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Beyond the Headlines: Uncovering the Real Hebron in the Midst of a Relentless Media War


HEBRON  – Fighting and hatred, Israeli occupation and oppression– that's the way the mainstream media and politicians often portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

Hebron is home to the Cave of the Patriarchs where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives are buried.  "Hevron" in Hebrew and "Al-Khalil" in Arabic both come from the root word meaning "friend." 

But that's far from this city's image. At times it's been a hotbed of terrorism. But that's not the whole story.

CBN's Scott Ross met with Yishai Fleisher, International Spokesman in Hebron for the Jewish Community in Hebron.  As they stood on Shuhada Street, Ross asked Fleisher why this street was closed down and described as a "ghost town."   

"In 1994, it was decided by the Israeli army that they had to close the stores.  There're still Arabs living here. What was happening is that terrorists used the mass of people that was walking here to hide themselves, and to perpetrate attacks," Fleisher told Ross. "Now, it's not a beautiful sight, but the Arabs that had the stores here were moved to the much more Arab part of the town.  They were compensated," he added.

"There's always two wars.  There's a physical war and the physical war was stopped, but exactly where the physical was stopped, the narrative war was created and started," he explained. 

"What do I mean by that?  Well, I deal with a lot of media here and what they want to do, they want to capture one shot here – the Israeli army next to closed stores and if they could catch a kid with Jewish sidelocks, then they have exactly the story which is the settlers are using the IDF, Israeli army, to ethnically cleanse Hebron," he said.

But climb to the top of one of the buildings that has an overlook and you get an entirely different view.  Stretching for miles, Hebron houses about 200,000 Arab residents.  As the most prosperous city in the Palestinian controlled West Bank, it's also home to about 1,200 Jews.

"Here, for example, is what some of the propaganda that an organization called it," said Fleisher.  The newspaper he held was headlined, 'Ghost Town: Israel's separation policy, forced eviction of Palestinians from the center of Hebron.'  And while it's true on one street it's certainly not the case throughout the city.

"One tiny, little street, but the rest of Hebron is actually the wealthiest, most successful of all Arab cities here – one of the most successful cities in the whole of the Middle East," Fleisher said.

Ross asked if there were big businesses in the sprawling city.

"There's 17,000 businesses and factories here.  In fact, this is an ironic truth…basically, there's five billion shekels (more than $1.4 billion) of exports from Hebron – from Arab Hebron to Israel every year.

Even with commercial ties, relations are mixed. 

"The Arabs that live here don't want you here," Ross noted. 
"There are many Arabs who think that way…those who have succumbed to the Jihadist ideology," Fleisher said.  But he noted that's not the whole story.

"It's important to know that there are many other Arabs who think that the Palestinian Authority is corrupt, that Jihad is not good for their kids, that they don't want this life.  They don't want this life for their children and in fact, see Israel as actually a great vision for their future," he said.

One aspect often ignored and even denied is the Jewish people's ancient connection to Hebron.  

"(The) conflict is over who's got rights to this land, who's going to hold onto this land," noted Fleisher

Hebron goes back 3,800 years to the time of the Bible.

"The whole book of Genesis gets sealed off here in Hebron.  When Jacob is dying down in Egypt, he says to his children don't bury me here in Egypt.  Bury me back in Hebron where Abraham and Sarah are buried, where Isaac and Rebecca are buried and where I buried Leah," said Fleisher.

Under the building with the rooftop, panoramic view there are ancient archaeological treasures, including a 4,500-year-old staircase.

"This is really 700 years before Abraham," said Fleisher. "Abraham is going to walk up here and he's going to negotiate with the Hittites to buy the tombs of the father and mother, actually a cave at the field at the far end of town.

"Our enemies understand the spiritual significance and the anchoring of this history to our peoplehood.  So their whole effort right now, it's to somehow undo that and one of the ways that they have done that is with the usage of international organizations like UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)," he said.

Two years ago, UNESCO declared the Cave, where the biblical patriarchs are buried as an endangered Palestinian heritage site, ignoring any Jewish connection to the site.

Ross asked Fleisher what he thinks the future holds.

"There's a big question about what's going to be the future of the Palestinian Authority. There used to be about 100 years ago something called the Jewish question," he said. "Now, we know.  The Jewish people are back in Israel and they're going to be in Israel.

"I think now there's an Arab question.  What's going to be with the Arab people? Are they going to figure out a way to deal with their cousins, the Jews?  Or are they going to keep calling us as occupiers and foreigners and going to continue this 100-year war, which has not really fared very well for them?  Because I think the Jewish people are here to stay," he said.

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