Settlements in Focus - Vol. 1, Issue 13: HEBRON

Settlements in Focus

Hebron (Vol.1, Issue 13)
A publication of Americans for Peace Now

How is Hebron different than other cities in the West Bank with respect to settlements?

Hebron is the only Palestinian city that has Israeli settlers living in the heart of its built up area, side-by-side with Palestinians.

How many settlers are there in Hebron?

There are approximately 350-400 settlers, plus approximately 200 Israeli yeshiva students, living in the heart of Hebron. These settlers are, for the purposes of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, considered part of the population of Kiryat Arba, a settlement located only about one-tenth of a mile from the center of Hebron, whose population at year-end 2004 was 6651 settlers (including the settlers in the center of Hebron).

Is the Hebron settler population growing?

The annual growth for the combined settler populations of Hebron and Kiryat Arba for 2003-2004 was 0.7%. The average annual growth of these settlements since 1999 is 1.2%.

How many Palestinians live in Hebron?

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the city of Hebron itself is home to around 160,000 Palestinians, as of year-end 2004.

How many settlements are there in Hebron?

Hebron settlers live in a number of distinct (non-contiguous) sites, with each site anchored by a formerly Jewish-owned property which the settlers have "reclaimed," renovated, and expanded. The largest of these are the Avraham Avinu area (which includes a synagogue, schools, and offices), Tel Rumeida (an archeological site on which settlers lived, from 1983-2003, in trailers; in 2003 permission was given for them to build permanent structures on the site, despite its archeological importance), Beit Hadassah, Beit Schneerson, Beit Kastel, Beit Chason, and Beit Romano. In late 2002, a plan to build a "promenade" for settlers connecting Kiryat Arba and the city center - approved by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon following a terrorist attack in the area - generated controversy within Israel and vehement opposition from the United States. The plan was subsequently shelved.

What is the religious significance of Hebron?

Hebron is believed - by religious Jews, Muslims, and Christians - to be the site of the tomb of the biblical patriarch Abraham (along with his fellow patriarchs and matriarchs, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah). Since Abraham occupies a central role in Jewish and Muslim belief, and an important position in Christian belief - the three religions are sometimes referred to as the "Abrahamic religions" - the city has tremendous importance to all of them. The name of the city - Hevron in Hebrew and al-Khalil in Arabic, derives in both cases from the word "friend," and in both cases in a reference to Abraham.

One of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world, Hebron has been the focus of religious worship for more than 2000 years, with the dominant religion of the day claiming the tomb of Abraham for itself. The original wall around the cave where the tombs of Abraham and the other biblical patriarchs (and matriarchs) are believed to be located was built by Herod the Great (1st century, BCE). A church was later constructed on the site during the Byzantine period (6th century, CE). This church was converted into a mosque following the Arab conquest of the region (7th century, CE). The mosque was converted back to a church during the Crusades (12th century, CE), and then converted once again to a mosque under the Mamluk Turks (13th century, CE). Although Israel has been in control of the entire city since 1967, control of the Cave of the Machpelah site (like the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock complex in Jerusalem) has remained in the hands of the Islamic religious authorities (the Waqf). Jews and Muslims have separate entrances to the site and pray in separate areas. On major Jewish holidays the entire site is open only to Jewish worshippers, and on major Muslim holidays it is open only to Muslim worshippers.

Why is Hebron especially important to settlers historically?

In addition to the religious connection to the city, Hebron has special importance as the home to a vibrant Jewish community up until 1929, when the community was wiped out in a pogrom. Regarding the 1929 massacre, Human Rights Watch writes:

"On August 23 1929, amid anti-Jewish riots in much of Palestine, sixty-seven Jewish residents of Hebron were brutally murdered by Palestinian Arabs, with some of the victims being raped, tortured, or mutilated. Other Palestinian Arabs sheltered their Jewish neighbours; today the Zionist Archives preserve a list of 435 Jews who found a safe haven in twenty-eight Palestinian Arab homes in Hebron during the carnage. Jewish residents left Hebron in the years following the 1929 massacre, and for today's Israeli settlers in Hebron it remains a potent symbol: in November 2000, a large sign could be seen near the Palestinian market next to the Avraham Avino settlement in central Hebron: 'This market was built on Jewish property, stolen by Arabs, after the 1929 massacre.'" (

When and how were settlements in Hebron established?

