Dueling narratives. Competing victim stories. Cognitive dissonance. Surreal. These are the words that capture a day spent in the second oldest city in the world, one of the most contested places in Israel/Palestine, and truly, a key home for monotheistic religion. Hebron. A city of 350,000 in the southern West Bank, Hebron is home to the Avriham Mosque, the Abrihim Synagogue, and the “Tombs of the Patriarchs,” all in the same building – a mosque / synagogue built in the days of Herod, and a 1/10 scale re-creation of the second temple. The caves underneath it are believed to house the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Isaac, Ruth, Leah – the patriarchs of Judaism and Islam. In Judaism, Hebron is the second most holy site after the Western Wall. In Islam, it is the fourth most important religious site. It is also a city that includes 11 Jewish settlements, including Avraham Arivu, which is right in the middle of the city. Its mosque/synagogue is divided into a Muslim part, and a Jewish part. Neither have access to the other side, and according to the Hebron Wye River Accords of 1997, Jews have full access to the building 10 days of the year, and Muslims, for another 10 days. It is the ONLY religious site I have ever visited (mosque/synagogue/church), in which there are armed checkpoints to enter, as well as armed soldiers throughout the facility.
Hebron has several thousand Jewish settlers, dating back to the very first west bank settlement, Kiryat Arba, which began in 1968. The city had a small Jewish population during the British Mandate period, and as the resting place of Abraham and Sarah, has always been an important part of Judea. Until the 1920s, there was relative coexistence, but it all un-raveled in 1929, when 67 Jews were massacred by Arabs, and the Britsh drove the remaining Jews from the city. The city was the site of a brutal murder, in 1994, when 14 Muslims were killed INSIDE the mosque by an Israeli soldier. The 1997 peace accords divided the city into two zones, H1, and H2. H1 is entirely Palestinian, and under Palestinian control. H2 is Jewish, but has a 20% Palestinian population, is entirely under Israeli control. The history is complex, and I do it a dis-service.