The 28th of Iyar - in the Hebrew calendar - is celebrated as Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day - the anniversary of the victory in the Six-Day War, the liberation and unification of Jerusalem. But another, lesser-known day is also celebrated by some: the 29th of Iyar, Yom Hevron - the anniversary of the liberation of Hebron. They fall on May 30th and 31st this year.
Recently someone wrote an article entitled, "'Hebronizing' Jerusalem". Others have thrown around the accusation of "bringing Hebron into Jerusalem." The central theme of all these articles and slogans is that Jews shouldn't live in all parts of Jerusalem. There are places in Jerusalem, these people believe, where Jews shouldn't go, like the liberated eastern side of the city. Imagine, Jerusalem, the city Jews have loved for over 3,000 years and pined to return to for almost 2,000 years. Thus, those of this persuasion are against Jews renewing neighborhoods, moving back to places they lived before being expelled in the 1948 War of Independence, re-establishing a loving connection with every nook and cranny of the City of Gold, the City of G-D.
That's the crux of the problem. Recently some people, only a small minority of the Jewish people, have been working very hard to convince the rest, that 'settlement' activity in eastern Jerusalem is dangerous and have begun using the analogy of Hebron to make their point. They claim that letting 'small groups' of Jews move into neighborhoods with Arabs, such as the Jews have done in Hebron, in Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - endangers the unity of Jerusalem and hurts the security situation. They fail to mention how important such areas are historically, culturally, and spiritually to the Jewish people. Areas such as the neighborhood around Shimon HaTzaddik's tomb - Simon the Righteous was a high priest and great scholar during the early second temple period (Ethics of the Fathers 1:2) - or areas on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount. But the connection between Jerusalem and Hebron goes much further.
The analogy of 'small groups' in any case is inaccurate. In Hebron for example, the media always tells you that there are 500 Jews living among 100,000 or 120,000 Arabs. NOT TRUE! What they 'forget' to tell you is that the population figure for the Arabs, is for the greater metropolitan area of Hebron, surrounding villages - suburbs - and all. If you include all the Jews living in the same areas - Kiryat Arba, and the Hebron Hills towns and villages - there are close to 10,000 Jews living there, or about 10% of the total population, hardly a small enclave as portrayed by some. If Jews hadn't been driven out of Hebron several times over the centuries, their population would have been much greater. And why shouldn't Jews live there? Hebron is a city that the Jewish people have had a special connection to for over 3,500 years, longer in fact than with Jerusalem.
Hebron is first mentioned in the book of Genesis (13:18), where Abraham is found pitching his tent. Later when Sara, his wife, dies - in Kiryat Arba that is Hebron, Genesis 23:2 - he buys a field and the burial cave of Machpela for her (Genesis 23:9, 17-20). In fact all the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and - three of the four - mothers, Sara, Rebecca, and Leah lived there, and were buried there in the Cave of Machpela. It was so important to Jacob, that seeing his end nearing, he called his 12 sons to gather around him, and promise that when he dies, they will leave Egypt to bring his body back to Hebron for burial (Genesis 49:29-31). What nation has such a clear link to its progenitors, where they lived, died, and are buried?
Hebron continued to be an important and holy site to Jews. Several hundred years later, after the exodus from Egypt, when Moses sent the 12 spies to check out the land, one of them Calev, took a little detour to Hebron to pray at the family tomb - the Cave of Machpela (Numbers 13:22). Later, King David established Hebron as his first capital city. "In Hebron he reined over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reined thirty three years over all Israel and Judah" (Samuel II 5:5). Clearly Hebron and Jerusalem are intertwined in the Jewish people's historical memory.
Jerusalem becomes forever after the Jew's capital city. But Hebron is not forgotten. So important is it, in fact, that when King Herod - near the end of the second temple period, goes on a building campaign - building fortress-palaces for himself such as Masada - and rehabbing the Temple in Jerusalem, he sends out workers to rebuild the structure around the family tomb in Hebron. To this day, if you check out the type of stone-work at the Western Wall and compare it to the Ma'arat HaMachpela - Cave of Machpela also know as the Cave of Patriarchs - in Hebron, you will see that they are identical. The fates of Jerusalem and Hebron are truly intertwined.
The Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 68 ce. After the failed Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman Empire (135 ce), any semblance of Jewish political independence in Judea ended. Jews were then forbidden to live in Jerusalem; hundreds of thousands were killed and many were dragged off as slaves, the land was desolated. Later, Jews returned to live in Jerusalem. Through a host of occupying empires; first the Byzantine, then the Persian, Arab, Crusader, Muslim, and finally Ottoman-Turks, Jews continued to live in their homeland as an occupied people. Jews lived throughout the land, but Jerusalem and Hebron, Tiberias and Safed held special importance to them during the medieval period.