Hebron was the second target of Israeli settlers following the 1967 War (after Kfar Ezion). The first settlers arrived in Hebron in April 1968, as recounted on the settlers' website (

"'Wanted: Families or singles to resettle ancient city of Hebron. For details contact Rabbi M. Levinger' This unassuming newspaper advertisement captured the attention of many Israelis in 1968. ...Rabbi Moshe Levinger and a group of like-minded individuals determined that the time had come to return home to the newly liberated heartland of Eretz Yisrael [the land of Israel]. As their first goal, the group decided to renew the Jewish presence in the Jewish people's most ancient city, Hebron. ...Their objective: to spend Pessach in Hebron's Park Hotel. Hebron's Arab hotel owners had fallen on hard times. For years they had served the Jordanian aristocracy who would visit regularly to enjoy Hebron's cool dry air. The Six Day War forced the vacationers to change their travel plans. As a result, the Park Hotel's Arab owners were delighted to accept the cash-filled envelope which Rabbi Levinger placed on the front desk. In exchange, they agreed to rent the hotel to an unlimited amount of people for an unspecified period of time. The morning of Erev Pesach, April, 1968 saw the Levinger family along with families from Israel's north, south and center packed their belongings for Hebron...Eighty-eight people celebrated Pesach Seder that night in the heart of Hebron...'

"Two days later, Rabbi Levinger announced to the media that the group intended to remain in Hebron. ...Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was anxious to remove the pioneers from the hotel. He suggested that they move to the military compound overlooking Hebron. A heated debate ensued. There were those who felt that moving to the compound would in effect, strangle the project. Others saw in Dayan's suggestion official recognition, albeit de facto, of their goal. Six weeks later, the pioneers moved to the military compound [this site became the settlement of Kiryat Arba]. Rabbi Levinger insisted on accommodations for 120 people even though they numbered less than half at that time. Rabbi Levinger was accused of being an unrealistic dreamer. Within a few short weeks however, he was proven correct. The 120 places in the military compound could not accommodate the hundreds of people who wanted to be part of the renewed of Jewish life in Hebron, city of the Patriarchs. 'We received Eretz Yisrael on a silver platter in 1967,' explained Miriam Levinger..."

The first Jewish settlement inside Hebron was subsequently established in 1979, as recalled by the settlers:

"A week and a half after Pesach [1979] a group of 10 women and 40 children left Kiryat Arba in the middle of the night, driven in a truck through the deserted streets of Hebron. They made their way to the abandoned Beit Hadassah building, originally built in the 1870s as a medical clinic for Jews and Arabs in Hebron, abandoned since the 1929 riots. The women and children, assisted by men, climb into Beit Hadassah through a back window.When they awoke in the morning the children began singing: v'shavu banim l'gvulam - the children have returned home. Soldiers guarding on the roof of the building, coming down to investigate, were astounded at the sight of the women and children. Quickly they reported to their superiors, and soon the 'Beit Hadassah women' were a national issue. Prime Minister Menachem Begin was not in favor of Jewish settlement in the heart of the city, but opposed physically expelling the group. He ordered the building surrounded by police and soldiers, and decreed that nothing, including food and water, be allowed into the building.

