Information about Hebron

Location: Israel

Hebron, is the largest city in the West Bank, apart from East Jerusalem. It is located in the southern West Bank, 30 kilometers south of Jerusalem. It is home to some 163,146 Palestinians, and more than 500 Israeli settlers living in and around the Old Quarter. Hebron lies 930 meters (3,050 ft) above sea level, located in the Palestinian territories and the Biblical region of Judea.

Since it is the traditional burial site of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah, the fathers and mothers of the Jewish people, it is the second-holiest place in Judaism, after Jerusalem. It is also holy to Muslims.

Hebron is a busy hub of West Bank trade, responsible for roughly a third of the area's gross domestic product, largely due to the sale of marble from quarries. It is locally well-known for its grapes, figs, limestone, pottery workshops and glassblowing factories, and is 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. Hebron is home to Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic University.

The most famous historic site in Hebron sits on the Cave of the Patriarchs. The site is holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to Genesis, Abraham purchased the cave and the field surrounding it from Ephron the Hittite to bury his wife Sarah; Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah were later buried in the cave. Thus, Hebron is referred to in Judaism as "the City of the Patriarchs", and regarded as one of its Four Holy Cities. (The remaining matriarch, Rachel, is buried outside Bethlehem). Over and around the cave itself, churches, synagogues and mosques have since been built. The Isaac Hall is now the Ibrahimi Mosque, and the Abraham Hall and Jacob Hall serve as a Jewish synagogue. In medieval Christian tradition, Hebron was one of the three cities, along with Juttah and Ain Karim, that boasted of being the home of Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and wife of Zacharias, and thus possibly the birthplace of the Baptist himself.

Hebron was originally a Canaanite royal city before it became one of the principal centers of the Tribe of Judah and one of the six traditional cities of refuge. The earliest references to Hebron are found in the Hebrew Bible, where the city is shown to change from being under Hittite control during the time of Abraham (Gen. 23) to falling under Canaanite ownership five hundred years later, during the time of the Israelite conquest of Canaan (Joshua 10:5,6). 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 Hebrew Bible as being the site of Abraham's purchase of the Cave of the Patriarchs from the Hittites. In settling here, Abraham made his first covenant, an alliance with two local Amorite clans who became his ba’alei brit or masters of the covenant. The Abrahamic traditions associated with Hebron are nomadic, and may also 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 the four pairs or couples who were buried there (see above) or 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 from Hebron for over seven years. Initially as a vassal of the Philistines and anointed by the men of Judah, while he gradually extended his authority over a wider area, until he was able to incorporate the remnants of Saul’s kingdom with the capture of Jerusalem, where he was subsequently anointed king of the Kingdom of Israel. Hebron continued to constitute an important local economic centre, given its strategic position along trading routes, but, as is shown by the discovery of seals with the inscription lmlk Hebron (to the king. Hebron), it remained administratively and politically dependent on Jerusalem.

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, a Sicarii leader, 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.

Hebron was one of the last cities of Palestine to fall to the Islamic invasion in the 7th century.[38] The Rashidun Caliphate established rule over Hebron without resistance in 638, and converted the Byzantine church at the site of Abraham's tomb into a mosque. Trade greatly expanded, in particular with Bedouins in the Negev and the population to the east of the Dead Sea.

The Caliphate 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 of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 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's 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.

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.[54] 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, Muslim 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,[56] and the climate became less tolerant of Jews and Christians than it had been under the prior Ayyubid rule. The edict for the exclusion of Christians and Jews was not strictly enforced until the middle of the 14 Century and by 1490 not even Muslims were permitted to enter the underground caverns.
The mill at Artas was built in 1307 where the profits from its income were dedicated to the Hospital in Hebron.

Many visitors wrote about Hebron over the next two centuries, among them Nachmanides (1270), Ishtori HaParchi (1322), and Rabbi Meshulam from Volterra (1481). HaParchi in 1322 does not record any Jews in Hebron. Other minute descriptions of Hebron 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, distributing daily some 1,200 loaves of bread to travellers of all faiths.

