Palestine Visit: Hebron and Ibrahimi Mosque
|Thursday, January 10,2008 10:01|
|By Irfan Engineer|
After our overnight stay in Beit Sahour, the next day we went to Hebron to visit Ibrahimi Mosque. From the spot where bus dropped us we had to walk for about one and a half K.M. through a busy and crowded market. All thirty of us following our guide and in a train like formation, struggling to keep pace with the one ahead of us. The train like formation was natural consequence of a group walking together through an overcrowded area. There were shops for various items from clothes to jewelery and the streets were full of hawkers vending eatables, raw vegetables, etc., just like a busy crowded market in Indian city. The streets were so crowded that all of feared all the time that we may lose someone. Then the guide stopped before the check point for all of us to gather once again, i.e. for the bogies to crowd around the engine (guide) for a background briefing.
The area around Ibrahimi Mosque we were about to visit was inhabited by thirty thousand Palestinians with only 300 Jews inhabiting in the area. We were told to be prepared for our security check. We would be allowed to pass through the check point as we were foreign tourists. No Palestinian, who was not residing in the area and whose name is not on the list with the soldier at the check point could enter the area under any circumstance. Not even to attend marriage of one’s relative, or for that matter any other reason. A doctor would not be allowed to enter to check sick patient. To enter the area, you had to be one of the residents of the area with permit, a photo identity and with your name on the list possessed by the soldier. We kept our passports ready and all of us were as thoroughly checked as the passengers traveling by air from a US airport immediately after 9/11. All our bags, purses, blazers, pockets and everything on our body was checked inside out. All the Palestinian residents of the area have to go through this ruthless drill of thorough check-up of all their belongings every time they enter or leave the area. As is applicable to other check points, if one falls sick at night, then no matter how life threatening your sickness may be, you have to wait till the next morning when the soldiers are ready to grant permission for leaving the area. The thorough check was ostensibly to ensure the security of 300 Jews. When we entered the area, there was a stark contrast from the busy crowded market that we left behind. There was not even a ghost on the 500 meters long street from the check point till the Ibrahimi Mosque, except the 30 odd soldiers continuously parading up and down in their vehicles and some on their foot. I felt as if I am passing through a war zone or as if during a communal riot, I have been issued a curfew pass. All the shops were closed and not a soul was even peeping outside his/her window. Soon we passed near a school with children hurrying back home.
We were received at the check point by two “Ecumenical Accompaniers” and they were wearing a jacket with those words written on them. I asked one of them, “why the street was so deserted and why the shops aren’t open?” I was told the streets were as busy as the one we left behind and in fact that was the main market and therefore more crowded. During the intifada curfew was imposed and the shops were ordered to be closed. Though now there was no curfew, due to check points, no one could pass through the street and therefore the shops were closed. “And what happened to the shop owners?”, I asked. Economy on which 30,000 Palestinians were dependent was stifled by the check points to provide “security” to 300 Jews. 30 well armed soldiers with automatic SLRs etc. guarding 300 Jews from Palestinian tax payer’s money! Not a thought about the 30,000 Palestinian, let alone compensation. The shop owners are now paying their debts and hiding their faces and suffering the check points.
“What was this ‘Ecumenical Accompanier’?”, I asked. Ecumenical Accompaniers were church volunteers from Europe, US or Canada. They stayed there for a few months. Their job was to request the soldiers to intervene whenever any Jew resident of the area troubled or harassed or abused the Palestinians and call attention of the soldiers to such harassment. To accompany Palestinian school students returning from school to their home as they were routinely abused and harassed by the Jew with the intention of getting the Palestinians to migrate out and sell their property to Jews. Nobody else would buy the property if a Palestinian sold his/her property as they would not even be allowed to enter the area. As and by way of harassment, even the school students were beaten on their way back home by the Jews residing in the area. With the Ecumenical Accompaniers accompanying the students, the incidents of harassment drastically reduced. For the EAs would just record the incident on their camera and put it on the net and distribute it to international human rights groups. This did act as a deterrent. As we approached the Ibrahimi Mosque we saw one Jewish lady shouting at the EA in threatening tone. The EAs had to undergo such treatment regularly. The role of EA was really salutary. The EA wishing to return to his/her country would be replaced by other volunteers.
As we were preparing to enter the gate of Ibrahimi Mosque, we had to once again go through metal detectors, remove our belts, purses etc. and even more intrusive check than the previous one. Security check of each one of us took at least 3-4 minutes. After the azaan (call for the faithful to pray), hardly 25-30 people could have entered to pray in this historic mosque which has tomb of Prophet Musa and Prophet Ibrahim. Both Jews and Muslims pary at the tomb of Prophet Musa or Prophet Moses from separate windows. A Jewish doctor – Goldestein had entered the mosque a few years ago and fired on those praying inside the mosque. Scores of Muslims were killed by the bullets of the fanatic who could carry his SLR with impunity inside the mosque. The bullet marks were still visible on the walls.
I heaved a sigh of relief after coming out of the area. I was all through feeling as if I was in a jail or else in a area where war is going on. I left thinking how the Palestinians survive in the area.