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November 16, 2002

Hebron: History of Unrest

Given the history of unrest in Hebron, clearly it is the proximity of two peoples unable to live in harmony that causes hatred and bloodshed. What then does that suggest?
In the Israeli-Palestinian war over the land they share, Hebron is steeped in sacred tradition and bloodshed. According to the Bible, Abraham - considered the patriarch both of Judaism and of Islam - bought a burial plot there from the Hittites. His tomb is a shrine held holy by both faiths.

For centuries - at least from the 1500s, when Jews fled to Hebron from the Catholic Inquisitions of Europe - Jews and Arab Muslims lived together in the city. In the early 1900s, tensions rose throughout Palestine as Jewish immigration mushroomed and Palestinian Arabs resisted it.

In 1929, an Arab mob, incited by the militant mufti of Jerusalem, rioted and slaughtered 67 Jews - and the city's Jewish community fled.

Forty years later, after Israeli troops captured the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, a group of armed Jewish activists returned, intent on re-establishing the community. They founded Kiryat Arba - a settlement on a hill at the city's edge that has grown into a stronghold of hard-line Jewish activism.

Jewish militants said the Palestinians should welcome their presence as a way of atoning for the 1929 massacre, but Palestinians, chafing under Israeli occupation, saw the settlers' presence as a provocation.

Clashes bred extremism on both sides, which brought more violence - especially after 1979, when Jewish settlers set up an armed camp in the heart of the city's crowded, Palestinian neighborhoods. As the downtown settlements grew, the army clamped tight controls over Hebron's commercial district.

Hebron made headlines in recent years via two particular events.

In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a settler from New York, opened fire with an assault rifle on Palestinian men and boys at prayers at Abraham's shrine, the Tomb of the Patriarch. He killed 29, and more died under Israeli army gunfire in the riots that followed.

And last year, amid the current Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, a Palestinian sniper killed a 10-month-old girl, Shalhavet Pass, as her father cradled her in a downtown Jewish settlement.

In a sign of Hebron's times, people on one side or the other of the holy city managed to applaud both acts