Holy Land: protests after Israel claims sacred sites in West Bank

Teargas in Yatta Road

Teargas in Yatta Road

The announcement by Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday of Israel's intention to make Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Ibrahimi Mosque in Al Khalil/Hebron into Jewish heritage sites, is causing considerable concern and outrage in the Palestinian community. 

The Ibrahimi Mosque is one of the most important Muslim sites, and is the one most accessible to West Bank Palestinians. The prospect of these sites becoming closed to Muslim worshippers has been particularly keenly felt in Al Khalil/Hebron, where the
Ibrahimi Mosque regularly draws large numbers of Muslim worshippers. This was the site on 25 February 1994 of the massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers by Dr Baruch Goldstein, an extremist Jewish settler.

There is international concern too.  In a statement, Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said he was concerned by Israel's announcement regarding the Hebron holy site. "I call on Israel not to take any steps on the ground which undermine trust or could prejudice negotiations, the resumption of which should be the highest shared priority of all who seek peace," Serry said.

In protest at Netanyahu's statement there was a general strike on Monday,  in Al Khalil/Hebron, as a result of which most children were not at school.  Around 8.30am, Palestinian boys expressed their anger at the statement by throwing stones near the Qitoun checkpoint in the Yatta Road, while other Palestinians threw stones at soldiers between Bab il Baledeyya and Bab iZaweyya.  Press reports have suggested that bottles were also thrown, but Christian Peacemaker Teams in the area saw nothing thrown apart from stones.  The Israeli military's response was to shoot repeated rounds of tear gas at the Palestinians, causing alarm and discomfort to people on the street and in their homes and shops.  At Yatta Road a group of small children huddled together as they got into a bus to take them home. 

In the Bab iZaweyya area (by the H1/H2 border) CPTers Gainey and Nichols observed Palestinian policemen work to move the crowd away.  The incident there was over by 10.45am.  CPTers Chiba and Jack were at the incident near the Qitoun checkpoint, which lasted until 11.30am.

This Thursday 25 February  Hebronites, supported by Israeli and international friends, will mark the anniversary of the mosque massacre with a non-violent demonstration calling for the opening of Shuhada Street to Palestinians.  At 5am that same day, Hebronites will worship in the Ibrahimi Mosque in memory of those who died in the massacre.

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical initiative to support violence reduction efforts around the world.  To learn more about CPT's peacemaking work, see: www.cpt.org

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