The Israeli army has created a ghost town in parts of Hebron′s Old City. In July, UNESCO′s heritage committee gave heritage status to these areas, much to the anger of Israel. The ancient markets are mainly closed because of ″security reasons″. More than 1,000 houses have been shut up and more than 1,300 shops have been closed.
I walked through this desolate area. Slogans such as ″Hevron Yehudit″ – ″Hebron is Jewish″ – have been scrawled on the walls. The Star of David was sprayed on the doors of many shops. The names of the streets have been changed from Palestinian to Hebrew.
I reached the Ibrahimi Mosque, known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where it is thought that Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Jacob and Leah are buried. This is one of the most significant religious sites in the world. It marks what Jews, Muslims and Christians have in common. All of us (I am a Christian) worship the God of Abraham. If the magnificent teachings of these three great religions is to have any meaning, then all of us should come together at this site.
But there was an invisible line in the street outside which Palestinians may not cross. A Palestinian woman ventured too far along the road. A soldier asked her: ″Are you Muslim?″
Unequal in death as in life
Inside, the site is divided, as so often is the case in Israel and occupied Palestine. One third is set aside for Muslims and two thirds are set aside for Jews.
The partition was built after 1994, when an Israeli settler called Baruch Goldstein, who emigrated from the United States, entered with a machine gun and shot dead 29 Muslim worshippers in cold blood. More were killed outside the hospital by the Israeli army amid protests.
Not far away is a little museum. I went in. It was empty and unattended. I called out.
A lady came out of a back room and showed me around. The first room was dedicated to the ancient Jewish presence in Hebron. The second concentrated on the massacre of Jews by Arabs in 1929, part of wider tensions over access to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It contained horrifying and vivid contemporary photographs and testimony of the atrocity, during which 69 Jews were killed. This museum helped me to understand the absolute moral and religious certainty felt by the settlers that Hebron belongs to them. For them it is Arabs, not Jews, who are the usurpers.
As I left, I told my guide how moved I had been by the testimony of the 1929 atrocity. Then I asked her why her museum didn′t also mark the 1994 murder of Arabs by Goldstein. She replied that there was no comparison, because the murder of Jews in 1929 had been systematic, while, she said, Goldstein was a deranged individual acting on his own.