Hebron: 4000 Years + 40
The Story of the City of the Patriarchs
By Noam Arnon
On the Occasion of the 40th Anniversary of
the Reestablishment of the Jewish Community of Hebron, 1968-2008
On the Occasion of the 40th Anniversary of
the Reestablishment of the Jewish Community of Hebron, 1968-2008
Arye Klein, Consultant Naftali Greenwood,Translator Yossi Baumol, English Editor
The Jewish Community of Hebron: Nearly Total Continuity since the Biblical Era
I. The Biblical Era & Biblical Sites: Hebron, the First Hebrew City
Hebron, City of the Patriarchs, commands a unique and central position in Jewish history. The Patriarchs and Matriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca & Leah - the founding family of the Jewish people, are interred here. Here in Hebron the eternal bond between the People and the Land of Israel was forged- a living, perpetual union that has endured for millennia.
Hebron is the natural capital of the province of Judea, the historical heart of Eretz Israel. It resides in the southern Judean Hills, not far from the Hebron highlands watershed, where hills and desert meet. Of all cities in Eretz Israel, Hebron is the highest in elevation. At approximately 1,000 meters above sea level, it enjoys a comfortable, cool and dry climate in the summer and is cold and sometimes snowy in the winter. Hebron abounds with vineyards, olive groves and has a typical hilly landscape. Ancient and new roads connect it with the hills of Jerusalem, the coastal plain, the Negev and the Judean Desert. Along these roads, diverse kinds of produce from the fertile upland regions and the pasturelands on the fringe of the desert are delivered to its markets. In ancient times, there was an important junction at the lower end of the town. From this intersection, the “mountain road” headed toward Jerusalem, Shechem and destinations to their north; a road to Beersheba and Egypt branched to the southwest and a third thoroughfare veered to the southeast, towards the Arad basin, Edom, the Dead Sea and distant Yemen.
The fertile inheritance of the tribe of Judah, with its abundant vineyards, is described in picturesque verses at the conclusion of the Book of Genesis, where Jacob is quoted as blessing Judah: “Binding his foal to the vine and his colt to the choice vine, he washes his vestments in wine and his clothing in the blood of grapes; his eyes are red with wine and his teeth white with milk” (Gen. 49:11–12). Although thousands of years have passed, the landscapes of the Hebron highlands still abound with vineyards. The grapes of Hebron - table grapes and, in recent years, wine grapes as well - are once again renowned for their quality. A number of local wineries have won international awards in recent years.
The name “Hebron” signifies connection (Heb. hibbur) and unity. In geographic terms, Hebron was a junction and a market center between the mountaintop area - where the grapes grow - and nearby regions to the east, the desert frontier and the Negev, where sheep are raised and grain is grown and to the west as well, the area of the Judean foothills and their olive groves. In ancient times, Hebron was synonymous with the main rendezvous for the entire Judean Hills area. Some endow this name with symbolic meaning, suggesting that it denotes the Jewish people’s connection with its Patriarchs and its deepest roots. Others prefer a more mystical, kabbalistic explanation that speaks of the connection of worlds – heaven and earth, which, according to tradition, takes place at Ma’arat ha-Makhpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
The city’s ancient name is Kiryat Arba, as the Bible confirms: “The name of Hebron in bygone times was Kiryat Arba” (Josh. 14:15). The name may be geographic in origin, denoting the connection and merging of four (Heb.: arba’) urban quarters. Some, however, believe that Arba’ is the name of a person who once controlled the town. Others cite the four ‘anaqim (“giants”) who dominated the town in antiquity; yet others emphasize the four couples who are buried there: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah.
Hebron is one of the world’s oldest cities and one of two ancient cities in the central mountain area. (The other is Tirza, not far from Shechem.) It has been continually settled for some 5000 years. Hebron and its surroundings, the Judean Hills - constitute the cradle of fundamental events in the history of the Jewish people and Eretz Israel. This is where Jewish national identity first crystallized.
Some 3800 years ago, Abraham - the first Hebrew, the Jewish national patriarch - began his sojourn in Eretz Israel. After being commanded by G-d to “stand up and walk in the land, to its length and its breadth, for I shall give it to you” (Gen. 13:17), Abraham chose Hebron, the regional capital, as his first place of settlement: “And Abram encamped and he came and settled in Elonei Mamre that is in Hebron and there he built an altar to G-d” (Gen. 13:17–18). Abraham used the altar that he built in Hebron to disseminate monotheism, the belief in the One G-d. It was from here that he set out in pursuit of the kings who had captured his nephew Lot and liberated him. Upon his return, he was visited by G-d, Who in the “Covenant of the Pieces” promised Abraham that He would “give this land to your offspring” (Gen. 15:18). An ancient tradition identifies the location of this divine revelation as Elonei Mamre, the aforementioned site at the northern edge of Hebron.
After decades of sojourning and migrating, it was in Hebron that Abraham purchased the first Jewish estate in Eretz Israel: the field which included the Ma’arat ha-Makhpela, for the express purpose of using the cave as a burial place for his wife Sarah, for himself and for their descendants. The cave became the “tract of the nation’s giants,” where the first Jews and the founders of the Jewish people lie in eternal rest - the Patriarchs and Matriarchs: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. There, in Hebron, they built their homes and there they laid the foundations of the Jewish people and endowed it with its special identity and faith. By their actions, the status of Hebron as the “City of the Patriarchs” was forever stamped on the Jewish national psyche.
Hebron, where the legacy of the Patriarchs and the promise of Eretz Israel are enshrined, remained a focal point of racial memory and a wellspring of spiritual fortitude for the Jewish people during their exile in Egypt and the Exodus. Based on Numbers 13:22, a rabbinical tradition claims that when the twelve Jewish leaders were sent from the Sinai desert to explore Eretz Israel, Caleb son of Yefuneh, chief of the tribe of Judah and one of the greatest Jewish leaders of all time, ascended to Ma’arat ha-Makhpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, in order to pray. There, inspired by having reconnected with the nation’s patriarchs and the intensity of his connection with the Land that had been promised as a national possession, he was inspired by what the Biblical account calls “a different spirit,” - a spirit of faith and valor. By its merit, he was able to confront the failings of ten of the other eleven scouts - their lack of connection to the Land and their reluctance to make the ascent to Eretz Israel. In doing so, he issued the famous proclamation that ever since has expressed faith in the Eternal One of Israel and the Land of Israel: “Let us go up at once and take possession of it, for we are well able to do so!” (Num. 13:30). As a reward for his faith and boldness, G-d promised Hebron to Caleb. Indeed, forty years later, Caleb ousted the “giants” from Hebron and was privileged to receive it as his portion (Josh. 14). Thus Hebron, the ancient city of the Patriarchs, also became the capital of Judea (some 3250 years ago). Caleb was succeeded by his maternal half-brother, Othniel son of Knaz, as Judge of Israel. An ancient tradition identifies a site in Hebron as Othniel’s tomb and many generations of Jews have visited and worshipped there. In view of its centrality in the region, Hebron also became a “city of refuge” (Josh. 20) and a “city of Levites” (Josh. 21:13).
Some 3000 years ago, the City of the Patriarchs became David’s first capital. According to the Biblical account, G-d instructed David to establish his kingdom in Hebron, the historical capital of Judea: “And it came to pass afterwards that David inquired of G-d, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judea? And G-d said to him, go! And David said, Where shall I go to? And He said: to Hebron” (II Sam. 2:1). David ruled Judea from Hebron during the first seven years of his reign. Here, inspired by the spirit of the national patriarchs, he consolidated his monarchy until he gained the recognition of all the tribes of Israel: “Then all the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and spoke, saying, behold: we are your bone and your flesh. In times past, too, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led Israel out and brought them back. And G-d said to you that you shall be a shepherd for His people Israel and shall be a prince over Israel. And all the elders of Israel came to the king in Hebron and King David established a covenant with them in Hebron before G-d and they anointed David king over Israel” (II Sam. 5:1–3).
Once David made his ascent to Jerusalem, the latter city won the status of capital and site of the Temple. However, the profound historical foundation in Hebron survived, for Hebron remained the City of the Patriarchs and the site of the nation’s roots and origins. Hebron also retained its status as a regional capital. Many Jewish communities were established around it, establishing Judea as the heart of the Jewish nation during the First Temple area. Toward the end of the Judean Kingdom era, the settled upland region reached its climax of development and spread to the desert areas to its east and south. The settled presence was organized under a governmental hierarchy. Regional government towns such as Hebron and Lakhish were subordinate to the capital, Jerusalem; peripheral towns were subordinate to them and around these regional centers were densely placed settlements and farms that crisscrossed the entire Judean Hills - remnants of which we find throughout the vicinity today. This marked the peak of human settlement in these parts of the country.
Evidence of the royal status and central administrative role of First Temple era Hebron is found in signets bearing the inscription “To the King of Hebron.” These signets, displaying the word la-melekh (“to the King”) and the name of one of four cities - Hebron, Shukha, Zif and Mamshit - were embossed on the handles of huge containers of grain, wine and olive oil that belonged to the royal treasury. They were evidently stored in royal warehouses in these towns during Hizkiyahu’s rein as King of Judea. Archeological excavations at various sites in Judea turned up some 1500 signets, including 1000 bearing the inscription “To the King of Hebron.” A number of similar signets were discovered in Tel Hebron itself.
The Ancient Tel of Hebron - the Admot Yishai Quarter
The ancient city of Hebron in the Biblical era - a royal city, fortified with massive stone walls, was located at Tel Hebron (at the edge of what is known today as Jebel Rumeida). Its main water source was “Abraham’s Spring” (‘Ein Jedida’), which continues to flow to this very day.
Fragmentary remains of the ancient city were discovered in three missions that excavated the tel: an American mission headed by P. Mond (1964–65), a mission from Tel Aviv University under A. Ofer (1985–86) and an Israel Antiquities Authority mission under Emanuel Eisenberg (1999).
Philip Hammond’s excavations resulted in the first-ever discovery of a city wall from the Patriarchal era (the Canaanite era / Middle Bronze Age, approx. 3800 years ago) on the southern side of the tel. Due to its size and strength, Hammond termed it the “Cyclopean Wall” (“wall of the giants”). His excavations also unearthed an abundance of findings dating from the era of the Kings to that of the Mishna and the Talmud.
