The site of ancient Hebron, which antedates the biblical record, has not been precisely determined. The Bible first mentions Hebron in connection with Abraham. The cave of Machpelah (also called the Cave of the Patriarchs; now enclosed by the Mosque of Ibrahim) is the traditional burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. David ruled the Hebrews from Hebron for seven years before moving his capital to Jerusalem, and Absalom began his revolt in Hebron.
The city figured in many wars in Palestine. It was taken (2d cent. B.C.) by Judas Maccabeus (see Maccabees) and temporarily destroyed by the Romans. In 636 it was conquered by the Arabs and made an important place of pilgrimage, later to be seized (1099) by the Crusaders and renamed St. Abraham, and retaken (1187) by Saladin. It later became (16th cent.) part of the Ottoman Empire.
In the 20th cent., Hebron was incorporated (1922-48) in the League of Nations Palestine mandate, and in 1948 it was absorbed by Jordan. As one of the major towns in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the city became a focus of Jewish-Arab tensions. The emergence of the Intifada in the 1980s was accompanied by an escalation of violence, and in 1994 the Mosque of Ibrahim was the site of the murder of Muslim worshipers by an extremist Israeli settler. Under the agreement establishing Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank, the Israeli occupation of Hebron was scheduled to end by Mar., 1996. After setbacks and delays, most of the town of Hebron was handed over to Palestinian control in Jan., 1997.
The name "Hebron" traces back to the same root as Haver, or "friend in both Hebrew and Arabic. In Arabic, "Ibrahim al-Khalil" (إبراهيم الخليل) means "Abraham the friend", signifying that, according to Islamic teaching, God chose Abraham as his friend.
It is locally well-known for its grapes, figs, limestone, pottery workshops and glassblowing factories. It is also the location of the major dairy product manufacturer, al-Junaidi. The old city of Hebron is characterized by narrow, winding streets, flat-roofed stone houses, and old bazaars. It is home to Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic University.
The most famous historic site in Hebron sits on the Cave of the Patriarchs. Although the site is holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam also accept it as a sacred site, due to scriptural references to Abraham. According to Genesis, he purchased the cave and the field surrounding it to bury his wife Sarah, and subsequently Abraham Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah were also buried in the cave (the remaining Matriarch, Rachel, is buried outside Bethlehem). For this reason, Hebron is also referred to as "the City of the Patriarchs" in Judaism, and it is the second of the four holiest cities in Judaism. Over and around the cave itself churches, synagogues and mosques have been built throughout history (see "History" below). The Isaac Hall is now the Ibrahimi Mosque, while the Abraham Hall and Jacob Hall serve as a Jewish synagogue. In medieval Christian tradition, Hebron was one of the three cities, the other two being Juttah and Ain Karim, that boasted of being the home of Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and the wife of Zacharias.
Hebron was originally a Canaanite royal city before it became one of the principle centers of the Tribe of Judah and one of the six traditional cities of refuge. Archaeological excavations reveal traces of strong fortifications dated to the Early Bronze Age. The city was destroyed in a conflagration, and resettled in the late Middle Bronze Age. It is mentioned in the Bible as being the site of Abraham's purchase of the Cave of the Patriarchs from the Hittites, in a narrative that some recent historians regard as constituting a late 'pious prehistory' of Israel's settlement. The Abrahamic traditions associated with Hebron are nomadic, and may reflect a Kenite element, since the nomadic Kenites are said to have long occupied the city, and Heber is the name for a Kenite clan. Hebron is also mentioned there as being formerly called Kirjath-arba, or "city of four", possibly referring to a federation of four hamlets, or four hills, before being conquered by Caleb and the Israelites Later, the town itself, with some contiguous pasture land, was granted to the Levites of the clan of Kohath, while the fields of the city, as well as its surrounding villages were assigned to Caleb. King David reigned in Hebron for seven years as King of Judah until he captured Jerusalem, where he was subsequently anointed king of the Kingdom of Israel.
