Israel Gives U.S. Army Officers Tour of Hebron Led by Settlement Spokesman

The Israeli military largely avoids formal activities with Hebron settlers, and now defense officials warn the latest tour, organized by a senior Israeli commander, could reignite tensions with Palestinian Authority

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The Cave of the Patriarch in Hebron, November.
The Cave of the Patriarch in Hebron, November.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

U.S. Army officers were given a tour of the West Bank city of Hebron last week led by the spokesman for the city's Jewish settler enclave, in a trip organized by a senior Israeli commander.

The office of Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the head of the military's Central Command, contacted the Hebron settlement's extreme-right spokesman, Noam Arnon, to ask him to lead the full-day tour.

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The tour, which did not include any Palestinian speakers or representatives of Israeli left-wing groups, included a visit to the Cave of the Patriarchs holy site and the areas inhabited by the settlers.

In recent years, the military stopped holding tours and field trips in conjunction with the settlers of Hebron.

Sources told Haaretz the viewpoint presented to the American officers focused on religious matters, but defense officials criticized the event, saying it could harm relations between Washington and the Palestinians.

Noam Arnon's post after the U.S. Army tour in Hebron.

One defense source said that it is highly important to preserve the status quo at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and that a one-sided tour without the participation of Palestinian representatives could arouse tensions concerning security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which was renewed about a year ago after a long break.

The responsibilities of the U.S. officers who participated in the tour include training Palestinian security forces. In addition to the visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the tour included a visit to the museum of the Jewish community of Hebron in Beit Hadassah, in the center of the settlement within the city. Arnon, wrote his doctoral thesis on the Tomb of the Patriarchs, told Haaretz that the “tour of the cave was about the Jewish history of the site.”

At the end of the visit, Arnon posted pictures from the tour on social media and wrote: “I was happy to host … a delegation of senior American officers who came to hear, learn, get to know and be impressed. We were moved remembering that even in our times, the name of Abraham unites all those who desire peace in the entire world and [that] the peace agreements are called the ‘Abraham Accords.’” Arnon added that the request to guide the U.S. officers was received from the secretariat of the Central Command and that Fuchs was the go-between. Arnon said he has conducted similar tours in the past for the military as a volunteer, but that the last time was many years ago.

The Israel Defense Forces said of the tour: “Last week, a few U.S. army officers came for a tour of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Beit Hadassah led by the commander of the Central Command, for the purpose of learning about the history of the site. As part of the ongoing tours that are held regularly, the American delegation meets with various people in the State of Israel as well as in the Palestinian Authority. This is in order to learn about the area in the best way possible. Dr. Noam Arnon was chosen to guide this tour. The tour was held according to the established regulations in the IDF.”

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