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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

January 20, 2003

Sharon vows never to relinquish Hebron

According to an article in today's Ha'aretz

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed Sunday night that he would never hand over one of the most contentious sites in the West Bank as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Speaking at a Likud rally in Ashkelon, Sharon ruled out handing over the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the divided city of Hebron.

What's all this fuss about Hebron, anyway? It's very difficult for many people, even many secular Israelis, to understand why a Jewish presence in Hebron is so important. Yes, the cave that Abraham, our founding father, bought for a family burial place is there. Yes, that cave is acknowledged by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the tomb of the Jewish and Arab patriarch Abraham as well as of the solely Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs Issac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah (Rachel was buried near Bethelem). Yes, Hebron is the site of the oldest known Jewish community in the world. Yes, the Bible tells us that the first capital of the Kingdom of Israel was Hebron. And yes, there had been an almost continuous Jewish presence in this town until the Jewish community there was massacred by their Arab neighbors in 1929.

But surely the State of Israel could survive without controlling this piece of ground, surely it's not worth the lives that are being lost and the manpower that's been diverted to the protection of those zealots who insist upon standing watch, who won't permit the Jews to be driven from Hebron again. It's only history, after all.

But if that's the case, why is it so important to the Arabs that Hebron be Judenrein? Why is it that they continue to insist, not only that Jews shouldn't be permitted to live in Hebron, but that we shouldn't be permitted to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, either. This isn't new. There's a long history of such prohibitions when the city was under Arab control. And in an interview with IMRA back in the "peaceful" days of 1999, the Deputy Mayor of Hebron made the palestinian position on this issue perfectly clear:

IMRA: You would expect that if the Mosque of Ibrahim came under Palestinian control that it would be only a mosque.

Dweik: It would only be a mosque. At no time was it a synagogue. At no time in the last thousand years. It is not a synagogue, it is a mosque. But for anyone wanting to visit it as a holy place: welcome.

IMRA: Would you expect there to be a set up again for the Jews to pray outside the building?

Dweik: Before 1948 the Jews were praying outside. Nobody said no.

But to pray inside the mosque would mean changing the mosque into a synagogue.

IMRA: So we will go back to that arrangement?

Dweik: Yes.

Now, this is patently absurd. The Tomb was obviously a "synagogue" in Deputy Mayor Dweik's sense (i.e., a place that Jews came to pray) for many centuries before the world's first mosque was even built. And the building constructed by King Herod above the Cave was turned into a church, then a mosque, a church again and a mosque yet again before Israel recaptured Hebron during the Six Day War. Today, the structure serves as both a mosque and a synagogue, with free access to Muslims except during certain Jewish holidays and free access to Jews (for the first time in hundreds of years) except during certain Muslim holidays.

In short, the de-Judaization of Hebron, like that of Jerusalem, is important to the Arab agenda of delegitimizing the Jewish presence in the Middle East completely. The importance of symbols may be lost on many of us with "Western" cultural values, but it is by no means lost on our enemies and we would do well to remember that.

(cross posted on InContext and Israpundit)