"Begin was soon visited by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, whose wife Miriam and many of his children were among those inside Beit Hadassah. 'When the Israeli army surrounded the Egyptian Third Army in Sinai during the Yom Kippur War, we gave the enemy soldiers food, water and medical supplies. If this is what we supplied Egyptian soldiers who had attacked and killed our soldiers, at the very least allow the women and children in Hebron the same.' Begin had no choice but to agree. The women and children lived like this, under siege, for two months. No one was allowed in and anyone leaving would not be allowed to return. After over two months the women and children were allowed to leave and return, but no one else was allowed in. They lived this way for a year. On Friday nights, following Shabbat prayers at Ma'arat HaMachpela, the worshipers, including students from the Kiryat Arba Nir Yeshiva, would dance to Beit Hadassah, sing and dance in front of the building, recite Kiddush for the women, and then return to Kiryat Arba. In early May of 1980, a year after the women first arrived at Beit Hadassah, the group of men was attacked by terrorists stationed on the roof of a building across from Beit Hadassah. The Arab terrorists, shooting and throwing hand grenades killed six men and wounded twenty. Later that week the Israeli government finally issued official authorization for the renewal of a Jewish community in Hebron."

What was the Israeli Government's role in permitting settlers to move into the heart of Hebron?

While the government of Israel initially resisted settler efforts to move into Hebron, eventually it gave the official go-ahead and has provided financial and military support ever since. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs recounts the government's role in allowing the settlers in stay in the heart of Hebron:

"The Jewish community in Hebron itself was re-established permanently in April 1979, when a group of Jews from Kiryat Arba moved into Beit Hadassah. Following a deadly terrorist attack in May 1980 in which six Jews returning from prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs were murdered, and 20 wounded, Prime Minister Menahem Begin's Likud-led government agreed to refurbish Beit Hadassah, and to permit Jews to move into the adjacent Beit Chason and Beit Schneerson, in the old Jewish Quarter. An additional floor was built on Beit Hadassah, and 11 families moved in during 1986. Since 1980, other Jewish properties and buildings in Hebron have been refurbished and rebuilt. Today [writing in 1996] the Hebron Jewish community comprises 19 families living in buildings adjacent to the Avraham Avinu courtyard, the area also houses two kindergartens, the municipal committee offices, and a guesthouse; seven families living in mobile homes at Tel Rumeida; twelve families living in Beit Hadassah; six families living in Beit Schneerson; one family living in Beit Kastel; six families live in Beit Chason; Beit Romano, home to the Shavei Hevron yeshiva, is currently being refurbished.

"Local administration and services for the Hebron Jewish community are provided by the Hebron Municipal Committee, which was established by the Defense and Interior Ministries, and whose functions are similar to those of Israel's regular local councils. The Ministry of Housing and Construction has established the 'Association for the Renewal of the Jewish Community in Hebron,' to carry out projects in the city. The Association is funded both through the state budget and by private contributions. It deals with general development of, and for, the Jewish community."

What was the 1994 Hebron Massacre?

On February 25, 1994, an Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein entered the Ibrahimi Mosque (the Muslim portion of the Tomb of the Patriarchs complex) and opened fire with a M-16 assault rifle on Muslim men at Friday prayers, killing 29 and wounding hundreds more. Goldstein was subsequently killed by survivors in the mosque. A Brooklyn-born and -raised American citizen, Goldstein was a member of Meir Kahane's Jewish Defense League and a longtime supporter of the Kach party (which, along with Kahane Chai, was outlawed by Israel following the massacre). His massacre set off a period of chaos in Hebron in which an additional 26 Palestinians and 9 Israelis were killed, with many others injured.

How did Israelis respond to the massacre?