Ofer expanded the areas of excavation in the eastern part of the tel and uncovered a wealth of findings. The most important of them was a small clay tablet carrying an inscription in Accadian hieroglyphics, including a list of animals for sacrifice and references to several individuals and a king. The tablet, part of a Canaanite archive that was kept in Hebron, shows that the town was a royal city and a religious and administrative center even before our Patriarch Abraham first visited it.
Eisenberg’s excavations in 1999 showed that the fortified city had been established some 700 years earlier than had been conventionally thought. His mission found, for the first time in Hebron, a massive rampart, 7 meters wide, from the early Canaanite (Bronze) era (approx. 4500 years ago), attesting to the city’s importance and centrality. Next to it, he discovered part of a staircase, in a rare state of preservation, leading to the town gate. AMiddle Bronze Age extension of the “Cyclopean Wall” was discovered next to the ancient rampart. When the extension was built, some of the original stairs were destroyed. Additional excavations nearby turned up a grave with numerous findings and pieces of jewelry from the late Canaanite (Bronze) Age, shortly before the Israelite conquest. Some of them are on display at the Judea Antiquities Museum in Kiryat Arba. The findings from the Israelite (Iron) Age include storage pits from the time of Joshua’s conquest and an Israelite “house of four chambers” from the time of King Hizkiyahu (approx. 2700 years ago). The layer of ash attests that the house was destroyed in the Assyrian invasion at the end of the Iron Age (701 BCE). The relics discovered in the house include five “To the King of Hebron” signets in ancient Hebrew lettering. The findings show that Hebron had been a strong and fortified central city since the Early Bronze Age and attained its maximum size in the late Judean Kingdom era. The area beyond the perimeter of the ancient walls was resettled in the Second Temple Era, as evidenced by structures and coins dating to the time of King Alexander Yannai. Two layers of ash attest to the active participation of local inhabitants in uprisings against the Romans - the Great Rebellion (67–70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135 CE).
The tel was repopulated during the Byzantine Era. At the time, the town had a well-developed wine industry from which a large system of wine presses has survived. Over time, the settled area gradually migrated down from the hill into the valley below and the area of the tel was eventually abandoned and planted over with olive trees.
In 1807, the Sephardic Jewish community, by means of its agent, Rabbi Hayyim Yeshua Bejano(the first of that name), bought the entire area of the tel and enjoyed the oil that its trees produced. Title to some of this land was transferred to the Ashkenazi community. During the British Mandate period, there was a plan to establish a spacious residential quarter there and the sale of plots for this purpose began.
For all practical purposes, this important location remained unsettled by Jews until 1984, when seven mobile homes were towed to the site. The seven families that moved into them lived in isolation and under harsh conditions that became even worse after Hebron was partitioned in 1997 under the Wye Accords. On August 22, 1998, a terrorist infiltrated the area from Palestinian Authority territory and murdered Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, a saintly and exemplary person – a grandson of the revered Rabbi A.I. Kook. This dastardly murder led to the consolidation of the Jewish presence at this location, when, in response, the Israeli government approved the construction of a permanent Jewish residential building at the site.
An archeological excavation preceding the onset of construction yielded immensely important findings (described in detail above). The archaeological site is open to the public; the new Jewish building - Beit Menachem, dedicated in 2005 - is situated over it. Its roof overlooks the expanses and landscapes of Hebron; its foundations, planted in the soil of the tel, establish millennia of Jewish continuity in the heart of ancient Hebron. An ancient structure nearby, at the top of the tel, is identified by an old tradition as the burial place of Yishai (Jesse), father of David and Ruth, the “Queen Mother” of the Davidic dynasty. Jews worshipped here for many generations, customarily gathering there on Shavuot for a festive public reading of the Scroll of Ruth, which recounts the story of the family of Ruth, Yishai and David. The observance of this tradition has now been resumed.
Me’arat ha-Makhpela - the Tomb of the Patriarchs
Me’arat ha-Makhpela is a site that embraces a plethora of national, spiritual, religious, historical and archaeological principles . It is the oldest major Jewish shrine and one of the most important Biblical sites in the entire world. As the burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people, it is a focal point of Jewish identity and in essence, the nation’s cradle. The elaborate account in Genesis of how the site was purchased stresses the vast importance that the Torah attributes to this location and its acquisition. Indeed, the connection between the Jewish people and its land, Eretz Israel began its lengthy and eternal journey with this purchase. The acquisition of the Makhpela plain and cave is the foundation, root and precedent of all subsequent Jewish purchases and reclamations of land in Eretz Israel.
In addition to its national and historical centrality, the Sages attributed profound sanctity and spiritual meaning to Me’arat ha-Makhpela. According to the Zohar, the main work of Jewish mysticism, Me’arat ha-Makhpela is the threshold to Eden. Its secrets were revealed to Adam and he and Eve are buried there. Abraham discovered its sublime sanctity; hence his eagerness to buy it. According to the rabbinical exegesis, the cave carries the significance of duality: souls pass through it in order to ascend to and connect with the uppermost realm. Hence the origin of the word makhpela:“doubling” - denoting the connection between two worlds. The name Hebron is also derived from the notion of connection (Heb.: hibbur). According to the Sages, four couples were interred in this cave, hence the origin of the name Kiryat Arba’ - a “city of four.” Many Jewish sources affirm the notion that prayers ascend to the heavens via the Me’arat ha-Makhpela. As a result, down through the generations, Jews came here to pray, to take advantage of “Zchut Avot” - the merit of the forefathers, attributed to the tombs of the Patriarchs. The positioning of the cave is consistent with the topography described in the Torah. The grotto rests at the edge of a plain in ‘Emeq Hevron’, the part of Hebron that is a valley, east of Mamre. Indeed, the hill to its northwest is termed Mimra to this very day. The location of the cave was recently demonstrated after having been a mystery for generations. For many years, legend had it that no one who enters the cave could leave it alive. In 1981, however, a group of local Jews and instructors from Midreshet Hebron, the local Institute for Hebron and Eretz Israel Studies, discovered the cave under the building: a double burial crypt of the kind that was typical of the Patriarchal era, containing artifacts from the First Temple period.
During the reign of Herod (Second Temple era, 37–4 BCE, some 2000 years ago), an enormous monumental building, impressive in style and rare in its level of quality, was erected over Me’arat ha-Makhpela. This is the only public building in the world that has stood intact and been in continuous active use for over 2000 years! Its style, identical to that of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, underscores the fact that the Me’arat ha-Makhpela and the Temple Mount are the Jewish people’s pre-eminent shrines. The building is emphatically Jewish - it is devoid of sculptures, images and all the other forms of ornamentation that were customary in Roman burial and public buildings of the time. It was built three generations after the Edomites’ conversion to Judaism, shortly before the advent of Christianity and centuries before the arrival of Islam. Its power and quality reflect the Jews’ prowess as master builders of that period. It is constructed of nothing but stone; it uses neither cement nor any other bonding material. It derives its exceptional strength from three factors only: the builders’ expertise in dressing the stones, the weight of the stones (dozens of tons apiece) and the precision that was used in laying them. By virtue of these construction skills, the building continues to stand totally intact in our times.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Christian and Muslim faiths, thirsting to succeed and replace Judaism, acted to adopt the images and places of burial of the Patriarchs as their own. Therefore, the country’s Christian and Muslim occupiers modified and augmented the building in order to tailor it to their religious rites. In the fifth century CE, the Byzantine Christians turned the eastern wing of the building into a church and after the Arab conquest (637 CE) the Muslim occupiers transformed it into a mosque. In the twelfth century CE, the Crusaders built a church in Isaac’s Hall - its façade, pillars and vaults exist to this day. In the thirteenth century, the Mameluke Muslims turned the hall into a mosque again. They also changed the general outer form of the building by erecting minarets over the ancient wall and obscured its original shape by building densely around it.
In 1267, the Muslims imposed a humiliating decree on the Jews, totally barring them from the building and allowing them to approach it only up to the seventh step of the eastern staircase (which no longer exists) at the outer gate. For the next 700 years, in an astounding display of devotion and loyalty, Jews continued to make their way to Hebron and, despite their humiliation, worshipped as close to the tombs of the Patriarchs as they could get – there on the seventh step. Over the years, the Jewish elders of Hebron documented the beatings and insults that they suffered whenever they attempted to go even one step closer.
Their astounding loyalty paid off: During the Six-Day War, Hebron was liberated on June 8, 1967, the day after the liberation of Jerusalem. The Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Maj.-Gen. Shlomo Goren, was the first Jewish serviceman to enter Me’arat ha-Makhpela freely and hoist the flag of Israel over its gates. The first Israeli civilian to cross its threshold was David Ben-Gurion. Afterwards, it took years of struggle until the Jews’ natural right to pray and study Torah at this location was recognized. The buildings that had obscured the ancient walls were destroyed during the era of Jordanian rule (1948–1967). With the onset of Israeli rule, the eastern staircase, including the “seventh step” the historical site of the abasement of the Jews for so many years, was destroyed by the IDF.
Today, the building over the cavern is divided between Jews and Muslims. Civil authority and most of the floor space were handed to the Arabs. However, the Jews’ presence at the site is growing steadily. Five synagogues are active in the Western (Jewish) wing and hundreds of thousands of Jews visit each year for prayer and festivities - circumcisions, bar mitzvas and weddings. On the Sabbath when the portion Hayyei Sarah is read, tens of thousands of Jews - families and young people alike, ascend to Hebron, packing the plaza in front of the building, to retell the story of the purchase of Me’arat ha-Makhpela and share the experience of reaffirming the covenant of the purchase of Hebron and Eretz Israel. Ten days each year, on some of the Jewish festivals and observances, Jews are allowed to enter all parts of the building (including Isaac’s Hall, where the aperture leading into the cavern proper is located). On these occasion, tens of thousands of Jews throng to the location for worship, bonding with their national Patriarchs, awaiting the fulfillment of G-d’s promises to them and looking forward to their own final redemption aided by the Patriarchs’ merit.
