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issues Monday, 16 July, 2001, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Hebron: City of strife
Tomb of the Patriarchs
Tomb of the Patriarchs: Holy to Muslims and Jews
By BBC News Online's Tamar Shiloh

The ancient city of Hebron, where Abraham, the father of Jews and Muslims, is believed to be buried, has been a flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian tensions for much of the last century.

Its name in both Arabic - Al-Khalil, and Hebrew - Hevron, means friend, referring to Abraham, the friend of God.


The cave became a family sepulchre, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where tradition says Abraham, his son, Isaac, his grandson, Jacob, and their wives, were all buried

Home today to some 130,000 Palestinians and 400 Jews, the West Bank city southwest of Jerusalem is known for its religious fervour.

The Islamic militant movement Hamas does well in elections there, and the city's Jewish residents are hard-line settlers who consider themselves guardians of Judaism's second holiest city after Jerusalem.

Holy site

One of the oldest cities in the region, Hebron dates back to 18th century BC.

Abraham, the book of Genesis says, purchased the cave of Machpelah as a burial place for his wife, Sarah.

A Palestinian militant standing guard on a Hebron rooftop
A city known for its religious fervour
The cave became a family sepulchre, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where tradition says Abraham, his son, Isaac, his grandson, Jacob, and their wives, were all buried.

The city is also believed to be the place where David was anointed king of Israel, around the 10th century BC.

Diverse history

Hebron has been ruled by Greeks, Byzantines, Crusaders and Mamluks in different periods, and was under Muslim rule from AD 635 until 1923, except for a break of about 160 years when the Crusaders controlled it.

Tensions between Jews and Muslims in the city began long before the state of Israel was established, and ran high during the period of the British Mandate over Palestine (1923-1948), when Hebron was a Muslim Arab city with a small, old, pious Jewish community.

A soldier about to fire rubber-coated bullets at Palestinian demonstrators
Israeli soldiers are there to protect the Jewish settlers
In riots in 1929, 67 Jews were massacred by Arabs and the survivors fled, ending hundreds of years of continuous Jewish presence in the city.

Hebron was annexed by Jordan in 1950, after the end of the British Mandate and the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Israeli occupation

It changed hands again when it was occupied by Israel during the 1967 war. Jewish settlers moved back into the city and the Tomb of the Patriarchs was opened to all worshipers for the first time in 700 years.

But religious tensions in the city did not ease and they reached a new low point in 1994, when several Jews were killed and an American-born Jewish doctor, Baruch Goldstein, from the neighbouring settlement of Kiryat Arba, gunned down 29 Muslim worshipers in the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

A truce was reached in 1997, when Israel handed much of Hebron to Palestinian control, continuing, however, to administer the quarter in the centre of the city where the Jews and about 30,000 Arabs live.

But despite the truce, no love or trust has been lost between the sides and violent clashes have broken out repeatedly in the city since.


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16 Jul 01 | Middle East
15 Jul 01 | Middle East
13 Jul 01 | Middle East
14 Jul 01 | Middle East
11 Jul 01 | Middle East
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