After the destruction of the First Temple, most of the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron were exiled, and according to the conventional view, their place was taken by Edomites in about 587 BCE. Some Jews appear to have lived there after the return from the Babylonian exile, however. This Idumean town was in turn destroyed by Judah Maccabee in 167 BCE. Herod the Great built the wall which still surrounds the Cave of the Patriarchs. During the first war against the Romans, Hebron was conquered by Simon Bar Giora, the leader of the Sicarii, and burnt down by Vespasian's officer Cerealis. After the defeat of Simon bar Kokhba in 135 CE, innumerable Jewish captives were sold into slavery at Hebron's Terebinth slave-market. Eventually it became part of the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine emperor Justinian I erected a Christian church over the Cave of Machpelah in the 6th century CE which was later destroyed by the Sassanid general Shahrbaraz in 614 when Khosrau II's armies besieged and took Jerusalem.
Habra (Hebron) is the village of Abraham al-Khalil (the Friend of God)...Within it is a strong fortress...being of enormous squared stones. In the middle of this stands a dome of stone, built in Islamic times, over the sepulchre of Abraham. The tomb of Isaac lies forward, in the main building of the mosque, the tomb of Jacob to the rear; facing each prophet lies his wife. The enclosure has been converted into a mosque, and built around it are rest houses for the pilgrims, so that they adjoin the main edifice on all sides. A small water conduit has been conducted to them. All the countryside around this town for about half a stage has villages in every direction, with vineyards and grounds producing grapes and apples called Jabal Nahra...being fruit of unsurpassed excellence...Much of this fruit is dried, and sent to Egypt. In Hebron is a public guest house continuously open, with a cook, a baker and servants in regular attendance. These offer a dish of lentils and olive oil to every poor person who arrives, and it is set before the rich, too, should they wish to partake. Most men express the opinion this is a continuation of the guest house of Abraham, however, it is, in fact from the bequest of [the sahaba (companion) of the prophet Muhammad] Tamim-al Dari and others.... The Amir of Khurasan...has assigned to this charity one thousand dirhams yearly, ...al-Shar al-Adil bestowed on it a substantial bequest. At present time I do not know in all the realm of al-Islam any house of hospitality and charity more excellent than this one..The similar Fatimid custom of laying out of food for travellers found its most famous expression in the Hebron 'table of Abraham' (simāt al-khalil). The Persian traveller Nasir-i-Khusraw who visited Hebron in 1047 records in his Safarnama that
Arab rule lasted in the area, which was predominantly populated by peasants of various Christian persuasions, until 1099, when the Christian Crusader Godfrey de Bouillon took Hebron and renamed it "Castellion Saint Abraham". He then gave Hebron to Gerard of Avesnes as the fief of Saint Abraham. Gerard of Avesnes was a knight from Hainault held hostage at Arsuf, north of Jaffa, who had been wounded by Godfrey's own forces during the siege of the port, and later returned by the Muslims to Godfrey as a token of good will. As a Frankish garrison, soon governed by Tancred, Prince of Galilee, its defence was precarious, being 'little more than an island in a Moslem ocean'. The Crusaders converted the mosque and the synagogue into a church and expelled Jews living there. In 1106, an Egyptian campaign thrust into southern Palestine and almost succeeded in wresting back Hebron in 1107 from the crusaders from Baldwin I of Jerusalem, who personally led the counter-charge to beat the Muslim forces off.
In the year 1119 during the reign of Baldwin II of Jerusalem, then, according to Ali of Herat (writing in 1173), a certain part over the cave of Abraham had given way, and "a number of Franks had made their entrance therein". And they discovered "(the bodies) of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob", "their shrouds having fallen to pieces, lying propped up against a wall...Then the King, after providing new shrouds, caused the place to be closed once more". Similar information is given in Ibn at Athir Chronicle under the year 1119; "In this year was opened the tomb of Abraham, and those of his two sons Isaac and Jacob ...Many people saw the Patriarch. Their limbs had nowise been disturbed, and beside them were placed lamps of gold and of silver." The Damascene nobleman and historian Ibn al-Qalanisi in his chronicle also alludes at this time to the discovery of relics purported to be those of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a discovery which excited eager curiosity among all three communities in Palestine, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian.
Towards the end of the period of Crusader rule, in 1166 Maimonides visited Hebron, which he apparently thought lay east of Jerusalem, and wrote,
'On Sunday, 9 Marheshvan (17 October), I left Jerusalem for Hebron to kiss the tombs of my ancestors in the Cave. On that day, I stood in the cave and prayed, praise be to God, (in gratitude) for everything'.
