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IIRC, after the flood, Noah divided the habitable earth between his sons, Israel being inherited by Shem(source needed). I'd expect that besides Jerusalem Shem would get hold of Mearat Hamachpelah as one of the holiest places. Instead, we see that the descendants of Ham controlled the place.

How come? And why Shem's descendants incl. Avraham, didn't simply claim the ownership of the place?

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Rashi to Bereishit 12:6 notes that the Canaanites were conquering the land from Shem’s descendants at the time Avraham came there:

והכנעני אז בארץ. הָיָה הוֹלֵךְ וְכוֹבֵשׁ אֶת אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִזַּרְעוֹ שֶׁל שֵׁם, שֶׁבְּחֶלְקוֹ שֶׁל שֵׁם נָפְלָה כְּשֶׁחָלַק נֹחַ אֶת הָאָרֶץ לְבָנָיו, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וּמַלְכִּי צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם (ברא' י"ב), לְפִיכָךְ וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל אַבְרָם לְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, עָתִיד אֲנִי לְהַחֲזִירָהּ לְבָנֶיךָ שֶׁהֵם מִזַּרְעוֹ שֶׁל שֵׁם:‏

AND THE CANAANITE WAS THEN IN THE LAND — They (the Canaanites) were gradually conquering the land of Israel from the descendants of Shem, for it had fallen to the share of Shem when Noah apportioned the earth amongst his sons, for it is said (Genesis 14:18) “And Melchizedek) king of Salem (Jerusalem)”. For this reason the Lord said to Abram (Genesis 12:7) “to thy seed will I give this land” — “I will in some future time return it to thy children who are descendants of Shem”.

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