Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Hebron, Israel/Palestinian Territory, January 4, 2023

It was a long, long day but I think I am starting to figure this country out.  We left at 8 am for Hebron which is a Palestinian city in the southern West Bank.  It has strict rules as to who can enter-

As an International tourist, I’m free to go wherever I like.  The tour was a dual narrative with a Jewish guide who took us there and then he handed us off to a Palestinian guide.  Even though there are few Israelis around, the Israeli police are everywhere-

So are checkpoints. I only had to show my passport once-

The Palestinian side is rubby and has cheap prices compared to Jerusalem.  The people were way more friendly-

They do have a very modern shopping mall that they’re very proud of-

We walked through the market-

where the radishes are the size of baseballs-

  All the fruits and vegetables except for oranges and bananas are grown locally-

There were bread makers-

and we visited a tahini factory.  First the sesame seeds are roasted-

then crushed-

then it’s drinkable-

It was so good!  They also make halva which I’ve come to really like.  Using ground sesame seeds, they add sugar syrup and flavourings.  It’s a sweet, sort of grainy dessert-

We stopped at a dessert/candy shop where they make Turkish delight-

It was good too!

A ceramics shop is affiliated with the tour company-

and in another shop a man was blowing glass-

Product for sale in his shop-

Then we got into the politics.  Hebron has a population of over 215,000 Palestinians (Muslims) and only seven hundred Israelis (Jewish) settlers concentrated on the outskirts of its Old City.  They’re called settlers as a derogatory term because Palestinians claim this land belongs to them.  In Hebron, under the Ibrahim mosque/synagogue are the Caves of the Patriarchs, which Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions all designate as the burial site of three key patriarchal/matriarchal couples- Abraham and Sarah,  Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah.  Hebron is also where David was anointed king of Israel.  Abraham settled here first and bought the Cave of the Patriarchs as a burial place for Sarah.  The city is one of the four holy cities in Judaism and Islam so it’s easy to see why both groups want it.

Before 1997, Israel controlled all of Hebron, even with such a large Palestinian population.  January 17, 1997, the Hebron Protocol was signed which divided the city into 2 zones:  H 1 which is controlled by the PA - Palestinian Authority and H2 which remained under Israeli military control.  35,000 Palestinians and 500 settlers (Israelis) live inside the Old City.  The Palestinian population in H2 is declining because of the Israeli curfews, restrictions on movement and driving as well as the closure of shops and other commercial buildings.  These rules apply to Palestinians only.  All Palestinians in H2 are under the military law while Israeli settlers are under Israeli civil law.

Closed Palestinian shops-

A metal roof has been built above the market street to prevent Israelis from throwing things- 

such as rocks-

We walked through the old city which isn’t nearly as impressive as the Old City in Jerusalem but I doubt anything in the world can compare-

Then we visited the Ibrahim Mosque/Synagogue which was built over Abraham and Sarah’s cave by King Herrod in the last decade of B.C.  

According to, “the current structure is composed of a large enclosure built around a double-chamber cave. There are doubts shrouding even the origin of the enclosure. The Roman historian Josephus (approx. 37 – 100 AD) had listed all structures built by King Herod (rexit: 37–4 BC). However, the site was not on his list and nothing in his writings linked the structure to Herod. Nevertheless, the enclosure’s architecture is undoubtedly Herodian. The structure features the use of large stone blocks the length of which can exceed many meters (7.5 m for the longest), with a height of over one meter (1.4 m for the tallest). A number of archeologists (such as Conder, Betzinger, Robinson, Warren and Heidet) even maintain that the enclosure was built long before Herod’s reign. It should be noted that, despite the structure’s scale and exceptional longevity – in excess of 2000 years, and despite the many powerful earthquakes experienced by the region, it has not lost it stability and has never sustained damage that required restoration. Its stones are finely hewn, with a 10-cm-wide margin surrounding each of them. The original enclosure is a 16m-high southeast-oriented roofless rectangular structure (59.28 m x 33.97 m). Walls are 2.68-meter thick. Each wall consists of two parts. The lower courses are made of normal large and tall stone blocks, while the upper part features a total of 48 protruding square columns (16 on each of the long walls and 8 on each of the short walls), as well as smaller recessed areas between them near the corners. These pilasters increase the structure’s strength and add to it an aesthetic touch that contrasts with the monotony of the lower section’s flat surface. On top of each wall, several clay-plastered courses were added at later times (probably under the Ottomans). This section of the wall was stripped during the last renovation effort and the edges of its stones were lined”.

