Housing Minister Uri Ariel
Housing Minister Uri ArielIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi/Jewish Home) on Thursday reiterated calls to double the number of Jewish homes in the southern Judean city of Hevron.   

Speaking to Israeli Army Radio, Ariel said that he supported "concrete plans for the construction of 100 (new) homes in Hevron."    

"The land for this exists, and we're preparing the (building) project. We hope that during the coming year we can begin to build," Ariel added.    

Yesterday, at a special Knesset meeting concerning the Jewish community of Hevron, Ariel declared that "we will build 100 housing units in Kiryat Arba and Hevron by next year."

MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) added his voice to the calls, lamenting that "unfortunately, today, there are good Zionists who think that ...Israel should give up parts of the land of Israel... I'm afraid Hevron, the city of our forefathers has been on the negotiating table."

Hevron is considered one of Judaism's four "Holy Cities" - along with Jerusalem, Tsfat (Safed) and Tiveria (Tiberius) - and was the first capital of the ancient Davidic Kingdom.

It is also the site of the Cave of Machpela (Tomb of the Patriarchs), revered as Judaism's second-holiest site, where the Biblical forefathers and matriarchs of the Jewish people are buried.

The Jewish presence in Hevron remained uninterrupted for around 3,500 years until 1929, when anti-Semitic riots by local Arabs killed 67 Jews and left many more wounded, forcing out the remaining Jewish population.

The Jewish community was reestablished in 1968, following the Israeli liberation of Judea and Samaria, amid continued hostility from the local Arab population, which now numbers almost 200,000. 

Severe restrictions on the Jewish community have limited it to 80 homes in the center of town, housing about 700 Jews who live under army protection due to the constant threat of attack. 

Last month the community made headlines when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called for the Jewish resettlement of a long-disputed house, in response to the September 22 killing of an Israeli soldier by an Arab sniper.

Yesterday, in anticipation of this week's "Shabbat Chayei Sarah" celebrations in Hevron, Netanyahu sent a rare message of support to the embattled community.

"The roots of the existence of the Nation of Israel are planted in the stories of the nation's Forefathers, about whom we read in the Torah in these weeks," Netanyahu wrote in his missive.

"In Hevron, one of the most ancient cities in the Land of Israel, our Forefather Abraham planted his stake and purchased the Cave of Machpela and its environs. On this plot of land, the eternal connection between our nation and its homeland began, and it is also where the Forefathers and Foremothers were buried," he continued. "That is where David established his kingdom before moving it to Jerusalem. And that is where Jews have been holding fast for generations, at the time in which the land was occupied by foreigners."

Netanyahu went on to note that the Jewish connection to Hevron has never been broken, and that although an Arab pogrom forced the Jews out in 1929, the renewal of Jewish settlement there after the Six Day War "cast a new link in the long chain of generations."

For generations, when the Cave was under Muslim rule, Jews were prevented from ascending past the seventh step in the stairs that lead up to it, the Prime Minister noted.

"The steadfastness of the sons to the city of the forefathers stood the test of the Diaspora, and the renewed and flourishing community in Hevron attests to that."