The expansion the Ottoman Empire along the southern Mediterranean coast under sultan Selim I coincided with the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs) establishing Inquisition commissions. The fear engendered during the Inquisitions caused a migration of Conversos, (Marranos and Moriscos) and Sephardi Jews into Ottoman provinces, ending the centuries of the Iberian convivencia. The migrants initially settled in Constantinople, Salonika, Sarajevo, Sofia and Anatolia and could now freely travel throughout the territories that had fallen under Turkish administration enabling the sparse Jewish population of Hebron to grow. With the Ottoman occupation of the Holy Land, a slow influx of Jews performing aliyah took place. By 1523, a Karaite community, consisting of 10 families, is registered as living in Hebron. In 1540 Rabbi Malkiel Ashkenazi bought a courtyard (El Cortijo) and established the Sephardi Abraham Avinu Synagogue. This structure was restored in 1738 and enlarged in 1864, but the community was small. Decades later, it was still difficult to form a minyan, or quorum of ten, for prayer. The congregation also suffered from heavy debts, almost quadrupling from 1717 to 1729. However, in 1807, a 5-dunam (5,000 m²) plot was purchased, where Hebron's wholesale market stands today.
Hebron also became known throughout the Arab world for its glass production, and the industry is mentioned in the books of 19th century Western travellers to Palestine. 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 wrote that Hebron's population of 400 Arab families "manufactured glass lamps, which are exported to Egypt. Provisions are abundant, and there is a considerable number of shops."

Early 19th century travellers also remarked on Hebron's flourishing agriculture. Apart from glassware, it was a major exporter of dibsé, grape sugar, from the famous Dabookeh grapestock characteristic of Hebron.

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 and travelling Jewish traders from the city. At the World Fair of 1873 in Vienna, Hebron was represented with glass ornaments. A report from the French consul in 1886 suggests 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.

The British occupied Hebron on 8 December 1917. Later, this was sanctioned as a part of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palestinian Arab decision to boycott the 1923 elections for a Palestinian Legislative Council was made at the fifth Palestinian Congress, at which most of the Palestinian Arab political organisations were represented. It was reported by Murshid Shahin (a pro-zionist activist) that there was intense resistance in Hebron to the elections. At this time, following attempts by the Lithuanian government to draft yeshiva students into the army, the famed Lithuanian Knesses Yisroel, relocated, after consultations between Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Yechezkel Sarna and Moshe Mordechai Epstein, to Hebron. The majority of the Jewish population lived on the outskirts of Hebron along the roads to Be'ersheba and Jerusalem, renting homes owned by Arabs, a number of which were built for the express purpose of housing Jewish tenants, with a few dozen within the city around the synagogues. In the 1929 Hebron massacre, Arab rioters killed 67 Jews and wounded 60, and Jewish homes and synagogues were ransacked; 435 Jews survived by virtue of the shelter and assistance offered them by their Arab neighbours, who hid them. Two years later, 35 families moved back into the ruins of the Jewish quarter, but on the eve of the Palestinian Arab national revolt (April, 1936,) the British Government decided to move the Jewish community out of Hebron as a precautionary measure to secure its safety. The sole exception was Ya'akov ben Shalom Ezra, who processed dairy products in the city, and resided in the city on weekdays. In November 1947, in anticipation of the UN partition vote, the Ezra family closed its shop and left the city.

At the beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Egypt took control of Hebron. By late 1948 part of the Egyptian forces had been isolated around Hebron and Bethlehem, Pasha Glubb sent 350 Arab Legionnaires and established a Jordanian presence there. With the signing of the Armistice agreements the city fell exclusively under Jordanian military control. The day after the truce agreement Shaykh Muhamad 'Ali al-Ja'bari, Mayor of Hebron and supporter of King Abdullah of Jordan attended the Jericho conference of Palestinian notables where the resolution calling for the unification of the Palestinian West Bank and Jordan was adopted. In 1950 the West Bank was unilaterally incorporated into Jordan.

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. H2, which was inhabited by around 30,000 Palestinians, remained under Israeli military control to protect several hundred Jewish residents in the old Jewish quarter. A large drop has since taken place in the Palestinian population in H2, identified with the impact of extended curfews, strict restrictions on movement with 16 check-points in place, the closure of Palestinian commercial activities near settler areas, and settler harassment.