After the expulsion of Jews from Spain (1492), Hebron's Jewish population began to grow; Spanish Jewish exiles resettling in Hebron became evident by the beginning of the 16th century. In the second half of the 16th century, you find the rising power of the Hebron, on the one hand, and the decline of Safed as a spiritual and economic center, on the other. Toward the end of the 16th and at the beginning of the 17th centuries some of the most important kabbalists - Jewish mystics - of Safed moved to Hebron. Kabbala and mysticism made a deep impression on the Jewish life of Hebron. By the 17th-18th centuries, a large flourishing community lived in Hebron, whose main economy was grape growing and wine production. But the Arab-Muslim hordes, as they so often would do, went on a religiously inspired rampage - Islam forbids wine or any alcohol - and they killed, forcibly converted, or drove out many from the Jewish community. But Jews continued to live there, eventually recovering, and by the end of the 19th century, the Jewish population reached 1,500. There was even a hospital in Hebron by 1895.
With the outbreak of World War I, young men were conscripted into the Turkish army. The channels of financial assistance from Europe were blocked, hunger and plagues decimated the population, and Hebron was almost entirely emptied of its Jewish inhabitants. After the British captured Hebron in 1918, and with the war's end, Jews began to move back to Hebron again. By 1929, the Jewish population rose to 700 - out of a population of 18,000.
But in the summer of 1929, Arab riots gripped the Palestine Mandate. Jews were attacked and killed all over; Jerusalem and Hebron were hard hit. The Arab attack in Hebron was well planned and its goal well defined, the elimination of the Jewish settlement of Hebron. The rioters did not spare women, children, or the aged; the British didn't intervene. Sixty-seven Jews were murdered, 60 wounded, the community was destroyed, synagogues razed, and Torah scrolls burned. However, those who survived did not surrender and 35 families went back to resettle in 1931. The community slowly began to rebuild itself, but everything was again destroyed in the upheavals of 1936 - the Arab riots of 1936-39 lasted three years. On the night of April 23, 1936, the British authorities evacuated the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron. The Jewish settlement of Hebron thus ended and only one inhabitant remained there until 1947.
After the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria, which they named, the West Bank, including the eastern part of Jerusalem and Hebron. For 19 years, until the Israeli victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, Jews were denied access to their first and second holiest places, the Western Wall and Temple Mount area in the old city of Jerusalem, and the Cave of Machpela or Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. When the Jews came to visit Hebron after the war, they found the old Jewish quarter destroyed and the Jewish cemetery almost obliterated. According to the 1967 census, conducted by Israel, Hebron had 38,309 inhabitants, all of whom (except 106 Christians) were Muslim. But Jews again looked forward to resettling their beloved Hebron. Three stories about the modern re-settlement effort of Hebron follow.
Who was the first Jew to return to Hebron in 1967? Who was the first Jew to enter the Cave of the Patriarchs in over 700 years? Before 1948, Muslims refused to permit Jews into the Cave of the Patriarchs, they were only allowed to pray outside on the steps to the building, the infamous "7th step"- and no further. Arab guards stationed there would beat anyone attempting to get any closer to the entrance. The first Jew in Hebron and in the Cave of the Patriarchs was the then Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Rabbi Shlomo Goren z"l.
Rabbi Goren was with Israeli forces as the IDF conquered the Western Wall in Jerusalem. As a general, Rabbi Goren knew that the army's next mission was Hebron. He wanted to be among the first Israeli's in the ancient City of the Patriarchs, so he joined the soldiers stationed at the recently captured Etzion Block, on their way to Hebron. On the 28th of Iyar, at night, he asked to be woken-up when the soldiers began their march to Hebron the following day.
The next morning he woke-up, only to find himself alone with his driver. Realizing that he had been "left behind," he ordered his driver to begin the 20-minute journey to Hebron; he expected to meet the rest of the army, already on their way.
Rabbi Goren thought it was strange that he hadn?t met any other Israeli soldiers on the road as he reached Hebron. He thought that by now the army would be in Hebron. Driving into Hebron, Rabbi Goren was greeted by the sight of white sheets, hung from rooftops and windows, throughout the city. He was astounded, but understood. Knowing that their relatives had killed 67 Jews and wounded many more during the rioting of 1929, the Arabs of Hebron were terrified that the Jews would take revenge. So, they didn't fire a shot, instead they hung white sheets from windows and rooftops to surrender.
