Zionists need to embrace the real story of Hevron

Incitement is alive and well throughout the Palestinian Authority, and it is now coupled with denial of the Jewish history and connection to the area altogether, along with the misleading claim of the closed Shuhada Street market.

Nicolas Nissim Touboul

OpEds Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron

Arutz Sheva added the marketplace information and video as well as other details to this article, published in its original version on JTA..

On Sept. 4, Israel commemorated the 90th anniversary of the 1929 Hevron massacre, during which Arab residents slaughtered their Jewish neighbors, leading to a Jewish exodus for the next half century. 

Since then, Hevron has been a battleground, both literally and for the Zionist narrative. Split between heavily guarded Israeli-and Palestinian-controlled areas, the hotly contested Judaean ('West Bank') city is home to approximately 215,000 Palestinians and about 1000 Jews.

The city where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are buried is central to Judaism, one of its four holy cities and second only to Jerusalem. King David was crowned there and it served as his capital for seven years. Hevron also is a favorite destination for those who wish to show the evils of the Israeli occupation, with not a few blatant misprepresentations told to uninformed tourists if they are taken there by anti-Zionist Israelis or Palestinian Arab guides. 

In 1995, a local doctor named Baruch Goldstein committed the worst Jewish terror attack in modern Israeli history by shooting Muslim worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs - after he treated Shavei Hevron yeshiva student Aharon Gross who was stabbed to death while waiting for a ride - killing 29. In 2016, a 20-year-old soldier, Elor Azariya, killed an already neutralized terrorist who had just stabbed a fellow IDF soldier, bringing international attention and national drama to Hevron.

It is thus unsurprising that Hevron is the focus of considerable anti-Israel public relations efforts. As the Institute for Zionist Strategies reported last year, 27 percent of testimonies by the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence center on the city alone, far ahead of any other city or even area in the 'West Bank' or Gaza. Breaking the Silence uses reports from Hevron to make sweeping generalities about the conflict.

“Hevron is a microcosm of the military control mechanism in the entire West Bank'” one testimony reads.

One of the myths propagated to tourists by Breaking the Silence and other anti-Israel groups who lead tours to Hevron concerns the Shuhada Street market, once a thriving area containing stands owned by Arabs and Jews, and now abandoned and off limits for security reasons. In 2003, a pregnant Israeli woman and her husband were killed when a suicide-bomber detonated next to them in the market on Shuhada Street.

Decrying the fact that local Arabs cannot shop there anymore and the lack of shopping facilities for them because of the shut down, BDS supporters neglect to mention the thriving modern, large shopping center and mall only a few minutes away in the Arab section of the city, off limits to Jews from anywhere, not only Israelis. 

Breakikng the Silence's painting the entire conflict with this one brush misses the larger story. Hevron has a lot to say about Jewish heritage, history and rights. 

As a whole, Zionist and pro-Israel groups shy away from Hevron. Unfortunately this leaves the entire narrative to be written by groups like Breaking the Silence, which then claim to represent the Israeli perspective.

Jews have lived around the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron for most or all of Jewish history. In modern times, as early as 1807, the head of the Sephardic community, Rabbi Haim Bajaio, made the first meaningful land purchases by Jews under Ottoman rule. Probably under the influence of the radical changes to the geopolitical situation caused by the Napoleonic wars, he did so with financial support from communities spread around the Mediterranean and as a way to bring the Jews back to their ancestral homeland.

The story of Hevron also reminds us why a strong military and independent State of Israel are needed for Jews to survive. Ninety years ago, 67 Jews were murdered in a single day. The rioters killed and looted families without making distinctions between long-established residents, including the doctor who treated them compassionately for years, and newcomers, or Zionists and their religious opponents.

The 1929 riots were exceptional in their barbarity and a turning point in modern Jewish-Arab relations. But throughout the Islamic rule over the city, Jews suffered from various forms of discrimination, and most famously were forbidden from entering the building of the Cave of the Patriarchs or even going further than the seventh step leading to it. 

Hatred has only grown since the riots. Incitement is alive and well throughout the Palestinian Authority, and it is now coupled with denial of the Jewish history and connection in the area altogether.

Today, Hevron and villages around it are a Hamas stronghold, spreading violence against Jews throughout the 'West Bank'. In the four decades since the reinstallment of the small Jewish community in and around the city, allowed because of the city's significance to Judaism, the violence has continued.

The current mayor, Tayseer Abu Sneineh, himself is among the murderers of six Jews (including two Americans and one Canadian) in a 1980 mass shooting on a Friday night as they returned from prayers — a biographic detail, including the fact that they were shot from the back, he brushed off during his 2017 election campaign. In 2001, 10-month old Shalhevet Pass was intentionally shot in her stroller by a sniper lurking in the hills above the Old City.

Jewish presence in Hevron is more justified than in almost any other place in the world. But under present circumstances, this presence can be ensured only by the Israeli military — the army is all that stands between 1,000 Jews and utter chaos. It is a heavy price to pay in terms of freedom of movement for everybody in the Israeli-held area. But this is a consequence, not the cause, of the Arab refusal to admit the tiny Jewish minority back in the city.

Over eighty percent of Hevron is entirely under Palestinian control and empty of any sort of Jewish presence. 

The uneasiness that liberal Zionists feel about the situation in Hevron is legitimate. But the shame is not: Hevron tells us a story that is complex and far from perfect, but it is a vital part of Jewish history from which we should not shy away.