(Communicated by the GPO News Department
and the IDF Spokesman's Office,
Hebron -- located south of Jerusalem in the Judean hills -- is home to
approximately 120,000 Arabs, 500 Jews, and three Christians. An additional
6,000 Jews reside in the adjacent community of Kiryat Arba.
Hebron is the site of the oldest Jewish community in the world, which
dates back to Biblical times. The Book of Genesis relates that Abraham
purchased the field where the Tomb of the Patriarchs is located as a
burial place for his wife Sarah. According to Jewish tradition, the
Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca,
and Leah are buried in the Tomb.
Hebron has a long and rich Jewish history. It was one of the first places
where the Patriarch Abraham resided after his arrival in Canaan. King
David was anointed in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years. One
thousand years later, during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans,
the city was the scene of extensive fighting. Jews lived in Hebron almost
continuously throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman
periods. It was only in 1929 -- as a result of a murderous Arab pogrom in
which 67 Jews were murdered and the remainder were forced to flee -- that
the city became temporarily "free" of Jews. After the 1967 Six-Day War,
the Jewish community of Hebron was re-established. It has grown to include
a range of religious and educational institutions.
Hebron contains many sites of Jewish religious and historical
significance, in addition to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. These include the
Tombs of Othniel Ben Kenaz (the first Judge of Israel) and Avner Ben Ner
(general and confidante to Kings Saul and David), and Ruth and Jesse
(great- grandmother and father, respectively, of King David). Victims of
the 1929 pogrom, as well as prominent rabbinical sages and community
figures, are buried in Hebron's ancient Jewish cemetery.
In recent years, Hebron has been the site of many violent incidents, two
of which stand out. In May 1980 Palestinian terrorists murdered 6 Jewish
yeshiva students and wounded 20 others, who were returning from prayers at
the Tomb of the Patriarchs. In February 1994, Dr. Baruch Goldstein opened
fire on Muslim worshippers at the Tomb, murdering 29 and wounding 125.
After the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement ("Oslo
II"), authority for most civil affairs regarding Hebron's arab residents
was transferred from the Israeli Civil Administration to the Palestinian
Authority and the (Arab) Municipality of Hebron. Those services which
remained the responsibility of the Civil Administration will be
transferred following the IDF redeployment from Hebron. The IDF will
retain sole responsibility for the security and well-being of Hebron's
Hebron (Al-Khalil in Arabic) is located 32 km. south of Jerusalem in the
Judean hills, and sits between 870 and 1,020 meters above sea level. The
city is built on several hills and nahals/wadis, most of which run north-
to-south. Hebron's monthly average temperatures are lower than those of
Jerusalem. The city receives approximately 466 millimeters average
rainfall annually. Its climate has -- since Biblical times -- encouraged
extensive local agriculture.
The Hebrew word "Hebron" is (inter alia) explained as being derived from
the Hebrew word for "friend" ("haver"), a description for the Patriarch
Abraham, who was considered to be the friend of God. The Arabic "Al-
Khalil" -- literally "the friend" -- has a nearly identical derivation,
and also refers to the Patriarch Abraham (Ibrahim), whom Muslims similarly
describe as the friend of God.
Hebron has approximately 120,000 (Sunni Muslim) Arab residents. Hebron's
Jewish population, comprised of 45 Jewish families and around 150 yeshiva
students, is about 500. Hebron's three Christian residents are the
custodians of the city's Russian church. An additional 6,000 Jews live in
the adjacent community of Kiryat Arba.
II. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:
BIBLICAL PERIOD TO 1967
Numbers 13:22 states that (Canaanite) Hebron was founded seven years
before the Egyptian town of Zoan, i.e. around 1720 BCE, and the ancient
(Canaanite and Israelite) city of Hebron was situated at Tel Rumeida. The
city's history has been inseparably linked with the Cave of Machpelah,
which the Patriarch Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite for 400
silver shekels (Genesis 23), as a family tomb. As recorded in Genesis, the
Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca
and Leah, are buried there, and -- according to a Jewish tradition -- Adam
and Eve are also buried there.
