I promised more details about my recent sojourn in Hebron – perhaps I should explain why the city has the reputation for being the most troubled of all the troubled cities in the West Bank, and what the current “situation” is there:
From its earliest days, Hebron has been known as the “cradle” of all three monotheistic religions. Sadly, this tradition has set the background for conflict.
|Ibrahimi Mosque/Synagogue - housing the "Tomb of the Patriarchs"
The collective tomb of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all of their wives (except Rachel, whose tomb is just outside Bethlehem) is at the center of the Ibrahimi Mosque, which now “shares” the space with a Jewish temple. Some sources say the building that now houses the mosque was originally built by Herod. Through the centuries, and with some renovations, it has served as church, synagogue and mosque.
At one time, Jews, Christians and Muslims lived peacefully in Hebron but in 1929, following anti-Zionist riots in which a number of Jews were killed, the remaining Jewish population left. Many of the Christians followed in 1948. Today, only a handful remain, and there is only one active church in this city of almost 200,000 residents.
Following the 1967 “Six Days’ War,” a small group of militant ideological settlers came to Hebron, many forcibly establishing their homes in buildings where Palestinians were already living. Forty-plus years later, 800 settlers, protected by an estimated 2,000 Israeli soldiers, are still there, separated only by the mesh on the windows and bars on the doors,
In 1994 Baruch Goldstein, an American born settler, entered the mosque and opened fire on the men at prayer, killing 29 and injuring 150. This massacre set off riots which resulted in the deaths of 25 Palestinians and five Israelis.
In a move that incensed the already grieving Palestinians, Israel then imposed a two-week curfew on the Palestinians (allowing the settlers to move about freely), after which half of the mosque was turned into a synagogue, leaving the historical tomb visible to both sides through iron grilling.
|Shuhada Street is now closed to all Palestinian traffic
The closure of Shuhada Street is another example of how a small minority of settlers exercise control over the Palestinian majority. Shuhada Street, once Hebron’s main market street, was closed to vehicle traffic after the Goldstein massacre. In 2000, at the start of the second intifada, it was completely closed to Palestinians, forcing more than 300 shopkeepers out of business, and forcing the remaining Palestinian residents of the area to use circuitous alternate routes to access their homes.
|Today, Shuhada Street resembles a ghost town...
Today, Shuhada Street resembles a ghost town, with stars of David spray-painted on the padlocked storefronts. Today, Palestine children are escorted (by EAs or other NGOs) to school to reduce the likelihood of having stones thrown at them by settlers. And today, the Palestinian majority of this large Palestinian city live their lives as best they can in the face of constant apprehension of yet another outbreak of violence.
|Today, Palestinian children are escorted to school to protect them from settlers throwing stones