Rabbi Goren quickly made his way to the Cave of the Patriarchs. Finding the huge green doors bolted, he fired his Uzi submachine gun at the lock - you can still see the bullet holes in the door till this day. Finally, after getting into Cave of the Patriarchs, he blew the Shofar - ram's horn, as he had done 24 hours earlier at the Western Wall, as a sign of liberation.
Only afterwards, did Rabbi Goren discover that when he left the base at the Etzion Block, the rest of the army was on the other side of the hill, making plans for the attack on Hebron. They did not know that the Arabs would surrender. In other words, Rabbi Goren, a lone Israeli soldier, single-handedly conquered a city of almost 40,000 Arabs. Jews had returned to Hebron and to the Ma'arat HaMachpela - Cave of Machpela or Cave of the Patriarchs, the second holiest site in Judaism!
For the upcoming Passover festival in 1968, several Rabbis - including Rabbis Levinger, Waldman, and Aviner - and others, decided that they were going to re-start the settlement of Hebron.
"Wanted: Families or singles to re-settle ancient city of Hebron, for details contact Rabbi M. Levinger."
With this simple newspaper ad the re-settlement of Judaism's second holiest city began. It captured the interest of many Israelis in 1968. The euphoria of the Six-Day War had subsided, Judea and Samaria were in Jewish hands, and yet, no Jews had made their homes in this area. Rabbi Moshe Levinger and a group of like-minded individuals determined that the time had come to return home to the newly liberated heartland of Eretz Yisrael - the Land of Israel.
Their first goal, the group decided, was to renew the Jewish presence in the Jewish People's most ancient city, Hebron. Word of the decision spread quickly and soon a group of families formed. Their objective was to spend Passover in Hebron's Park Hotel. Hebron's Arab hotel owners had fallen on hard times. For years they had served the Jordanian royalty who would visit regularly to enjoy Hebron's cool dry air. The Six-Day War interrupted their travel plans. As a result, the Park Hotel's Arab owners were strapped for money and delighted to accept the cash-filled envelope that Rabbi Levinger placed on the front desk. In exchange, they agreed to rent the hotel to an unlimited amount of people and for an unspecified period of time.
The morning before the Passover festival, April 1968, the Levinger family along with the other families from the group, arrived in Hebron. They quickly cleaned and koshered the half of the hotel's kitchen allotted to them and began to settle in. Women and children slept three to a bed in the hotel rooms, while the men found sleeping space on the lobby floor.
Eighty-eight people celebrated the Passover Seder that night in the heart of Hebron. ?We sensed that we had made an historical breakthrough", recalled Miriam Levinger, "and we all felt deeply moved and excited".
Two days later, Rabbi Levinger announced to the media that the group intended to remain in Hebron. Dignitaries, Knesset members and Israelis from far and near streamed to the Park Hotel to encourage the pioneers.
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan wanted to remove the pioneers from the hotel. He suggested that they move to the military compound overlooking Hebron. A heated debate ensued. There were those who felt that moving to the compound would in effect, strangle the project. Others saw in Dayan's suggestion official recognition, albeit de facto, of their goal.
Six weeks later, the pioneers moved to the military compound. Rabbi Levinger insisted on accommodations for 120 people even though they numbered less than half at that time. Rabbi Levinger was accused of being an unrealistic dreamer. Within a few short weeks however, he was proven correct. The 120 places in the military compound could not accommodate the hundreds of people who wanted to be part of the renewed Jewish life in Hebron, the second holiest place in Judaism, City of the Patriarchs.
"We received Eretz Yisrael on a silver platter in 1967", Miriam Levinger later explained, "It was an honor and a privilege to be among the first people to make the dream of return a reality."
This re-settlement effort encountered opposition though, from both the local Arabs and from official Israeli sources. The re-settlers had to fight for official recognition and the right to build a Jewish township in Hebron.
David Ben Gurion - the first Israeli prime minister - wrote from his home at Sdeh Boker, on Jan. 25, 1970: "However, don't forget: the beginnings of Israel's greatest king were in Hebron, the city to which came the first Hebrew [Abraham] about eight hundred years before King David, and we will make a great and awful mistake if we fail to settle Hebron, neighbor and predecessor of Jerusalem, with a large Jewish settlement, constantly growing and expanding, very soon. This will also be a blessing to the Arab neighbors. Hebron is worthy to be Jerusalem's sister."