Hebron is mentioned 87 times in the Bible, and is the world's oldest
Jewish community. Joshua assigned Hebron to Caleb from the tribe of Judah
(Joshua 14:13-14), who subsequently led his tribe in conquering the city
and its environs (Judges 1:1-20). As Joshua 14:15 notes, "the former name
of Hebron was Kiryat Arba..."
Following the death of King Saul, God instructed David to go to Hebron,
where he was anointed King of Judah (II Samuel 2:1-4). A little more than
7.5 years later, David was anointed King over all Israel, in Hebron (II
The city was part of the united kingdom and -- later -- the southern
Kingdom of Judah, until the latter fell to the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
Despite the loss of Jewish independence, Jews continued to live in Hebron
(Nehemiah 11:25), and the city was later incorporated into the (Jewish)
Hasmonean kingdom by John Hyrcanus. King Herod (reigned 37-4 BCE) built
the base of the present structure -- the 12 meter high wall -- over the
Tomb the Patriarchs.
The city was the scene of extensive fighting during the Jewish Revolt
against the Romans (65-70, see Josephus 4:529, 554), but Jews continued to
live there after the Revolt, through the later Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135
CE), and into the Byzantine period. The remains of a synagogue from the
Byzantine period have been excavated in the city, and the Byzantines built
a large church over the Tomb of the Patriarchs, incorporating the pre-
existing Herodian structure.
Jews continued to live in Hebron after the city's conquest by the Arabs
(in 638), whose generally tolerant rule was welcomed, especially after the
often harsh Byzantine rule -- although the Byzantines never forbade Jews
from praying at the Tomb. The Arabs converted the Byzantine church at the
Tomb of the Patriarchs into a mosque.
Upon capturing the city in 1100, the Crusaders expelled the Jewish
community, and converted the mosque at the Tomb back into a church. The
Jewish community was re-established following the Mamelukes' conquest of
the city in 1260, and the Mamelukes reconverted the church at the Tomb of
the Patriarchs back into a mosque. However, the restored Islamic
(Mameluke) ascendancy was less tolerant than the pre-Crusader Islamic
(Arab) regimes -- a 1266 decree barred Jews (and Christians) from entering
the Tomb of the Patriarchs, allowing them only to ascend to the fifth,
later the seventh, step outside the eastern wall. The Jewish cemetery --
on a hill west of the Tomb -- was first mentioned in a letter dated to
The Ottoman Turks' conquest of the city in 1517 was marked by a violent
pogrom which included many deaths, rapes, and the plundering of Jewish
homes. The surviving Jews fled to Beirut and did not return until 1533. In
1540, Jewish exiles from Spain acquired the site of the "Court of the
Jews" and built the Avraham Avinu ("Abraham Our Father") synagogue. (One
year -- according to local legend -- when the requisite quorum for prayer
was lacking, the Patriarch Abraham himself appeared to complete the
quorum; hence, the name of the synagogue.)
Despite the events of 1517, its general poverty and a devastating plague
in 1619, the Hebron Jewish community grew. Throughout the Turkish period
(1517-1917), groups of Jews from other parts of the Land of Israel, and
the Diaspora, moved to Hebron from time to time, joining the existing
community, and the city became a rabbinic center of note.
In 1775, the Hebron Jewish community was rocked by a blood libel, in which
Jews were falsely accused of murdering the son of a local sheikh. The
community -- which was largely sustained by donations from abroad -- was
made to pay a crushing fine, which further worsened its already shaky
economic situation. Despite its poverty, the community managed, in 1807,
to purchase a 5-dunam plot -- upon which the city's wholesale market
stands today -- and after several years the sale was recognized by the
Hebron Waqf. In 1811, 800 dunams of land were acquired to expand the
cemetery. In 1817, the Jewish community numbered approximately 500, and by
1838, it had grown to 700, despite a pogrom which took place in 1834,
during Mohammed Ali's rebellion against the Ottomans (1831-1840).
