Last updated on: 6/18/2008 12:05:00 PM PST

Where Is Hebron, and What Is Its Religious Significance to Jews and Muslims?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published an Oct. 28, 1996 article, titled "Hebron: Historical Background and Statistics," on its website that stated:

"Hebron (Al-Khalil in Arabic) is located 32 km. south of Jerusalem in the Judean hills, and sits between 870 and 1,020 meters above sea level...

The Hebrew word 'Hebron' is (inter alia) explained as being derived from the Hebrew word for 'friend' ('haver'), a description for the Patriarch Abraham, who was considered to be the friend of God. The Arabic 'Al- Khalil' -- literally 'the friend' -- has a nearly identical derivation, and also refers to the Patriarch Abraham (Ibrahim), whom Muslims similarly describe as the friend of God.

Hebron has approximately 120,000 (Sunni Muslim) Arab residents [According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) this number reached 166,003 for mid-year 2006]. Hebron's Jewish population, comprised of 45 Jewish families and around 150 yeshiva students, is about 500. Hebron's three Christian residents are the custodians of the city's Russian church. An additional 6,000 Jews [7,000 as of 2007 according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS)] live in the adjacent community of Kiryat Arba."

Oct. 28, 1996 - Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

The Columbia Encyclopedia online (sixth edition), in an entry for "Hebron," accessed on Apr. 10, 2008, contained the following description:


Tomb of Abraham
undated photo
(accessed online Apr. 25, 2008)

Tomb of Isaac
undated photo
(accessed online Apr. 25, 2008)

"Hebron has usually had a significant Jewish population, although following Arab riots in 1929 most Jews left and did not return until after the Israeli occupation following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when numerous Jewish settlements were established outside Hebron. One of Judaism's four holy cities, Hebron is also a sacred place for Muslims.

The site of ancient Hebron, which antedates the biblical record, has not been precisely determined. The Bible first mentions Hebron in connection with Abraham. The cave of Machpelah (also called the Cave of the Patriarchs; now enclosed by the Mosque of Ibrahim) is the traditional burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. David ruled the Hebrews from Hebron for seven years before moving his capital to Jerusalem, and Absalom began his revolt in Hebron.

The city has figured in many wars in Palestine. It was taken (2d cent. b.c.) by Judas Maccabeus (see Maccabees) and temporarily destroyed by the Romans. In 636 it was conquered by the Arabs and made an important place of pilgrimage, later to be seized (1099) by the Crusaders and renamed St. Abraham, and retaken (1187) by Saladin. It later became (16th cent.) part of the Ottoman Empire.

In the 20th cent., Hebron was incorporated (1922–48) in the League of Nations Palestine mandate, and in 1948 it was absorbed by Jordan. As one of the major towns in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the city became a focus of Jewish-Arab tensions. The emergence of the Intifada in the 1980s was accompanied by an escalation of violence, and in 1994 the Mosque of Ibrahim was the site of the murder of Muslim worshipers by an extremist Israeli settler. Under the agreement establishing Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank, the Israeli occupation of Hebron was scheduled to end by Mar., 1996. After setbacks and delays, most of the town of Hebron was handed over to Palestinian control in Jan., 1997."

Apr. 10, 2008 - Columbia Encyclopedia (6th edition) 

Fuad Sultan Tamimi, an engineer in charge of the Visually Impaired Training Centre of Al-Quds Open University in Hebron, wrote in a Dec. 2006 article posted on the news website titled "Hebron: Heritage of Palestine":

The city of Hebron
Image by David Rabkin (accessed online Apr. 25, 2008)

"Hebron is one of the most important and oldest cities in Palestine’s history, dating back more than 6,000 years. It is called ‘Al-Khalil’, or ‘Khalil Al-Rahman’, abbreviated from ‘The City of the Friend of God’, the friend of God being the prophet Abraham or, as he is referred to by the Arabs, ‘Abuna Ibrahim Al-Khalil’-‘Our Father Abraham, the Friend’. Thus Hebron is regarded as holy by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike...

Hebron is considered to be one of the holiest places in Palestine and welcomes many religious visitors, most of whom are Muslim. The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is said to have given the area of Hebron to one of his companions, Tamim Ibn Aus Al-Dari. The descendants of Tamim still exist in large numbers in Hebron, Nablus, and Jordan. Moreover, Hebron is familiar to most of Palestine’s inhabitants, who refer to the gate from Jerusalem that leads to Hebron as ‘Bab Al-Khalil’, or ‘the Gate of Hebron’, rather than other names often used by tourists, such as Jaffa Gate...

The Russian Orthodox Church, considered to be the only Christian site in the city, was built near the oak of Abraham. This site commemorates the promise made to Abraham that he would become the father of a son, Isaac. Until recently, visiting pilgrims would often cut small pieces of the oak trunk for good luck."

