Editor’s Note: At a time when Hebron is in the news, this article represents the second part in a two part series prepared for the Bulletin on the Jewish connection to the city of Hebron.
Jerusalem – Following the Arab-Jewish riots of 1936, the British decided to remove the ancient Jewish population from Hebron, now located on the disputed West Bank, and it 32 years before Jews returned to the town.
In 1948, during the Israeli War of Independence, Jordan secured control of Hebron, holding it for 19 years, forbidding Jews from living or worshipping there.
Israel gained control of Hebron during the Six Day War in 1967. The right of Jews to pray at the Machpelah Cave of the Patriachs was once again established
In 1968, group of religious Jews re-established the Jewish community in Hebron by renting a hotel in Hebron and inviting 86 people for the Passover seder ceremony, with the intention to remain in Hebron.
Despite resistance from the government of Israel, the group lived there for two and a half years, awaiting construction of Kiryat Arba, adjacent to old Hebron.
In 1979, 10 women and their 40 children made their way into the basement of the old clinic, Beit Hadassah. Each Friday night, worshippers who lived in Kiryat Arba would come outside Beit Hadassah to pray, sing and dance. On a Friday night in May 1980, terrorists attacked, killing six and wounding 20. The government then relented and gave permission for Jewish resettlement in the old Hebron. Beit Hadassah was refurbished and residence was also permitted in nearby Jewish property. After 1980, a Hebron Jewish Municipal Committee was recognized by the government and assumed administrative responsibilities for the Jewish community.
Following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, agreements were reached for turning over land to the Palestinian Authority. A subsequent arrangement with regard to Hebron was signed by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in 1997. It required Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to withdrawal from 97 percent of Hebron, with a division of the city into H-1, under control by the Palestinian Authority and H-2, under Israeli control. A procedure was arranged that provided for complete separation of Jews and Muslims worshipping inside the Machpelah, with a calendar set up providing for 10 religious days for each group on which they would have exclusive access.
Jews in Hebron warned of the dangers inherent in Palestinian of control of Abu Sneinah, overlooking the Jewish area and providing a high point for shooting at the Israeli population. On March 26, 2001, Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old Jewish baby, was fatally shot in the head by a sniper positioned on Abu Sneinah.
Since Israel dispatched its troops to the Hebron area during Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002, the IDF has patrolled in the Palestinian areas of Hebron, with permanent stations at Abu Sneinah, Harat A-Sheikh and the high ground overlooking all of Hebron
The second Oslo accord, in 1995, provided a Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), in response to the killing of Muslim worshippers in the Cave of Machpelah by Kiryat Arba resident Baruch Goldstein in 1994. with troops from Norway, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey providing personnel for TIPH.
In 1807, Haim Bajaoi purchased, on behalf of the Jews of Hebron, a plot of land adjacent to the old Jewish Quarter, for 1,200 grushim; the deal was witnessed by 22 Hebron Arab notables. The property was put to use by the Jewish community.
The land that had been purchased by Bajaoi in 1807 was leased by Jordan to the municipality of Hebron, which in turn sublet it to Arab merchants, who in the early 1960s, established a fruit and vegetable market was there.
After Israel took Hebron in 1967, legal anomalies persisted. The IDF now leased the land to the Hebron municipality and the market continued to function. By the 1990s, lease agreements had expired, and the market was then finally closed for security reasons.
The Israeli government, however, denied numerous requests by the Jewish community to rent the structures remaining from the market place, and the site was left vacant. After the baby, Shalhevet Pass, was murdered by a sniper located near the site of this market, a decision was made to occupy it for reasons of security. The Hebron Jewish community invested tens of thousands of dollars converting the former fruit and vegetable bins into livable small apartments. The neighborhood – named Mitzpe Shalhevet – housed 18 Hebron families and a Torah study hall established in memory of Shalhevet Pass.
Shortly after the families moved in, an Arab demand was made to reclaim the market. In response, the attorney general’s office filed papers with the Supreme Court indicating that even though the Arabs had no remaining legal rights to the market, the Israeli “trespassers” should be evicted from the site.
After an eviction order was issued, requiring the residents to vacate Mitzpe Shalhevet, the Jewish community of Hebron appealed. An appeal committee of three judges ruled, 2 to 1, that the land did belong to a private Jewish organization, but that the buildings – which were of Jordanian origin – legally fell under the jurisdiction of the Israeli government as the custodian of captured property. The recommendation made was that the structures be leased to Hebron’s Jewish community. The attorney general, who rejected this compromise, explained that “The criminal must not be rewarded.” In this case, it was the Jewish residents of Mitzpe Shalhevet who were considered to be “criminal” because they had not secured IDF permission to move into their homes.
On Aug. 6, 2007, government forces evicted the families from the market area and destroyed the Mitzpe Shalhevet neighborhood.
In April 2006, the Jewish community of Hebron acquired a new building and named it for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhak Shapira, who was killed by terrorists at the site during the Sukkot, the feast of the tabernacles, in 2003. Three families, with a total of 20 children moved in.
A month later, the residents were forcibly expelled from the building because police investigators decided, even before seeing the originals, that the papers were forged; the Supreme Court, accepting the government position, moved the case to a different court but said that the building had to be vacated in the meantime. The court rejected a petition from Hebron residents that there be a temporary injunction against the eviction order until a decision was made on the authenticity of the papers.
Hebron Jewish community spokespersons have made it clear that this action was political in nature: Decisions to act on this were made at the highest political levels even before papers were examined; the fact that the prior Arab owner of the building denied selling it to Jews was to be expected – as an Arab takes his life in his hands when selling to Jews.
As the Hebron Jewish Community is confident that the papers regarding the acquisition of Beit Shapira are fully in order, they expect that this situation will be rectified in due course. However, the course will lengthy, and they are now preparing for a legal battle.
Beit Hashalom (House of Peace)
In the spring of 2007, Jewish residents of Hebron moved into a new building that the community had acquired: This is a large four-story structure on the road that leads from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of the Machpelah (“worshippers’ way”) and is within the Israeli area of Hebron. It was considered a particularly noteworthy acquisition both because it will permit several more families to live in Jewish Hebron.
It had been purchased from the Arab owner now in Jordan, for the sum of $700,000 by an American citizen and was donated to the Jewish community of Hebron. As soon as Jewish occupancy took place, challenges to Jewish rights to the property began.
At one point, before all documentation had been reviewed, the police leaked a “suspicion” that documents might have been forged: The Jewish community of Hebron was confident of the propriety of the documents they have presented to authorities, which included an audio recording of the purchase agreement.
However, the Israeli Hugh Court of Justice has ruled that the purchase agreement may be in question, and Israeli armed forces are now positioned to evict the Jewish residents of Beit Shalom.
Why Jews Stay In Hebron
Hebron spokesman David Wilder writes about visitors to Hebron who spoke with the Arab mayor of Hebron, Mustepha Natsche. “Were Jews allowed to pray at the Cave of the Machpelah?” they asked. “No,” he replied, “it is a mosque, and only Muslims may pray at a mosque.” Other Muslim clerics have reiterated that approach.
It can be assumed that without a Jewish presence in Hebron, the second holiest site in Judaism will be closed to the Jewish people.
David Bedein can be reached at Bedein@thebulletin.us