II. Jewish Hebron down the Ages - the “Old Yishuv”
The Jewish community of Hebron has existed almost uninterruptedly since the Biblical era. After the First Temple was destroyed (586 BCE), the area was repopulated with Edomites who converted to Judaism in the Hasmonaean era (second century BCE); thus, the area became Jewish again and remained so for centuries. During the Second Temple era (about 2000 years ago), the impressive and opulent Jewish structure atop Me’arat ha-Makhpela was built in a style identical to that of the Temple Mount. The connection between Hebron and the Temple was cited at the Temple every morning, when a watchman noted the arrival of sunrise by crying: “All of the face of the east has lit up…as far as Hebron!” (Tamid 3b). The purpose of this ritual was “to recall the merit of the Patriarchs” (Jerusalem Talmud, Yuma 3:1).
In the Great Uprising against the Romans, Hebron was destroyed and burned after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE). Sixty years later, the Hebron hills area played a central role in the Bar Kokhba uprising and the city was leveled again. After the uprising failed, the Romans sold hundreds of thousands of Jews into slavery at Ayelet Avraham, a marketplace at the Elonei Mamre site north of Hebron. Even so, the Jewish presence in the area endured. During the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods (4th–7th century CE), dozens of Jewish communities in the southern Hebron hills flourished under Byzantine rule and magnificent synagogues were built in some of them (including Sussiya, Eshtamo’a, Ma’on and ‘Anim). Jews continued to worship at their shrines in Hebron - Me’arat ha-Makhpela and Elonei Mamre - and there seems to have been a synagogue at the northern portion of the Me’arat ha-Makhpela compound. At the time of the Arab conquest (638 CE), the Jews helped the Arabs to find the gates of Me’arat ha-Makhpela, which the Byzantines had concealed and in return were allowed to continue worshipping at the Me’arat ha-Makhpela synagogue and to settle nearby. The Jewish neighborhood that began to develop near Me’arat ha-Makhpela became the kernel around which the entire lower city evolved.
After the Crusaders conquered Eretz Israel (1099–1100), the Jews suffered immensely and their numbers dwindled. The occupiers built a church inside the Me’arat ha-Makhpela structure as well as erecting a fortress and establishing a small community nearby. The Jews of Hebron were forced to leave town but continued to visit. Rambam (Maimonides), visiting Me’arat ha-Makhpela in 1166, was so profoundly impressed that he established the anniversary as a “personal yom tov” (festival) for his descendants:
“On Tuesday. . . we set out from Acre to ascend to Jerusalem despite the danger and I entered the large and holy house and prayed there on Thursday, the sixth of Heshvan. And on Sunday, the ninth of the month, I set out from Jerusalem for Hebron to kiss the tombs of my forefathers at the Cave and that day I stood in the Cave and prayed, praised be G-d for all of it. I vowed that those two days, the sixth and the ninth of Marheshvan, would be as a yom tov [festival] for me, a day of prayer and rejoicing in G-d and eating and drinking. May G-d help me with all of this and enable me to keep my vow, Amen. Just as I was privileged to have worshipped there in its destroyed state, so may I and all of Israel witness its consolation quickly, Amen” (from Iggrot ha-Rambam).
In 1171, the famous Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela visited Hebron and evidently entered Me’arat ha-Makhpela as well. According to documents discovered in the Cairo Geniza, in the tenth and eleventh centuries there were Jews in Hebron who held the title of “Servant of the Eternal Patriarchs” or “Friend of the Patriarchs’ Tombs”; they helped Jews who had come to worship at Me’arat ha-Makhpela. A Jewish neighborhood seems to have begun developing near the shrine; documents from the geniza mention Jews who were stationed “at the tombs of the Patriarchs.”
The Mameluke Muslims occupied Eretz Israel in 1260. The great Ramban (Nachmanides, R. Moshe b. Nahman) “made ‘aliya’ (left exile in order to dwell in Eretz Israel) at this time. In a letter dated 1267, he told his son that he was about to go to Hebron in order to dig a grave for himself:
“I am writing you this letter in Jerusalem, the city of sanctity. Indeed, with praise and gratitude to the Rock of my Redemption, I was privileged to arrive safely on the ninth of Elul and remained here safely until the day after Yom Kippur, preparing to go to Hebron, the city where our Patriarchs are interred, to prostrate myself before them and, with G-d’s help, to dig a grave for myself.” Various authorities believe that Ramban’s tomb was situated at the seventh step next to Me’arat ha-Makhpela, while others place the site in Jerusalem or Haifa.
At this point in time, an outbreak of Muslim fanaticism took place. The Muslims, eager to turn Me’arat ha-Makhpela into a mosque, emphasized their obsession by building minarets over its outer wall. They also enjoined Jews against entering the building,forcing them to stand, humiliated and disgraced, on the seventh step at the eastern entrance of the structure.
The Mameluks forced the Jews to live in a separate neighborhood, thus bringing on the formation of a separate Jewish quarter in southern Hebron. In 1489, the famed commentator on the Mishna, R. Ovadia of Bertinoro, spent some time in Hebron. “I went to Hebron,” he wrote, “and sojourned there for many days until I developed a liking for the place, almost more than Jerusalem, the Jews there being few and good.”The Turkish conquest (1517) was immediately followed by a pogrom against the Jews. Many were killed, injured and expelled. Shortly afterwards, however, the community was rejuvenated. A group of Jews who had been expelled from Spain, headed by R. Malkiel Ashkenazi, settled in Hebron in 1540, purchasing a large plot of land from the Karaites and reinstating the Jewish quarter. This quarter, now known as “Ghetto” or “Cortijo” (Ladino for “courtyard”), became the center of community life and the Avraham Avinu Synagogue was built at its heart.. For the safety of its inhabitants, the quarter was built in the form of a closed courtyard accessed by narrow gates. At first, Jews refrained from living anywhere else in town. As their numbers increased, they added extra floors and the area became more and more congested. Even so, the quarter was renowned for both its hygiene and the fullness and sanctity of its Jewish life.
Its rabbis and kabbalists rubbed shoulders with craftsmen, merchants and others. The Sephardic community of Hebron was joined by well-known kabbalists and rabbis, including R. Eliyahu Di Vidas, author of the “Reshit Hokhma”, a member of the mystical inner circle of disciples of the holy R. Isaac Luria (the Ari), and R. Avraham Azulai, author of Hesed le-Avraham. The latter wrote, “And when I arrived at my place of respite and possession, the holy city of Kiryat Arba, it being none other than Hebron, may it speedily be built, its provinces satiated my soul like milk and oil, for they gripped me with immense pleasure and the “gold of that land was good” [cf. Gen. 2:12]. My eyes were privileged to behold the treasures of the sacred, not the profane.” Hebron was also home to R. Shlomo Adani, author of the Melekhet Shlomo commentary on the Mishna.
In 1619, an epidemic in Hebron drove most of the Jewish townspeople to Gaza; the escapees included the poet R. Israel Najara, originally of Safed, author of the piyut “Y-a Ribon.” He was named rabbi of the Gaza community and spent the rest of his life there. This era is recounted in the famous legend published in 1648 in ‘Emeq ha-Melekh by R. Naftali Bachrach, a disciple of R. Isaac Luria. Back in Hebron, only nine courageous Jews braved the plague and remained behind. According to the community’s tradition, on the eve of Yom Kippur, finding that they were one man short of a minyan (the requisite ten-man quorum for public worship), the Patriarch Abraham himself descended from the heavens and joined them to satisfy this requirement, thus providing the pretext for naming the synagogue after him. Another miracle said to have visited the Jews of Hebron occurred when a tyrannical pasha (Ottoman official) imposed an enormous ransom on them in order to drive them out of town. Miraculously, the requisite sum found its way to a window at the entrance to the neighborhood and the joyous community commemorated the event by establishing the festival of “Window Purim” on the 14th of Tevet.
In 1700, R. Gedalia of Semyatichreached Eretz Israel in R. Judah Hasid’s convoy. He reported that he found forty Sephardic families in Hebron, “all dwelling in one courtyard, where the synagogue and beit midrash are also situated. Whenever a guest arrives, be he poor or rich, they open the public treasury with royal generosity and give him food and drink, meat, poultry and wine. Such hospitality was the custom of our forefather Abraham and they practice his custom in his honor even though they themselves are poor.”
In 1748, the first of the Hasidic ‘olim’ (Jewish immigrants to Eretz Israel) made his way to Hebron: R. Avraham Gershon of Kitów, brother-in-law of R. Israel Baal Shem Tov (the Besht). In a letter to his brother-in-law, R. Avraham noted the quality of life in Hebron and the relatively calm relations that prevailed between Jews and Arabs there. According to legend, he was privileged with entering Me’arat ha-Makhpela to pray and when the Arabs plotted to kill him, he was saved miraculously and reached the home of R. Hayyim Ben-Attar, author of Or ha-Hayyim. The renowned R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai(“Hida”) also lived in Hebron for a time. One of the most prominent Jewish public leaders in the country, he traveled to Europe on behalf of the community.
In 1799, when Napoleon’s troops invaded the country, the Jews of Gaza were evicted and some made their way to Hebron. They include the Castel family, originally from Castile, Spain. Their convoy of horses and camels delivered the doors of the Avraham Avinu Synagogue and many Torah scrolls to Hebron. This marked the peak of the lengthy relationship between these two communities in southern Eretz Israel.
In 1807, the Hebron community, by means of its agent, Rabbi Hayyim Yeshua Bejano, purchased additional parcels of land in two locations: the area abutting the Jewish quarter (the “market”) and a large area including Tel Hebron (Rumeida). The acquisitions are identifiable to this day by the olive trees that were planted there. The heads of the Muslim Waqf confirmed the purchases by means of signed kushans (deeds).
In 1819, Chabad hasidim made their first appearance in Hebron, encouraged by the “middle Admor,” R. Dovber of Lubavitch, son of the founder of Chabad, R. Schneor Zalman of Ladi. Sending R. Shimon Shmerling to establish a Chabad community in the City of the Patriarchs, he wrote the following in a letter to his followers: “Whoever is committed to G-d shall abandon all concern for his wealth, shall kindle affection for the place of our holy Patriarchs in his heart and soul, to strive and strengthen our people’s community in the place of our holy Patriarchs, may their merit protect us - and they will be granted abundant blessings and life.” The Chabad community in Hebron was the first that this movement established in Eretz Israel. One of its ‘olim’, R. Yisrael Yaffe of Kopyst, established the country’s first Hebrew printing press. The Rebbe himself purchased a small synagogue next to the Avraham Avinu Synagogue in order to have a physical stake of his own in Hebron.
