Tuesday, September 27th | 2 Tishri 5783

October 28, 2021 12:03 pm

Building Jewish Hebron

avatar by Jerold Auerbach


The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The recent announcement that new housing has been authorized for Hebron Jews predictably stoked fury among Israelis on the political left, for whom Hebron — where Jewish history in the Biblical Land of Israel began — should be reserved for Palestinian Arabs. The new construction project, to be named after Rabbi Chaim Hezekiah Medini, the chief Sephardi rabbi of Hebron more than a century ago, will feature a thirty-one unit apartment building, two kindergartens, and a dormitory for yeshiva students. 

Numbers — and living conditions — are revealing. More than 200,000 Palestinians inhabit the prospering Arab sector of Hebron, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, with shopping malls, movie theaters and universities. No Jews live there, nor are they permitted to visit. 

Ironically, even the Hebron Jewish Quarter has many more Arab inhabitants than Jews. The tiny Jewish community comprises one thousand residents, nearly one quarter of whom are yeshiva students. Although the Machpelah burial shrine for the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs is located in the Jewish Quarter, Jewish access to the magnificent and massive chamber where Isaac and Rebekah are entombed is sharply limited to several days annually. Jews may, however, pray at the smaller tombs of the other patriarchs and matriarchs.

For secular Israelis on the political left, any increase in the Hebron Jewish population borders on criminality.

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Peace Now identified the settling of Hebron as ”the ugly face of Israel’s control of the territories” — the territories that comprise the ancient Jewish homeland. Indeed, “The moral (and reputational) price of a settlement existing in Hebron is intolerable.” To the contrary: it is Peace Now’s hostility toward Hebron Jews that is intolerable. 

The land designated for the new housing project was purchased in 1836 by Avraham Yisrael Romano, a Turkish Jewish merchant. Seventy-five years later his heirs sold it to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which opened a yeshiva for Torah study. Confiscated by the Turks in 1914, the property came under British control three years later and became their police headquarters. Once Jordanians gained control of the area in 1948 during Israel’s independence war it became a school. Jews reclaimed the property following the Six-Day War in 1967. 

The plan for new construction was approved in 2017 by the Israeli Cabinet. It was, however, stymied by local Arabs, in conjunction with the left-wing Israeli organization Peace Now, whose petitions delayed the issuing of building permits. Now, with these petitions rejected by an Israeli District Court, groundbreaking has begun. As Yishai Fleisher, the international spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, stated: “Simply put, there is nothing more organic than Jews living in the heart of Judea, in the city of our ancestors.”

Predictably, Peace Now was infuriated by the judicial ruling, claiming that the new Israeli government was behaving like an “annexation government” and that “the moral and political price of having a settlement in Hebron is unbearable.” Also predictably, an American State Department spokesman lamented: “We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements,” which “damages the prospects for a two state-solution.” 

A more accurate statement came from the director general of the Hebron Jewish Community, who justified the new project as “the rectification of an historical injustice in the wake of the pogrom against the Jews of Hebron in 1929, who were evicted and lost all of their property.” 

How appropriate that authorization came just before the Torah reading of Shabbat Chaye Sarah. It recounts Abraham’s purchase of a burial site for Sarah in Hebron, marking it as the most ancient Jewish holy site in the Land of Israel. A Jewish state without a thriving community in Hebron would be a betrayal of Zionism — and Judaism.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of twelve books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019

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