Hebron (Al-Khalil in Arabic) is located 32 kilometers south of Jerusalem and is built on several hills and wadis, most of which run north-to-south. The Hebrew word Hebron is explained as being derived from the Hebrew word for friend (haver), a description for the Patriarch Abraham. The Arabic Al- Khalil, literally “the friend,” has a nearly identical derivation and also refers to Abraham (Ibrahim), whom Muslims similarly describe as the friend of God. Hebron is one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world and has been a major focus of religious worship for over two millennia.
Jewish Virtual Library
Late in the 19th century the production of Hebron glass declined due to competition from imported European glass-ware, however, the products of Hebron continued to be sold, particularly among the poorer populace and travelling Jewish traders from the city. At the World Fair of 1873 in Vienna, Hebron was represented with glass ornaments. A report from the French consul in 1886 suggests that glass-making remained an important source of income for Hebron, with four factories earning 60,000 francs yearly. While the economy of other cities in Palestine was based on solely on trade, Hebron was the only city in Palestine that combined agriculture, livestock herding and trade, including the manufacture of glassware and processing of hides. This was because the most fertile lands were situated within the city limits. The city, nevertheless, was considered unproductive and had a reputation “being an asylum for the poor and the spiritual.” Differing in architectural style from Nablus, whose wealthy merchants built handsome houses, Hebron’s main characteristic was its semi-urban, semi-peasant dwellings.
Hebron was ‘deeply Bedouin and Islamic’, and ‘bleakly conservative’ in its religious outlook, with a strong tradition of hostility to Jews. It had a reputation for religious zeal in jealously protecting its sites from Jews and Christians, but both the Jewish and Christian communities were apparently well integrated into the town’s economic life. As a result of its commercial decline, tax revenues diminished significantly, and the Ottoman government, avoiding meddling in complex local politics, left Hebron relatively undisturbed, to become ‘one of the most autonomous regions in late Ottoman Palestine’. The Jewish community was under French protection until 1914. The Jewish presence itself was divided between the traditional Sephardi community, whose members spoke Arabic and adopted Arab dress, and the more recent influx of Ashkenazi Jews. They prayed in different synagogues, sent their children to different schools, lived in different quarters and did not intermarry. The community was largely Orthodox and anti-Zionist.