Protests against Israeli plans to construct near Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque have escalated after Israeli army-protected contractors worked on the mosque in order to install a nearby electric elevator.
Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset made a supportive visit to Hebron on Saturday and vowed to back Palestinian efforts to preserve the UNESCO-protected heritage site.
UNESCO, the UN cultural organization, declared the ancient and hotly contested core of Hebron in the Israel-occupied West Bank as “in danger,” despite a concerted diplomatic effort by Israel and the US to change the verdict.
Knesset Member Sami Abu Shehadeh told Arab News that a delegation of the Joint Arab List was hosted by the city’s mayor, waqf officials, as well as the Chamber of Commerce.
“The changes that they are trying to carry out near the mosque are illegal and racist,” he said.
He added that Israelis were claiming that the changes are to help the disabled.
“But even this so-called benevolent act is not available to disabled Palestinians because it is being created in an area that is restricted only to Jewish settlers.”
Abu Shehadeh and others experienced for themselves the difficulties that normal Palestinian worshipers face in reaching their own mosque.
“Even as members of the Knesset — who cannot be disrupted by the army — we had a hard time crossing so many checkpoints. Imagine what it is like for ordinary Palestinians,” he said.
Even as members of the Knesset — who cannot be disrupted by the army — we had a hard time crossing so many checkpoints. Imagine what it is like for ordinary Palestinians.
Abu Shehadeh added that what he saw in a single square kilometer was “the ugliest site of the Israeli settlement racist enterprise.”
The delegation of the Joint Arab List was stopped on Hebron’s Shuhada Street, which has been closed since 1994, causing business losses to the tune of $1.2 billion for 1,800 Palestinian shops in the heart of the old city.
But on a positive note, Abu Shehadeh said that the delegation was “pleasantly surprised” to see many Palestinian citizens of Israel from Al-Fahm and Jaffa, who had come to show solidarity.
Dana Mills, director of development and external affairs at Peace Now, told Arab News that the issue of the mosque is “not a matter of accessibility,” but rather a “performance of sovereignty.”
Through the “excuse of accessibility,” Mills said that Israel was constructing an elevator and a bridge at one of the holiest sites in both Islam and Judaism.
Mills added that improving accessibility requirements “should have been done with full coordination and the consent of the Muslim waqf.
“It is still not too late to stop this project and we call upon the Israeli government to immediately end the work.”
On Friday, Palestinians unilaterally closed all mosques in the Hebron area and encouraged worshipers to visit the Ibrahimi Mosque in a peaceful act of protest.
But many who traveled to the holy site have claimed they were met with violence from the Israeli side.
Tareq Salmi, a spokesman of Islamic Jihad, said that Israeli actions are aimed at “having control of the mosque.
“The new plan of the settlement enterprise is to create a separate corridor and an electric elevator which will allow settlers to reach the roof of the mosque.”
These actions are aimed at “changing the historic Islamic site which is part of Arab and Islamic heritage in the city of Hebron,” Salmi said.
Sami said that the 44th session of the World Heritage Sites meeting in Fuzhou, China, in July decided that “the status of Hebron old town on the endangered World Heritage list remains unchanged.”
UNESCO deplored “the ongoing Israeli excavations which are illegal under international law and harmfully affect the authenticity and integrity of the site.”
The organization also “took note of reports regarding new planned projects, including an electric elevator.”