History

Rabin in Hebron / Yom Kippur Riot in Machpela Cave

Torah scrolls were destroyed during a riot at the Tomb of the Patriarchs resulting in a rare visit by Rabin and Peres.

4.11.18, 14:14
(PHOTO: Rabin and Peres inspect renovation work at the Tomb of Machpela after the disturbances. Credit: Yaakov Saar, Government Press Office.)
 
Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres visited Hebron on October 15, 1976 to visit the Tomb of Machpela and other Jewish historic sites such as the Beit Hadassah building, built in 1893 and the ruins of the Avraham Avinu synagogue built in 1540. Their visit came amid the ongoing campaign of Israelis for greater access to the Cave of the Forefathers and to the abandoned properties in the old Jewish neighborhoods.
 
The impetus of the visits was the Yom Kippur riot of October 3, 1976. In a pre-planned act, several hundred Arab youth ransacked the Jewish sections of the Tomb of Machpela where they desecrated Torah scrolls, and ripped up prayers books, ark curtains and other religious items. When the Jewish worshipers arrived that evening for the start of Yom Kippur, they discovered the damage. 
 
Starting with the liberation of the city in the 1967 Six Day War, Jews were only permitted certain prayer times in the Machpela building and the holy site was reserved strictly for Muslims on Fridays. The current separate Muslim and Jewish prayer areas that exist today were also in place but unlike contemporary times, both Jews and Muslims could walk between each section. Defense Minister Peres helped created greater freedom of access for Jewish worshipers.
 
Although Israeli police later said evidence indicated the ransacking was pre-planned, Arab groups insisted the attack was revenge for Jews desecrating a Koran. Member of Knesset Menachem Begin cast serious doubt on the allegations at a special Knesset session on the incident. "If it turns out that a Jewish hand threw Koran books on the floor, this Jew should be brought to justice... but nothing had been proven, no trial, no one arrested... I must be precise -- no books of the Koran have been torn," MK Begin stated.
 
Chaim Herzog, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations mentioned the incident in an address to the UN Security Council in which he said that "no bloodshed developed and that today Jews and Moslems are again worshipping peacefully side by side in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron... the fact remains that for well-nigh 4,000 years that Tomb in Hebron housing the remains of the Jewish Patriarchs and their wives has remained a Jewish Holy Place, and Jews have prayed there for most of the period. How ironical it is that Israel should be condemned on this issue. For a long time, when the tombs were under exclusive Moslem jurisdiction, Jews were not allowed access to them."
 
The Torah scrolls were beyond repair and a traditional burial ceremony was held several days later. As police held over 50 Arabs suspected in staging the riot, over 3,000 people attended the event to properly bury the unusable holy scrolls.
 
The ceremony began outside the Tomb of Machpela and the procession marched to the old Jewish cemetery where many sages of past generations laid. In attendance were Defense Minister Shimon Peres, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Raphael, Welfare Minister Zevulun Hammer, Chief of Staff General Mordechai Gur, Gen. (Res.) Ariel Sharon, MK Menachem Beigin, MK Geula Cohen and MK Ehud Olmert.
 
The aftermath of the Machpela desecration resulted in riots in other Arab population centers as well and secuirty closure of many areas. The incident coincided with the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, fought just three years earlier.
 
Prime Minister Rabin and Defense Minister Peres visited Hebron the following week on October 15th, along with IDF General David Hagoel. There they surveyed both the Jewish and Muslim sections of the massive Herodian complex which was built 2,000 years ago to house the underground burial chambers of the Biblical Matriarchs and Patriarchs. They also visited the old Hadassah hospital building, and the ruins of the Avraham Avinu synagogue which had been turned into a sheep pen.
 
In 1981 the synagogue reconstruction was complete and today the building is in regular use as a functioning synagogue Beit Hadassah too has become a residential complex with a museum of Hebron's Jewish history on the ground floor.
 
NOTES:
 
 
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Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in Hebron. Credit: Yaakov Saar, Government Press Office 1976 | 10 Images