On May 23, the world witnessed new Palestinian protests against further Israeli discrimination, which, at this time, came in the form of Israeli authorities cutting down parts of the stairs of the Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. According to the Palestinian Endowment Minister, the Mosque’s stairs would be replaced by an elevator to serve the Jewish settlers. This came as part of the Israeli efforts for changing the identity of the Ibrahimi Mosque and diluting the Palestinian heritage.
This is not the first incident the world has witnessed at the Mosque. In 1994, hundreds of Palestinian worshippers have been brutally attacked by a group of Jewish settlers, who were believed to be indirectly supported and assisted by the Israeli army; resulting in the killing of 29 worshippers and the injury of many.
After the massacre, the Palestinians’ religious life was highly affected; for around 60% of the Ibrahimi Mosque was converted into a Jewish Synagogue that became protected and blocked by Israeli military barracks; to restrict the passage of Muslim worshippers to the mosque.
Besides, the PLO and Israeli authorities signed the Hebron 1997 Protocol; dividing the city into H1 and H2 areas; whereas H1 area includes around 80% of the city’s residential area, and is where the Palestinian authority holds responsibility, and the Israeli authority took control of H2 area, which includes the old city and the Ibrahimi Mosque, despite the fact that this area is home to more than 33,000 Palestinians.
This shows how the Ibrahimi Mosque is important to the Israeli authorities and the Jewish settlers; whereas the Jews believe that the tombs of the prophet Abraham, his wife Sarah, and their sons, are all located in a cave below the Ibrahimi Mosque, or the so-called “Cave of the Patriarch”. Thus, it is of great religious value to the Jews. Yet, for Muslims, the Mosque is believed to be built over the tomb of Prophet Ibrahim, which enhances the Mosque’s religious value. That is why removing a brick from the Mosque is considered an attack on Palestinians’ heritage and religiosity.
Not only that it is a religious site and Israeli restrictions on the Ibrahimi Mosque are forms of atrocities against Palestinians, but also these restrictions are in violation of International Law. This is because back in 2017, UNESCO included both, the Ibrahimi Mosque and the old city of Hebron, as part of the Palestinian heritage sites. In fact, this is ironic; for these two specific sites are in the H2 area, which is under full Israeli control, and Palestinians are restricted from getting free access to them. For instance, Palestinian worshippers were banned from praying at the Ibrahimi Mosque on September 7 and 8, 2021, as part of the Jewish New Year celebrations, and even when they are allowed access, Palestinians go through humiliating security checks to pray at the mosque.
Also, according to the 1999 UNESCO Cultural Heritage Protocol Act, sites that are considered part of the “cultural heritage” are to be protected by the “state” and the “self-governing local communities”, which is not the case with the Ibrahimi Mosque whose stairs are being cut down by the Israeli authorities.
In fact, this is just a tiny part of the atrocities that Palestinians go through every day since 1948. However, what is taking place right now is a real threat to the future of not only Palestinian heritage but also the identity of a religious site that is important to all three Abrahamic religions alike.