Entrance to the mosque-

It has had a tumultuous time over the years.  The building stayed pretty much the same until the arrival of the Umayyads (660 – 750 A.D.) who set up a mosque inside called "Al-Heer". Many visitors from Islamic countries came to the city because of the mosque's religious importance as one of the most significant mosques in the Muslim world.
 In 1099, the Crusaders conquered the city and turned the mosque into a church, until the arrival of the Islamic leader Salahaldin in 1187. He restored the country and the mosque so it was under Islamic rule once again.
With the arrival of the Mamluk period (1250 – 1517 A.D.), there was an increase in the importance of the city where it attracted pilgrims and mystics from across the Muslim world. During this period, they expanded the facilities of the mosque through several architectural and construction works without compromising its original features to accommodate the large numbers of visitors from around the world. Then, during the Ottoman period from 1517 – 1917 A.D., the Ottomans were careful in protecting the building and maintaining the great qualities of the mosque without adding new significant things that could change its features.
In 1917, the British took control of the city and the ability of Muslims to take care of their city became weak. 

In 1948 and after the end of the British Mandate in Palestine, Jordan was in control of managing the West Bank. Jordan was keen on expanding spaces around the Ibrahim Mosque to highlight the beauty of its architecture and also wanted to create open spaces around it. 

In 1967, the city fell into the hands of the Israeli occupation. The Israelis created checkpoints around the Ibrahim mosque which controlled who could visit it.  Settlers (Israelis) attacks started almost daily to visitors of the mosque and the Israeli occupation army put many restrictions on anyone who wanted to enter.
In 1994, the Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinian Muslims and wounded 125 in the mosque.  Because of this, the Israeli army transformed half of the mosque into a synagogue.  For 10 days each year, during their major holidays, each group gets the whole building.    

The ceiling is similar to those found in Christian churches-

The wall that separates the building into two-

The front of the service area with the minbar on the right-

The minbar or pulpit.  The Iman gives his sermon from here-

Shoes must be removed upon entering and stored in the cubbyholes-

The call to prayer times-

The women’s prayer area-

The tomb monuments-

We switched guides in a neutral area and visited the Synagogue side where they hang ostrich eggs from the ceiling to keep spiders away-

The Jewish Holy Book is the Torah which is the first 5 books in the Bible:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Ancient Torahs are kept under guard in the Synagogue-

We listened to an American, New York trained lawyer turned Rabbi give us his perspective on the situation.  I asked why he thought the Jews had been persecuted for forever.  He thinks the rest of the world is jealous of them because they do well financially and they lay claim to being the “first” religion.  He also said they are seeing a resurgence in people realizing the importance of faith and believing they have a purpose.  A lot of the people in the world are living without a purpose and that is not a good thing.  I certainly think he’s right about that!

There are memorials throughout the area marking where Jews have been killed-

We carried on up the street that divides H1 and H2-

There were checkpoints every half a block.  We came to an observation area where we had a great view of Hebron-

Nearby a few years ago, an elderly Jewish man was killed just for being Jewish.  The neighbours who are a Palestinian family proudly flew their flag.  People came and threw rocks at their house and today they live in a cage-

Beside the observatory is an excavated stairwell dating to Abraham’s time-

Our last stop on this marathon of a tour was at Jesse and Ruth’s tomb-

There’s a small synagogue attached-

We walked past a Muslim cemetery on the way to the bus stop-

It was a marathon of a day but I learned a lot.  I feel sorry for the Palestinians and a bit of resentment towards the pushy, arrogant Israelis but I’ve still got a few days to learn more.  Tomorrow I’m going on a walking tour in Old Jerusalem and then on another tour called Meet the Ultra Orthodox Jews.  My little pea brain is ready to explode!


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