Hebron is a constitutive, ground-breaking town. The city is where the two basic patterns in the relationship between us and other dwellers of the land were born.
Abraham, our forefather, made the first property purchase of the Hebrew nation in the Land of Israel. He did not take over the Cave of the Patriarchs through force or unilaterally, and he was also unwilling to receive it for free via reverse unilateralism. Rather, he insisted on negotiations and on making an exchange.
The second pattern was written in blood in 1929 through the Hebron massacre. With violence, blood, and unilateralism, the relations between us and the Palestinians were determined for generations to come. Ever since then, the Middle East has been a binary system: Either 1 or 0; a zero-sum game. I win only when you’re defeated.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rashly decided, under pressure and through certain panic, to include the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb in the list of heritage sites at the last moment, he in fact surrendered to the unilateral Palestinian narrative of 1929, while renouncing the supreme principal of reciprocity and coexistence as introduced by Avraham.
Netanyahu could not even think of the possibility of cooperation in the Cave of the Patriarchs, because just like many others he cannot enjoy the site’s sanctity if local Muslims sanctify the graves of our shared forefathers. Again, the binary principle leads to bloodshed.
It’s not too late
What would happen, or more accurately, would anything bad happen had Israel’s prime minister called Palestine’s president and said: “My friend, at this time we are about to resume negotiations. Let’s do something symbolic and significant together. Let’s jointly renovate the Cave of the Patriarchs, the synagogue, and the mosque, and change the access and worship procedures at the site so that it will change from a controversial place to a symbol of peace, dialogue, and friendship in the spirit of Abraham, the forefather of both nations.”
Is this groundless? Is it impossible? Is it too foolish? I don’t think so. It’s a matter of psychology and religious zealotry that has taken over the political thought process of Israel’s prime minister too.
However, it’s not too late yet. Some people sanctify sites and stones. I respect their faith but this faith does not have to come at the expense of others or, heaven forbid, claim human life. It’s still possible to do it differently.