HEBRON REFLECTION: A check on worship

30 January 2008
HEBRON REFLECTION: A check on worship

by Jan Benvie

How many checkpoints do you have to pass through to go to your place of worship? How many would you be happy/willing to go through? Or, would you give up going to that particular place of worship and go somewhere else?

Here in Hebron, Muslim worshippers going to the Ibrahimi Mosque have to pass through at least two, often three or more, Israeli military checkpoints. Palestinians coming from the south or southwest areas of Hebron must first pass through a checkpoint that includes a metal detector. Then, 250 yards further along the road, they must pass through another checkpoint, where soldiers may stop them and ask for their ID. Sometimes the Israeli military will allow them to pass, sometimes not, and sometimes they will have to undergo a body search. Then, 100 yards further along, at the entrance to the mosque, they will have to pass through another checkpoint and metal detector, again staffed by Israeli military. At this checkpoint, worshippers may again face demands for their ID and have to wait for a time.

Palestinians coming through the Old City fare little better. If they are lucky, they will not have to deal with an Israeli checkpoint at the entrance to the Old City, the Bab il Baledeyye. There is no possibility of such luck at the mosque side of the Old City. Here, you must go through two turnstile gates and a metal detector. Whilst it is never pleasant to pass through a military checkpoint, the personnel at this checkpoint have chosen to make it a particularly difficult experience in recent months. It can take ten minutes or more to travel thirty feet. Frequently, particularly at prayer times, the Israeli border police lock and unlock the turnstile gates allowing only one person through at a time. I watched in disbelief as one family (three adults and five children) over twenty minutes to pass through, and it would have taken longer had the children not passed through two at a time. Again, you may or may not be asked for your ID, you may or may not be made to wait. And, you still have to go through the checkpoint and metal detector at the entrance to the mosque.

Coming out of the mosque is generally easy; one less checkpoint on the way home. However, the same people who were held on the way to prayers can also be held on the way home.

I admire the sheer determination of the worshippers who each day make their way to prayers at the Ibrahimi Mosque. Would I be as resolute, I wonder?