In 1870, a wealthy Turkish Jew, Haim Yisrael Romano, moved to Hebron and
purchased a plot of land upon which his family built a large residence and
guest house, which came to be called Beit Romano. The building later
housed a synagogue and served as a yeshiva, before it was seized by the
Turks. During the Mandatory period, the building served the British
administration as a police station, remand center, and court house.
In 1893, the building later known as Beit Hadassah was built by the Hebron
Jewish community as a clinic, and a second floor was added in 1909. The
American Zionist Hadassah organization contributed the salaries of the
clinic's medical staff, who served both the city's Jewish and Arab
During World War I, before the British occupation, the Jewish community
suffered greatly under the wartime Turkish administration. Young men were
forcibly conscripted into the Turkish army, overseas financial assistance
was cut off, and the community was threatened by hunger and disease.
However, with the establishment of the British administration in 1918, the
community, reduced to 430 people, began to recover. In 1925, Rabbi
Mordechai Epstein established a new yeshiva, and by 1929, the population
had risen to 700 again.
On 23 August 1929, local Arabs devastated the Jewish community by
perpetrating a vicious, large-scale, organized, pogrom. According to the
"The assault was well planned and its aim was well defined: the
elimination of the Jewish settlement of Hebron. The rioters did not spare
women, children, or the aged; the British gave passive assent. Sixty-seven
were killed, 60 wounded, the community was destroyed, synagogues razed,
and Torah scrolls burned."
59 of the 67 victims were buried in a common grave in the Jewish cemetery
(including 23 who had been murdered in one house alone, and then
dismembered), and the surviving Jews fled to Jerusalem. (During the
violence, Haj Issa el-Kourdieh -- a local Arab who lived in a house in the
Jewish Quarter -- sheltered 33 Jews in his basement and protected them
from the rioting mob.) However, in 1931, 31 Jewish families returned to
Hebron and re-established the community. This effort was short-lived, and
in April 1936, fearing another massacre, the British authorities evacuated
Following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and the invasion by
Arab armies, Hebron was captured and occupied by the Jordanian Arab
Legion. During the Jordanian occupation, which lasted until 1967, Jews
were not permitted to live in the city, nor -- despite the Armistice
Agreement -- to visit or pray at the Jewish holy sites in the city.
Additionally, the Jordanian authorities and local residents undertook a
systematic campaign to eliminate any evidence of the Jewish presence in
the city. They razed the Jewish Quarter, desecrated the Jewish cemetery
and built an animal pen on the ruins of the Avraham Avinu synagogue.
III. HEBRON SINCE 1967
A. The Re-established Jewish community
Israel returned to Hebron in 1967. The old Jewish Quarter had been
destroyed and the cemetery was devastated. Since 1968, the re-established
Jewish community in Hebron itself has been linked to the nearby community
of Kiryat Arba. On 4 April 1968, a group of Jews registered at the Park
Hotel in the city. The next day they announced that they had come to re-
establish Hebron's Jewish community. The actions sparked a nationwide
debate and drew support from across the political spectrum. After an
initial period of deliberation, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's Labor-led
government decided to temporarily move the group into a near-by IDF
compound, while a new community -- to be called Kiryat Arba -- was built
adjacent to Hebron. The first 105 housing units were ready in the autumn
Today, Kiryat Arba has approximately 6,000 residents. Its built-up area
comprises some 6,000 dunams, and is located about 750 meters from the Tomb
at its nearest point. Kiryat Arba has its own elected local council,
schools, religious and community institutions, clinics, and
industrial/commercial zone. It draws its water from mains coming from the
Etzion Bloc and the Herodion area to the north. About half of its
residents work in Jerusalem and its environs; 30% are employed in local
education, health, and administrative services, and the remaining 20% are
employed in local tourism, industry, and commerce.
