Twenty years ago, on 25 February 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American Jewish settler from Brooklyn, New York, walked into the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Palestinian city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.
It was during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
He opened fire, killing 29 Palestinian men and boys and injuring dozens more, before his victims overwhelmed him and beat him to death.
Killer praised as hero
Mohammed Abu al-Halawa, now 53, a survivor who was left paralyzed by Goldstein, told Ma’an News Agency this week, “I remember the massacre at every moment and am physically still affected by it … I’m still in a lot of pain and need regular medical treatment.”
“It pains me whenever I see settlers dancing next to the grave of the criminal who left me disabled.”
For years afterwards, the mass murderer’s grave became “a pilgrimage site” for admirers.
Even recently, Israeli settlers have celebrated Goldstein as a hero, teaching their children to revere him for his murderous act, especially during the Jewish festival of Purim.
On 6 April 1994, Palestinians carried out the first ever suicide bombing targeting Israeli civilians, killing eight people in the northern town of Afula. Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the bombing, said it was in retaliation for the Hebron massacre.
In the days immediately after the Hebron massacre, Israeli occupation forces took action not against the settlers but against Palestinians: Israeli forces killed and injured dozens more unarmed Palestinians protesting the massacre across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
This set the pattern: instead of cracking down on the settlers, Israel escalated its persecution of Palestinians, especially in Hebron, gradually allowing the settlers to take over more of the city.
The Ibrahimi Mosque was forcibly partitioned with settlers being given most of the space – a precedent many Palestinians fear the Israeli occupation will one day try to repeat at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque.
In 1997, settlers were rewarded even further for Goldstein’s massacre when the Palestinian Authority agreed to allow the occupation to partition Hebron itself into two zones: “H1” and “H2.”
H1 is nominally administered by the Palestinian Authority and is home to more than 120,000 Palestinians.
H2, under full Israeli military rule, includes Hebron’s historic Old City as well as the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Israeli occupation forces severely restrict the movement of more than 30,000 Palestinians in H2 while Israeli settlers move about freely under army protection.
Since then, settlers have aggressively seized Palestinian properties in the Old City, leaving much of the city center a ghost town.
A 2006 survey by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem found that at least 1,014 Palestinian homes in the Old City of Hebron had been vacated by their occupants and more than 1,800 businesses had shuttered due to the Israeli takeover.
This represented 42 percent of the housing units in the district and more than three-quarters of the businesses.
Hebron still under siege
In the beautifully shot 5-minute documentary above, Hebron Under Siege, Palestinian filmmaker Nizar Abu Zayyad visits some of the residents of old Hebron’s main thoroughfare Shuhada Street, shut down by Israeli occupation forces since the massacre.
Zuleekha Mohtaseb’s tells us how the front door of her house, opening onto Shuhada Street, has been welded shut by order of the Israeli army
“We are barred from using the street in any way,” she says.
“To the right and to the left of us, we are surrounded by settlement outposts that harass us constantly.”
Settlers can go where they like and often throw things at Palestinians and curse them.
“You feel you are under house arrest, a prisoner in your own house,” Mohtaseb adds.
“By what right? What right grants him [the settler] freedom of movement and takes it away from me? Is it because I’m Palestinian and he’s Israeli? He is the one coming from the far end of the world and claiming ownership of the land. But I am the one born here.”
Bader Syoori, a businessowner, talks about the economic devastation caused by the closure of Shuhada Street
After the massacre, things changed totally, he explains. Israel closed the area to Palestinian vehicles before it became strictly off limits in 2002.
Samah Brewesh, 15, talked about the daily ordeal and harassment children like her face because of the settlers, while the settlers enjoy every advantage.
“Their children live in luxury, they have a place to play in. In my neighborhood, children have none.”
Abdul Halim Syoori, also a businessowner, says he wishes that things will return to how they once were, “that we live just like we used to in the old days. We work and earn a living for our children.”
Zuleekha Mohtaseb wants to use her front door. “We want the settlers gone,” she says.