Most Israelis were shocked and outraged by the massacre. Many called on then-Prime Minister Rabin to respond by removing the settlers from Hebron. Rabin chose not to do so. Geoffrey Aronson of the Foundation for Middle East Peace wrote: "...A majority in his [Rabin's] cabinet favored the removal of the 400-odd settlers in Hebron, most of them children--all of them true believers in Hebron's destiny as a Jewish city, best expressed by their favorite slogan, 'Arabs Out!' The circumstances could not have been more favorable to evacuation. The settlement movement found itself on the defensive after the murders... Rabin never wavered in his rejection of this course.He had stood steadfast in his determination that the Oslo process protect rather than endanger settlements. Rabin was determined not to premise his diplomacy with Yasser Arafat on the removal of settlements from territories that Palestinians considered their rightful patrimony [something not explicitly called for or even referred in the Oslo Accords], and certainly not as a consequence of the furor created by Goldstein.. The Hamas movement was singularly affected by the Goldstein massacre... For many years they were known for, and they prided themselves on, attacking solely military targets. Goldstein changed this calculus forever. Only in the wake of the murder was the decision made, and volunteers found, to emulate the suicide bombers from Lebanon's Hezballah..."

As for the extremists, the grave of Goldstein, located inside the settlement of Kiryat Arba, has become a venerated site where they gather each year to celebrate on the anniversary of Goldstein's death and the massacre (which coincides with the Jewish holiday of Purim). A shrine erected at the site by these extremists was demolished in 2000 by the Government of Israel. However, despite some controversy, no steps have yet been taken to remove or alter the inscription on the plaque that marks Goldstein's grave, which reads: "Here lies the saint, Dr. Baruch Kappel Goldstein, blessed be the memory of the righteous and holy man, may the Lord avenge his blood, who devoted his soul to the Jews, Jewish religion and Jewish land. His hands are innocent and his heart is pure. He was killed as a martyr of God on the 14th of Adar, Purim, in the year 5754 (1994). "

What is the "TIPH"?

The Hebron Massacre resulted in an international outcry and demands that Israel ensure the security of Palestinians in Hebron. This outcry included UN Security Council Resolution 904, adopted on March 18, 1994, which condemned the massacre and, among other things, called "for measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians throughout the occupied territory, including, inter alia , a temporary international or foreign presence, which was provided for in the Declaration of Principles..."

Israel and the PLO subsequently agreed to the establishment of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) - an observer mission only (i.e., no peacekeeping or military component), to be manned by observers and staff from Italy, Denmark, and Norway. The first TIPH mission was established in May 1994, but was withdrawn in August of that same year following a dispute between Israel and the PLO over an extension of its mandate. The TIPH returned to Hebron in May 1996, under terms that were part of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (also known as Oslo II or the Taba Agreement). This second incarnation of the TIPH was subsequently replaced by a third TIPH mission, established under the terms of an agreement signed on January 21, 1997, in conjunction with the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron. For further details about the mandate and scope of operations of the TIPH, see .

What are the security arrangements in Hebron like today?

In the wake of the 1994 massacre, new security arrangements were imposed on the city of Hebron, ostensibly to prevent revenge attacks on settlers by Palestinians. These arrangements - formalized in the January 1997 "Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron" (aka "the Hebron Agreement"), - became the foundation for the now long-standing division of Hebron and the effective closure and de-population of the central Palestinian market area.

Under the Hebron Agreement, the city was divided into areas designated as H-1 (18 sq. km., under full Palestinian Authority control) and H-2 (4.3 sq. km., under full Israeli control and home to most of Hebron's settlers, as well as more than 35,000 Palestinians). From the start of the second intifada the IDF resumed open operations in H-1. In April 2002, as part of Operation Defensive Shield, the IDF re-took control of H-1, and in August 2003 the IDF began constructing two permanent, squad-size fortified posts in the neighborhoods of Abu Sneina and Harat al-Sheikh, which overlook the homes of Hebron's Jewish settlers in the center of Hebron. While the IDF had maintained a temporary presence in this area since the beginning of the intifada, this marked the establishment of a permanent IDF presence in H-1 since implementation of the Hebron Agreement. The immediate area around the new military outposts was declared a "closed military zone" without any warning to residents, who are barred from the area. About 50 dunams of land were expropriated for both sites.

