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20 years on, Hebron mosque massacre haunts survivors

Feb. 25, 2014 7:40 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 27, 2014 3:57 P.M.)
HEBRON (AFP) -- Twenty years on, the massacre of 29 Palestinians by a Jewish extremist as they prayed in Hebron's Ibrahimi mosque still haunts Mohammed Abu al-Halawa, a survivor who was left a paraplegic.

On Feb. 25, 1994, Brooklyn born settler Baruch Goldstein used an assault rifle to gun down worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque in the heart of Hebron, before he was beaten to death by those who escaped his hail of bullets.

Dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank protests following the massacre.

Abu al-Halawa, 53, resides a mere 400 meters from Goldstein's grave in the Kiryat Abra settlement where he had lived, adjoining Hebron's old city.

"I remember the massacre at every moment and am physically still affected by it -- it paralyzed me for life, and I'm still in a lot of pain and need regular medical treatment," he said from his wheelchair.

"It pains me whenever I see settlers dancing next to the grave of the criminal who left me disabled," he added, bitter that his attacker was still honored by some Jewish extremists.

And with a physical disability, the draconian security measures and checkpoints imposed by the occupying Israeli army on Hebron following the massacre are all the more arduous for Abu al-Halawa.

Hebron's main street was partially closed to Palestinians after the massacre, and six years later, at the outset of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, the army declared it a "closed military zone," restricting Palestinian access to residents of the immediate area -- and then on foot only.

Last Friday, thousands took part in a protest to demand that Shuhada Street be reopened. At least 13 Palestinians were injured and five detained after Israeli forces violently dispersed the demonstrations.

The occupation is felt as strongly as ever today around the site of the 1994 massacre, and the security measures have put many worshipers off praying at the historic site.

Electronic gates, airport-style security and searches by soldiers of those heading to the Ibrahimi Mosque detract from any feeling of reverence, and the number of Muslims going to pray has diminished, according to local religious officials.

Adel Idris, who was the mosque's imam on the day of the massacre, remembers it vividly.

"I'll never forget what happened. Every day that I enter the shrine to pray I get flashbacks of the scene -- the criminal opening fire, the roar of the gun and screams of worshipers... that was an indescribably awful moment," he said.

Worship at the flashpoint site is split between the two faiths, with an area for Jews and one for Muslims.

The director of Hebron's Islamic religious affairs, Taysir Abu Sneineh, said that "entering the mosque to pray has become much more difficult since the massacre".

"They (the Israeli army) are punishing the victims!"

Goldstein was a member of a banned racist group, which advocates the forcible expulsion of all Palestinians from the biblical "Greater Israel".

Around 500 Israeli settlers live in Hebron's Old City, many of whom have illegally occupied Palestinian houses and forcibly removed the original inhabitants. They are protected by thousands of Israeli forces, and frequently harass local Palestinians.

A 1997 agreement split Hebron into areas of Palestinian and Israeli control.

The Israeli military-controlled H2 zone includes the ancient Old City, home of the revered Ibrahimi Mosque -- also split into a synagogue referred to as the Tomb of the Patriarchs -- and the once thriving Shuhada street, now just shuttered shops fronts and closed homes.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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