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Hebron, a microcosm of Jewish history and survival

The city of Hebron has been in the news in the last few days. It is where a young Israeli-American girl was stabbed to death in her sleep by a Palestinian terrorist and where a father of ten was killed in front of his children. In Hebron, Israelis also frequently have Molotov cocktails and rocks thrown at their vehicles by Palestinians. Violence against Jews in Hebron is not new. It is as old as Judaism and it pre-dates both Islam and Christianity.

The excuse for the ongoing violence against Jews in Hebron is the presence of Jewish “settlements”. The history of Hebron, however, demonstrates why the term “settlements” is extremely misleading and why the demonization of “settlers” is no more than the perpetuation of old anti-Semitic hatred against Jews who do nothing more than live on their own land.

From Biblical times until now

The book Genesis tells the story of Abraham who buys a plot of land in Hebron to bury his wife, the matriarch Sara. Their descendants Abraham, Rebecca, Isaac, Jacob and Leah would all go on to be buried there in what is now known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. King Herod would later adorn and build the monument in a similar fashion as the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Hebron sits in the Judean Mountains. The term Judean, derived from the word Jewish, was the name of the region before it was changed to Palestine by the Roman conquerors. Hebron has had a continuous Jewish presence since biblical times except during periods when foreign invaders forced us to leave, and it has been the site of many wars between the Jewish people and foreign invaders. We fought the Romans, Alexander the Great, the Islamic invasion, the Christian Crusaders, the Ottoman Empire, the Jordanian army, and now Palestinian terrorists.

Islamic invasion and Ottoman Empire

Hebron was one of the last holdouts to fall to Islamic invaders. The city was not considered important enough during the invasion to be mentioned in the Arab documents of that era, which is ironic because today’s Islamic revisionist history states that Hebron has an unshakeable relationship to Islam.

Jewish residents were forced to leave by the Islamic invaders but later were allowed to return in small numbers. The next invaders were the Crusaders who turned the mosques and synagogues into churches, and then came the Ottoman Empire. Jews remained in Hebron but they lived as dhimmis who were forced to pay a tax in return for limited autonomy. The Cave of the Patriarchs remained closed to non-Muslims throughout this period.

In the 1800’s when Egypt attempted to use Arabs from Hebron as part of their mandatory conscription plan, a massive Arab revolt took place and ended in the deaths of many Jewish residents while the rest escaped to Jerusalem. During the late Ottoman period, a very small number of Jews immigrated to Hebron at the same time as Arab Nationalist movements began to gain popularity.

Jewish people who had previously lived in the diaspora started moving back to the Levant. The lack of Arab control over the Jewish population caused anger and often resulted in incitement and violence. The 1929 Hebron massacre of Jews by Arabs is part of that history. The Arabs decided to wipe out the Jewish population because they were told the lie that Jews would take control of the Jerusalem temple (does this lie sound familiar?).

The British mandate

This riot and massacre resulted in the British (who now controlled the area called Mandatory Palestine) ethnically cleansing the entire Jewish population from Hebron. British rule of Palestine can be summed up nicely by saying that they did what they could to appease the Arabs in order to maintain peace.

The 1929 Hebron massacre along with a similar one in the town of Safed ignited the push for Jewish paramilitary groups who would eventually form the Israeli Defense Forces. Jews were allowed to return to Hebron about five years later.

Attempts at partition

Initially the entire mandate (including what is now known as Jordan) was slated as a “homeland for the Jewish people” until Arab revolt and incitement caused the British to reconsider their course of action. The 1937 Peel Commission report (which was completed in order to assess the reasons for constant unrest between the Arab and Jewish population), recommended that they partition the land. The Jewish side was to be approximately one third of Israel’s current size but subject to land swaps that could have affected the overall outcome.

