Hebron Tourist Attractions
West BankSituation and characteristicsThe town of Hebron (Hebrew Hevron, Arabic El-Khalil), situated in the Judaean Hills between Jerusalem (37km/23mi) and Beersheba (48km/30mi), is the religious center of Islam in the southern part of the Israeli-occupied west bank of the Jordan, as Nablus is in the north.
There is an Islamic university, which is periodically closed by the Israeli authorities on the grounds that it has provoked disturbances.The monumental shrine erected over the cave in which Abraham was buried makes this one of the great sights for visitors with an interest in scriptural history; but since there are frequently violent clashes between Arabs and Israelis in Hebron it is essential before visiting the town to check up on the current situation with the tourist information office in Jerusalem.HistoryHebron is a very ancient city which has been continuously inhabited since its foundation by the Canaanites. The town's religious tradition goes back to Abraham, a patriarch to both the Jews and the Arabs. When his aged wife Sarah died here he bought from Ephron, son of Zohar, the field called Machpelah to the east of Mamre, together with "the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field" (Genesis 23,17-20) and made it his family burial-place. After Sarah Abraham himself, his son Isaac, Isaac's wife Rebecca, his son Jacob and Jacob's wife Leah were likewise buried here. Jacob's son Joseph set out from Hebron to look for his brothers, who were conspiring to kill him (Genesis 37,14).After the death of King Saul at the end of the 11th century B.C. the thirty-year-old David was anointed in Hebron as king of Judah. He lived here for seven and a half years, until the conquest of Jerusalem, with his six wives (including Ahinoam from Jezreel, mother of his first-born son Amnon, Abigail from Carmel, mother of Chileab, and Maacah, mother of Absalom). During this period his general Joab killed Saul's general Abner in Hebron (2 Samuel 3,27). It was at the pool of Hebron that David ordered the execution of the two men who had murdered Ish-bosheth, Saul's last son, and had brought his severed head to David, who then had it buried in Abner's grave (2 Samuel 4,7-12).When the Jews were carried off into captivity in Babylon Edomites from the Negev settled in Hebron in the sixth century B.C., and held the town until Judas Maccabeus attacked and destroyed it in 163 B.C. Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) rebuilt the town and erected the great building which still stands over the cave of Machpelah.In the sixth century A.D. the Emperor Justinian built a church over Machpelah, which was converted into a mosque in the seventh century, after the end of Byzantine rule. In 1215 the cave was opened by Crusaders, who, it is reported, saw the remains of the patriarchs. In 1267 the town was taken by the Mameluke Sultan Baibars, and thereafter Jews and Christians were banned from entering the sacred precinct - a prohibition which continued into modern times. It required a special firman from the Sultan to allow the Prince of Wales to enter the mosque in 1862.At that time Hebron had a population of just under 10,000, including 500 Jews. The Jewish community increased in size at the end of the 19th century when Chassidic Jews from Eastern Europe settled in the town, and there was a further influx from Russia in 1925. In 1929, however, many Jews were killed in a pogrom. After the Six Day War, in 1967, Jews were able to enter the shrine of Machpelah for the first time in 700 years, but at the cost of frequent conflicts between Arabs and Jews.The townThe old town of Hebron has a markedly Oriental character. In the little streets round the Haram el-Khalil are numbers of shops and booths selling foodstuffs, pottery and glass. Northeast of the old town is the settlement of Qiryat Arba, founded in 1968, in which some 700 Israeli families live apart from the Arab population behind barbed wire barricades.
Shrine of the Friend
The Shrine of the Friend (Haram el- Khalil) contains outer walls built by Herod the Great. In the forecourt are four shrines standing over the tombs of patriarchs.
Mamre & Abraham's Oak
Before acquiring the cave of Machpelah Abraham had settled in the plain of Mamre. There he erected an altar (Genesis 13,18), and "the Lord appeared unto him" and he entertained the three angels unawares (Genesis 18,1-2). There too his wife Sarah died, and he buried her in the cave "before Mamre" (Genesis 23,17 and 49,30). This indicates that Mamre lay west of Hebron, and the likeliest site seems to be the Russian Orthodox community of Moskabia 1km/0.75mi west of the new bypass road, with a church of 1871 and the "Oak of Rest" (Balut es-Sebat), also known as Abraham's Oak.
4km/2.5mi north of Hebron is another site linked by tradition with Mamre. This is Beit Ilanim, which lies 500m/550yds east of the road to Jerusalem at an altitude of 1,024m/3,360ft. Here there are remains of structures built of large blocks of dressed stone of the Herodian period. Excavations in 1926 established that the Herodian building was destroyed by Titus in A.D. 70 and rebuilt by Hadrian in 135, with a temple which Constantine replaced by a church in the fourth century. Until its destruction in the seventh century by Persians or Arabs this was regarded by Christian pilgrims as the dwelling-place of Abraham.
Bani Naim, Israel
5km/3mi east of Hebron, at an altitude of 951m/3120ft, is the Arab village of Bani Naim, with a mosque built over a Byzantine church which according to a local tradition contains the tomb of Lot. From here there is a fine view of the Dead Sea.
A side road which turns off the Beersheba road 6km/4mi south of Hebron leads in 6 kilometers to the large Arab village of Yatta, the Juttah of the Old Testament. Many of the houses are built of re-used ashlar blocks, and there are remains of a sixth century synagogue.
Karmel & Maon
5km/3mi southeast of Yatta is the large and as yet unexcavated ancient site of Karmel. The Biblical Carmel, along with Maon (2km/1.25mi south), where there are also extensive unexcavated remains, belonged to a rich man named Nabal, whose wife Abigail left Carmel after his death and married David (1 Samuel 25,2-42).
A road runs south from Yatta to Sammu, the Biblical Eshtemoa (Joshua 21,14). Near the village mosque the remains of a third century synagogue, which seems to have continued in existence in the early Islamic period until the eighth century, were excavated in 1935.
Horvat Suseya, Israel
A country track runs east from Sammu to Horvat Suseya (Sussia; 5km/3mi), where a large synagogue with a marble doorway, a women's gallery, a mosaic of a menorah (seven-branched candlestick) and a number of inscriptions was excavated some years ago. With their traditional farming methods, their flocks and herds and their whole way of life the people of this remote hill village seem still to be living in the world of the patriarchs.
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