Hebron is a city in the southern Judea region of the West Bank, 30 km south of Jerusalem. It is home to some 120,000 Palestinians and 600-800 Israeli settlers. Another 7,000 Israelis live in the suburb of Qiryat Arba (or Kiryat Arba) on the outskirts of Hebron. It is famous for its grapes, limestone, pottery workshops and glassblowing factories. The old city of Hebron is characterized by narrow, winding streets, flat-roofed stone houses, and old bazaars. It is home to Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic University.
The most famous historic site in Hebron sits on the Cave of the Patriarchs. The site is holy to the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to the book of Genesis, Abraham purchased the cave and the field surrounding it to bury his wife Sarah. The cave ultimately became the burial site for Abraham himself as well as Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah. For this reason, Hebron is considered the second of the four holiest cities in Judaism (along with Jerusalem, Tiberias and Tzfat). The cave itself, also known as the Cave of Machpelah, is considered the second holiest site in Judaism, and churches, synagogues and mosques have been built there throughout history. It is surmounted by a large mosque, al-Haram al-Ibrahimi al-Khalil (The Sanctuary of Abraham, the Friend). Both Jewish and Muslim services are held there, the tomb being opened to all worshippers following the 1967 Six-Day War, after having been closed to non-Muslims for the previous 700 years.
Hebron has been a city of conflict between Palestinian residents and Israeli Settlers and has required the support of the international community serving as a stabilizing, buffering, force.
Hebron is one of the most ancient cities in the Middle East, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Hebron was an ancient Canaanite royal city, which according to archaeological findings was probably founded in 3,500 B.C.E., and mentioned in the Bible as existing during the eighteenth century B.C.E.
Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron as a burial place for his wife, Sarah, from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 23). This eventually became the burial place not only for Sarah, but also for Abraham, Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and Jacob and his wife Leah. This site is now known as Cave of the Patriarchs and, according to Midrashic sources it also contains the head of Esau, and to Islamic sources, is also the tomb of Joseph, son of Jacob.
Hebron is mentioned as being formerly called Kiryat Arba, Kirjath-arba or Qiryat Arba’ (Hebrew meaning “City of the Four”), before being conquered by Joshua and the Israelites (Joshua 14).
Hebron became one of the principal centers of the Tribe of Judah. The Judahite David was commanded by God to go to Hebron. He was annointed king there and reigned in the city until the capture of Jerusalem, when the capital of the Kingdom of Israel was moved to that city (II Samuel 2–5). Jar handle stamps bearing Hebrew letters (LMLK seals) dating from 700 B.C.E., the oldest known inscription naming the city, have been found in Hebron.
Following the destruction of the First Temple, most of the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron were exiled and their place was taken by Edomites at about 587 B.C.E. Herod the Great built the wall which still surrounds the Cave of Machpelah. During the first war against the Romans, Hebron was conquered by Simon Bar Giora, the leader of the Sicarii. Eventually it became part of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I erected a Christian church over the Cave of Machpelah in the sixth century C.E. which was later destroyed by the Sassanids.
The Islamic Caliphate established rule over Hebron without resistance in 638. During this period, Muslims converted the Byzantine church at the site of Abraham’s tomb into a mosque. Trade greatly expanded, in particular with bedouins in the Negev and the population to the east of the Dead Sea. Both Muslim and Christian sources note that Umar allowed Jews to build a synagogue and burial ground near the Cave of Machpelah. In the 9th century, Zedakah b. Shomron, a Karaite scholar, wrote about a permanent Jewish presence, and a Jewish man was described as the “keeper of the cave.” El Makdesi, an Arab historian, described “a synagogue and central kitchen which the Jews had set up for all the pilgrims rich and poor” at the turn of the century.
