On Sunday evening, Israel’s President Isaac “Buzi” Herzog lit the first light of Hannukah in the Machpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron.
President of Israel in Hebron
Herzog’s arrival at Judaism’s second holiest site was announced by shofar blasts.
“I am glad to light the first Chanukah candle with you here, in this holy place, the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs,” Herzog said at the event. “My connection and my family’s connection to this place stretches back many generations.”
Herzog related how, in 1976, his now-deceased father, Chaim Herzog, addressed the United Nations during a debate on whether Zionism was racism. Chaim Herzog included the Biblical narrative of Abraham’s purchase of Hebron in his address His address was in response to the Islamic Conference’s claim that “all Jewish association with the city of Hebron, both religious and historical, are completely brushed aside, if not denied outright.”
“Brothers and sisters,” President Herzog said during the ceremony on Sunday, “even today, with all of the difficulties – and don’t ignore the complexities for a second – the Jewish historical connection to Hebron, to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, to the legacy of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, is beyond a doubt.”
Herzog related that his family’s connection to the site goes back even further. He said that his great-great-grandmother, Rabbanit Faya Hillman, moved from her native Lithuania to Hebron and was on hand to witness the 1929 Hebron massacre when Arab rioters killed 67 Jews. She survived, Herzog related, because she pretended “to be dead after her serious injury.”
But despite his ancestor’s experience, Herzog, a left-wing believer in the “two-state solution” emphasized the city’s role as being universal.
“We are not the only ones whose roots branch out from this tomb,” Herzog said. “Today, of all days, here, of all places, in this site sacred to all Children of Abraham, we must continue to dream about peace between all religions and faiths in his land, and to denounce all forms of hatred and violence.”
“When we are united around the wonderful light of the Hanukkah candles, it is important to respect Israeli statehood and its principles, and to listen to the ‘other’, to respect those who are different, to build bridges and to maintain our togetherness, of course without infringing on the rights of any individual or community, in terms of their beliefs or ideals.”
“We won’t agree about everything, but we must always remember that ‘We are all the sons of one man,’” Herzog continued, quoting from the weekly Torah section in Genesis 42:11.
Herzog’s visit was controversial and the army prevented left-wing protesters from arriving at the site.
Hamas, terrorist governor, and left-wing groups all agree
Ahead of Herzog’s visit, the Hamas terror group warned that the plan to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah at the shrine was “a provocation” and “a flagrant violation” of the site’s sanctity, while calling on Palestinians to confront Israeli forces at the scene.
In a statement, Hamas said that “the occupation bears full responsibility for the repercussions of this attack” on the site.
Hebron Governor Jibreen al-Bakri said that Herzog’s visit to the Cave of the Patriarchs is “a declaration of war against our people and their holy places.”
It should be noted that Al-Bakri has been arrested 17 times by Israel and spent seven years in prison. Upon his release, he held several security positions with the Palestinian Authority’s Security Service.
These sentiments were echoed by anti-Israel left-wing Israeli groups like Peace Now and Breaking the Silence who said Herzog’s visit “legitimizes the apartheid regime and non-stop violence by settlers, under which the Palestinian residents of the city live.”
Joint List Party head MK Ayman Odeh said that Herzog “did not go to light the first candle, he went to set Hebron ablaze.”
WAFA, the official media outlet of the Palestinian Authority, decried the event, saying the president “stormed the Ibrahimi Mosque in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron .”
The Arab League in Cairo condemned the event as well, calling it part of the “continued and persistent Judaization of Islamic and Christian holy sites by the occupation authorities, which constitutes a disregard and a provocation to the feelings of Muslims.”
The structure over the cave was, in fact, built during the era King Herod ruled over Israel, several centuries before Mohammad established the religion of Islam. During the Six-Day War of 1967, Judea and Samaria, which had been illegally occupied by Jordan, came under Israeli control and half the site was converted into a synagogue. Previous to this, the Jews were prohibited from entering the structure.