Until recently, I had never been to Hebron. In the past three months, however, I have twice boarded an armoured bus to make the journey.
The first time was with a private, non-political group to visit Hebron’s Jewish area and the Cave of Machpelah, where Abraham and the patriarchs and matriarchs are said to be buried.
It was a shock. If ever there was a illustration of the attempt by Islam to supersede Judaism, this was surely it.
This holy Jewish shrine was to all intents a mosque. Islamic prayer mats were piled high, and there seemed to be not one Jewish artefact in the place. Even the catafalques sporting labels claiming them as the tombs of the founders of Judaism were topped by Islamic crescents.
Those labels are hung only on the handful of days per year the Jews are allowed to visit. Hebron has become a synonym in the west for oppression of the Palestinians by ‘crazed settlers’, but it is in fact those Jewish residents who are hanging on by their fingernails to a minimal right of access to one of Judaism’s holiest sites.