Arab rule lasted until 1099, when the Christian Crusader Godfrey de Bouillon took Hebron in 1099 and renamed it “Castellion Saint Abraham.” The Crusaders converted the mosque and the synagogue into a church and expelled the Jews living there. Towards the end of the period of Crusader rule, in 1166 Maimonides was able to visit Hebron and wrote,
“And on the first day of the week, the ninth day of the month of Marheshvan, I left Jerusalem for Hebron to kiss the graves of my forefathers in the Cave of Makhpela. And on that very day, I stood in the cave and I prayed, praised be God for everything.”
The Kurdish Muslim Salaḥ ed-Dīn took Hebron in 1187, and re-named the city “Hebron.” Richard the Lionheart subsequently took the city soon after.
In 1260, al-Malik al-Zahir Rukn al-Din Baibars al-Bunduqdari established Mamluk rule; the minarets were built onto the structure of the Cave of Machpelah/Ibrahami Mosque at that time. During this period, a small Jewish community continued to live in Hebron; however, the climate was less tolerant of Jews and Christians than it had been under prior Islamic rule. Jews wishing to visit the tomb were often taxed, and in 1266 a decree was established barring Jews and Christians from entering the Tomb of the Patriarchs; they were only allowed to climb partway up the steps outside the Eastern wall.
Many Jewish and Christian visitors wrote about the community, among them a student of Nachmanides (1270), Rabbi Ishtori Haparchi (1322), Stephen von Gumfenberg (1449), Rabbi Meshulam from Voltara (1481) and Rabbi Ovadia mi Bertinoro, a famous biblical commentator (1489). As early as 1333, there was an account from Hakham Yishak Hilo of Larissa, Greece, who arrived in Hebron and observed Jews working in the cotton trade and glassworks. He noted that in Hebron there was an “ancient synagogue in which they prayed day and night.”
Throughout the Ottoman Empire rule, (1517-1917), groups of Jews from other parts of the Holy Land, and exiles from Spain and other parts of the diaspora settled in Hebron. The city at that time became a center of Jewish learning. In 1540 Rabbi Malkiel Ashkenazi bought a courtyard and established the Abraham Avinu Synagogue. In 1807, the Jewish community purchased a five dunam (5,000 m²) plot upon which the city’s wholesale market stands today. Another pogrom took place in 1834. In 1831, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt took over Hebron until 1840.
Under the British Mandate
Early in the twentieth century, Hebron was predominately a Muslim Arab city with a Jewish community of about 750. In December 1917 and during World War I, Great Britain occupied Hebron.
On August 20, 1929, after Arab attacks in Jerusalem, Haganah leaders proposed to provide defense for the Jews of the Yishuv in Hebron, or to help them evacuate. However, the leaders of the Hebron community declined these offers, insisting that they trusted the A’yan (Arab notables) to protect them.
The following Friday, August 23, inflamed by rumors that Jews were about to attack al-Aqsa Mosque, Arabs began attacking Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem. The rumors and subsequent violence quickly spread to other parts of Palestine, with the worst killings occurring in Hebron and Safed. Other murderous assaults took place in Motza, Kfar Uriyah, and Tel Aviv.
In Hebron, sixty Jews were wounded while 67 were killed. Eight others died later from wounds suffered during what became known as the “Arab Riots of 1929.” Jewish homes and synagogues were ransacked. Most of the remaining Jewish community left the city.  Two years later, 35 families moved back into the ruins of the Jewish quarter, but after further riots, the British Government decided to move all Jews out of Hebron “to prevent another massacre.”
Hebron remained as a part of the British mandate until 1948.
Following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were ruled by Jordan for a period of nearly two decades, from 1948 until the 1967 Six-Day War. Rather than attempting to establish an independent Palestinian state for its West Bank subjects, Jordan formally annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank on April 24, 1950, giving all resident Palestinians automatic Jordanian citizenship.
Only the United Kingdom and Pakistan formally recognized the annexation of the West Bank, de facto in the case of East Jerusalem.
Tensions continued between Jordan and Israel through the early fifties, with Palestinian guerrillas and Israeli commandos crossing the Green Line despite the Jordanian army’s efforts to prevent both occurrences. The Qibya massacre, in which an Israeli commando unit killed 50 civilians within the West Bank in retaliation for Palestinian infiltrators’ killing of three Israeli civilians, is one of the best known examples.
