On September 4, 2019, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the city of Hebron to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the massacre of Jews by Palestinians that occurred on August 23, 1929.
“While we are not coming to banish anyone,” Netanyahu said, “neither will anyone banish us. To cite the late Menachem Begin and the late Yigal Allon: ‘Hebron will not be devoid of Jews.’ It will not be Judenrein. And I say on the 90th anniversary of the disturbances – we are not foreigners in Hebron, we will stay here forever” (Prime Minister’s Office, September 4, 2019).
In response, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Religious Affairs said the visit constituted the “defilement of Hebron and the Ibrahimi Mosque [the Cave of the Patriarchs]” and “is nothing but obvious war, in which he has declared his blatant hatred towards the Palestinian presence in Hebron and the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is a purely Islamic mosque” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, September 5, 2019, translated by Palestine Media Watch).
Hebron, located in the Judean hills south of Jerusalem, is the site of the oldest Jewish community in the world, dating back to Biblical times. The city is mentioned 87 times in the Bible. The Book of Genesis relates that Abraham purchased the field where the Tomb of the Patriarchs is located as a burial place for his wife Sarah. This was the first parcel of land owned by the Jewish people in their Promised Land. According to Jewish tradition, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are all buried in the Tomb.
King David was anointed King of Israel in Hebron. One thousand years later, during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, the city was the scene of extensive fighting. Jews lived in Hebron continuously throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke and Ottoman periods and it was only in 1929 that the city became temporarily “free” of Jews as a result of the pogrom in which 67 Jews were murdered and the remainder forced to flee.
The Palestinians made no claim to the city (or any other part of the West Bank) during the Jordanian occupation following the 1948 War. During that time, which lasted until the 1967 Six-Day War, Jews were not permitted to live in the city, nor – despite the Armistice Agreement – to visit or pray at the Jewish holy sites in the city. Additionally, the Jordanian authorities and local residents undertook a systematic campaign to eliminate any evidence of the Jewish presence in the city. They razed the Jewish Quarter, desecrated the Jewish cemetery and built an animal pen on the ruins of the Avraham Avinu synagogue.
Jews returned to the city after the war, re-establishing their centuries-old connection. In 1997, however, Netanyahu agreed to withdraw from 80 percent of the Hebron municipal territory in the hope of achieving peace with the Palestinians. The Hebron Protocol divided the city into two areas – “H1” and “H2.” The former is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Israel is responsible for the remaining 20 percent of the city considered H2. The Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpelah is part of the area under Israeli control.
Netanyahu had every right to visit the section of Hebron controlled by Israel according to the agreement signed by the Palestinians. Moreover, there was no reason why he should be reticent about going to a city where Jews have lived for centuries and where one of the holiest places in Judaism is located.