Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Why Hebron Is So Important to Jews

by Nadene Goldfoot

In the West Bank lies the town of Hebron, where about 500 Jewish settlers live among 160,000 Palestinians today. Just recently Peace Now Israelis of about 200 protesters were there. Even they may not know of the importance of this town to those who chose to live there.

Our ancestor, Abraham, bought a plot of land which had the Cave of Machpelah so that he could bury his wife, Sarah. This came to be called Hebron. Joshua assigned Hebron to Caleb, and it became a levitical city and a city of refuge. King David reigned there for seven and a half years before moving the capital to Jerusalem.

In 1100 CE the crusaders captured the city and expelled the Jews.
By 1260 through 1517 the Mamluks, who were Muslims, expelled the Crusaders from Palestine and made Hebron their capital, and the Jewish settlement was once again restored. Relations with the Muslims were not great. For instance, they decreed that Jews could not enter Me’arat Hamachpelah and could only go up the first seven steps outside. This was strictly enforced until the liberation of Hebron in 1967. Jews had been treated as Dhimmi , a lower caste group of people who were treated badly.

A Jewish community continued in Hebron in the Byzantine Period and under Arab rule. The modern city is situated somewhat to the east of the historical location and was one of the Jews' four sacred towns. The other towns were Jerusalem, Tiberias and Safed where I have lived. By 1890 there were 1,500 people living there who had a yeshivot and other religious schools. The great Lithuanian yeshivah of Slobodka was transferred to Hebron in 1925.

On the 24th of August, 1929, the Arabs massacred sixty-nine of the 700 Jews living in the town and the survivors fled. It was a brutal massacre. Included in the dead were yeshivah students from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Memphis, Canada and Lithuania as well is Israeli born people. About 35 Jewish families returned in 1931. They were threatened by the Arabs and the British showed their dissatisfaction.

Jews heard on the day before the massacre rumors of anticipated riots, but they believed nothing bad would happen to them. They thought they were friends of the Arabs based on the fact that they had years of friendship and shared experiences. Besides that, the Arab governor of Hebron, Abdullah Kardos, had promised the Jews that they would not be harmed. The members of the yishuv actually thought that the British would protect them, also. The leaders of the Jewish community decided to bring in Jews on the outlying community closer to the city center for protection just to be on the safe side.

At 2:30 that Friday afternoon a young Arab on a bicycle, returning from Jerusalem, called out to his fellow Arabs that Jews were murdering thousands of Arabs in Jerusalem. Other Arabs then followed him in cars and also shouted that Jews were attacking Arabs.. What had been happening was that the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who later would offer help to Hitler, had been preaching strongly against the Jews. The massacre began. Arab mobs with axes, knives and iron bars screamed, "Kill the Jews!"

Then Arab riots occurred again in 1936 which caused all the Jews to leave again.
It’s population in 1967 was 38,310. After the Six-Day War of 1967, a number of Jews again settled in Hebron, establishing the Kiryat Arba quarter east of the city. There were 3,700 people there in 1988.

There have been other attacks on the Jews. One of many was in 1993. A father and son were murdered in a drive-by shooting, the first victims of terror following the signing of the Oslo accords.
The Jews who live in Hebron have a reverence of the Judea-Samaria (West Bank area) and especially the town of Hebron, loving the area for it’s historical significance. Jews were there before the Muslims. They don’t like the way their ancestors were forced out of the area by massacres and intend to stay there, though it has been a dangerous area. They are reclaiming this land and reminding people that it is a part of Israel now. They have a right to live there.

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
The Story of Hebron: by Toby Greenwald (75 years from Tarpat in commemoration of the Hebron Massacre of 1929.
Oregonian Newspaper 6/6/2007 page A9

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