Despite the generous offer, the Arabs refused while the Jews said agreed. A Jewish State, no matter how tiny, simply could not be accepted by the Arabs. Contrary to what is presented today by anti-Zionists, this period also marked a wave of Arab immigration into the region for economic purposes. There was work and migrants came for it. Jewish immigration happened concurrently. Eventually, Jordan was carved out of the Mandate and offered as a homeland to the Arabs who lived there. At that point, everything west of the Jordan River (including Hebron, Judea and Samaria) was intended for the Jews.

The Arabs eventually accepted Jordan (today the Kingdom of Jordan comprises 75% of Mandatory Palestine, and their citizens are 70% ethnically Palestinian), but refused the rest of the offer. After this refusal, another plan was drawn up by the British that carved out even more land from what was supposed to go to the Jews against a legal condition that originated from the League of Nations. It required the British to guarantee that everything west of the Jordan River would unequivocally constitute a Jewish homeland.

The peculiar, somewhat disjointed and indefensible two-state “solution” that resulted from this illegal re-repartition would have left Israel even smaller than she is today. As it turned out, Israel accepted anyway while the Arabs flatly refused. Thus, the original trust still holds, which means that all of what is known today as Israel, Gaza, and the “West Bank” is still legally the “homeland for the Jewish people”.

Arab wars and ethnic cleansing

After the British abandoned the area, Israel declared its statehood. Neighboring Arab countries immediately starting bombarding Israel in what became known as the war of independence. Israel’s ragtag collection of paramilitary groups came together to form an army. Arab groups and leaders advised the Arabs living on the Jewish side of the partition to flee, and they assured them that that they would go home once the Jews were annihilated. Since Israel won that war, the Arabs could not deliver on that promise, and the people who fled as well as all their descendants are now called Palestinian refugees. During that war, the Israelis pleaded with the Arabs to remain. Those who chose to remain are now Israeli citizens and make up 25% of the Israeli population.

In that 1947/48 war, Jordan took and occupied the area that was slated to be a Palestinian state, called it the West Bank, and ethnically cleansed it of its ancient Jewish population. Jordan ruled it and occupied it until Israel’s neighbors attacked Israel again in 1967. Israel won that second war and captured land up to defensible borders. In the case of the “West Bank” that meant Israel control of the Jordan River valley. When Israel captured that land, it also inherited the Palestinian refugees whom the Jordanians had left in camps for 20 years.

Hebron was part of the “West Bank”, so it was ethnically cleansed of Jews together with the rest. Jewish people however persevered in the hope that they would return home. After the 1967 war, the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba was established in Hebron. The Israeli military and the Palestinian Authority share control over particular areas of the city.

Hebron’s native residents still under attack today

Today’s Jewish community of Hebron is tiny and stays to itself, and yet it is subjected to frequent horrific violence and attacks. My dear friend’s sister was nearly killed in a suicide bombing during a visit to the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Jewish history is riddled with instances of invaders trying to remove us from our land. The city of Hebron is a hot spot and it always has been, but the settlers are not the “foreign invaders”. They are in fact the native residents who have been many times victims of foreign invaders. The presence of a very small Jewish community in Hebron should not be a horrifying prospect.

I have strong concerns about the current Israeli government’s policies on settlements, but that does not mean that Jewish history on this land should be ignored or falsified. Is it fair that the native people of a land be called “settlers”? If a Native American was forcibly removed from his land and his descendants later came back to the land, would you call them settlers? This is exactly what is happening to Jews, with the complicity of student activists, university academics, and politicians all over the world.
This year the United Nations declared the tomb of the patriarchs an Islamic holy site, and made no mention of Christians or Jews. By doing so, the UN collaborated in the “replacement theology” attempting to erase Jewish history in Hebron, and it gave moral support to the long string of attempts to kill and remove the Jews of Hebron.

This is the context of the Palestinian attacks on Jews in Hebron. This is the context of the horrific killing of a young girl in her sleep and the murder of a father in front of his children. This is the context of what much of the world calls “Palestinian resistance”.

A special thank you to Fred Maroun, David Bears and Jillian Lennon for your contributions and assistance

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