In the early nineteenth century, the inhabitants of Hebron, especially the Jews, suffered from the tyranny of Arab sheikhs and local gang leaders. One of the most infamous bandits was Abdul Rahman of Dura, who demanded and received a regular tribute from the community chest in return for his “protection”. This payment was recorded by the community bookkeepers as an allocation to the “black rabbi”. In 1831, Ibrahim Pasha, son of the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali, occupied Eretz Israel. His officials subjected the Jews of Hebron to severe abuse. When the Turks reoccupied the country several years later, the Jews again experienced pogroms. In 1839, the British-Jewish aristocrat Moses Montefiore and his wife Judith visited Hebron, received red-
carpet treatment by the community and were impressed with the town’s beauty. Montefiore made a donation to the Hebron community at this occasion and left it another donation in his will.
A second wave of Chabad hasidim arrived in 1840–1845, led by R. Simon Menashe Chaikin and including R. Ya’akov (Kuli) Slonim and his wife Menucha Rachel, daughter of the “middle Admor” and granddaughter of the Alter Rebbe. Renowned for her wisdom, she was a community leader for many years. The Chabad hasidim established a Talmud Torah (boys’ religious school) and yeshiva named Magen Avot, headed by R. Shlomo Yehuda Eliezrov.
In 1856, R. Eliyahu Mani moved from Baghdad to Hebron and did much to advance the community spiritually and practically and establish its autonomy. He established a yeshiva, a hostel and a synagogue named Beit Ya’akov that towered over the southern part of the quarter (where today’s “market” is located). His mentor and friend, R. Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad (author of Ben Ish Hai) visited Hebron in 1869 and tried to buy some land next to Me’arat ha-Makhpela. The Mani family even tried to buy a village west of town.
In the second part of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman regime undertook reforms that instigated a period of development for the country and its Jewish population. The momentum was also felt in Hebron, where Jews of means began to build homes outside the quarter. One of the first to do so was Yitzhak Lipkin, a well-to-do merchant. Other Jewish merchants and entrepreneurs built homes to the west of the quarter, including the Klonskys, Rivlins, Hassons and Hausmanns, to name only a few. They congregated mainly on the market street, which, from the west lead to the quarter known today as the ‘Casba’. In 1876, Hayyim Yisrael Romano, an affluent Jew from Turkey, built a large and opulent residence west of the old city and established the Istanbuli Synagogue inside. In 1893, the first floor of the Hesed le-Avraham Clinic (Hadassah) was built with the help of a donation from the Jews of Algiers and a medical center that integrated with Yesha Avot Hospital of the Ashkenazi community was stationed there. Another storey was added to the facility later on and the Hadassah organization opened its first clinic in Eretz Israel at that location. In 1904, R. Hayyim Hizkiyahu Medini, author of the Sede Hemed series of books, was named the rabbi of the community and inaugurated a yeshiva in Beit Romano. In 1907, the Anglo-Palestine Bank opened a branch in Hebron. In 1912, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, acquired Beit Romano in order to establish the Central Chabad Yeshiva Torat Emet and senta group of hand-picked students to inhabit the building. The rebbe invested enormous efforts and resources in this enterprise. The Chabad community swelled to 1,500 persons (among some 8,000 in the city at large).
During World War I (1914–1917), the Jews of Eretz Israel sustained a severe blow, as did all inhabitants of the country. In Hebron, Jews suffered from starvation and disease. The Chabad yeshiva was shut down and the Jewish population dwindled. After the war, under British Mandatory rule, a period of revitalization ensued. In 1925, the great Yeshivat Knesset Yisrael, one of the world’s most important institutions of its kind, moved from Slobodka, Lithuania, to Hebron with its 200 students and its leaders, R. Moshe Mordechai Epstein and R. Nathan Tvi. Finkel. Slowly, the community began to recover - until it suffered the ultimate blow - the Hebron Massacre of 1929.
III. The 1929 Riots
The horrifying massacre of the Jews of Hebron, known as the “1929 Riots,” resembles the most brutal of pogroms against Jewish communities in Europe. It dealt the Hebron community a devastating blow, from which it is still trying to recover and led to the destruction of the Jewish presence on the central mountain area of Judea, which was rendered Judenrein.
The traditional Jewish community in Hebron was far removed from any political confrontation or national conflict. Jews and Arabs had inhabited the town for many generations, at times in peaceful coexistence and as good neighbors. The Jews had done much for the town’s economy and its development, of which the main beneficiaries had been their Arab neighbors. The wave of terror was set in motion by Amin al-Husseini, who, after being appointed by the British to the post of Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921, launched a campaign of systematic incitement against the country’s Jewish population in order to inflate his personal status. (The Nazi tendencies of the Mufti - “founder of the Palestinian National Movement” - were revealed later on, during the Holocaust. In 1941, Husseini visited Berlin, met with Hitler and established a Muslim division in the Nazi SS for the ultimate purpose of annihilating the Jews of Eretz Israel. He is considered one of the most notorious war criminals of the time.) The Mufti exploited Jewish demands for worship rights at the Western Wall as a pretext to incite the country’s Arab population, calling for a jihad against the Jews for ostensibly conspiring to demolish Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Jews of Hebron, having nothing to do with any such matter, could not believe that the malevolence would find its way to city of the Patriarch Abraham. Indeed, on the eve of the riots, a squad of Hagana fighters visited Hebron to offer its assistance but was asked to leave in order not to fan the flames.
The bloodshed in Hebron began after riots erupted in Jerusalem on Friday, August 23, 1929. Inflammatory sermons were delivered in mosques and rioters began to attack Jewish homes and the Slobodka Yeshiva. The devoted yeshiva student Shmuel Rosenholz was stabbed and stoned to death as he labored over his Talmud. The British police did nothing to protect the Jews. Their commander, Major Raymond Cafferata, reprimanded Jewish community leaders who hade come to plead for protection and instructed them to hole up in their homes, which were then turned into death traps.
The next morning, August 24, 1929, on Shabbat, a ghastly massacre ensued. Thousands of Arabs carrying knives, hatchets and pitchforks attacked the Jews’ homes. The bloodthirsty Arab mobs found the Jews to be easy prey. They broke into one home after another, with compassion for no one. The aged Rabbi Yosef Castel was tortured to death and his home was set ablaze. Rabbi Hanoch Hasson, chief rabbi of the Sephardic community and his wife were murdered. Benzion Gershon, a pharmacist at the Hadassah clinic who helped anyone who fell ill, Jew or Arab, without any discrimination, was tortured to death after dozens of rioters raped and murdered his daughter before his very eyes. His wife died in agony, her hands amputated. All members of the Slonim family were butchered except for one-year-old Shlomo, who survived despite his having sustained serious injuries. Rabbi Abraham Orlansky, rabbi of Zikhron Ya’akov, father of Hannah Slonim, was murdered by hammer blows to the head; his wife was also murdered. The principal of Tel Nordau School in Tel Aviv, the author Haim Eliezer Bobnikov and his wife Penina, visiting Hebron with their children on vacation, were tortured to death; their children, an eight-year-old boy and a twelve-year-old girl, hid in an adjacent
cupboard and heard their parents being murdered. Rabbi Zvi Drabkin was stabbed with daggers until his intestines spilled out. Bezalel Lazerowski and his five-year-old daughter, Devora, were butchered. Eliyahu Abushadid and his son Yitzhak were murdered as Yitzhak’s younger brother, nine-year-old Yehuda, witnessed. The marauders raped Liba Segal before the eyes of her husband and son and then murdered them both as she looked on, then amputating her fingers. The baker Noah Immerman was shoved into a sizzling oven and burned to death. R. Moshe Goldschmid’s daughter stepped out of her hiding place and saw a ghastly spectacle: her father suspended, his eyes gouged out, over the flame of his burning primus stove.
The Jews pleaded for mercy, wailing and beseeching at the top of their lungs. The Arab monsters responded by shouting “Allahu akbar” (G-d is great) and “Itbah al Yahud” (Slaughter the Jews), mercilessly tormenting and butchering old people, babies, women and children. The streets echoed with cries of terror and filled with blood and feathers. It must be acknowledged that a small number of Arabs, from among a murderous population of many thousands, did conceal and rescue some Jews.
The Hebron police, composed largely of Arab patrolmen and British commanders, turned a blind eye. Several Arab police even participated in the massacre. Only several hours later did a British officer fire in the air and force the marauders to begin to scatter. The battered and frightened remnants of the community, as well as the brutalized corpses, were taken to the British police post at Beit Romano. The seriously wounded were moved to the healthcare facilities, where they received little aid or medical care and then died in their agony. The next day, fifty-nine fatalities were buried in a mass grave in the town’s old Jewish cemetery; the stunned survivors were not even allowed to give them a proper funeral. Subsequently, eight additional Jews died. The survivors were banished from town, defeated and destitute and the Arab murderers looted and appropriated their homes and property.
The Arab terror wave spread to all parts of the country - Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Motza, Hulda, Safed and other places. In its ghastly course, 133 Jews were murdered, half of them - 67 - in Hebron. The gruesome event totally transformed the nature of Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel. Of all Jewish communities that the rioters had targeted, only the Jewish community in Hebron was not immediately revitalized.
Thus, the brutal terror and atrocities at the hands of a murderous Arab mob, with collaboration from the Mandate government which finished the job off by deporting the survivors, succeeded in obliterating the community of Hebron, the oldest Jewish community in Eretz Israel. The Mufti’s evil plan had come to pass. In addition to Hebron, the Jewish communities of Shechem, Migdal Eder (near today’s Etzion Bloc) and other villages were destroyed in the riots and the central mountain area was emptied of its Jews. This outcome shaped the geographic reality in Eretz Israel in a manner that has lasted to this day. The main Jewish presence in the country is compressed into the greater Tel Aviv - coastal area, whereas the central mountain area - the source of control, security and water - was abandoned.
