Hebron City

Hebron is a hauntingly beautiful, ancient city twisted and torn by decades of unrest and conflict. It is the largest city in the West Bank, and second largest in Palestine after Gaza. It is home to around 215,000 Palestinians. Its Old City of stone roofs, archways and never-ending alleyways is the perfect playground for the sensory delight of the markets and bazaars. It is also a modernising city, home to Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic University. Hebron is a hub of trade, primarily with the sale of marble from nearby quarries. The area is also renowned for grapes, figs, limestone, pottery workshops and glassblowing factories, as well as the major dairy product manufacturer, al-Junaidi.

Although the Israeli-Palestine conflict has marred the city’s recent history, it is still evolving and adapting. At the heart of Hebron is an illegal Zionist settlement area (H2), roughly 20% of the city, administered by Israel and not, like the rest of the city (H1), by the Palestinian Authority. Much of the centre became a ghost town as Palestinians have shut up shop and moved out to escape Israeli checkpoints and conflict. The internationally funded Hebron Rehabilitation Committee has been working to repopulate the Old City over the last two decades, and it is doing a great job, renovating about 1,000 homes, 120 shops and 10 schools so far. The large Palestinian sector is a typically chaotic Arabic city where it is easy to get lost for many hours, although a friendly tour guide will almost always materialise when needed. By contrast, the Israeli settlement area is a ghost-like place, bleak and somewhat hostile to unknown visitors.

One of the oldest cities in the world, Hebron is probably best known for its biblical burial site within the Cave of the Patriarchs which can be visited by tourists. For this reason it is considered the second holiest city in Judaism after Jerusalem, hence the defiant settler movement. Hebron does not feel unsafe for visitors, but care should be taken to avoid protests and potential conflicts. Whatever you say about this city, it is impossible to ignore.

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What To Do

Hebron is not brimming with tourist-friendly attractions in the same way Jerusalem and Bethlehem are, but this is one of the world’s most ancient cities and a bedrock of history. The Old City is the best place to explore, and tourists spending a bit of money will be greatly appreciated by the vendors who tend not to employ underhand tactics or inflated prices. It is a veritable cacophony of sights and smells, with windy stone streets and archways which require ducking. The fast food vendors fill the air with deep-fried falafel and chips, hot, fresh sauces and irresistible olive oil. Everything from pottery and glass, to fresh cakes and dried fruits can be purchased.

The Cave of the Patriarchs is the most popular destination in Hebron. The cave itself is deep underground but tourists can visit the building on top, built by Herod 2,000 years ago, which is still used for prayer. The attractive building was split into two sides – Jewish and Muslim – in 1994 following a massacre by an Israeli settler on Muslim prayer-goers. Both sides can be visited, but passports are required to pass checkpoints and modest clothing is mandatory.

Another excellent activity in Hebron is a visit to the glass and ceramic factory in the Ras al Jora neighbourhood. It is possible to see the glass blowers in action as well as the ceramic workshop, while the shop means you can take a souvenir (and presents!) away.

Where To Eat

Hebron’s dining capital is the Ras al Jora neighbourhood, where a range of excellent restaurants preside. But the exquisite mansaf (a typical lamb dish with peanuts and rice) is a necessity of any trip. There are falafel and shawarma restaurants in abundance throughout the city, but save room for the cakes and sweets available in the market as they are also sumptuous.

Where To Stay

There are currently at least four hotels in Hebron including the Hebron Hotel, Regency Hotel and Hanthala hostel. Many visitors also organise homestays with a family in the Old City.