Situated the heart of the Palestinian old-city of Hebron, in the Hebron hills, is the colossal Ibrahimi Mosque, or ‘Sanctuary of Abraham. Constructed by King Herod towards the end of the first century BC, the site is believed to hold the remains of the prophet Abraham, his wife Sarah, their son Isaac, grandson Jacob and their respective wives Rebecca and Leah.
The mosque is considered one of the most holy sights in Palestine, second perhaps only to the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem, inaccessible to Palestinians. Having stood for over 2000, years the building is one of the oldest in the world still in constant use today, and has survived numerous earthquakes in the region without need of restoration.
The building includes minarets, domes, arches, doors, marble columns, side mosques, richly decorated cenotaphs covered with decorated tapestries, inscriptions. One special piece of fine work is the wooden Pulpit that was constructed in the year 1091.
Since the Israeli occupation of Hebron, which started in 1967, large parts of the city have been under military control. Checkpoints surrounding the mosque make it increasingly had for locals to get into the mosque to worship. Often the mosque is closed to worshippers, and the call to prayer is systematically banned by occupying forces. Consistent with Israel’s policy of slowly cleansing Palestine of its Islamic identity.
In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American Jew, and settler in the Palestinian territories, entered the mosque and opened fire on praying Muslims, killing 29 and injuring over 150. Goldstein was killed during the attack, and for years afterwards his grave site in a local settlement became a place of pilgrimage for Jewish extremists. Israel’s reaction to the massacre was to annex the mosque, turning two-thirds of it into a Jewish place of worship Palestinians are not permitted to enter the Jewish area of the building, while the Palestinian side is still militarised by the occupying forces and setters are permitted to enter freely.