IV. The Attempt to Recover from the Devastation
The remnants of the Hebron community were dispersed around Jerusalem in paupers’ shelters, hospitals, schools and relatives’ homes. Those associated with the Sephardic community maintained their community framework. They held conventions and gatherings in which they demanded the right to return to their town. The chief rabbis, Rabbi A.I. Hacohen Kook and the Rishon Lezion, Rabbi Ya’akov Meir, embraced the survivors, bolstered their morale and called for their return to Hebron. Several Zionist leaders, too, including Chaim Weizmann and Haim Arlosorov, favored such an initiative. A group of families led by R. Hayyim Bejano returned to Hebron in 1931. They labored prodigiously to re-establish the community even though they received no material support from official sources. At this time, another storey was built atop Beit Hasson and a beit midrash named for R. Amram b. Divan, a Moroccan Jewish leader, was opened there. In 1936, however, when the Arabs launched their next round of riots, the British again drove the Jews out of Hebron. A solitary Jewish family stayed on - the cheesemaker Yaakov Ezra and his son Yosef. After the 1947 UN partition resolution, they, too, were forced to leave, marking the demise of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron.
The Jewish property remained easy prey for the Arab murderers, who looted the homes and desecrated and destroyed the tombstones that had been erected in the cemetery for the 1929 martyrs.
In the decade preceding Israel’s War of Independence (1948–1949), an attempt was made to correct a small extent of the injustice and establish a Jewish foothold on the mountain crest: four communities – ‘Kefar Etzion’, ‘Massuot Yitzhak’, ‘Ein Tsurim’ and ‘Revadim’ - were founded between Hebron and Jerusalem. The Arabs were unwilling to acquiesce in the existence of even these tiny communities in this strategic area. On the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, these communities fell after a valorous battle. The defenders of Kefar Etzion were all murdered; the other fighters were taken prisoner. The last Jews to pass through the abandoned City of the Patriarchs were the hundreds of POWs, settlers and defenders of the Etzion Bloc, who were interned at the former British police fortress in Hebron for three weeks or so until they were taken to captivity in Transjordan. Due to their immensely heroic struggle, it was the Etzion Bloc victims who saved Jerusalem from destruction.
After the Kingdom of Transjordan (later Jordan) occupied the area in 1948, it began to level the Jewish sites systematically in order to obliterate every trace of the Hebron Jewish community. The Jewish quarter was razed to the ground. A wholesale “market” was built in its southern section; its central area became a garbage dump, an abattoir and a public latrine. The ancient Avraham Avinu Synagogue was reduced to a mound of refuse and debris and was used as a pen for sheep and goats. The Jewish cemetery was demolished: the plot reserved for the 1929 martyrs was totally obliterated, the tombstones shattered and the area was planted over with trees and vegetables. The Chabad parcel was defiled and destroyed, as were the graves of the rabbis and kabbalists. Beit Hadassah and Beit Romano became Arab schools. A central bus station was erected on the Chabad property south of Beit Romano; the Jewish homes in the northern section, including those of the Hausmanns and the Klonskys, were demolished and replaced with shops. The “kabbalists’ courtyard” became a cowshed; other Jewish homes were seized and became Arab residences, shops and warehouses. Spacious Arab homes were built on some of the Jewish land at Tel Rumeida. The City of the Patriarchs seemed to have met its demise, its offspring uprooted by an evil, malevolent hand.
Although the situation seemed worse than dispiriting, the Jews did not give up their property. They produced and kept lists of properties and owners. After having been driven out of their homes, most of the Jewish refugees from Hebron refused to sell their properties to Arabs, despite their dire economic situation and the seemingly scanty likelihood of restitution. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzhak, adamantly refused to sell his holdings - including Beit Romano and the land next to it - and ceaselessly demanded their recovery.
V. Liberation of Hebron and the Beginning of Resettlement
Hebron remained Judenrein for decades, the tombs of the Patriarchs having become objects of distant yearning, much like the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall and Rachel’s Tomb. In the meantime, the Hebron hills had had become launching pads for fedayeen terror attacks against Israel and thus the site of Israel’s reprisals. One of the most audacious examples of the latter took place in Hebron, where on a snowy night in the winter of 1953, Meir Har-Zion led the warriors of Unit 101 on a grueling march in order to exact retribution against a squad of terrorists in Hebron. Another large-scale operation took place in Kafr Samu’a (the historical Jewish village of Eshtamo’a) in the southern Hebron hills, in November 1966.
The day after Israel’s nineteenth Independence Day, the Arab states, headed by Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, began a series of belligerent actions against the State of Israel for the declared purpose of its destruction. The Egyptians blocked the Straits of Tiran, thereby blockading the country from the south and poured masses of armored forces into the Sinai Peninsula. War broke out on June 5, 1967 and within six days Israel emerged with a miraculous and stunning victory. In the first three hours of the war, the Israel Air Force knocked the Arab countries’ air services out of action and ground forces poured into the expanses of Sinai in a breakthrough as powerful as it was fast. The Jordanians began to shell Jerusalem and IDF forces went into action there and in the Samarian hills. After a difficult battle, Jerusalem was liberated on June 8, 1967 and the outcry, “The Temple Mount is in our hands” thrilled the hearts of people the world over.
Having secured Jerusalem, the Israeli forces headed into Bethlehem and entered Rachel’s Tomb with good tidings for the Matriarch: “Keep your voice from sobbing and your eyes from weeping . . . for your children have returned to their border” (Jer. 31:15–17). The forces reached the ruins of Kefar Etzion by that evening, liberated the Etzion Bloc and moved southward toward Hebron the next day. When they arrived, Arabs throughout the city waved white flags: Hebron surrendered without a shot being fired. As the forces of the Jerusalem Brigade advanced toward the western part of town, the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Maj.-Gen. Shlomo Goren, drove through downtown Hebron alone. He stopped at Me’arat ha-Makhpela, opened its gates and hoisted an Israeli flag over the building. Thus 700 years of humiliation ended; no longer would Jews have to stand at the seventh step. The next day, the first Israeli civilian – former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion – visited the shrine, visibly impassioned. Ever since, Hebron Liberation Day has been celebrated each year Iyar 29, the day after Jerusalem Liberation Day.
The stupendous victory in June 1967 completed the process that began with the establishment of the State of Israel and returned the Jewish people to the expanses of its historical homeland, primarily the hills of Judea and Samaria - the cradle of the Jewish nation. Resettlement began at once. Three months after the war and nineteen years after the downfall of the Etzion Bloc, the murder of the defenders of Kefar Etzion and the capture of the other fighters, their offspring proudly reestablished Kefar Etzion – opening the road to the resettlement of Hebron.
The idea of returning to Hebron throbbed in many hearts. A group of towering Jewish leading intellectuals established the Greater Israel Movement, which called for the settlement of all parts of the country so that no part of Eretz Israel could be handed over to non-Jews. The first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, urged Jews to resettle Hebron, calling the city “Jerusalem’s sister.”
The task itself was undertaken by a handful of activists under the leadership of R. Moshe Levinger, rabbi of Moshav Nehalim. Since the Jewish quarter had been totally destroyed, they chose a different location for the resettlement operation – the Park Hotel, owned by the Kawasmeh family, which agreed to lease it to them for appropriate consideration. On the eve of Passover 5728 (April 1968), the hotel was made kosher and the group settled in. The first festive seder in liberated Hebron was celebrated with excitement and joy; its participants included hundreds of Jews from various circles, including the author Moshe Shamir. The day after the festival, the term “settlers of Hebron,” denoting the return of the Jewish people to its historical possession and the city of its Patriarchs, was used once again. During the subsequent days of the Passover festival, visitors and supporters thronged the hotel; among them were cabinet ministers and intellectuals, such as the poet Natan Alterman, who sensed the footsteps of history in the making. The Deputy Prime Minister, Yigal Allon, formerly commander of the Palmah, a pre-state commando organization associated with the Left, identified with this pioneering enterprise, supported those involved in it and helped them in various ways.
Several weeks later, Levi Eshkol’s Government, in conjunction with Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, decided to house the settlers in the Military Administration building that loomed over the western part of Hebron – a “Taggart building” (a British police fortress that had been built by Jewish-owned Solel Boneh in 1938). The southern wing of the building was allocated to the families, who lived there amid congestion and many difficulties. The grim conditions were surmounted by the atmosphere of making the dream of generations of Jews come true. A yeshiva was established at the administration building – Yeshiva of the Hebron Settlers – and students from Yeshivat Mercaz Harav, Yeshivat Or Etzion and other places made their way to it. Various enterprises – a metal workshop, a carpentry shop, etc. – were set up as well. As the overcrowding worsened, several additional structures were built west of the main edifice; they, too, were promptly inhabited. The number of residents grew steadily, making it necessary to find a permanent solution.
VI. The Establishment of Kiryat Arba
The idea of returning to Hebron and establishing a Jewish community there is something that every Israeli government has accepted. The initiative to actually do it originated in the Labor-led Government that was in office at the time. In 1969, the Israeli cabinet resolved to establish a Jewish town next to Hebron. The resolution was approved by the Knesset (parliament) on March 25, 1970. In the course of the debate, the Deputy Prime Minister, Yigal Allon, said, “We must not acquiesce in making Hebron Judenrein of our own volition because of a murderous pogrom in August 1929.”
The site was chosen – a boulder-strewn hill on the outskirts of Hebron, not far from Me’arat ha-Makhpela – and three- and four-storey apartment houses and public buildings were built there. The barren hills surrounding the location were reserved for continued construction that would create a sprawling Jewish town and, eventually, a large, thriving Hebrew city. Kiryat Arba was established and inhabited in 1971. At first, it was fraught with difficulties. The government did not keep its promises: construction advanced slowly and the surrounding barren hills, earmarked for future development, were quickly paved over with deliberate Arab construction that blocked the town’s future expansion. Slowly, however, the “Kirya” jelled, grew and claimed a place of honor in the settlement of Eretz Israel. It was in Kiryat Arba that the initiative for settlements in Samaria began. From there, founding groups from the Gush Emunim movement branched out to establish a Jewish presence in Elon Moreh. Many of the founding groups of the Hebron hills settlements also owed their origins to Kiryat Arba. In 1980, construction of a northern neighborhood, Ramat Mamre (also known as Harsina Hill after Col. Aharon Harsina, who chose the location), commenced. Today, the neighborhood is home to hundreds of families, a high-school yeshiva, a junior high school and Yeshivat Or Hevron. In 1990, construction of two neighborhoods began: one of high-quality terraced apartments and another at Givat Ha’Avot, on the hill overlooking Me’arat ha-Makhpela.
