Hebron

Palestinian city in the West Bank, 35 km South of Jerusalem, at an altitude of 1000 m.

Hebron is the only city other than Jerusalem in the territories occupied in 1967 with Israeli settlers. They number only 450, amongst the most radical right-wing extremist, living under heavy military protection amidst some 120,000 Palestinians. Due to this situation, Hebron also became a stronghold of Hamas.

The antagonism between Jews and Muslims in Hebron stems from the links between their two faiths and the fact that the city is traditionally regarded as the burial place of Abraham and his family. The Jews consider Abraham as their ancestor whereas Abraham (Ibrahim) is considered in Islam to be the first Muslim.

Forbidden to live in Hebron by the Romans after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jews were allowed back in the city during the reign of the Arab ruler Salaheddine in the 12th century. In the same period, a church and a mosque were build on the site of Abraham’s cave.
During the clashes between Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate in 1929 and 1936 some 69 Jews were killed in Hebron and the remaining Jewish community fled in 1948. In 1974, in spite of the Israeli government opposition, some Gush Emunim followers of Rabbi Moshe Levinger established an illegal settlers’ presence in the very centre of Hebron.

In February 1994, an Israeli living in a nearby settlement, Baruch Goldstein, entered the mosque of Hebron and killed 29 Muslim worshippers before being killed himself, an action which temporarily derailed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In order to prevent further incidents, security was tightened and Israel accepted an international observer body, the TIPH, to reassure the Palestinian population.

In accordance with the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza (Taba Agreement or Oslo II) of September 1995 (see « Oslo peace process »), whereas the Israeli troops redeployed from the main towns of the West Bank (Area A) before the Palestinian legislative elections (20 January 1996), Hebron were only to be partially withdrawn – there remains an Israeli military presence for the security of Israelis installed there – by the end of March 1996.

Following the election of Mr. Netanyahu, the new government negotiated the redeployment of Hebron which was blocked for a time. On 1 January 1997, an Israeli soldier on duty in Hebron deliberately opened fire on a crowd of Palestinian passers-by and wounded 8 of them. Two weeks later, Arafat and Netanyahu finally reached an agreement – commonly called « Oslo III »; – approved by the Knesset on 16 January 1997.

In spite of the withdrawal of the Israeli troops from 80% of the city and the taking over of the municipal responsibilities by the Palestinian authority, some 15,000 Palestinians living in the centre of Hebron, where are situated the Vault of the Patriarchs and the Haram Al-Ibrahimi mosque, remain under direct Israeli military control. According to the terms of the agreement, an Israeli military presence will be maintained to protect the 450 armed settlers who constitute a « Jewish enclave » in the city. The Israeli soldiers have partially reopened the main Palestinian commercial artery, Shuhada Street, which remains one of the most sensible points of the agreement because it connects several enclaves of settlers.

Arafat made his first visit in Hebron on January 19, 1997 and met then the leaders of Hamas (this movement benefits from a solid popular support in the city) who confirmed that they would not be actively opposed to the agreement.