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Photography on this page by Charleston C. K. Wang, Shirley Wang, or Arthur Wang
Copyright 2010-2012 All Rights Reserved Charleston C. K. Wang, Esq., Publisher
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  (Hebron is also called City of Arba, el-Khalil, Hevron, Kiriath-Arba, Kirjath Arba)

A commendable aspect of the St. George's College course "The Bible and its
Setting" is that we got to go to many biblical sites outside of Jerusalem.  The first
such site was Hebron.  It is recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures that Sarah died at  
Kiriath-arba (now called Hebron) in the land of Canaan.  She was the most beloved
wife of Abraham, married though he had been to Hagar, mother of Ishmael.   
Abraham greatly mourned Sarah's death and soon it was time to bury her.  
Abraham said to the Hittites: "I am a stranger and an alien residing among you;
give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of
my sight."  In the negotiations which followed, Abraham assented to the payment
of four hundred shekels of silver for the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was
to the east of Mamre. This field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that
were in the field, throughout its whole area, passed to Abraham; there Abraham
buried Sarah his wife in the cave within Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron)
in the land of Canaan.  
See, Genesis 23.  

To this day Abraham is widely accepted as a senior patriarch of the three great
monotheistic faiths of the world.  His father, Terah was from the land of Ur of the
Chaldeans (somewhere in present day Iraq) and while the tribe was resting at
Haran, Terah died.  Abraham, then known as Abram, heard God tell him to get out
of his country and from his father's house to a land that God will reveal.  Abram,
whose obedience is renowned, complied.    Abram became an sojourner and was
an alien in Hebron.  
See, Genesis 11:21-32.  After Sarah, Abraham (Gen 25:9), his
son Isaac, Rebekah and Leah (Gen 49:31) and his grandson Jacob (Gen 50:13)
(also known later as Israel, after surviving an wrestling encounter with an angel)  
were all buried in the cave of  Machpelah of Hebron.  Rachel, however, was buried
Bethlehem. (But where is Joseph's Tomb?)

On the right, you can see six photos of the interior of Tomb of the Patriarchs (or
more accurately Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs).  The first photo shows
the Cenotaph of Abraham (a cenotaph is a marker memorializing a person whose
body lies elsewhere) in the center of the sanctuary.   A near identical monument for
Sarah lies next to Abraham's.  These markers can be traced to the 10th century
and their present design is from the 14th.  The second photo shows the
Cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebecca, this photo being a unusual fish-eye view which
also captures the beauty of the ceiling and pillars of the sanctuary.  Not shown are
the Cenotaphs for Jacob and Leah which are located across a courtyard.  The
third picture is a standard lens photo of the Cenotaph of Isaac.  The fourth photo
shows the entrance to the caves which is now sealed and inaccessible.  The last
two photos show the 12th century crusader ceilings in the sanctuary,  A careful
examination of the WANGNEWS masthead of this webpage, another fish-eye
photo, will reveal the
minbar (center right of photo) of the sanctuary which dates
back to 1043 (please click on photo for larger view).  
Minbar is Arabic for pulpit,
which in this instance is a beautiful raised wooden structure with staircase.  Next
to it on the left in the center of the photo is the
qibla, i.e. a prayer pointer towards
Mecca which is housed in a decorated niche called a

The astute reader can now surmise that we are inside a mosque, the Islamic house
of worship, al-Haram al-Ibrahimi.  This holy ground is also the second holiest site
for Jews, after the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  According to Midrash, Esau's partial
remains, that is only the head, was also interred in Hebron (recall that Esau and
Jacob, sons of Isaac, had a family feud over inheritance).  Access to these tombs
is sought by Christian pilgrims as well.   The caves of Machpelah was first
completely enclosed by Herod the Great with thick stone walls but without a roof
(to the Jews of his time, this Idumean or Edomite was an unpopular tyrant and
many viewed him as a decadent Roman vassal).  Sometime during the Byzantine
era, a basilica was erected and a partial roof added to the enclosure.   In 614,
Persian conquerers destroyed the church.  The Muslims who followed in 637
restored the site as holy ground.  Various buildings were constructed on the site
over the centuries, including a
kalah or castle in middle of the southwestern wall.   
In 1100 Christian crusaders ejected the Muslims and added a gabled roof and
vaulted ceiling.  The great Kurdish general, Saladin (Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb)
in turn re-took the city in 1188 and added minarets at each corner (two survive to
the present) and the
minbar.  He permitted Christian pilgrims to visit the shrine.  In
the 14th century the Mamluks from Egypt installed the cenotaphs in the form we
see today and they barred the Jews from entering the sanctuary save to the 5th
and then 7th step of the stairway into the mosque.