The Jewish community in Hebron itself was re-established permanently in
April 1979, when a group of Jews from Kiryat Arba moved into Beit Hadassah
(see page 2 above). Following a deadly terrorist attack in May 1980 in
which six Jews returning from prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs were
murdered, and 20 wounded (see Annex I below), Prime Minister Menahem
Begin's Likud-led government agreed to refurbish Beit Hadassah, and to
permit Jews to move into the adjacent Beit Chason and Beit Schneerson, in
the old Jewish Quarter. An additional floor was built on Beit Hadassah,
and 11 families moved in during 1986.
Since 1980, other Jewish properties and buildings in Hebron have been
refurbished and rebuilt. Today the Hebron Jewish community comprises 19
families living in buildings adjacent to the Avraham Avinu courtyard (see
page 2 above), the area also houses two kindergartens, the municipal
committee offices, and a guesthouse; seven families living in mobile homes
at Tel Rumeida; twelve families living in Beit Hadassah; six families
living in Beit Schneerson; one family living in Beit Kastel; six families
live in Beit Chason; Beit Romano, home to the Shavei Hevron yeshiva, is
currently being refurbished.
Local administration and services for the Hebron Jewish community are
provided by the Hebron Municipal Committee, which was established by the
Defense and Interior Ministries, and whose functions are similar to those
of Israel's regular local councils. The Ministry of Housing and
Construction has established the "Association for the Renewal of the
Jewish Community in Hebron," to carry out projects in the city. The
Association is funded both through the state budget and by private
contributions. It deals with general development of, and for, the Jewish
In addition to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Tel Rumeida, the Jewish
cemetery, and the historical residences mentioned above, other Jewish
sites in Hebron include: 1) the Tomb of Ruth and Jesse (King David's
father) which is located on a hillside overlooking the cemetery; 2) the
site of the Terebinths of Mamre ("Alonei Mamre") from Genesis 18:1, where
God appeared to Abraham, which is located about 400 meters from the Glass
Junction (Herodian, Roman, and Byzantine remains mark the site today); 3)
King David's Pool (also known as the Sultan's Pool), which is located
about 200 meters south of the road to the entrance of the Tomb of the
Patriarchs, which Jews hold to be the pool referred to in II Samuel 4:12,
4) the Tomb of Abner, Saul and David's general, which is located near the
Tomb, and 5) the Tomb of Othniel Ben Kenaz, the first Judge of Israel
B. Security, and Hebron and the Peace Process
According to the Oslo accords, the IDF has sole responsibility for the
security of the Jewish community of Hebron. However, it is the Israel
Police which is responsible for investigating instances of possible
violations of the law by Hebron's Jewish residents. Providing security for
Hebron's Jewish residents is a particular challenge since Hebron's is the
only Jewish community in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza which is situated
directly in the midst of a city with a large Arab population. Moreover,
the community is not concentrated in a single area or bloc, but is,
rather, comprised of dispersed and separated sites. Terrorists could thus
threaten one individual site, or isolate one site from the others by
creating pressure on the roads (traffic jams, etc.) and thus impede the
arrival of Israel security forces should one site be attacked, or could
attack the roads joining the sites. Additionally, some of the sites are
situated lower than the surrounding areas, and thus face clear threats.
Responsibility for security at the Tomb of the Patriarchs -- in accordance
with the recommendations of the committee which investigated the massacre
of 29 Muslim worshippers and the wounding of 125 by Kiryat Arba resident
Baruch Goldstein on 25.02.94 -- is shared by the IDF (outside the Tomb)
and a special Israel Police/Border Police unit (inside). Following the
massacre and the publication of the committee's findings, it was decided
to establish new prayer procedures which would enable both communities to
exercise their religious rights as fully and freely as possible and would
provide for the complete separation of Jewish and Muslim worshippers. In
this context, a schedule of the religious holidays of both Jews and
Muslims was established in which each community was allocated 10 days
annually in which it would have exclusive access to the Tomb.
Following the signing of the Interim Agreement on 28 September 1995,
authority over most civilian matters concerning Hebron's Arab residents
was transferred from the IDF Civil Administration to the Palestinian
Authority and/or the (Arab) Municipality of Hebron. Those services which
remained the responsibility of the Civil Administration will be
transferred to the Palestinian Authority and the Municipality following
the IDF redeployment in Hebron.
