Hebron (city, West Bank)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Hebron (city, West Bank)

Hebron, Arab. Al-Khalil, city (2003 est. pop. 155,000), the West Bank. Hebron is situated at an altitude of 3,000 ft (910 m) in a region where grapes, cereal grains, and vegetables are grown. Tanning, food processing, glassblowing, and the manufacture of shoes and sheepskin coats are the major industries. The city is also a road junction. 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 Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. Hebron was known in the earlier years as Kirjath-arba or Kiriath-arba [Heb.,=city of four]. David ruled the Hebrews from Hebron for seven years before moving his capital to Jerusalem, and Absalom began his revolt in Hebron.

The city figured in many wars in Palestine. It was taken (2d cent. BC) 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.

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