In 2008, forty years after the return to Hebron began, Kiryat Arba has a population of some 7,000 and has become a diverse community that functions as a vibrant and active regional center. It has some of Israel’s finest education facilities, public organizations and community institutions: schools affiliated with all systems – State, State-Religious and a Talmud Torah for boys, a boys’ high school and another for girls (an ulpana) that have won education prizes, a versatile community center, a sports and recreation center, an institute for community rabbis and much more.
Yeshivat Nir in Kiryat Arba, a hesder yeshiva headed by Rabbis Eliezer Waldman (one of the local pioneers) and Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba-Hebron, is the successor of Hebron Settlers’ Yeshiva. Its students have served in the finest combat units in Israel’s wars and its alumni are active in a great many fields: religious leadership, settlement and education, to name only a few. The industrial zone of Kiryat Arba houses various enterprises, wineries and an advanced technological incubator, Mofet Bi-Yehuda. Another local institution, Midreshet Hebron, is the country’s longest-tenured academy for Judaism and Eretz Israel studies. Its purpose is to establish a connection between the Jewish people and the City of the Patriarchs and the Land of Judea by hosting and guiding diverse groups around sites in the Judean Hills.
Kiryat Arba is governed by an elected local council and presents a well kept, handsome appearance. It has taken in varied Jewish populations, immigrants and veterans alike, all joining in the task of building the City of the Patriarchs.
VII. A Stunning Event and Dramatic Breakthrough – the Return to Downtown Hebron Begins
Although Kiryat Arba continued to develop, the sense of distress over the injustice and destruction at the Jewish sites in Hebron proper never did abate. The sites remained either ruined and abandoned or occupied and looted by the Arab offspring of the perpetrators of the 1929 massacre. Occasionally someone took the initiative of entering the debris-strewn sites to reclaim and rebuild them, but each time the venture ended with expulsion and an injunction against continued activity. Every move to redeem the downtown sites entailed a dogged struggle that put to the test, again and again, the Jews’ devotion to the City of the Patriarchs and the discriminatory laws and regulations that stood in their way, against all manner of justice and morality.
Then came an event that was too stunning to overlook, an incident that became a milestone: the funeral of the baby Avraham Yedidya Nachshon. He was born in Kiryat Arba in February 1975 to Baruch and Sarah Nachshon, Chabad hasidim and founding members of the community. Baruch is a world-famous artist and painter. The Nachshon children were the first to be circumcised – surreptitiously – at Me’arat ha-Makhpela, in contravention of the orders at the time. Avraham Yedidya, the Nachshons’ ninth child, was named for the Patriarch Abraham. When he died in his sleep at the age of four months, his mother Sarah made a decision: she would bury him in the most natural location of all, the ancient Jewish cemetery in Hebron. Jews were not allowed to visit the place where their descendants were buried, but she had made up her mind. Thus, in the gloom of night she took up her dead son and began to walk from Kiryat Arba toward Hebron, followed and escorted by hundreds of inhabitants of Kiryat Arba. Soldiers at an army checkpoint that blocked her way, astounded by the intensity of her faith and determination, had no choice but to allow her to continue. The procession filed through the dark streets of Hebron and reached the cemetery. There, by the light of lanterns, Avraham Yedidya was buried. After the stone was set in place, Sarah Nachshon said something that entered into the lore of Hebron: “Thousands of years ago, Abraham buried Sarah at Me’arat ha-Makhpela and thus acquired an estate of his own in Hebron. Today, I, Sarah, bury my son Abraham here and thus Hebron is acquired in our generation.” The weeping witnesses were jolted to the depths of their souls, sensing that a new era had begun. Avraham Yedidya Nachshon, who bore a charged name to begin with, became an emblem: the first Jew who broke through the gates and returned to the City of the Patriarchs. In the aftermath of this event, activities began at various Jewish sites in Hebron that eventually led to their redemption.
VIII. The Redemption of the Avraham Avinu Synagogue
Professor Benzion Tavger, a noted professor of physics,immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union in 1975. By so doing, he sacrificed a secure future as a celebrated scientist in favor of his right to make ‘aliya’. After struggles and strife with the Soviet Communist authorities, he got his way and once in Israel, prepared to open a physics laboratory. At that point, however, he became obsessed with the ruins of Jewish Hebron, largely due to his visits to the Jewish sites of the town with the late tour guide Chaim Mageni.
After the funeral of Avraham Yedidya Nachshon, Tavger applied for and received a job as a guard at the cemetery. In this capacity, he discovered fragments of the tombstones of the 1929 martyrs, scattered in Arabs’ homes and strewn along the perimeter fence of the graveyard. This marked the beginning of a lengthy process and struggle that culminated with the revitalization of the 1929 Martyrs’ Plot at the cemetery. Afterwards, Tavger began to dig in the cowshed and the mound of debris that covered the site of the Avraham Avinu Synagogue, devotedly and indefatigably laboring amidst the refuse. The authorities took exception to his exertions and repeatedly arrested him for “trespassing.” In a warped and absurd way, by resolution of the Government of Israel, the Arabs who had stolen and destroyed this Jewish property and erected a cowshed on the synagogue ruins were defined as “legal,” whereas this Jew, attempting cleanse the place and lift it out of its disgrace was termed a “lawbreaker.” Ultimately, however, Tavger’s persistence and devotion paid off; the Government finally assented to the excavation of the remains of the synagogue. The work proceeded in the summer of 1976 with the participation of volunteers, immigrants from the Soviet Union and students at Yeshivat Nir. After months of intensive toil, the remnants of the building came into sight. They included the openings that had connected the women’s gallery with the sanctuary, the central pillars and fragments of walls and arches.
After the site was cleaned up, prayer services were held on Rosh Hashana 5737 (September 1976) in an atmosphere of exaltation and exultation. Immediately afterwards, however, the area was placed off limits: the synagogue was declared a closed military zone and anyone who entered for prayer was liable to arrest. Indeed, many Jews were taken into custody while praying amid the synagogue ruins. The struggle continued for nearly four years; only in 1980, as Beit Hadassah was being resettled and in the aftermath of the terror attack that occurred nearby, was authorization to rebuild the synagogue given. The architect Dan Tannai performed preservation work on the basis of plans produced by the architect Yaacov Finkerfeld, who had sketched the layout of the building while visiting the synagogue in the 1940s. After the construction was completed, veterans of the community, in a thrilling ceremony, reinstalled the community’s treasures there: the ancient Torah scrolls that had rested in the Holy Ark for centuries and that members of the community, throwing caution to the winds, had rescued in the 1929 riots. These scrolls were the crown jewels in the restoration of the glory of the City of the Patriarchs. Today, after the reconstruction, Avraham Avinu Synagogue is a jewel of a building that occupies the center of the new Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Again it bustles with activity, including prayers and liturgical song enunciated in the original melodies of the Jews of Spain. The plaza in front of the synagogue entrance is named for the late Benzion Tavger, a paragon of a human being who pledged himself to the redemption of Hebron.
The Avraham Avinu Neighborhood
After the synagogue was rebuilt, additional houses nearby were reclaimed and others were newly built. It was slow going. The Ministry of Construction and Housing built two houses in 1989. Beit Nahum vi-Yehuda (const. 1999) commemorates Nahum Hoss and Yehuda Partosh, residents of Kiryat Arba-Hebron, who were murdered in a terror attack in 1995. Also in this neighborhood, Kollel Shalhevet Tehiyat ha-Aretz, a yeshiva for married men, commemorates the martyred baby girl Shalhevet Pass. Kindergartens, a clinic and the community offices were also established in this neighborhood.. The world Betar Movement built Beit Betar, which initially housed movement settlement “seed” groups in Hebron and now serves as a hotel. Dozens of families comprising hundreds of Jews (may they multiply) dwell in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood today. Next to the quarter stand the buildings of the “market,” built on the grounds of the Jewish quarter and abandoned by the Arab shopkeepers since 1985.
In 2001, after the murder of the baby Shalhevet Pass, Jewish settlement in these buildings was re-established and the compound was named Mitzpe Shalhevet in her memory. Today, this neighborhood continues to be the focus of a struggle over the reclamation and repossession of Jewish property in the area.
IX. Beit Hadassah – First Stop in the Restoration of the Jewish Community in Downtown Hebron
After the 1929 massacre, Arabs occupied the Hadassah clinic building. Until the liberation of Hebron, an UNRWA school operated there. Although the Government of Israel closed the school, it did not return the building to Jewish ownership and left it closed and shuttered. Occasional attempts to repopulate it were made but each failed and the Jews were driven away. One midnight in May 1979, a group of ten women and some 40 children entered the first floor of the building in order at long last to re-establish a permanent Jewish presence in the center of Hebron. The group was discovered at daybreak when the children broke into the song “V’Shavu Banim”, based on the prophecy in Jer. 31:17 - “Your children have returned to their border.” In response, by order of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the building was quarantined and the inhabitants were not allowed to connect the utilities and bring in equipment and basic necessities.
Despite these ghastly conditions, they insisted on staying. Only after pressure was applied did the authorities allow them to receive water and basic food for the children. Due to the grim living conditions, the children contracted various illnesses. An army physician who was allowed to visit the building recommended that the children be removed after one of them contracted hepatitis. The boy’s mother, however - Rebbetzin Miriam Levinger, one of the leaders of the group - retorted, “They had malaria in the Jezreel Valley, too. The pioneers there also sacrificed their lives and by their merit the State of Israel came into being.” (With G-d’s help, the boy recovered and has since raised a family in Hebron.) Life in Beit Hadassah went on.
