when true peace will prevail, both in Hevron, throughout the land of Israel and all over the entire world.