In addition, during the intifada Palestinian residents of H-2 and neighboring areas of H-1 have been subjected to the harshest restrictions on movement of any population in the West Bank. According to B'tselem, "At the beginning of the intifada, the area was under curfew for three consecutive months. Following the killing of the [Israeli] infant Shalhevet Pass [March 2001], a curfew was imposed for three weeks. After the attack on Worshippers' Way [November 2002], in which nine security forces and three auxiliary personnel from Kiryat Arba were killed, the IDF imposed a curfew for six months. The curfew also applies to the Bab a-Zawiya area (located in Area H-1 near Area H-2), which the IDF has controlled since Operation Defensive Shield (April 2002). The IDF also imposes a curfew on Area H-2 in response to Palestinian shooting at settlers from Area H-1. .In other cases, the IDF imposes curfew on Palestinians to enable settlers to maintain their way of life and to hold public events in the city during Jewish and national holidays. For example, on 23 September 2002, during Sukkoth, the IDF imposed a curfew on Palestinians to enable Hebron's settlers to host safely thousands of Israelis who had come to visit the city. Last Purim, the IDF imposed a curfew to allow settlers to conduct their annual parade and because it was the anniversary of the death of Baruch Goldstein, who committed the massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs..." For a detailed discussion of the security arrangements in Hebron and their impact, click here .

What is the relationship between settlers and Israeli soldiers in Hebron?

The relationship between the IDF and the settlers in Hebron is a tense one, with IDF soldiers often bearing the brunt of the settlers' actions and anger. In addition to protecting settlers from Palestinians, IDF soldiers in Hebron have taken on increasingly the role of protecting Palestinians from settlers. One recent article reported on a project by Israelis soldiers entitled "Breaking the Silence," featuring photos and testimony for soldiers who have served in Israel. According to the article , "One soldier testified: 'What I understood finally, after six months, was that we were guarding the Palestinians from the Jews; we weren't there to guard and protect the Jews. The Jews are the ones who threaten the Palestinians more in this area.'" In May 2005 it was reported that the situation in Hebron had deteriorated to the point where the IDF was considering removing its soldiers from the city. As reported in the May 16, 2005 edition of APN's Middle East Peace Report :

...Senior IDF officers are simply disgusted at the fact that many of the city's settlers taunt IDF soldiers and even attack them physically. Testimony gathered recently by the Central Command found a bleak picture of the attitude of Jews to the soldiers. The situation is becoming more extreme the closer the date approaches to implement disengagement. According to testimony from soldiers who serve in the settlement, the Hebron settlers throw vegetables and even urine bags at them. Testimony also found that among the various and sundry curses that are heaped on them during their service, calling them "Nazis" was among the most popular. IDF officials believe that the settlers view insulting soldiers as a way of criticizing the government. OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh is disgusted at the fact that the command's soldiers have become a punching bag for the settlers of Hebron. .Maj. Gen. Naveh said, ".I as commander am obligated to soldiers just like I am obligated to civilians, as regards protecting their body and safety. I am committed to the soldier feeling that his mission is not only legal but also legitimate. During the Lebanon period we educated generations of soldiers to look behind them and see the lights of the northern communities that we protected and from which we drew our strength. It is hard for me to tell a soldier at the Tomb of the Patriarchs to look behind him as well, despite the fact that this is a component of his strength."

What is the political/religious orientation of the Hebron area settlers?

The Hebron settlers are, in general, some of the most extreme ideologues of the settler movement. Their ranks include leaders and activists affiliated (some formerly, some currently) with the outlawed Kach and Kahane Chai movements. Racist and extremist anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab sentiment is omnipresent in Hebron, painted in Hebrew on the walls and doors of Palestinian properties in the areas near where the settlers live (click here for examples).