The Interim Agreement provides for the stationing of a Temporary
International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), whose sole function is to monitor
and report on events. On 10 October 1996, Israel and the Palestinian
Authority signed a joint letter requesting the Norwegian government to
extend the operation of the current TIPH, composed of 30 Norwegian
ANNEX I: TERRORIST ATTACKS AND VIOLENT INCIDENTS IN HEBRON SINCE 1929
(The following list is intended to provide a representative -- not
exhaustive -- summary of terrorist attacks and violent incidents which
have occurred in Hebron since 1929.)
|23.08.29||67 Jews (including women, children, and the elderly) were
murdered, and 60 injured in a vicious pogrom which had been
well-planned by Arab rioters. In the course of the pogrom,
women were raped, homes and synagogues were plundered and
burned, and Torah scrolls were desecrated and burned.
|09.10.68||A 17 year-old Arab youth threw a grenade at Jews praying on
the steps of the Tomb's main gate. 47 Jews, including an
eight month-old baby, were injured.
|05.11.68||A Jewish man and his son, an elderly Arab man, and three
Arab children were injured by an explosive charge near the
|29.12.68||Terrorists attack a security post near the Tomb. One
terrorist was killed; the others fled. No Israeli soldiers
|07.08.76||Two Jews were wounded when terrorists shot at a tour bus in
|03.10.76||On the eve of Yom Kippur, a mob of Arab youths burst into
the Tomb and desecrated several Torah scrolls. Three
soldiers fired in the air in an attempt to prevent their
entry. 61 rioters were arrested in the Tomb.
|02.05.80||Arab terrorists ambushed a group of Jews returning from the
Tomb to Beit Hadassah. Six Jews were murdered and 20
|21.05.80||A Molotov cocktail was thrown at an Israeli vehicle in
Hebron. A Jewish woman was wounded.
|02.06.80||11 Arabs, including four schoolchildren, were injured when a
booby-trapped grenade exploded in the Hebron market.
|16.12.80||An Arab resident of Hebron was wounded by a bomb at Glass
Junction in Hebron.
|10.02.81||A Jewish resident of Kiryat Arba was stabbed and wounded in
the Hebron casbah.
|07.07.83||Beit Romano Yeshiva student Aharon Gross was attacked and
stabbed by three Arab youths in the market area. He later
died of his wounds.
|25.07.83||Jewish terrorists opened fire at the Islamic College in
Hebron. Three students were murdered and approximately 30
|10.08.85||A Jewish resident of Kiryat Arba was stabbed and wounded in
the Hebron casbah.
|25.04.86||A 16-year old Jewish youth was stabbed and lightly wounded
in the casbah.
|06.06.86||A Jewish resident of Kiryat Arba was stabbed and wounded in
|14.09.86||A young Arab woman, the daughter of a local mukhtar, stabbed
a soldier at the entrance to the Tomb. She was shot and
|16.10.86||A Jewish resident of Kiryat Arba was stabbed in the city.
|25.10.92||Three Arab terrorists shot at soldiers guarding the Tomb's
generator. One reserve soldier was murdered; two were
|28.05.93||Yeshiva student Erez Shmuel was stabbed to death
approximately 500 meters from from the Tomb, while on his
way to Friday evening prayers at the Tomb.
|06.12.93||Mordechai Lapid and his son Shalom were shot to death near
Glass Junction in Hebron. Hamas claimed responsibility.
|25.02.94||Kiryat Arba resident Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Muslim
worshippers inside the Tomb, murdering 29 and wounding 125.
|07.07.94||Sarit Prigal (17) was shot to death in a drive-by shooting,
when terrorists opened fire from a passing car near the
entrance to Kiryat Arba.
|19.03.95||Nahum Hoss (31) of Hebron, and Yehuda Partus (34) of Kiryat
Arba, were murdered by shots fired at their bus from a
terrorist ambush near Glass Junction in Hebron. Six others