Israel's ties to Hebron undeniable, Herzog says at Cave of Patriarchs

Palestinians and Israeli left-wing politicians and activists protested the president's decision to visit the city.

President Isaac Herzog President Isaac Herzog lights a menorah on the first night of Hanukkah at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, November 28, 2021. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog President Isaac Herzog lights a menorah on the first night of Hanukkah at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, November 28, 2021.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

The historic ties of the Jewish people and the State of Israel to the biblical city of Hebron are beyond dispute, President Isaac Herzog said on Sunday, as he marked the first night of Hanukkah by lighting a candle in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

“My brothers and sisters, today too, with all the complexities – and I am not ignoring these complexities for a moment – the historical affinity of the Jewish people to Hebron, to the Cave of the Patriarchs, to the heritage of our matriarchs and patriarchs, is not in doubt,” Herzog said. “Recognition of this attachment must be beyond all controversy.”

Palestinians and Israeli left-wing politicians and activists protested his decision to visit the city, which is one of the flashpoints of violence for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas threatened violence in the wake of Herzog’s visit to Cave.

The international community, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Left believe that Hebron should be set within the final borders of a future Palestinian state.

President Isaac Herzog speaks on the first night of Hanukkah in Hebron, November 28, 2021. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)President Isaac Herzog speaks on the first night of Hanukkah in Hebron, November 28, 2021. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

The Arab League condemned the “provocative” move, charging that it disregarded the feelings of Muslims, according to the Palestinian News Agency Wafa. In downtown Palestinian Hebron, activists clashed with the IDF.

Joint List Party head MK Ayman Odeh said that Herzog “did not go to light the first candle, he went to set Hebron ablaze.”

MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) said he had intended to stand in front of the cave to protest Herzog’s visit along with other activists but was prevented from doing so by the Israel Police.

Activists held a protest at the entrance to the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement instead.

“We came to say no to apartheid, no to fascism, no to violating Palestinian human rights in our name,” the left-wing group Peace Now tweeted from the protest.

President Isaac Herzog speaks on the first night of Hanukkah at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, November 28, 2021.

Herzog, who supports a two-state resolution to the conflict, has been a strong advocate of the Jewish connection to the city.

On Sunday, he stood in one of the tomb’s small Jewish sanctuaries and spoke of those roots and his own family’s five-generation history with the city.

Herzog recalled that the biblical ancestors were buried there and that its sale to Abraham was recorded in the Bible.

When his father, Chaim Herzog, was Israel’s ambassador to the UN in 1976 and he reached the portion of Genesis that described the sale, Herzog said, it was “agreed that these verses would be circulated as an official document of the United Nations – a document that proves and exemplifies our connection to the Cave of the Patriarchs. And thus, the title deed for this holy site became an official document of the United Nations Security Council.”

But his family’s story went back further, he said, to his great-great-grandmother Rabbanit Faya Hillman, the mother of Rabbi Shmuel Yitzhak Hillman, who was a dayan (judge of Jewish law) at the London Beth Din.

Faya was from Lithuania, and after her husband’s death she moved to the “holy city of Hebron,” Herzog said. She was present for the 1929 Hebron massacre when Arab rioters killed 67 Jews.

Faya’s life was spared because she pretended “to be dead after her serious injury,” Herzog recalled.

Herzog said that the Tomb of the Patriarchs could be a bridge of peace rather than a source of strife.

“We are not the only ones whose roots branch out from this tomb,” Herzog said. “Today, of all days, here, of all places, in this site sacred to all Children of Abraham, we must continue to dream about peace between all religions and faiths in his land, and to denounce all forms of hatred and violence.”

The Palestinian Authority and the Hebron Municipality said that they viewed the tomb, which also houses the Ibrahimi Mosque, as solely a Muslim site.

Raz tweeted earlier that there was no connection between Hebron today and the historic city of yesteryear.

The souls of those who visit it “recoil in shame and horror” once they know the story of its Palestinian residents, he said.

Hebron has a population of close to 200,000 Palestinians and a Jewish community of 1,000.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu worked to strengthen Israel’s connection to the city, including a visit to the city, where he delivered a speech on the plaza outside the Tomb.

Herzog’s predecessor, president Reuven Rivlin, also visited Hebron.

Hebron, said Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, “always has been and always will be an indispensable part of the Jewish people’s story.”