Twenty years on, the massacre of 29 Muslims by a Jewish extremist as they prayed in a West Bank mosque still haunts Mohammed Abu al-Halawa, a survivor who was left a paraplegic.
On February 25, 1994, Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein used an assault rifle to gun down worshippers in the Ibrahimi Mosque — revered by Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs — in the heart of the southern West Bank city of Hebron, before he was beaten to death by those who escaped his hail of bullets.
Abu al-Halawa, 53, resides a mere 400 metres (yards) 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 paralysed 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 honoured by some 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.
Palestinians held a protest last Friday to demand Shuhada Street be reopened, and an exchange of stone-throwing by some demonstrators and rubber bullets and tear gas by police left a dozen demonstrators injured.
The occupation is felt as strongly as ever today around the site of the 1994 massacre, and the security measures have put many worshippers 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 worshippers… that was an indescribably awful moment,” he said.
Worship at the flashpoint site is split between the two faiths, with an area for Jewish visitors 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 Arabs from the biblical “Greater Israel”.
The flashpoint city of Hebron, home to nearly 200,000 Palestinians, also comprises some 80 settler homes in the centre of town housing about 700 Jews who live under Israeli army protection.