Taking a quantum leap to the modern era - - - as a result of the 1967 Six Days War,
Israel captured Hebron and Jews once more prayed inside Me'arat ha'Machpela
after a hiatus of 1400 years.   Israelis rushed to settle in Hebron and tension with
the Palestinians continues to the present.   On February 25, 1994, a Jewish
extremist shot to death 29 Palestinian Muslims at prayer and wounded 125 using
an assault rifle, before he was beaten to death in the very same mosque we are
visiting.  Ensuing riots killed another 26 Palestinians and 9 Israelis (twentieth
century violence at Hebron is not restricted to this incident - for example, in August
1929, Muslims killed 67 Jews living there). In 1995, under the Wye River Accords, a
part of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, custody of most of the site, including
the vital tombs, passed to an Islamic waqf or religious trust; access by Jews to a
great part of the sacred space was restricted to 10 days each year.  

The Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (also called Oslo 2),
signed on September 28, 1995, following the 1993 Oslo Accords, (officially called
the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements) gave
Palestinians self-rule in Hebron.  Today, Jewish settlements in Hebron consisting
of about 600 persons in a city of 30,000 continue to be a source of friction and are
lightning rods for potential violence by both sides.  These settlements also
constitute stumbling blocks in the on-going peace process.   IDF troops ring these
settlements, as well as the Tombs.  Restrictions in the movement of civilians are
imposing considerable hardship on the Palestinian population of Hebron.  For a
recent report from the International Committee of the Red Cross, ending with a
warning about water shortage during the onset of a hot summer, please
click here.

Hence, my characterization,
The Hebron Cauldron.

In a visual shift of context, the next photo shows a Palestinian street protest for the
release of detainees which we saw when we were in Hebron.   The eight thumbnail
inserts show IDF strongpoints and/or troops operating inside Hebron.  The
gentleman in the red cap on the lower left insert is a member of the Christian
Peacemaker Teams who is a volunteer interposed in Hebron in an effort to
enhance the tranquility there.  For a May 4, 2010 report from the Christian
Peacemakers on Hebron, please
click here.   

The final picture at the bottom of this column shows Merelyn Bates-Mims from
Christ Church Cathedral of Cincinnati, Ohio USA with Palestinian mothers and
children of varying ages.  In a quite palpable sense, all these scenes observed in
Hebron represent the overall unease on the ground all over Israel-Palestine; the
humanitarian shortages being worse in Gaza than in the West Bank.

Hebron is located 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem - ancient roads from the
Negev, from Arad to the south and Beersheba to the southwest meet here making
Hebron a natural converging point of peoples from the Negev with those of the Hill
Country of Judah - like Jericho to the east it is strategically important as a gateway
to Jerusalem from the south.  Added to the stubborn on-going political and
economic disputes between the two sides are the religious stresses and loads that
span millennia.   According to the Bible, before conquering Jerusalem from the
Jebusites, King David maintained his capital in Hebron (2 Sam 5:1-5). Interestingly,
when Absalom, one of the many sons of David, rebelled against his father, he
seized upon Hebron as base for his campaign against Jerusalem and the throne (2
Sam 15-18:15).   The religious memory and biblical prerogatives, while not the sole
sources of differences, add to the difficulty for peace; resort to religion and
scripture can be a trigger for fighting, and thereafter, a justification for it.    

The historical record of the Christian presence in these holy lands is not without
its legacy of violence and these include the crusades as an enduring example of
bloodshed against both Muslims and Jews, as well as, the after effects of western
colonialism which reach into the modern times.  Yet peace in the Holy Land seems
within grasp.  Israel when making her peace with Egypt in 1979 vacated the Sinai
Peninsula and to this day this compact forms a vital underpinning of all future
peace talks.  Camp David 2000 marked an opportunity which the Palestinians
rejected, one in which they would have gained almost all of the West Bank and all
of Gaza.  The search for peace will continue.

Are the holy scriptures, in particular those pertaining to the nature and extent of
the Promised Land, a source of continuing tension in the seemingly intractable
Israeli-Palestinian peace process?  To provide hope through the articulation of a
lesser known vision from a major Hebrew prophet (referred to in the Koran as
"Hizqil" or "Dhu al-Kifl"), I respectfully offer for consideration by the gentle reader
who may be inclined towards Scriptural authority, the following passage:

"So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel.
You  shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who
reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to
you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among
the tribes of Israel.  In whatever tribe aliens reside, there you shall assign
them their inheritance, says the Lord God."
  Ezekiel 47:21-23.

This is a biblical road-map for the division and sharing of the land, however
shared, but shared nonetheless - and the way to peace, is it not?

Charleston C. K. Wang, 05/15/2010.  Mr. Wang is a Cincinnati attorney who
practices Immigration and Nationality Law (including the law of asylum) and a
member of Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, Ohio USA.
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