Netanyahu: Hebron won't be Judenrein

In historic speech, PM promises to improve life for Jews in Hebron; PA calls talk 'provocative' and 'irresponsible'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Hebron, September 4, 2019 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Hebron, September 4, 2019
Jews will remain in Hebron forever, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday during an historic visit to the West Bank city that threatened to spark a religious war and failed to ensure the right-wing support needed to secure his re-election in two weeks.
“Hebron will not be devoid of Jews. It will not be ‘judenrein,’” Netanyahu said.
The Israeli leader spoke as he stood in front of the Tomb of the Patriarch at a ceremony marking 90 years since the 1929 Hebron massacre in which 67 Jews were killed. It was the first time that a sitting prime minister had delivered a public address in Hebron.
The spokesman for the Palestinian Authority Presidency Nabil Abu Rudeineh accused Netanyahu of “Judaizing” Hebron’s old town and the Tomb, which serves as a synagogue for Jews and a mosque for Muslims.
“We hold the Israeli government responsible for the dangerous escalation which aims at dragging the area into a religious war that no one can bear its consequences,” he told the Palestinian news agency WAFA.
The PA Ministry of Religious Affairs added, “It reminds us of [prime minister] Ariel Sharon’s visit in Jerusalem [to the Temple Mount] in 2000, which ignited the Al-Aqsa Intifada.”
Hebron resident and former MK Orit Struck, who is on the Yamina Party’s Knesset slate, called Netanyahu’s remarks “an embarrassment.”
Politicians in Netanyahu’s own Likud party and the Yamina party had set a high bar of expectations for his speech.
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev, both of the Likud, called on Netanyahu to use the platform the ceremony provided to announce the application of sovereignty on Hebron. “Ninety years after 1929, we have to say in a clear voice, ‘It’s time, Hebron. It’s time for sovereignty in Hebron. It’s time for the Jewish community to grow by the thousands in Hebron. It’s time that visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs will become the easiest and most natural thing to do,’” Edelstein said. He spoke during a ceremony for the 1929 victims held earlier in the afternoon in Hebron’s Jewish cemetery.
Prior to Netanyahu’s visit, Hebron’s Jewish community and the Yamina Party had called on him to authorize Jewish building on the site of the abandoned market stalls in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. The stalls are located on property that was owned by Hebron's pre-1929 Jewish community.
“The lands on which so many were murdered have been waiting for you for too long.... What are you waiting for?” Struck asked in her tweet.
Netanyahu must stop procrastinating, Yamina Party head and former justice minster Ayelet Shaked said.
President Reuven Rivlin called on Netanyahu to build a new neighborhood in Hebron at a related event in the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement and was absent from the ceremony later in the day for scheduling reasons.
The prime minister, however, made no such gestures to Hebron as he stood behind a podium, under a white tent, whose flap was open to expose one of the Tome’s exterior walls.
He didn’t speak of sovereignty nor did he promise to authorize Jewish building at the site of the former market stalls. Instead, he touted some of the steps he had already taken to help Hebron.
“I am proud that one year ago, my government approved the plan for the Jewish Quarter, to build dozens of new housing units for the Jews of Hebron," Netanyahu said.
In addition, he said, “Residents moved into Machpela House last week.
"We are also dealing with other important issues that you brought up, regarding accessibility in the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the realization of the historic Jewish property rights,” Netanyahu said.
He linked the survival of Jews in Hebron with Jewish rule in the city. After the massacre, attempt to rebuild Jewish Hebron did not succeed. Such a move was possible only after Israel controlled the city in the aftermath of the Six Day War, he said.
Jews can now enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs, whereas beforehand, they could not go past the seventh step.
“We erased the disgrace of the seventh step,” he said. “We have secured the freedom of religious worship for all: Jews, Muslims and everyone. If we were not here, that would not have happened.”
Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer tweeted that it was "astonishing to hear Netanyahu, who had handed Hebron to [former PA Chairman] Yaser Arafat, speak of how Jews would not be banished from there."
Meretz Party Head Nitzan Horowitz who came to Hebron said he was protesting Netanyahu's despicable use of the 1929 massacre to hug Khana supporters. "Out of all the places in Israel, Netanyahu chose to strengthen the most racist and extremists settlement there was in the territories."
In Kiryat Arba, Rivlin spoke about Hebron's importance to the Jewish people. “Hebron is not an obstacle to peace. It is a test of our ability to live together, Jews and Arabs, to live decent lives side by side."
In recent years, historians have tried to rationalize the 1929 Hebron massacre, to make it appear as if only the Jewish Zionists in the city were targeted, Rivlin said. These claims have no basis in reality, he explained.
“The riots of 1929 were directed against all Jews of all views, simply because they were Jews. No distinction was made. It was indeed Zionism that concluded after the terrible massacre that times had changed, that we would forever have to protect ourselves by our own means, and that all Jews are responsible for each other’s safety," Rivlin said.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted about the Hebron massacre, stating: “Important lesson: Terrorism is always about hatred & violence; never about vindicating political grievances."