(JTA) – Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must feature a Jewish presence in Hebron.
Rivlin, a member of Likud, spoke Thursday night at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.
“Hebron is not an obstacle to peace. Hebron is a test of our abilities to live together, side by side,” Rivlin said as he stood on a large outdoor stage in a concrete arena on the outskirts of the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“I do not know if there will ever be a political agreement and, if there will be, what its nature will be. But it is clear that, in any agreements, Jews and Arabs will continue to live here,” he said.
The biblical city had a continuous Jewish presence until 1929 when an Arab massacre of 67 Hebron Jews destroyed the community. Jews were not allowed to settle in the city when it was under Jordanian control from 1948 until 1967.
After the Six-Day War, the Kiryat Arba settlement was founded in 1968 with residents moving in three years later in 1971. A small, heavily guarded Jewish community was established in Hebron itself in 1979.
But the geographic location of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, outside the boundaries of the security barrier and deep in the heart of the West Bank, make their situation precarious in any final status agreement with the Palestinians.
Rivlin, however, reassured the several thousand participants in the celebration that included fireworks, music and cotton candy that Kiryat Arba and Hebron would remain part of Israel, even as President Donald Trump pushes for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
Rivlin fought in the Six-Day War and was among those soldiers who entered Hebron after the Jordanians fled.
“I remember the moments in which we stood at the entrance of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. As a child, I knew the Tomb only as far as the seventh step, from the days before the war,” said Rivlin. “I directed my friends how to get there and how to enter.
“And here I found myself at the Tomb of the Patriarchs dressed in a dust-covered uniform and shoes that I had not removed for several days, listening to the sounds of the Shofar” that a rabbi was blowing, Rivlin said.