Dec. 2006 - Fuad Sultan Tamimi 

The Jewish Virtual Library, an online Jewish encyclopedia, in an entry for "Hebron," accessed on Apr. 25, 2008, contained the following description:

Hebron's Ibrahim Mosque - Cave of Machpelah (Tomb of the Patriarchs)
Image by David Rabkin (accessed online Apr. 25, 2008)

"Hebron is the site of the oldest Jewish community in the world, which dates back to Biblical times. 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. According to Jewish tradition, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah are buried in the Tomb.

Hebron has a long and rich Jewish history. It was one of the first places where the Patriarch Abraham resided after his arrival in Canaan. King David was anointed in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years. One thousand years later, during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, the city was the scene of extensive fighting. Jews lived in Hebron almost continuously throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman periods...

Hebron contains many sites of Jewish religious and historical significance, in addition to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. These include the Tombs of Othniel Ben Kenaz (the first Judge of Israel) and Avner Ben Ner (general and confidante to Kings Saul and David), and Ruth and Jesse (great-grandmother and father, respectively, of King David)...

Numbers 13:22 states that (Canaanite) Hebron was founded seven years before the Egyptian town of Zoan, i.e. around 1720 BCE, and the ancient (Canaanite and Israelite) city of Hebron was situated at Tel Rumeida. The city's history has been inseparably linked with the Cave of Machpelah, which the Patriarch Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite for 400 silver shekels (Genesis 23), as a family tomb. As recorded in Genesis, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah and Leah, are buried there, and — according to a Jewish tradition — Adam and Eve are also buried there.

Hebron is mentioned 87 times in the Bible, and is the world's oldest Jewish community. Joshua assigned Hebron to Caleb from the tribe of Judah (Joshua 14:13-14), who subsequently led his tribe in conquering the city and its environs (Judges 1:1-20). As Joshua 14:15 notes, 'the former name of Hebron was Kiryat Arba...'

Following the death of King Saul, God instructed David to go to Hebron, where he was anointed King of Judah (II Samuel 2:1-4). A little more than 7.5 years later, David was anointed King over all Israel, in Hebron (II Samuel 5:1-3).

The city was part of the united kingdom and — later — the southern Kingdom of Judah, until the latter fell to the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Despite the loss of Jewish independence, Jews continued to live in Hebron (Nehemiah 11:25), and the city was later incorporated into the (Jewish) Hasmonean kingdom by John Hyrcanus. King Herod (reigned 37-4 BCE) built the base of the present structure — the 12 meter high wall — over the Tomb the Patriarchs."

Apr. 25, 2008 - Jewish Virtual Library  

Anita Vitullo, a Jerusalem-based researcher and writer, wrote in article published in the Fall 2003 edition of the Journal of Palestine Studies titled "People Tied to Place: Strengthening Cultural Identity in Hebron's Old City":

"Settlement of the ancient site of Hebron has been traced to before 3500 B.C. and is attributed mainly to its elevated location at a crossing point between continents. However, the town would not have held much importance beyond its immediate region were it not for its reputation as a religious site. The double cave, which according to legend was purchased by Abraham as a family burial site, has been duly preserved for millennia. The shrine began as a monument built over the tomb by Herod, and in later centuries was rebuilt of mammoth, finely cut stone set without mortar, expanded into a cemetery, and then walled.

It was in the early Islamic period that Hebron's residential center shifted southeast from Tel Rumeida to the area around Ibrahimi [Ibrahim Mosque], where guesthouses were built to accommodate pilgrims, and later families began to build houses. Many of these structures were destroyed during the Crusades, and rebuilt by Salah al-Din, including Ibrahimi Mosque, where Salah al-Din relocated a magnificent Fatimid-era minbar, which remains in the main prayer hall today. As of 1266, the shrine - which had been remodeled from church to mosque twice over - became exclusively a Muslim holy site, and Jews and Christians were no longer permitted to enter the sanctuary. It remained so for seven hundred years until, under Israeli occupation, a section was taken for a synagogue. From earliest Islam, the sanctuaries of Hebron and Jerusalem [al-Haram al-Ibrahimi and al-Haram al-Sharif] were holy places outranked only by Mecca and Medina; the Ibrahimi Mosque was regarded by many as Islam's fourth holiest site. Muslims believe that the Hebron sanctuary was visited by the Prophet Muhammad on his mystical nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. An atmosphere of 'miracles and mysticism' surrounded the tomb and attracted worshippers who came seeking Ibrahim's intercession. Under the Ayyubids and Mamluks, the town became a center of Islamic scholarship and home to several dozen active Sufi orders."

Fall 2003 - Anita Vitullo