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Emet m'Tsiyon

Friday, December 29, 2006

More on Hebron in the 19th Century -- Part III

Saul Friedman goes on with his account of 19th century Hebron and his compilation of quotes about the city from travelers' accounts:
The worst example of Islamic bigotry operated at the Haram, the fortress structure [the Tomb of the Patriarchs built by King Herod] which rose over the blackened Cave of Machpelah. . . as Cook's [Cook's Handbook, p 149] advised, "The traveller can only stand a short way off from the entrance; he dare not enter, the place being guarded with most jealous care by the Moslems." It was advice well-taken. Elizabeth Butler wrote of "insolent-looking Muslims" who barred the way. "Had we attempted to enter," wrote Ms Butler, "we should have had a bad quarter of an hour from the Mahometans. These sons of the Bondwoman [= Hagar, mother of Ishmael, forefather of the Arabs] would stone any son of the Free who would attempt an entry." A contemporary, Henry Van Dyke, was only a trifle more successful [Friedman, p 135; E Butler, Letters from the Holy Land, p 37 ]:
The modern town has about twenty thousand inhabitants, chiefly Mohammedans of a fanatical temper, and is incredibly dirty. We passed the muddy pool by which King David, when he was reigning here, hanged the murderers of Ishbosheth. We climbed the crooked streets to the Mosque [the Tomb of the Patriarchs, called by Muslims al-Masjid al-Ibrahimi] which covers the supposed site of the cave of Machpelah. But we did not see the tomb of Abraham [Ibrahim in Arabic], for no "Infidel" is allowed to pass beyond the seventh step in the flight of stairs which leads up to the doorway. [Friedman, p 135; Van Dyke, Out-of-Doors in the Holy Land, p 99]
Despite the chatter about Islamic toleration so common nowadays, in particular Arafat's claims about Muslim-Arab tolerance in his UN General Assembly speech [13 November 1974],
no Christian could proceed beyond the fifth, then seventh step leading into the mosque until the Prince of Wales was accorded that distinction in 1862. Over the next forty years, a select handful of dignitaries followed. Only in 1919 when the British came to rule. . . [the Land of Israel] were non-Muslim commoners granted access to the inner chambers and whitewashed plaster mounds [grave markers or symbolic graves] within the mosque. Once again, however, there was a stipulation that visitors secure a letter of endorsement from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. [Friedman, p 135] In practice, this meant that while some Christians could enter the building deemed holy to three faiths, Jews could not. Throughout the Mandatory period, Jews were still barred on pain of death from proceeding beyond the thick green stripe of paint that marked the seventh step leading to the door of the mosque. On certain days of the year, they were permitted to stuff notes of supplication addressed to "Father Abraham" into an aperture along the eastern wall. But, as John Kelman sadly reported, "The Moslem boys are said to know that the hole has no great depth, and collect these letters and burn them before Abraham has seen them." [Kelman, The Holy Land, p 235]. It was not until the Six Day War of 1967 that Jews could be admitted to what was one of their most sacred shrines. [Friedman, p 136]
It's nice to know that in this world of disorder, hostility and violence, there was one place where tolerance prevailed and the milk of human kindness washed through the streets.
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Coming: More on Hebron, on peace follies, Jews in Jerusalem, the corruption of the Olmert-Livni regime, propaganda, archeology in the Land of Israel, etc.


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