Amid protests by Palestinians, Israel started a renovation project that will result in the seizure of the religious site split between Jews and Muslims.

In an act of defiance, thousands of worshippers came together to perform Friday prayers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Palestine’s Israeli occupied Hebron on August 13.

While Muslims named the mosque after Prophet Ibrahim, Jews refer to it as the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The people from both the Abrahamic faiths believe that religious patriarchs Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are buried in the tombs deep under the holy site.

Muslim residents of the town fear that Israel’s renovation move may turn into an attempt to take full control of the site and erase the Islamic and historic nature of the mosque.

The Palestinian Ministry of Endowments said the goal of the project is to “Judaize” the mosque and facilitate the settlers’ intrusion into it.

The Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs also said “the decision is an assault on the Muslims’ ownership of the Ibrahimi Mosque and the endowments that surround it, which are numerous in the city of Hebron.”

The Israeli authorities started the project on August 10, saying that it aims to make it accessible to people with disabilities by building an elevator and a ramp in the compound.

Palestinian worshippers speed away to avoid tear gas amid clashes with Israeli security forces, at a demonstration following the Friday prayers at the Ibrahimi mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) denouncing Israeli construction plans at the site, in the divided city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on August 13, 2021.
Palestinian worshippers speed away to avoid tear gas amid clashes with Israeli security forces, at a demonstration following the Friday prayers at the Ibrahimi mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) denouncing Israeli construction plans at the site, in the divided city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on August 13, 2021.
(AFP)

To make such changes,  Prime Minister Naftali Benett approved an order last year in May, granting powers to COGAT, Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, to seize as much land as possible.

The event triggered past trauma among Palestinians. In 1994, a US-born Israeli settler walked into the Ibrahimi mosque with a Galil assault rifle and killed at least 29 Muslim worshipers during Ramadan Friday prayers. More than a hundred were also wounded.

“Goldstein used to come every night and pray at Yakoob(***)s tomb. We know now that he was watching us and planning. The Israeli government wanted to get us out of the mosque,” Hakam Tahboob, the mosque’s guard for over 30 years and was on duty that night, told Al Jazeera.

The massacre led to strict segregation of the site: One side of it is now saved for the Muslim worshippers; the other for Jews.

Under an agreement in 1997, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed that the Palestinian municipality would have a final say in such projects. The municipality’s objection to the so-called renovation does not seem to matter, however.

An Israeli security officer stands guard as an excavator digs amid construction works next to the Ibrahimi mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs), in the divided city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on August 15, 2021. afp
An Israeli security officer stands guard as an excavator digs amid construction works next to the Ibrahimi mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs), in the divided city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on August 15, 2021. afp
(AFP)

Home to roughly 160,000 Palestinian Muslims and about 600 Jewish settlers, Hebron has long been a violent hotspot in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Since early 2021, an uptick in violence orchestrated by the Jewish settlers, who are protected by more than 2,000 Israeli soldiers, has been observed, according to Doctors Without Borders. The group estimates the number of Palestinians in the city around 35,000.

The Israeli army on Friday also attacked Palestinian worshipers with sound bombs after they performed Friday prayers at Ibrahimi Mosque. Protests are expected to continue during the project that the Israeli Ministry of Defense said will take six months.

UNESCO World Heritage body in July 2017 has recognised the old city of Hebron, including Ibrahimi Mosque as a Palestinian world heritage site.

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