Hebron: the roots of violence

On last Friday, May 2, a group of some 100 young Jews from the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba came into the nearby Arab city of Hebron, visited the great central structure which is believed by both Muslims and Jews to contain the remains of their mutual tribal ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives, and headed toward the section of the city which had been the Jewish quarter before 1929.

Along the route several Arabs opened fire from rooftops on the column, killing six and wounding 17. Among those killed was Elia Hazeev, who had been convicted a year before of breaking into Arab houses in Hebron, beating residents, smashing furniture, and ordering the Arabs to leave Hebron. Elia Hazeev died with eight bullets in his back.

The Arab attack followed by one day the killing of an Arab youth who had allegedly attempted to take a rifle away from an Israeli soldier. It followed mounting tension between Arabs and Jews throughout the occupied West Bank as the May 26 date approaches when, under the Camp David agreements, there is supposed to be an arrangement for political autonomy for Arabs living under Israeli occupation.

Hebron was a predominantly Jewish city in Biblical times. Most Jews were driven out of Palestine in the great dispersal which followed the Jewish revolt against the Romans and the resulting destruction of the Jewish Kingdom in 73 A.D. But a small Jewish community managed to stay on in Hebron (others survived in Jerusalem. Tiberias, and Safed) right down in 1929.

In 1929 Arabs rioted all over Palestine against the rising tide of Jewish immigration which had followed after World War I with the "Balfour Declaration" which committed Britain, the mandatory power, to the concept of a Jewish homeland "in" Palestine. There had been an estimated 90,000 Jews in all Palestine at the end of the war in 1918. By 1929 the number had grown to 150, 000. The rate of Jewish immigration was rising. Arabs, then numbering 590,000, feared that they might become a minority in what they regarded as their own country.

Rioting began in Jerusalem on Aug. 1. British police managed for a time to hold it in check, but on Aug. 23 Muslims and Jews fought a battle at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Trouble spread all over Palestine. British troops were rushed in from Egypt and as far away as Malta. By Aug. 31 the situation was more or less "under control," but in the process the Jewish community in Hebron had been virtually wiped out. Some 70 had been killed, the survivors fled. Hebron became a totally Arab city and has so remained to these times.

The attempt of the Jews to regain a position in Hebron dates from 1968 when a Jewish settlement was started on a hill just outside Hebro around an Israeli military post. There has been trouble ever since between Jews in that settlement and the Arabs in Hebron. The settlement itself, known now as Kiryat Arba, is one of the largest and most modern of all such settlements in Arab territory. It is a large, gray, masonry structure which looms above Hebron like some medieval fortress.

Beginning, then, in 1 968, Jews from Kiryat Arba have been trying to reestablish a Jewish position inside Hebron itself. The government of Israel has forbidden such attempts. It still, in theory, disapproves. But the zealous settlers at Kiryat Arba are difficult to discourage. They are members of the Gush Emunim sect which is led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger. Rabbi Levinger believes the Arabs should be driven out of what he calls Judea and Samaria, and the lands and cities cleared for Jews. If he had his way, the million Arabs in the occupied West Bank would join their kin in exile in other Arab lands. The attempt to penetrate Hebron from Kiryat Arba has been one of his major efforts for years.

Both Arab and Jewish communities sense, correctly, that a moment of decision is at hand. If the negotiations going on now under provision of the Camp David accords actually do bring bona fide autonomy to the Arabs of the West Bank, and other occupied territory, then the more fanatical Zionists will have lost. But if the Israelis can make headway, can force their own government to back them in places like Hebron, can prevent any real autonomy for Arabs -- then Zionism will be triumphant, and there will be still more Arab refugees outside Palestine, and sooner or later more wars.

Every bullet fired in these troubles is fired, and every Arab or Jew killed is killedM in a grim struggle for control of the occupied lands of Palestine. Are the Jews to have all of Palestine for their "homeland," or must they be satisfied to share it with the Arabs?

This is a war between the more extreme Zionists (many Israelis want no part of it) and the Arabs. Hebron is one battlefield in that war. It is tying down an increasing proportion of the Israeli Army. The PLO claims responsibility for the May 2 attack at Hebron. There will be many more such fights until this war is settled one way or the other.

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