By Charlene A. Carruthers
Today marks the 21st anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre by American-born Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein in Hebron. Since then, the level of Israeli occupation and domination throughout one of the world’s oldest cities continues to rise.
I cannot tell you the entire story of what is happening in Palestine right now, but I can share snapshots of what I’ve seen with my eyes and felt in my spirit during my visit there along with a group of dedicated activists in January.
Since our return, friends and family have asked me questions about what I experienced in the 10 days we traveled throughout the West Bank and in Palestinian cities in Israel, which endure routine discrimination from the Israeli government and larger society. Questions ranged from “what stood out to you the most during the trip?” to “what was the most devastating thing about Palestine?” and of course the most expected, “what did you learn?” Each time my mind and body went to the day we visited Hebron.
Our tour guides warned us of what we would feel in Hebron. We were told that the day in Hebron would be the most intense, the most emotional. Our Palestinian hosts noted that we would visit a Mosque where a massacre occurred in 1994. We were also told during casual conversation and formal presentations that there are levels to the occupation. I remember one person saying, “The Israelis are attempting to ‘Hebronize’ everything. It was not until the day we visited Hebron that I began to understand the depth of the occupation.
I was an observer taking steps to become a comrade through awareness and action when I visited Hebron. I was a Black American queer woman who entered Hebron with the privilege of an American passport. Along with my fellow American delegates, I walked easily through the many checkpoints leading to the Mosque where Goldstein killed 29 and injured over 100 Palestinians as they kneeled in prayer 21 years ago. I remember thinking that I needed to be in this moment because the ground we stood on was sacred to the Muslim community despite the blood once shed during one of the holiest periods of their faith. I also remember thinking about what it sounded liked when Baruch Goldstein fired shots in the middle of a prayer service.
The macabre imagination I constructed in my mind was abruptly replaced with what I can best describe as a deeply spiritual and soul-stirring experience once our group entered the main prayer room. I physically made it less than 10 feet before I fell to my knees. The garment given to me, also given to all women visitors, covered most of my body and felt like an invisibility cloak as I slumped against the Mosque wall. I remember wanting to feel the energy of the lives taken away with violence and hatred during the extremely vulnerable moment of prayer. I could only weep at the loss of lives. It made no sense. I thought of the violence my people have endured, the violence I had endured and attempted to make sense of what happened on those grounds. I am not confident that it will or should ever make sense.
Palestinians living in Hebron were not allowed to mourn, protest or gather collectively without backlash. They were instead faced with the collective punishment of forced curfew by the Israeli government. The Ibrahimi Mosque was split into two parts, one half remains for Palestinian Muslim worshippers and the other is now a synagogue for Jewish settlers. Historic commercial areas in Hebron are now mostly empty. Some refer to it as a ghost town.
The story of what happened at the Ibrahimi Mosque and in Hebron 21 years ago should be told around the world. What happened in Hebron was not only the responsibility of Baruch Goldstein. The Israeli government, those who push anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab tropes through media and public culture and states that fund the occupation (including my own) must take responsibility for what happened and what continues to happen today. Until real action to recognize culpability occurs alongside acute measures to end the occupation, the threat and reality of violence will remain.
Charlene A. Carruthers is national director of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100). She is an organizer and writer living in Chicago, IL
This post was originally published on Stop Being Famous.
Photo: Charlene A. Carruthers (center), Aja Monet Bacquie (right) and activist at Hebron checkpoint/C. Hazou