In 1167 the episcopal see of Hebron was created along with that of Kerak and Sebastia (the tomb of John the Baptist). In 1170, Benjamin of Tudela visited the city, which he called by its Frankish name, St.Abram de Bron. He considered the funerary structures of the patriarchs the handiwork of Gentiles, and remarked on the way pilgrims desiring to see the 'sepulchres of the fathers' were subject to extortionate fees.
The Kurdish Muslim Saladin took Hebron in 1187, and changed the name of the city back to Al-Khalil. A Kurdish quarter still existed in the town during the early period of Ottoman rule. Richard the Lionheart subsequently took the city soon after. Richard of Cornwall, brought from England to settle the dangerous feuding between Templars and Hospitallers, whose rivalry imperiled the treaty guaranteeing regional stability stipulated with the Egyptian Sultan As-Salih Ayyub, managed to impose peace on the area. But soon after his departure, feuding broke out and in 1241 the Templars mounted a damaging raid on what was, by now, Moslem Hebron, in violation of agreements.
In 1260, Sultan Baibars established Mamluk rule. The minarets were built onto the structure of the Cave of Machpelah/Ibrahami Mosque at that time. Six years later, while on pilgrimage to Hebron, Baibars promulgated an edict forbidding Christians and Jews from entering the sanctuary, and the climate became less tolerant of Jews and Christians than it had been under the prior Ayyubid rule. Non-Moslems wishing to visit the site were often required to pay a fee or bribe, and were only allowed to climb up to a certain step outside the Eastern wall.
Many visitors wrote about Hebron over the next two centuries, among them Nachmanides (1270), Ishtori HaParchi (1322),, Rabbi Meshulam from Volterra (1481) and Rabbi Obadiah ben Abraham, a famous biblical commentator (1489), who found living there more pleasant than in Jerusalem. HaParchi in 1322 does not record any Jews in Hebron whereas by 1333, an account from Hakham Yishak Hilo of Larissa, Greece, records a number of them working in the cotton trade and glassworks. He noted that in Hebron there was an 'ancient synagogue in which they prayed day and night'. Other minute descriptions were recorded in Stephen von Gumpenberg’s Journal (1449), Felix Fabri (1483) and by Mejr ed-Din It was in this period, also, that the Mamluk Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa'it Bay revived the old custom of the Hebron table of Abraham, and exported it as a model for his own madrasa in Medina.. This became an immense charitable establishment near the Haram, disributing daily some 1,200 loaves of bread to travellers of all faiths.
During the Ottoman time Hebron became known for its glass production throughout the Arab world, and Western travellers to Palestine in the 19th century also wrote of Hebron's glass industry. For example, Ulrich Jasper Seetzen noted during his travels in Palestine in 1808-09 that 150 persons were employed in the glass industry in Hebron, while later, in 1844, Robert Sears writes of Hebron's population of 400 Arab families that "manufacture glass lamps, which are exported to Egypt. Provisions are abundant, and there is a considerable number of shops.
Travellers in the early 19th. century remarked on the relative prosperity of Hebron's agriculture. Apart from glassware, it was a major exporter of dibsé, grape sugar, from the famous Dabookeh grapestock characteristic of Hebron.
Hebron took part in the rebellion of 1834 in Palestine, and suffered badly in Ibrahim Pasha's campaign to crush the uprising. An estimated 750 Muslims from Hebron had been drafted as soldiers, and some 500 of them were subsequently killed. The town was invested and then sacked by Ibrahim Pasha's army. Most of the Muslim population managed to flee beforehand to the hills. The Jews however remained, and during the general pillage of the town five of them were killed.
In 1838 Hebron had an estimated 1,500 taxable Muslim households, in addition to some 240 Jews, 41 of whom were tax-payers. 200 Jews and one Christian household were under 'European protections'. The total population was estimated at 10,000. At the time the population of Hebron was given according to the number of taxpayers, i.e., male heads of households who owned even a very small shop or piece of land.
When the Government of Ibrahim Pasha fell in 1841, the local clan-head Abd ar-Rahman once again resumed the reins of power as the Sheik of Hebron. Due to his extortionate demands for cash from the local population, most of the Jewish population fled to Jerusalem. In 1846 the Ottoman Governor-in-chief of Jerusalem (serasker), Kıbrıslı Mehmed Emin Pasha, waged a campaign to subdue rebellious sheiks in the Hebron area, and while doing so, allowed his troops to sack the town. Though it was widely rumoured that he secretly protected Abd ar-Rahman, the latter was deported together with other local leaders (such as Muslih al-'Azza of Bayt Jibrin), but he managed to return to the area in 1848. By 1850 Hebron has grown to be considered as a large village or small town and the Jewish population of Hebron consisted of 60 Sephardic families and a 30 year old Ashkenasic community of 50 families.
