You think it’s hard to get to church some days?
You are Palestinian, living in Hebron and going to the Ibrahimi Mosque Friday at noon for service.
To go into the Mosque all men, women and children go through a metal detector. The men remove their belts, pass cell phones and any metal objects through a window. The women put their purses and bags through a window. Then they walk through the detector. Should it beep, they go back until it no longer beeps. Keys, money, camera, maybe something else.
We are not boarding an airplane or coming into Ben Gurion airport in Israel: we are going to worship.
Often the men and young men are frisked or body searched by Israeli border police or Israeli army. Last Friday, about 40% of the men and young men were body searched. Then their ID permits were checked. It is possible at this point to have your ID permit confiscated and held until after service. Like giving up your passport. It all takes time. More, it is humiliating.
But before all this you must also pass through something like a cattle gate. A metal detector is at one end and should anyone set off the alarm, the line stops as the turnstiles lock. This is where mens’ belts are removed again. One day there were maybe 50 people trying to get to Mosque on time. The line stopped. People started pushing and yelling for the army to open the gate. Then the 20 year old Israeli army soldier in the booth pushed the green light. Only then can the line move.
Once you are through the gate you are met by an assault rifle pointed at you, straight at you. The first time I experienced it, I was intimidated. I have never had that experience before. Everyone else seems to be used to it: the abnormal becoming the normal.
Once inside the Mosque area there is yet another station, fairly well disguised, where 2 Israeli soldiers sit and monitor what is happening. They cannot be easily seen but I have heard them talking and laughing when I was touring the Mosque to visit the tombs of Abraham and Sarah.
Why all this security?
The Mosque contains the Tombs of the Patriarchs. The building houses and honours the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah. Presently the building is shared by Muslims and Jews who both venerate the patriarchs.
In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a New York doctor and settler at Kiryat Arba settlement nearby, entered the mosque. He had a gun and opened fire on the Muslim crowd at worship from behind, killing 29, wounding 156. He was subdued and killed by the crowd. Following the masacre there were riots which resulted in increased security on the Palestinian side of the building. The Jewish synogogue side where Goldstein entered also exhibits increased security.*
This is occupation in the West Bank.
And still the Mosque is full as Palestinians come in defiance of the situation.
It puts ‘going to service’ in a completely different light.
*The earlier version of this post contained an error. Initially it was my understanding that the Synagogue side had no security. I entered it myself to find that indeed there was security.