Finally in 1970, the Israeli government decided to allow Jews to live there officially and began building 250 apartments on an empty hilltop, which became the Hebron neighborhood of Kiryat Arba. Erev Rosh HaShana - before the Jewish New Year - 1971, Jews moved from the Hebron Military Compound to the newly founded Kiryat Arba.
The last story is about the return of the Jews to the Old City of Hebron, erev Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Iyar, in the spring of 1979.
A week and a half after Passover, a group of 10 women and 40 children left the neighborhood of Kiryat Arba in the middle of the night. Driven in a truck through the deserted streets of Hebron, they made their way to the abandoned Beit Hadassah building. Originally built in the 1870s as a medical clinic for Jews and Arabs in Hebron, Beit Hadassah had been abandoned since the 1929 Arab riots. The women and children, helped by men, climb into Beit Hadassah through a back window, bringing with them only minimal supplies. They swept some of the decades-old dust from the floor, spread out some mattresses, and went to sleep.
When they woke-up in the morning the children began singing, "V'shavu banim l'gvulam" - the children have returned to their borders. Soldiers guarding on the roof of the building, came down to investigate, and were surprised to find women and children there. They quickly reported to their superiors, and soon the "Beit Hadassah women" were a national issue.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin was not in favor of Jewish re-settlement in the heart of the city, but didn't want to expel the group. He ordered the building surrounded by police and soldiers, and ordered that nothing, including food and water, be allowed into the building. Rabbi Moshe Levinger went to visit PM Begin. Rabbi Levinger's wife Miriam and many of his children were among those inside Beit Hadassah.
"When the Israeli army surrounded the Egyptian third army in Sinai during the Yom Kippur War, we gave the enemy soldiers food, water and medical supplies. If this is what we supplied Egyptian soldiers who had attacked and killed our soldiers, at the very least allow the women and children in Hebron the same," Rabbi Levinger requested from Begin.
PM Begin had no choice but to agree. The women and children lived like this, under siege, for two months. No one was allowed in and anyone leaving would not be allowed to return. One day a little boy in Beit Hadassah had a toothache and left for a dentist in Kiryat Arba. When he arrived back at Beit Hadassah the soldier guarding at the entrance refused to allow him back in. The little boy started crying, "I want my Ema - mother." At that time the Israeli cabinet was meeting, and a note was relayed to the Prime Minister that a little boy was crying outside Beit Hadassah because he wasn't allowed back in. Following a discussion by the cabinet, the little boy was permitted to return to his mother in Beit Hadassah. After the initial two months, the women and children were allowed to leave and return, but no one else was allowed in. They lived this way for a year.
On Friday nights, following Sabbath prayers at the Ma'arat HaMachpela - the Cave of the Patriarchs, the worshipers, including students from the Kiryat Arba Nir Yeshiva -Rabbinical Seminary - would dance to Beit Hadassah, sing and dance in front of the building, recite Kiddush - a Sabbath blessing on wine - for the women, and then return to Kiryat Arba. In early May of 1980, a year after the women first arrived at Beit Hadassah, a group of men was attacked by terrorists stationed on the roof of a building across from Beit Hadassah. The Arab terrorists, shooting and throwing hand grenades killed six men and wounded twenty. Later that week the Israeli government finally issued official authorization for the renewal of a Jewish community in the heart of Hebron.
The struggle by Jews to live in Hebron has continued for centuries. Empire after empire conquered the Land of Israel, expelled or murdered Jews, and made life extremely difficult for those who survived. But Jews did survive, and returned to their homeland. In 1948 they re-established their political independence after nearly 2,000 years, declaring the State of Israel. Unfortunately, not all of their land was liberated in 1948; that had to wait until the 1967 Six-Day War. Jews have always returned to Jerusalem, their holiest city, and the site of their temple. Jews have always returned to Hebron, their second holiest city, and the burial place of the Jewish people's founding Fathers and Mothers.
These two holy cities have been intertwined in Jewish history almost since the beginning. You see, those who have said, "Hebron is coming to Jerusalem" got it backwards. Just as the Israeli government over the years has devoted special budgets to help develop Jerusalem, to re-settle Jews in Jerusalem, and to beautify it, something befitting the Capital of the State of Israel and Judaism's holiest city; so too should the Israeli government devote special budgets to help develop Hebron, to re-settle Jews in Hebron, and to beautify it, something befitting the former Capital of the Kingdom of Israel, and Judaism's second holiest city.
As David Ben Gurion said, "Hebron is worthy to be Jerusalem's sister!"
Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites, in newspapers, and can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko
(c) 2003/5763 Pasko