Then, on January 31, 1980, the Arab terrorists claimed their first Jewish victim in Hebron since the 1929 riots. Yehoshua Saloma, a young Jew who had made ‘aliya’ from Denmark and attended Yeshivat Nir in Kiryat Arba as a hesder student, was slain at the entrance to the Casba while buying fruit for the Tu Bishvat holiday. In the aftermath of the incident, the Government made a basic resolution to re-establish a permanent Jewish community in Hebron. The resolution remained on paper only, but some three months later terrorists murdered six Jews at the gates of Beit Hadassah as they approached in their customary way to hold their Friday night kiddush there. The victims were Hanan Krauthammer, Gershon Klein and Yaakov Zimmerman (students at Yeshivat Nir), Eli HaZeev of Kiryat Arba and visiting American Yeshiva students Moshe Marmelstein and Tzvi Glatt, who were Sabbath guests. Only then, amid the shock and agony and after years of struggle, did the Government resolve, this time on a practical level, to take the incomparably moral and just measure: The return of Jews to the City of the Patriarchs.To make Beit Hadassah fit for permanent settlement, two floors were added in 1985 in a special style combining old and new, transforming the building into an apartment house. On the ground floor, where the revitalization of the community actually began, the original inscriptions from the time of construction (1893) were discovered. A small museum of the history of the Hebron community and a memorial room for the casualties of the 1929 massacre were established on this floor. Next door, the Jewish houses that had been inhabited by Rabbis Hasson and Castel and the families before the 1929 atrocity were renovated and inhabited. Not far away, the Schneerson House, where Rebbetzin Menucha Rachel Slonim, “matriarch of Chabad in Hebron,” had lived, serves as a residence and a nursery school. Beit Hashisha, commemorating the six casualties of the 1980 terror attack, was built at the plaza next to it as a Zionist response celebrating Jewish life and a return to Jewish roots.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe constantly encouraged the re-settlers of Hebron and gave them full permission to use and revive the Jewish community in all Chabad properties – including Beit Romano and the plot next to it, which had been purchased by Chabad about 100 years ago. Thus, today this building hosts Yeshivat Shavei Hevron, founded by a core group that originally operated in Beit Hadassah. The yeshiva has faced many hardships since its inception. One of its students, Asher Aharon Gross, was murdered in the center of Hebron in July 1983 and additional students and alumni fell as soldiers in the Israel Defence Forces. The yeshiva surmounted all these traumas; today it has some 250 students in Hebron proper and hundreds of additional students in various regional institutions. Three floorss were added to the original building in the original style. They house a magnificent study hall and a beautiful Holy Ark. Next to the building there is a small army base and the “Hizkiyahu neighborhood,” named for Rabbi Medini, comprised of mobile homes that serve as the core of a future neighborhood, G-d willing. The Beit Hadassah neighborhood bustles with life and has renewed the glory and reconstruction of the City of the Patriarchs.
Chabad in Hebron
The Chabad Hasidic movement has deep roots in Hebron. Its various Rebbes (or “Admorim” in Hebrew) viewed the building of Hebron as an exalted task and invested more in Hebron than in any other city in Eretz Israel. Chabad hasidim accounted for most of the town’s Ashkenazi community after settling there some 200 years ago at the behest of the “Middle Admor” and his successor, “the Tsemah Tsedek.” Some 150 years ago, the Magen Avot yeshiva and Talmud Torah (boys’ religious school) were established under R. Shlomo Yehuda Eliezrov and some 100 years ago the largest building in town at the time, Beit Romano, was purchased by R. DovBer (the “Middle Admor” of Chabad), who sent a hand-picked group of students, headed by R. Shlomo Zalman Havlin, to establish Yeshivat Torat Emet, infusing Hebron with a breeze of hasidic life. Among the personalities who are buried in Eretz Israel, Rebbetzin Menucha Rachel was the closest to the Lubavitcher rebbes. After the liberation of Hebron, the most recent Lubavitcher rebbe, R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, began to push Jews to act in view of the city’s sanctity and importance. He encouraged the Nachshons to repopulate the town and allowed the re-settlers to use Chabad property. Today these deep roots are sending forth many branches and much fruit. Chabad emissaries in Kiryat Arba-Hebron perform extensive outreach among Jews, allowing soldiers, civilians and visitors to bask in additional light of the Torah and its commandments; revitalizing Chabad sites and enlivening the town and its vicinity with an extra dollop of Judaism and hasidic joy. The tombstone of Rebbetzin Menucha Rachel, desecrated by Arab marauders, has been restored and a kollel for hasidic studies operates at its side. When the Arabs launched their terror war in 2000, it was realized that this exact location dominates the western part of Hebron and is essential for security. The synagogue that the “Middle Admor” purchased in the Avraham Avinu Quarter in 1923 was splendidly renovated and so, too, was the hall named for the Admor in Beit Romano. In Kiryat Arba, Chaya Mushka House was built in memory of young Chaya Mushka Attiya, ז"ל and bustles with extensive Jewish and hasidic activity.
X. The 10th Anniversary of the Struggle: the Partitioning of Hebron and an Onslaught of Terror
Settlement activity in Kiryat Arba has endured endless trials. A girl raised there, Chava Waksberg, was murdered in a contrived “accident” in February 1993. The yeshiva student Erez Shmuel was murdered on his way to worship at Me’arat ha-Makhpela in May 1993. Since then, the alley leading toward the Tomb of the Patriarchs has carried his name. Igor Gorgol of Kiryat Arba was murdered in August 1993. The real trial, however, was yet to come.
In September 1993, after Israeli leftists instigated illegal contacts with leaders of the PLO terror organization, the first Interim Agreement (“Oslo 1”) with the latter was signed. The accord marked the first time in history in which a democracy recognized a terror organization as a political “partner” and undertook to hand it large parts of its country, money and large quantities of weapons that would eventually be used to murder its citizens.
The predictable wave of Arab terror that swept Israel and targets abroad did not skip over the Hebron area. In December 1993, Mordechai and Shalom Lapid, father and son, were murdered at the approach to the gates of Ramat Mamre. Shortly before the coming Purim (February 1994), Hamas announced that it was planning a large-scale attack in the Hebron area and predicted dozens of casualties. The commander of the IDF Judea-Samaria Division visited Jewish communities in the area and warned their leaders about the impending attack, urging them to brace themselves and set up emergency medical treatment centers.
On the morning of Purim, February 25, 1994, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, a physician from Kiryat Arba, entered Me’arat ha-Makhpela. Suddenly, the building boomed with protracted bursts of gunfire. A government investigative commission chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar established that Goldstein had shot to death twenty-nine Arabs before he himself was killed. The uncharacteristic event touched off a global wave of shock. Leftist elements responded by demanding that the Jews of Hebron be expelled, but this nefarious idea was halted in its tracks by a mighty wave of support and sympathy for the Jewish community in the City of the Patriarchs, replete with visits and acts of identification. “Kings of Israel” Square (subsequently renamed Rabin Square) in Tel Aviv filled with demonstrators who proclaimed “We are all Hebron”! Rallies of support took place all over the country. Concurrently, a sticker bearing the slogan Hevron me-az u-le-tamid (“Hebron Then and Forever” - a pun on the Hebrew expression “once and for all”) was distributed around the country and made a winning impression.
Despite the wave of terror and the ongoing incitement, the Government transferred all cities in Judea-Samaria-Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. Predictably, another wave of serious terror attacks ensued, this time against public buses, leisure attractions and commercial sites. Kiryat Arba was struck as well: On May 17, 1994, Rafael Yairi of Kiryat Arba and Margalit Shohatwere murdered not far from Beit Haggai, several kilometers away. Two months later, Shani-Sarit Prigal (17) was murdered at the very gate of Kiryat Arba. In June 1996, Effie and Yaron Unger of Kiryat Arba were shot to death while driving through the Elah Valley about an hour away, leaving behind two infants.
When Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded Shimon Peres as Prime Minister in 1996, many expected and hoped that he would stop the withdrawal process and retain Hebron.The town’s Jewish community, expending much effort and resources, explained and demonstrated the grave dangers of handing over the town and the areas that dominate it; within the IDF, too, this rash and irresponsible step was opposed. Just the same, the “Hebron Accord” was signed under American pressure and thus, in June 1997, full responsibility for most of Hebron – some 85 percent – was fully ceded to the Palestinian Authority. Pursuant to the decision, Minister Benjamin Begin resigned from the Government. The remaining 15 percent of the town was termed “H-2,” territory under Israel security responsibility. The Jewish community was confined to cramped living space that included only 3 percent of the town’s area in a topographically and militarily inferior part of the city, exposed to terrorist sniping. In one stroke, Jews were barred from all roads and paths save one path of travel, from Kiryat Arba to Admot Yishai. Jews faced severe limitations in building and development while the Arabs embarked on a massive wave of construction – thousands of buildings and millions of square meters. The accord allowed Jews to visit and worship at only four holy places – Elonei Mamre, Sarah’s Spring, Eshel Avraham and the Tomb of Othniel son of. Kenaz; even this limited consent has never been honored. Jews are usually denied entry to the Casba, which borders their homes, even though it is situated in the Israeli area and includes Jewish sites and extensive Jewish property.
The immediate Arab response to the Hebron Accord was an eruption of terror. Dov Driben of Kiryat Arba was murdered at Maon Ranch in April 1988. Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan was murdered in August 1998 and Danny Vargas of Kiryat Arba was murdered in Hebron in October 1998. Marauding Arab masses conducted attacks with stones and firebombs, chiefly in the area of Beit Hadassah. On Rosh Hashanah 5761 (September 2000), a national terror onslaught known as the “Second Intifada” began. This time, unlike the First Intifada (1987–1989), the terrorists went over from stone-throwing to the use of live weapons and murderous suicide attacks, claiming hundreds of Israeli lives. The Oslo accords allowed the terrorists to import weapons and explosives of previously unknown quantity and quality and to create an infrastructure that powered a ghastly terror spree that swept the entire country. The homes of the Jewish community in Hebron, dominated by terrorists from the overlooking hills, became ‘round-the-clock’ targets of barrages of shooting and sniper fire. After innumerable incidents that ended miraculously with only property damage and slight injures, the pioneer Yair Har-Sinai was murdered near Sussiya in July 2001. Sarit (Amrani) Baruch of Kiryat Arba, mother of three, was murdered near Tekoa in September 2001. On March 26, 2001, Shalhevet Pass, all of ten months old, was murdered. Her murderer, a sniper, had stood on Abu Sneineh Hill – a location handed over to the Palestinian Authority under the Hebron agreement – and had fired at her head using a rifle with a telescopic sight. While the Jewish community bravely persevered and continued to expand despite the terror, many Arab residents surrounding the community chose to abandon the area.
