As political manoeuvring continues in the run up to the Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to be planning to visit the settlements of Hebron and what Israel refers to the 'Cave of Machpelah' or the 'Cave of the Patriarchs'. To Palestinians, that site is Ibrahimi Mosque – half of which has was given to Hebron's settlers by the Israeli government (who control the old city area of Hebron) following the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre.
29 Palestinians were killed on February 25th 1994 when Baruch Goldstein, a US-born physician and Israeli settler who lived in Hebron's Kiryat Arba settlement, opened fire on Palestinians as they prayed in Ibrahimi Mosque during Ramadan. More than 100 worshippers were also injured in the massacre. Goldstein was eventually overpowered and killed inside the mosque.
The announcement by Netanyahu's Likud party of the potential visit to Hebron is an attempt to rebuild support amongst Israel's right-wing and especially the settler-movement. Hebron is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank in which settlers occupy significant parts of the Palestinian city centre itself. To the settler movement, Hebron is the ultimate 'red line' – the most important and strategic settlement bloc within the West Bank and one which must never be given up.
Palestinian factions have stated strong opposition to the planned visit and described it as a dangerous move which will only escalate tensions.
To Palestinians, Netanyahu's visit to the site would be eerily reminiscent of Ariel Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque in September 2000, the final flame that lit the torch of the Second Intifada. When Sharon entered the al-Aqsa compound he was facing a leadership challenge within his own Likud party from Netanyahu. His visit was no doubt strategic and attempted to demonstrate that he would never give up Jerusalem. The act secured his leadership of Likud and lead him to win Prime Ministerial elections in February 2001.
Nearly 15 years later, Netanyahu now similarly stands under immense internal political pressure, particularly from the powerful right-wing. It seems that the proposed visit to Hebron is mirroring Sharon's earlier strategising, but this time it is meant to show his support for Hebron's settlers.
Images by MEMO Photographer Rich Wiles.