Israeli Rule and Jewish Settlement
Following the Six Day War, in June 1967, the rule of Hebron changed from Jordanian to Israeli hands.
In an interview with the BBC on July 12 of that year, Former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared that, in the cause of peace, Israel should take nothing in the conquered territories, with the exception of Hebron, which “is more Jewish even than Jerusalem.” According to Randolph Churchill, Ben-Gurion argued that
“Jerusalem became Jewish three thousand years ago under King David but Hebron became Jewish four thousand years ago under Abraham and included a number of settlements that were destroyed two days before Israel was established.” 
In 1968, a group of Jews led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger rented out the main hotel in Hebron, and then refused to leave. According to the American Jewish historian Ian Lustik:
“The government was caught by surprise. Internally divided, depending for its survival on the votes of the National Religious Party, and reluctant to forcibly evacuate the settlers from a city whose Jewish population had been massacred thirty-nine years earlier, the Labor government backed away from its original prohibition against civilian settlement in the area and permitted this group to remain within a military compound. After more than a year and a half of agitation and a bloody Arab attack on the Hebron settlers, the government agreed to allow Levinger’s group to establish a town on the outskirts of the city.”
Levinger’s group moved to a nearby abandoned army camp and established the settlement of Kiryat Arba. In 1979, Levinger’s wife led 30 Jewish women to take over the former Hadassah Hospital, Daboya Hospital, now Beit Hadassah in central Hebron, founding the Committee of The Jewish Community of Hebron. Before long this received Israeli government approval and a further three Jewish enclaves in the city were established with army assistance.
Jews living in these settlements and their supporters claim that they are resettling areas where Jews have lived since time immemorial, for example citing the Star of David carved into the keystone above some of the doorways of Arab populated homes in the old city.  However, some reports, both foreign and Israeli, are sharply critical of the settlers. 
The sentiments of Jews who fled the 1929 Hebron massacre and their descendants are mixed. Some advocate the continued settlement of Hebron as a way to continue the Jewish heritage in the city, while others suggest that settlers should try to live in peace with the Arabs there, with some even recommending the complete pullout of all settlers in Hebron. Descendants supporting the latter views have met with Palestinian leaders in Hebron. The two most public examples of the descendants’ views are the 1997 statement made by an association comprised of some descendants dissociating themselves from the then-current Jewish settlers in Hebron and calling them an obstacle to peace.  The second is a May 15, 2006 letter sent to the Israeli government by other descendants urging the government to continue its support of Jewish settlement in Hebron in their names, and urged it to allow the return of eight Jewish families evacuated the previous January from the homes they set up in empty shops near the Avraham Avinu neighborhood.
- Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Hebron Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved December 2, 2007.
- Randolph Churchill and Winston S. Churchill. The Six Day War. (House of Stratus; New Ed. (original 1967) 2002), 199 citing “The World at One” BBC radio, July 12, 1967.
- Christian Peacemaking Teams. Hebron Update Retrieved December 2, 2007.
- Radin, Charles A. July 31, 2002. A top Israeli Says Settlers Incited Riot In HebronThe Boston Globe. Retrieved December 2, 2007.
- Alan Sipress. March 3, 1997. Hebron descendants decry actions of current settlers They are kin of the Jews ousted in 1929 Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 3, 2007.
- Tovah Lazaroff. May 16, 2006. Hebron Jews’ offspring divided over city’s fate Jerusalem Post. Retrieved December 3, 2007.
- Gish, Arthur G. 2001. Hebron journal stories of nonviolent peacemaking. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press.
- Leavitt, June O. 2002. Storm of terror a Hebron mother’s diary. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.
- Lewin, Ariel. 2005. The archaeology of Ancient Judea and Palestine. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.
Originally published by New World Encyclopedia, 12.12.2017, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.