One of the four holy cities of Judaism (the others being Jerusalem, Safed and Tiberias), Hebron is often in the news due to its complex and abnormal mix of populations. “Al Khalil” in Arabic, has 530 deeply religious Jews who have built a community in Hebron and who are surrounded by a Palestinian population that, naturally, feels it has a thorn in its side. In light of the city’s name, which in both languages, Hebrew and Arabic, means “the friend,” the scenario in today’s Hebron is rather incongruous. Located 32 km (about 20 miles) south of Jerusalem, the residents of Hebron are anything but friendly neighbors. The modern Jewish settlement, Kiryat Arba, is close by with a population of 6,000 Jews, in a tango with the 160,000 Sunni Muslim residents in Hebron and environs. Hebron is the oldest Jewish city in the world, home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are also buried there in the tomb along with the male forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Actually, from the time of Abraham’s residence when he first arrived in Canaan and through the ages, Hebron has always been in the headlines. A thousand years after Abraham’s arrival, a drop in the bucket as far as history books are concerned, there was a major battle in Hebron as part of the first Jewish revolt against the Romans. Jews have been living in Hebron throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman periods. Then, in 1929, 67 Jews were murdered in an Arab pogrom and the rest of the Hebron Jews fled for their lives, leaving the city with no Jews. After the 1967 Six-Day War, the Jewish community of Hebron was re-established.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs was the site of the 1994 massacre of Muslims while praying by the Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein, a member of the Kach movement, raising tensions and keeping the city in the news more than ever. There are only three Christian residents in Hebron, the keepers of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Israel Defense Forces are deployed in Hebron 24/7 to try and maintain the uneasy peace established by the Interim Agreement in September 1995.

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