Hebron is an ancient biblical city in Erez Israel located in the Judean Hills, 19 miles south of Jerusalem.
The name Hebron may derive from the Hebrew word "haber" meaning friend, or from the Arabic "haber" meaning granary. In Arabic it is known as al-Khalil, which means "the city of the beloved" and refers to Abraham (see below). In the Bible, Hebron is also called Kiriath-Arba (Gen. 23:2).
Hebron was founded around the year 1727 b.c.e. on Jebel al-Rumayda, a hill near to the present town. At about this time, the Patriarch Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite, and it was here that the Jewish forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their wives were buried. Hebron, however, remained a Canaanite city until it was captured by the Jews in the time of Joshua. Several hundred years later (c. 1010 b.c.e.), David was anointed king of Israel in Hebron.
Hebron remained a Jewish city until the destruction of the First Temple in 586 b.c.e., when the Jews were exiled to Babylon; however, it became a Jewish city again around the second century b.c.e. A Jewish settlement continued to exist there under various foreign rulers until the 20th century c.e., except for a short period when Hebron was under Crusader rule (1100--1260 c.e.) and all the Jews were temporarily expelled.
Although the Jewish settlement in Hebron was small, it was considered very important by the Jews, who made frequent pilgrimages to the Cave of Machpelah. It also became an important spiritual center during the 16th century, after many learned Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 had settled there.
By the 17th century many important kabbalists and scholars had also settled in Hebron; a yeshivah was founded in 1659. In 1662 the pseudo-Messiah Shabbetai Zevi visited the Jewish community and impressed its members, but his final disgrace led to an economic and spiritual decline. The influence of the kabbalists was felt until the 19th century, when Habad Hasidim and other leading rabbis settled there and established several new educational institutions.
The flourishing period of Jewish settlement in Hebron came to an end in 1914, with the outbreak of World War I. After the war the Jewish settlement began to recover, but was destroyed in 1929 by Arab rioters who killed 67 men, women and children and wounded 60 others. The community was resettled in 1931, but was again destroyed by the Arab upheavals of 1936. In 1948 Hebron became part of the kingdom of Jordan. It was captured by Israel in the Six-Day war of June 1967, and there is now a Jewish settlement of 4,000 inhabitants called Kiriyat Araba adjacent to Hebron. Jewish presence in Hebron proper was resumed in Jewish-owned buildings in the city. Yeshivot were also established there.
Uniquely among West Bank cities, Jews and Arabs live side-by-side in Hebron. In the 1990s, there are approximately 400-500 Jewish settlers living next to 120,000 Arabs. These Jewish settlers place ideology over personal safety. Hebron is the stronghold of the Islamic extremist movement Hamas who has more support here than in any other West Bank region. It is also home to the ideological core of the Jewish settlement movement which includes leaders and members of the religious extremist Kach group and the settler movement Gush Emunim, from which the 1980s Jewish terror underground sprouted. In 1994, doctor and Kach activist Baruch Goldstein walked into the Cave of Makhpelah and killed 29 Muslim worshippers. Under the Oslo Accords II, 80% of Hebron is to be handed over to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Despite the March 1996 pullback date, four devastating Hamas suicide bombings forced the Labor Government to postpone withdrawal.