Israel’s President Isaac “Buzi” Herzog earned the ire of Hamas and Israeli left-wing groups when he announced his plans to light the first candle of Hanukkah on Sunday evening at the Machpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron. Herzog announced his plans last Wednesday, breaking tradition with previous presidents who traditionally lit the menorah in Jerusalem.
“The president needs to be a unifying figure,” Meretz lawmakers Mossi Raz, Gaby Lasky and Michal Rozin said in a joint statement. “Control of Hebron and the occupied territories (i.e. Judea and Samaria) in particular is in sharp political dispute. Out of all the settlements, the settlement in Hebron at the Cave of the Patriarchs is the most outrageous.”
Meretz is a member of the coalition headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas member, released a statement on Friday condemning the traditional lighting of the menorah as an “attack.”
“The Israeli occupation must bear full responsibility for the consequences of this attack,” Radwan said, claiming the candle-lighting would be “a provocation of the feelings of the Palestinians and a blatant desecration of the sanctity of the mosque.”
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.
“We call on the masses of our people in the West Bank and our people in the city of Hebron to confront this provocative step and to confront the attack on the Ibrahimi Mosque,” the official Hamas statement said.
Hamas also called for a violent reaction to a menorah lighting planned for the Kotel (the Western Wall) which they also claimed as a Muslim site.
Anti-Israel Israeli NGOs echoed Hamas’statement. Peace Now and Breaking the Silence released joint statements saying the decision to light the menorah in Hebron “legitimizes the apartheid regime and non-stop violence by settlers under which the Palestinian residents of the city live.”
Adam Milstein, head of the Israeli American Council, suggested that Hamas’s consternation was actually a political move intended as a powerplay against the Palestinian Authority.
“To destabilize the Palestinian Authority, Hamas is promoting unrest in Hebron (judea & Samaria) following news of Israel Pres. Isaac Herzog’s plan to light the first candle of Hanukkah at the Biblical Cave of the Patriarchs, holy to both Jews and Muslims,” Milstein tweeted.
Lighting the menorah has been the source of conflict this year. Last week, the Israeli government acquiesced to a Waqf demand to remove a menorah from the tomb of Samuel the Prophet.