Twenty Years Later: A Wound Still Open
VIVIEN SANSOUR, IMEU, Feb 25, 2014
Abu Mohammed no longer prays in the Ibrahimi mosque just a few meters away from his home. He has not prayed there since 1994 when Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler from Brooklyn, opened fire at the crowds of worshipers while they were bowed down in prayer. Swollen with sadness, Abu Mohammed’s face tells the whole story, “I have tried several times to go to the mosque but every time I approach the steps, my chest feels tight and I cannot breathe.”
“The doctor gave me some pills to help me calm down. After I helped carry the wounded and saw many of my friends and neighbors die in front of my eyes, I started having hallucinations. I became very vulnerable. I don’t want to go there anymore.”
Like his brother, Hassan Muhtasib says that he will never be able to forget that day. “That day changed all of us in Hebron forever.” With a detailed memory, Hassan describes the event almost robotically — perhaps a way to shield himself from reliving the trauma while recounting it:
“During the Sajda when everyone bows down, we started hearing gunfire and in a matter of seconds, 29 people were killed. There was blood everywhere.”
Afraid he would not survive, Hassan hid his children who were praying with him at the time behind a pole and told them, “No matter what happens, don’t be scared. You will be alright.” Hassan continues, “I rushed to help the wounded. One man I carried was shot in the head. As he took his last breaths, I looked and parts of his brain were in my hands.” When asked how he feels about all this twenty years later, Hassan looks away with a kind of silence that demands complete stillness, his pain too profound for any consolatory words.
Sheikh Abu Issa served as one of the clergy in the Ibrahimi mosque at the time of the massacre and was one of the many injured. “I was a sheikh in the mosque for one year. The same year the massacre happened. On February 25, 1994, we were still in the holy month of Ramadan so the mosque was especially full of people coming to worship from different places in Palestine. Settlers always harassed us. They would often throw our shoes at us after we took them off and entered to pray bare foot. But we never expected this kind of violence.”
Walking on Shuhada Street just a couple of steps from the mosque, one immediately sees that the victims of this atrocity are still being punished instead of protected. A long stretch of the street, which was once a bustling marketplace, has been closed off to Palestinians who lived on it for generations. Their shops were either forced to close or they were intimidated by violence to leave them. Abu Mohammed describes the months following the shooting, “we were placed under a 24 hour curfew for more than three months after the massacre. In those three months, many streets were closed off, new checkpoints were erected, and the mosque was taken over and divided with cameras placed everywhere.” In fact, more than 1,800 shops were forced to close, and 101 checkpoints and barriers were placed inside the neighborhood.
“Imagine what happened to us! We had just experienced a major catastrophe in our community with the murder of many of our loved ones and the injuring of dozens of them and then instead of being taken care of, we were under house arrest and had to get permits from the Israeli army to leave our houses. We tore up the permits and defied the curfew but it was a very dangerous and scary time,” says Abu Mohammed, who refuses to leave his shop until today, despite all the harassment. He lost more than 13 kilograms in less than two months because he could not eat much after what he had gone through. He explains how today in Hebron, around 450 Jewish settlers control the area. They are protected by more than 1500 Israeli soldiers in a city of more than 100,000 Palestinians who have to go through metal detectors and checkpoints to get to their homes.
One cannot talk about the massacre of 1994 as a past event from which people can begin to heal. The daily life of Hebronites, whose city has become in parts a ghost town, and in others a collection of fragmented neighborhoods, serves as a constant reminder of the festering wound of an unrectified injustice.
In many ways, Hebron today represents a microcosm of the widespread Palestinian reality. Segregated communities, concrete walls, checkpoints, land confiscation, home demolitions, and the expansion of settlements. This is why today, on the twentieth anniversary of the Ibrahimi mosque massacre, Palestinians are not only reminded of an unspeakable crime that took place in 1994 but also of their ongoing oppression.