Hebron (Al-Khalil in Arabic) is a city located 32 kilometers south of Jerusalem, and is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world. It has been an important focus of religious worship for more than two millennia, and has been home to both Jewish and Arab communities throughout its history. In this article, we will explore the history of Hebron, from its origins in the narrative of the Hebrew conquest to its current status as a divided city. Hebron is said to derive its name from the Hebrew word for “friend” (who has), a description of Patriarch Abraham. The Arabic Al-Khalil, literally “the friend”, is almost identical in origin and also refers to Abraham (Ibrahim), whom Muslims similarly describe as the friend of God.
After the conquest of the city by the Arabs in 63, their generally tolerant rule was well received, especially after the often harsh Byzantine rule. The Jewish community in Hebron grew during the Turkish period (1517-191), with groups of Jews from other parts of the Land of Israel and the diaspora moving to Hebron and joining the existing community. In 1775, the Jewish community was shaken by blood defamation, in which Jews were falsely accused of murdering the son of a local sheik. Despite its poverty, the community managed to buy a plot of land in 1807, on which today the city's wholesale market is located. In 1811, 800 dunams of land were purchased to expand the cemetery. In 1817, the Jewish community numbered approximately 500 people and, by 1838, it had grown to 700, despite a pogrom that took place in 1834 during Mohammed Ali's rebellion against the Ottomans (1831-1840).
In 1870, a wealthy Turkish Jew, Haim Yisrael Romano, moved to Hebron and bought land on which his family built a large residence and guest house. During the mandatory period, this building served the British administration as a police station, pre-trial detention center and court. During the First World War, before the British occupation, the Jewish community suffered greatly under Turkish administration. Young men were forcibly recruited into the Turkish army and financial assistance abroad was interrupted. In 1925, Rabbi Mordechai Epstein established a new yeshiva and, by 1929, the population had increased again to 700. However, in 1929 a devastating massacre occurred in which 67 Jews were killed and dismembered.
The surviving Jews fled to Jerusalem. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Rabbi Levinger rented out an Arab hotel in Hebron for an unlimited number of people for an unspecified period. This was followed by several violent incidents including a grenade attack on Jews praying at a grave site in 1970 and a sniper shooting 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass in his stroller in 2001. Today, Hebron has a population of approximately 160,000 Palestinians, mostly Sunni Muslims. The Jewish community is comprised of approximately 700 people including 150 yeshiva students. Another 6,650 Jews live in the adjacent community of Kiryat Arba. Local administration and services for the Jewish community in Hebron are provided by the Hebron Municipal Committee.
The Ministry of Housing and Construction has created an “Association for the Renewal of the Jewish Community of Hebron” to carry out projects in the city. The climate of Hebron has encouraged extensive agriculture since biblical times. Farmers often grow fruits such as grapes and plums. In addition to agriculture, other industries such as crafts and small-scale industry are important sources of income for locals. In January 1997, after nearly thirty years of control of the city, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew from 80 percent of Hebron's municipal territory. This redeployment was initially agreed upon in September 1995's Interim Agreement (Oslo II) but was postponed until a new agreement was reached - “Protocol Relating to Redeployment in Hebron” - which made a distinction between areas under Israeli control (H1) and those under Palestinian control (H2).