The wave of terror continued to gather steam, striking all parts of the country. One of its climaxes was the murder of thirty-two Jews on Passover eve at Park Hotel in Netanya. In its aftermath, the Government decided to restore IDF security control in the cities of Judea and Samaria.. After an attack on Adora (a town west of Hebron) on April 27, 2002, in which four Jews were murdered, the IDF reclaimed parts of Hebron and the shooting attacks ceased. Later on, the army was forced again to leave this area by decision of Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Fuad). Minister Rehavam Zeevi (Gandhi), later slain, resigned his portfolio in protest. Indeed, the exceedingly dire results of this withdrawal soon came to light. On Succot 5763 (September 2002), Shlomo Shapira, a visitor from Jerusalem, was murdered and some 40 victims – soldiers and civilians – perished in the terror spree that ensued in and around Hebron over the next two years.
On Friday night, November 15, 2002, twelve fighters – soldiers and civilians – fell in an ambush that terrorists had set for Jews returning from Sabbath eve prayers at Me’arat ha-Makhpela on “Worshipers’ Way” between Hebron and Kiryat Arba. Exceptional feats of heroism took place in the battle as soldiers and civilians, rose from their Sabbath table, headed into the Alley of Fire (subsequently termed “Heroism Alley”) and fought for hours to save wounded comrades. Those who fell in the battle included Colonel Dror Weinberg, commander of Hebron Brigade and residents of Kiryat Arba – Yitzhak Boenish, head of the municipal security department and members of the town’s rapid-response squad, Alex Zwitman and Alex Duchan.
Shocking as the incident was, the string of attacks continued. Netanel Ozeri was murdered on Friday night, January 20, 2003, in his home on Hill 26 north of Kiryat Arba. Rabbi Elnatan Horowitz and his wife Dina were murdered in their Kiryat Arba apartment on Friday night, March 7, 2003. On May 17 of that year, Gadi and Dina Levy, a couple from Kiryat Arba, were murdered in a suicide attack in the middle of Hebron. The teenagers Avihai Levy and Aviad Mansour were murdered near Beit Haggai, a short distance from Hebron, in June 2005. Three young people from communities in the Hebron Hills – Kinneret Mandel, Matat Rosenfeld and Rosa Ben-Meir - were murdered at Gush Etzion Intersection in October 2005. Yossi Shok of Beit Haggai was murdered near Hebron in December 2005 and was buried in Hebron. Terrorists set out from Hebron for lethal suicide attacks in Jerusalem, Beersheba, Haifa and elsewhere. In the war against countrywide Palestinian terror, soldiers from Kiryat Arba fell: Gad Marsha (at Sufa checkpoint), Amir Mansouri (near Kissufim), Shmuel Weiss (in Jenin) and Yair Tourjeman (at Dotan). Several soldiers perished in the Hebron sector: Shmuel Geresh, Yuval Totanji, Avraham Sorek, Matan Gidri, Tomer Ron, Patrick Farraj, Yigal German, Keren Yaakobi, Maor Kalfon, Dan-Haim (Dani) Cohen, Samih Suweidan, Gad Rahamim, Igor Drobitzky, Yeshayahu Davidov, Netanel Makhlouf, David Marcus, Tomer Nov, Yaakov Naim, Assaf Beitan and Ronald Borer. May G-d avenge the blood of them all. Only after this painful series of losses did the security policy finally change.
In the meantime, the areas from which Israel had withdrawn – both in Lebanon (May 2000) and in the Gaza Strip (a general retreat including the expulsion of Jews and the destruction of the Jewish communities in the summer of 2005) – became terror bases for radical Islam, which had been importing high-quality weapons in enormous quantities and without inhibition. As events in the summer of 2006 proved, the withdrawals triggered a wave of terror, abductions of soldiers and attacks on the State of Israel with Katyusha and Kassam rockets. They also proved that only effective security control by the IDF throughout the area could protect the country’s inhabitants. This perception, applied in Judea-Samaria, finally led to the elimination of nearly all terror cells and the imposition of almost total security.
Just the same, in late 2007 the Government of Israel, under Ehud Olmert, embarked on the “Annapolis Process,” which amounts, in essence, to the surrender of Judea-Samaria to the Fatah-governed Palestinian Authority and the exposure of the State of Israel to existential danger. Again, as in all previous negotiations with the terrorists, the immediate result was a spate of terror perpetrated by Palestinian Authority personnel. The martyr Ido Zoldan was murdered near Kedumim on November 20, 2007 and two residents of Kiryat Arba, the martyrs David Rubin and Ahikam Amihai, army commandos on furlough, were murdered on December 28, 2007, while hiking near Telem in the hills west of Hebron. They had managed to return fire and hit several terrorists. The three victims were among the finest youth that Israel has produced. The pullback from the Gaza Strip and the destruction of the Gush Katif communities set in motion a wave of Kassam and Katyusha attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon and Western Negev villages, claiming lives and wounding many. An Arab terrorist also left his mark in the heart of Jerusalem, murdering eight students at Yeshivat Mercaz Harav on March 6, 2008. The lesson was driven home once again: manifestations of weakness and retreat only serve to encourage terror. Terror can be fought only under a policy of courage, heroism, resolve, settlement and establishing roots in the Land of Israel.
XI. Continuing Devotion in the face of Great Challenges: Building the City of the Fathers – and of the Children!
The June 1997 Hebron Accord left the town’s Jewish community in constricted quarters in the area under Israeli control and with its rights severely compromised. Veterans of the ancient community and their heirs continued to demand the restitution of their homes and property and transferred the rights in their properties to the Jewish community of Hebron. Just the same, the authorities refused to restore Jewish title and handed most of the properties to Arabs. Every act of construction and development, however slight, required political authorization. Water and electricity were supplied by the PLO-controlled Municipality of Hebron, which did not treat Jews’ rights as a principal concern. The areas overlooking around the community were handed over to the Palestinian Authority and quickly became bases for terrorist snipers. Facing this reality, the community and its friends mobilized the finest of their forces and resources, psychological and material, to continue the task of building and strengthening the Jewish people’s foothold in the City of its Patriarchs. The Government of Israel expressed support for the community and, on Passover 5758 (April 1998), Israel’s jubilee festivities were kicked off in a ceremony in Hebron conducted by the Government Association for Jubilee Year Events at the Me’arat ha-Makhpela plaza with the Chief Rabbi, Government ministers and many public figures in attendance.
Later that year, the community was put to a grim test. On August 20, 1998, Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan met a martyr’s death at Admot Yishai. The crisis, however, strengthened the community’s internal fortitude and resulted in further construction. In 1998/99, Beit Nahum v’Yehuda was dedicated in the Avraham Avinu Quarter and archaeological excavations at Tel Hebron (Rumeida) began as a preparatory measure toward the construction of a permanent apartment building.
In 2000, Beit ha-Shisha (the “house of the six”)was dedicated next to Beit Hadassah, commemorating the six young men who fell in 1980 for the cause of resurrecting Jewish Hebron. Additional families were accommodated and the community steadily grew. Concurrently, after strenuous efforts, the community inaugurated its own water main, connected to Kiryat Arba. Its dependency on the Palestinian Authority for water supplies was over.
The terror war that began in September 2000 subjected the community to grave ordeals – gunfire and sniping into homes every day, as well as painful losses. The teacher Rina Didovsky of Beit Haggai, who taught in Kiryat Arba and the driver Eliyahu Ben-Ami were murdered in December 2000. The infant Shalhevet Pass was shot by a sniper (March 26, 2001). The soldier Elazar Leibowitz of Hebron was murdered at Zif Junction in July 2002 in an attack that also claimed the lives of the Dickstein family. A suicide terrorist murdered Gadi and Dina Levi in downtown Hebron (May 2003). Others’ blood was shed as well. These difficulties, however, were met with expansion and further resettlement. Families moved into the abandoned and rundown “market” that Arabs had built on the grounds of the Jewish quarter and the new neighborhood was called “Mitzpe Shalhevet.” In July 2001, David Cohen and Yehezkel Moallem, a member of the Kiryat Arba Local Council, were murdered near the western gate of Kiryat Arba. In their memory, Hazon David Synagogue was established at this location. It became the object of many struggles and was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. Another Jewish outpost was established near Heroism Alley after the battle at this location in November 2002. It was evacuated after many struggles that have not yet ended.
Beit Menahem, the first permanent Jewish building at Tel Hebron/Admot Yishai, was dedicated in April 2005. The massive structure was put up after an archeological excavation salvaged the antiquities at the site and its foundations are planted in the soil of four millennia of Jewish history in Hebron. Next door, another house was purchased and inhabited with Jewish families, boosting the number of families in the neighborhood from seven to eighteen and creating a vibrant neighborhood.
In February 2006, the families at Mitzpe Shalhevet (the “market”) were ordered to evacuate. A confrontation was thwarted at the last moment when the regional army commander undertook to launch a systematic legal process that would restore the market area to Jewish control. After the families left, however, the Attorney-General, Meni Mazuz, reneged and a new struggle for restitution ensued. Two families returned to the eastern building, situated at the location of Beit Yaakov Synagogue, which was destroyed in 1929. On August 7, 2007, they were evacuated from the building again, this time forcibly. The homes and the Rinat Shalhevet Synagogue were smashed and ruined in a manner reminiscent of pogroms from times past. Still, the community persisted in its efforts to reclaim properties and to expand. Another house was purchased next the Avraham Avinu quarter. Named Beit Shapira, it was inhabited in April 2006. The police established a special task force to undo the purchase of the building and the Jews there were forced to evacuate a month later.
Not to be deterred, the community responded with another great step forward. In April 2007, families and young people entered Beit Hashalom, a spacious building purchased at full price towering over the pedestrian and vehicular routes between Kiryat Arba and Hebron. Leftist elements and their accomplices in the government bureaucracies, trumpeting the cause of “human rights,” ignore the human rights of Jews by attempting to invoke administrative orders for tendentious purposes and continued to strive relentlessly in the attempt to displace Jews from their rightful homes in Hebron. History has shown, that despite the struggles at each and every site of Jewish re-settlement, in the end, the dedication and faith of Hebron’s Jewish community will persevere.