Interestingly, Hebron provides a glimpse into one of the most important ideological schisms within Israel's hard-line religious-nationalist community: the split between the institutional hard right (i.e., the religious nationalists who support the existence of the State of Israel and its sovereign government, as it currently exists - a state based on secular laws, with religious authorities providing one of many voices in government) and the anti-institutional hard right is visible (i.e., the religious-nationalists who view the Israeli state and its government as historically obsolete and theologically irrelevant and illegitimate, preferring a state organized around religious institutions and run by religious authorities). While Hebron's settlers are some of the most ideologically extremist in the West Bank, the main yeshiva in Hebron, "Shavei Hevron," is known for its commitment to the idea of the sanctity of the Israeli state. This is in contrast, for example, with the chief rabbi and head of the yeshiva at Elon Moreh, Rabbi Levanon, who is an outspoken advocate for the end of secular government in Israel and the rise of religious rule.

Who funds the Hebron settlers?

In addition to the usual subsidies and incentives provided to settlers across the West Bank (and the additional security costs, covered by the Government of Israel, associated with the unique arrangements in Hebron), the Hebron settlements raise funds from supporters around the world, including the United States. Tax-deductible donations from the U.S. can be made, for example, via the Brooklyn-based Hebron Fund , which according to the website was established in 1979 " an affiliate organization of the Jewish community in Hebron..." The Hebron Fund has reportedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years from American millionaire Irving Moskowitz (see ). The Hebron Fund holds regular fundraisers in the U.S., including their last Annual Dinner on March 21, 2005, and their annual summer "Cruise and Shmooze" on the Hudson River.

The Hebron settlements maintain their own fundraising site , linked to the site of the Hebron Fund (a link to which can also be found on more mainstream Jewish sites, like the Orthodox Union ). In a particularly creative fund-raising gambit, the Hebron settlers are selling tickets to a lottery , the winner of which will get an apartment in a Hebron settlement.

In addition, the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva has raised substantial funds through the American Friends of Yeshiva Shavei Hevron (a non-profit organization based in Ashland, Virginia) and the Hebron settlers maintain an online gift shop . Kiryat Arba also maintains its own fundraising network (e.g., the Brooklyn-based "Friends of Yeshivat Nir," the hesder yeshiva in Kiryat Arba; the New York City-based "Friends of Yeshiva High School in Kiryat Arba"). Finally, the Hebron settlements appear to receive funding through various Christian non-profit organizations (like Christian Friends of Israeli Communities ).

How do these settlements impact the civilian/economic life of the Palestinians?

The Israeli human rights group B'tselem writes: "The city of Hebron is blocked to the east by the settlement of Kiryat Arba, and to the southwest by the settlement of Bet Haggai. Within the heart of Hebron, there are a number of scattered Jewish settlements with a total population of approximately four hundred. In the Oslo accords, the presence of these settlements has led to the remainder of an entire strip on the east of the city under Israeli control (area H2). The settlements in the heart of Hebron severely damage not only the urban development of the city, but also the ability of the residents to live a normal life. The main reason for this is the systematic violence exerted against the residents by the settlers who live in these areas. Since the beginning of the current intifada, and less frequently in earlier periods, the IDF has imposed curfew for extended periods on the 30,000 Palestinians who live in area H2, with the goal of enabling the settlers in the city to continue their regular life, as far as possible." The full B'tselem report can be found here .

A more recent B'tselem report details negative impacts on the Palestinians of Hebron of the current security arrangements in the city, as well as settler violence and severe abuse of Palestinian civilians by IDF soldiers (some cases of which resulted in an official investigation and the disbanding of the Hebron Company of the Border Police).

Perhaps most interesting, the report details an internal presentation prepared by the Israeli Civil Administration about the goals, strategy, and methods of the settlers in Hebron (pp. 9-12). B'tselem points out that the existence of the presentation indicates that "the defense establishment is well aware of what is going on" and notes that "according to the presentation, the settler violence is well planned and is intended to expand the Jewish settlement in Hebron and cause Palestinians to leave their homes in Area H-2."

Produced by Lara Friedman, Government Relations Director, Americans for Peace Now
and Dror Etkes, Settlements Watch Director, Peace Now (Israel)