In 1855, the newly-appointed Ottoman pasha ("governor") of the sanjak ("district") of Jerusalem, Kamil Pasha, attempted to subdue the rebellion in the Hebron region. Pasha and his army marched towards Hebron in July 1855, with representatives from the English, French and other Western consulates as witnesses. After crushing all opposition, Kamil Pasha appointed Salama Amr, the brother and strong rival of Abd al Rachman, as nazir of the Hebron region. After this relative quiet reigned in the town for the next 4 years. From 1874 the Hebron district as part of the Sanjak of Jerusalem was administered directly from Istanbul.
Late in the 19th. century the production of Hebron glass declined due to competition from imported European glass-ware, however, the products of Hebron continued to be sold, particularly among the poorer populace, not least of all by travelling Jewish traders from the city. Even at the World Fair of 1873 in Vienna, Hebron was represented with glass ornaments. A report from the French consul in 1886 suggest that glass-making remained an important source of income for Hebron: Four factories were making 60,000 francs yearly.
The Jewish community was under French protection until 1914. Hebron was highly conservative in its religious outlook, with a strong tradition of hostility to Jews.
In 1968, a group of Jewish settlers, with the tacit support of Levi Eshkol and Yigal Allon, began to reside in the city, though a government compromise soon focused the Jewish presence to the east in the new settlement of Kiryat Arba. Beginning in 1979, Jewish settlers moved from Kiryat Arba to found the Committee of The Jewish Community of Hebron in the former Jewish neighbourhood near the Abraham Avinu Synagogue, and later to other Hebron neighborhoods including Tel Rumeida.
Following the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel's position was that parts of the West Bank be traded for peace with Jordan. In what was called the Allon Plan, Israel was to annex 45% of the West Bank and Jordan the remainder.
On July 12, 1967, Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion told the BBC: "In the cause of peace, Israel should take nothing in the conquered territories with the exception of Hebron, which is more Jewish even than Jerusalem." According to Randolph Churchill, Ben-Gurion declared that "Jerusalem became Jewish three thousand years ago under King David but Hebron became Jewish four thousand years ago under Abraham and included a number of settlements that were destroyed two days before Israel was established.
In 1968, a group of Jews led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger rented the main hotel in Hebron and then refused to leave. American historian Ian Lustik describes the events as follows: "The government was caught by surprise. Internally divided, depending for its survival on the votes of the National Religious Party, and reluctant to forcibly evacuate the settlers from a city whose Jewish population had been massacred thirty-nine years earlier, the Labor government backed away from its original prohibition against civilian settlement in the area and permitted this group to remain within a military compound. After more than a year and a half of agitation and a bloody Arab attack on the Hebron settlers, the government agreed to allow Levinger's group to establish a town on the outskirts of the city.
They moved to a nearby abandoned army camp and established the settlement of Kiryat Arba. In 1979, Levinger's wife led 30 Jewish women to take over the former Hadassah Hospital, Daboya Hospital, now Beit Hadassah in central Hebron, founding the Committee of The Jewish Community of Hebron. Before long this received Israeli government approval and a further three Jewish enclaves in the city were established with army assistance, and settlers are currently reported to be trying to purchase more homes in the city.
Jews living in these settlements and their supporters claim that they are resettling areas where Jews have lived for centuries. However, some reports, both foreign and Israeli are sharply critical of the settlers.
The sentiments of Jews who fled the 1929 Hebron massacre and their descendants are mixed. Some advocate the continued settlement of Hebron as a way to continue the Jewish heritage in the city, while others suggest that settlers should try to live in peace with the Arabs there, with some even recommending the complete pullout of all settlers in Hebron. Descendants supporting the latter views have met with Palestinian leaders in Hebron. The two most public examples of the descendants' views are the 1997 statement made by an association of some descendants dissociating themselves from the then-current Jewish settlers in Hebron and calling them an obstacle to peace, and the May 15, 2006 letter sent to the Israeli government by other descendants urging the government to continue its support of Jewish settlement in Hebron in their names, and urged it to allow the return of eight Jewish families evacuated the previous January from the homes they set up in empty shops near the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. Beit HaShalom, was established in 2007. One of the purchasers is a descendant of Jews who fled Hebron during Arab massacres.
