Photos by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths, all rights reserved.
Before parshat Chaya Sarah (this past Shabbos), I had the opportunity to visit the Marat HaMachpela - the cave of the patriarchs and matriarchs - in Hebron. Things being relatively calm at the moment, I drove to Kiryat Arba and from there directly to the Ma'ara in Hebron...
The upper road was closed off, the lower parking lot was opened...
Of course, we can't actually see the cave as King Herod built a huge building over the area, which still stands today. Here, at the corner where Jews were limited to when it was under Arab control, a family was celebrating a bar mitzvah (with a minyan and Torah reading on Thursday) in the adjacent courtyard area. Who knew you can arrange a catered tour-led bar mitzvah at the Marat HaMachpela in Hebron?
At the end of the courtyard is a thorough security check and the entrance stairway. At another time in the past, Jews were limited to "the third step" of the stone stairway entrance. On an interesting side note, the sign to the right says "these scanners are approved by the Shabbos Institute for operation on Shabbos."
The inside is a side room (a kollel), two large hallways, an inner courtyard, and separate chambers that are closed off by huge iron bar gates and iron bared windows representing those buried there, who are Avraham avinu (Abraham), Sorah imaynu (Sarah), Yaakov avinu (Jacob), Leah imaynu, and the head of Easav. This photo is the 2nd hallway, with a window to the chamber of Avraham on the right. Jews aren't allowed access to these chambers (ever).
This is the inside of the Yaakov (Jacob) chamber through a window, with the iron bared gate opposite. You can see the walls surrounded with Arab-Islamic writing. The top of this kever and the inside of this chamber is also covered with pigeon dung. Fortunately the actually cave and resting place is far below the chamber.
The Yitzchok (Isaac) and Rivka (Rebbecca) chamber and large hall are not accessible to Jews except for a few days a year. The rest of the year a huge locked iron door with a pretty cover is as close as you can come. The Israeli government tries to manage the conflict over this holy site by giving the Arab-Muslims 1/2 of the building for regular use, and the Jews the other half. For certain special holidays, the whole building is given for a few days to one side or the other.
And thus ends our visit. The Gutnick center and courtyard in the foreground, the city of our forefathers, Hebron, with an Arab population surrounding in the background.
A follow up on the pigeon dung note about in the Yaakov chamber. It appears a small window at the top of the chamber was either left open or broke. The Jews can't access the chamber to fix it, as this would either offend Muslim religious sensibilities or (more likely) offend Arab authority/honor. But the Arabs can't get to the chamber (to either see the problem or fix it) as it's in the Jewish section, and the Arabs accessing it would offend Jewish authority. In the midst of the stalemate, the pigeons have fully taken up residence.
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא