History of Hebron
The city of Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world, situated 40 kilometres south of Jerusalem in the occupied Palestinian territory. Hebron is a holy city for the three major monotheistic religions and it is said that Abraham lived and died in the city, and that he is buried in the Cave of Machpela/Ibrahimi Mosque with his wife Sarah, their son Isaac and his wife Rebecca and the grandson of Abraham Jacob and his wife Leah. Throughout history, there have been periods with a Jewish minority living side by side with a Muslim majority in Hebron.
From early 1500 to early 1900, Hebron was part of the Ottoman Empire. Following World War I, Hebron fell under British administration, which became known as the British Mandate. During the 1920s, tensions between the Muslim and Jewish population in the Palestinian territory began to increase and was a result of the rise of two political and religious movements: Zionism, which advocated for the creation of a national homeland for Jews. The other was a growing Palestinian consciousness for and independent and free Palestinian state. Both movements made claim on the same land, and in 1929, a massacre took place in Hebron where 67 Jews were killed and close to a 100 were injured. Some 400 Jews were protected by the Palestinian neighbours. Following the massacre, the Jewish inhabitants were evacuated to Jerusalem by the British Mandate Authorities and by 1936, there was no Jewish population in Hebron.
On 14 May 1948, the British Forces withdrew and as Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion declared the foundation of the State of Israel. Hebron came under Jordanian Rule which lasted until the Six Day War in 1967 when the city was occupied by Israel along with the rest of the West Bank.
On 13 September 1993, the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, PLO, Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Declaration of Principles (the Oslo Accords), which provided for mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel, the creation of the Palestinian National authority and the withdrawal of the Israeli Defence Forces from a number of Palestinian cities. In 1994, at the time of the Oslo Peace Process, a Jewish settler entered the Ibrahimi Mosque during prayer, opened fire and killed 29 worshippers and injured more than 125 others.
1995 Oslo Accords
In 1997 the Hebron Agreement were signed and Hebron was divided into two sectors: H1 and H2. H1 is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and comparable to Area A. H2 is controlled by Israel and is comparable to a mix of Area B and Area C.
Hebron has about 215,000 Palestinian inhabitants (729,000 in the governorate) and throughout history there have been periods with a Jewish minority living side by side with the Muslim majority in the city. Today, there are 500 to 800 Jewish settlers living in the Old City, and an additional 6000 to 9000 settlers residing in the adjacent city of Kiryat Arba just outside the city.
Hebron is a commercial and industrial centre in the occupied Palestinian territory and it accounts for roughly one third of the GDP in the West Bank. The city’s stone industry is the main sector, but also shoes and leather products as well as Hebron’s pottery workshops and glassblowing factories contribute to the commerce in the city. Yet many local producers face difficulties in exporting their products, or even sending them to Jerusalem, due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities.
Since the second intifada Hebron has seen a financial decline, particularly for the Palestinians in H2 and the Old City. After the 1994 Massacre, the main commercial hub of the Old City, Al-Shuhada Street, was partially closed to Palestinians. The Hebron protocol calls for a reopening of the street, which was partially implemented in 1997 and 1998. However, since the second intifada, the street has been closed for Palestinians.
The Holy Site: the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpela
After the 1994 Massacre in the Holy Site, the building was divided into two parts – a Muslim and a Jewish. Worshippers of the two faiths shares the Holy Site all year. Ten days every year the whole site is open exclusively for the Jews and ten days exclusively for the Muslims. The Holy Site is today controlled by the Israeli Security Forces.
In 1968 a group of Israelis were given permission to spend Passover in a hotel in Hebron. As the holidays came to an end the group remained in the hotel and received support to stay from several Israeli politicians. Only after several months a compromise was reach between the group, led by Rabbi Levinger, and the Israeli authorities and the group was given a piece of land in the east of Hebron which IDF had confiscated. This was the start of Kiryat Arba settlement, which now has an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 residents. Read more about the settlements in Hebron here.