A total of 86 Jewish families now live in Hebron.
Since early 1997, following the Hebron Agreement, the city has been divided into two sectors: H1 and H2. The H1 sector, home to around 120,000 Palestinians, came under the control of the Palestinian Authority, in accordance with Hebron Protocol. H2, which was inhabited by around 30,000 Palestinians, remained under Israeli military control in order to protect some 800-900 Jewish residents living in the old Jewish quarter, now an enclave near the center of the town. During the years since the outbreak of the Second Intifada, the Palestinian population in H2 has decreased greatly, the drop in large part having been identified with extended curfews and movement restrictions placed on Palestinian residents of the sector by the IDF for security needs, including the closing of Palestinian shops in certain areas. Settler harassment of their Palestinian neighbours in H2 was a reason for several dozen Palestinian families to depart the areas adjacent to the Israeli population.
The Hebron Jewish community has been subject to attacks by Palestinian militants since the Oslo agreement, especially during the periods of the Intifadas; which saw 3 fatal stabbings and 9 fatal shootings in between the first and second Intifada (0.9% of all fatalities in Israel and the West Bank) and 17 fatal shooting (9 soldiers and 8 settlers) and 2 fatalities from a bombing during the second Intifada. and thousands of rounds fired on it from the hills above the Abu-Sneina and Harat al-Sheikh neighbourhoods. While the settler compound of Beit haddassah has been used as a firing point to shoot indiscriminately into Palestinian areas. 12 Israelis were killed (Hebron Brigade commander Colonel Dror Weinberg , 8 soldiers and 3 civilians, members of the civil defense unit of Kiryat Arba) in an ambush of Jewish settlers walking home from Sabbath prayers at the synagogue in the Cave of Machpelah, and of the policemen, security guards and soldiers who rushed to their rescue. Two Temporary International Presence in Hebron observers were killed by Palestinian gunmen in a shooting attack on the road to Hebron, Cengiz Soytunc (Turkish) and Catherine Berruex (Swiss).
On February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli physician and resident of Kiryat Arba, opened fire on Muslims at prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque, killing 29, before the survivors overcame and killed him. This event was condemned by the Israeli Government, and the extreme right-wing Kach party was banned as a result.
A year later, Hebron mayor Mustafa Abdel Nabi invited the Christian Peacemaker Teams to assist the local Palestinian community in opposition to what they describe as Israeli military occupation, collective punishment, settler harassment, home demolitions and land confiscation.
An international unarmed observer force—the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was subsequently established to help the normalization of the situation and to maintain a buffer between the Palestinian Arab population of the city and the Jews residing in their enclave in the old city. On February 8, 2006, TIPH temporarily left Hebron after attacks on their headquarters by some Palestinians angered by the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. TIPH came back to Hebron a few months later.
|1538||749 h||7 h||20 h||776 h||(h = households) Source: Cohen & Lewis|
|1922||16,074||73||430||16,577||British Mandate Census|
|1931||17,275||112||135||17,522||British Mandate Census|
The city of Hebron has been the site of numerous acts of violence from both sides and remains an important locale in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The 1994 Shamgar Commission of Inquiry concluded that Israeli authorities had consistently failed to investigate or prosecute crimes committed by settlers against Palestinians. According to Human Rights Watch, the settler bias of the IDF was confirmed and clarified by Hebron commander Noam Tivon when he stated in an Ha'aretz article:
Let there be no mistake about it. I am not from the UN. I am from the Israeli Defense Force. I did not come here to seek people to drink tea with, but first of all to ensure the security of the Jewish settlers.
Tivon, on 6 October 2000, suggested that the "Palestinian Authority is encouraging children to participate in clashes with the IDF by offering their families $300 per injury and $2,000 for anyone killed. He also said "the soldiers have acted with the utmost restraint and have not initiated any shooting attacks or violence.
The Oak of Sibta, also called 'The Oak of Abraham' or 'The Oak of Mamre', is an ancient tree which, in non-Jewish tradition, is said to mark the place where Abraham pitched his tent. It is estimated that this oak is approximately 5,000 years old. The Russian Orthodox Church owns the site and the nearby monastery.