Israel is outraged that the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has put the Old City of Hebron on its “in danger” list, but the world should really be outraged at Israel. It claims that UNESCO has denied the Jewish heritage of Hebron, which has been under a brutal military occupation since 1967. But it is Israel that denies the Christian and Muslim heritage of this Biblical city.
UNESCO tried to send delegates to inspect Hebron but Israel refused them entry. UNESCO has historically challenged oppressive policies of governments worldwide, but Israel believes it is special and above accountability. There is a reason why. I have been to Hebron, and saw first-hand the brutality of Israeli soldiers and fanatic Israeli settlers who have forcibly taken the homes, businesses and lands of the city’s Palestinians.
As president of the Palestinian American Congress, I traveled in 1995 with a delegation of Palestinian-American leaders to witness Israel’s brutality first-hand. It forced the Palestinians to leave the city center around the Ibrahimi Mosque, holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Buried there in double tombs are Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. Jacob’s second wife Rachel is believed to be buried in Bethlehem. The prophets there are important to all three religions, but Israel does not care. It militarily occupied the entire mosque structure, limiting Muslim access to the fourth most important mosque in Islam. It established Kiryat Arba, one of the most vicious of Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements.
I met these hate-driven settlers face-to-face. I went to the Ibrahimi Mosque to see the damage Israel has inflicted on the Palestinian presence in the city. I wanted to pay homage to the location where one year before, Israeli-American Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein gunned down — with the help of Israel’s military — 29 Palestinian Muslims as they prayed in the mosque. More than 125 Muslims were seriously injured before he was killed.
The UN body has historically challenged oppressive policies of governments worldwide, but Israel believes it is special and above accountability.
Bullet holes are still in the mosque walls, fired from Goldstein’s Israeli-military-issued weapon. Everyone in Kiryat Arba carries an automatic weapon, including young Jewish children who are taught to hate non-Jews and Palestinians. Israeli soldiers stopped me at a checkpoint and machine-gun turret on Al-Shuhada’a Street, which has been renamed King David Street as part of Israel’s ongoing erasure of Palestinian street names and identity.
Israeli soldiers spat at me as I approached, and pointed their weapons at my head. I was wearing a suit. I held my hands up in the air, and in one displayed my US passport. They spat even more when I told them I was American. “Go back to your America,” they yelled.
Contrary to popular belief, many Israelis — especially the radicals who dominate the military — hate Americans. They reject our principles of civil rights, fairness and justice, which stand in the way of their religious supremacy. Despite their screaming, the commander seemed concerned that I was American. So I pushed my way through and he let me walk up Al-Shuhada’a Street to the mosque.
At the steps of the mosque I was told I could not enter, but I insisted. They asked if I was Muslim, claiming that if not I could not enter. I told them I was, and they ordered me to recite the shahada, which I did. They may have heard Palestinians profess their Islamic faith in the past, but I bet they never heard a Christian say it to their faces.
The soldiers followed me as I entered, still suspicious. When I was done, I walked back to the checkpoint and found myself confronted by a gaggle of settlers. They yelled and threatened to kill me. They waved clubs and weapons in the air. Their children screamed at me the loudest, with faces twisted by hatred. I have never seen so much hate in my life.
It made me understand how easily these vicious fanatics can kill Christian and Muslim women and children. No wonder UNESCO adopted a resolution declaring Hebron an endangered heritage site. It is in danger. Civil rights, human dignity and justice are all threatened there, under the thumb of Israel’s brutal occupation. UNESCO’s declaration highlights Hebron’s dire situation, which angers Israel. Having been there, I can see why.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American former journalist and political columnist. Email him at [email protected]