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Long History Of Mistrust Divides Ancient City

Wed., Oct. 2, 1996

At 9 a.m. sharp, the first sounds were young men hauling junk-metal barricades into place. Next came a fury of flying stones and insults. Then it was the Israelis’ turn.

Troops burst from alleys, bellowing karate yells and brandishing M-16s. Mesh-plated jeeps screamed around corners. Some youths were pushed around and arrested. Most fled. Ten minutes later, dead calm.

It was curfew time in Hebron, the ancient city of the patriarchs, which is the crux of Tuesday’s urgent White House summit aimed at heading off yet more Arab-Israeli war.

After their daily three hours of freedom to buy food - on Tuesday the reprieve was 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. - 94,000 Palestinians closed their doors with little to do but watch Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat decide their fate.

Behind iron grillwork windows, they can also watch Jewish settlers by the thousands stroll through town like they own it, eating cotton candy on their way to the tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The three patriarchs - worshipped by Islam as Ibrahim, Ishak and Yaakub - are believed buried in Hebron. Like Jerusalem, 30 miles to the north, the city is a spiritual epicenter.

Israel imposed the curfew on Thursday after Hebronites stoned border guards during bloody clashes in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. It is lifted for only three hours a day. The time of the reprieve varies, and no advance notice is given.

Jews abandoned Hebron in 1929, when Arabs massacred scores of them. After the 1967 war, they began moving back until 400 of them filled a small Jewish quarter in the heart of town.

Several thousand others settled Kiryat Arba, a fenced-in community just outside Hebron. And in 1994, a fanatic from there shot dead 29 Muslims in the mosque by the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Today, no one is likely to sort out rights and wrongs dating back 4,000 years. Mostly, people pick a date to support a point of view.

Schneer Katz, a U.S.-born teacher of Hebrew culture, considers Hebron to be a cradle of Judaism. For him, the 1929 massacre was an old score that remains to be settled.

But Fayaz Nasser, a local sportswriter, said he watched a young Israeli soldier being driven away after he refused to patrol Hebron because he thought the curfew was unfair.

Nasser thought this was a good sign. “We must find a way to live together, side by side,” he said. “If we answer blood with more blood, where will we go? Why can’t we have Abraham for all?”


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