Palestine: Al-Khalil: Holy Places Threatened

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on 21 February that the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Matriarchs in Hebron (next to the Ibrahimi Mosque) and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem would be included in a national heritage restoration plan, which means these sites may become closed to Muslim worshippers.

The Ibrahimi Mosque, where Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 praying Palestinians in 1994, is one of the most important Muslim holy sites, and the most accessible to West Bank Palestinians.

Many Palestinians saw the pronouncement as an intentional provocation to incite outrage and violence, which would in turn justify military crackdowns and increased land seizures in the West Bank.  Netanyahu made the announcement the week of the 16th anniversary of the Goldstein massacre.

As anger spread throughout the West Bank, some of CPT’s partners expressed hope in the planning and preparation they are witnessing for nonviolent demonstrations in response to Israel’s provocations. 

One Palestinian member of CPT-al-Khalil’s Advisory Council said, “We will resist Israeli attacks on our holy places.  But we will resist peacefully, not with violence.”

To protest Netanyahu’s statement, Palestinians declared a general strike on 22 February in al-Khalil.  They marked the anniversary of the massacre on 25 February beginning with early morning Muslim prayers in the mosque to remember those who died, followed by a noon-time press conference.

Then, in the afternoon, an estimated one hundred demonstrators, accompanied by Israeli and international supporters, attempted to walk on Shuhada Street, closed for years to Palestinian pedestrians and drivers.  Despite the Israeli military’s prolonged and repeated use of tear gas and percussion grenades the demonstrators’ discipline held and the action remained nonviolent throughout.

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