Accessibility links

Palestinian Protests Mount Over Israel's Decision on West Bank Holy Sites

  • Luis Ramirez

The West Bank city of Hebron has been the scene of clashes between rock-throwing Palestinian demonstrators and police almost daily in the past two weeks. The violence stems from Israel's decision to add Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem to Israel's list of national heritage sites.

The sites are holy to both Jews and Muslims, and Israeli President Shimon Peres has pledged to keep them open to Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims alike.

"We are not monopolizing. And in the Cave of the Monarchs as they call it, we already made arrangements that everybody will pray. We are not going to change it," Israeli President Shimon Peres said. "We are going to tell our children that this is historic and holy place for the Jewish people. It does not mean that the Muslims do not have any right there."

But Palestinians see it as an attempt by Israel to hold on to parts of the West Bank that the Palestinians claim for a future independent state.

The Cave of the Patriarchs – believed to be the burial place of Abraham and other biblical patriarchs – is in the center of Hebron – a city where tensions perpetually run high over the presence of hundreds of hard-line Jewish residents living among 170,000 Palestinians. The site is known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque.

On Monday, the Palestinian cabinet moved its weekly meeting – normally held in the West Bank town of Ramallah – to Hebron as a symbolic protest.

Palestinian leaders have called the Israeli move an attack on the holy places and a violation of international law.

Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib on Sunday accused Israel of trying to draw the Palestinians into a new conflict.

"Israel is provoking the Palestinians in order to escape from the mounting pressure on Israel resulting from the violations to international law," Khatib said.

Sunday, Muslim worshippers at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem clashed with police amid rumors that Jewish extremists were trying to enter the complex.

The tensions threaten prospects for restarting peace negotiations that have been stalled for more than year.

The clashes come days before the arrival of U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, who is expected to focus on the resumption of talks. Biden will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the region since President Barack Obama took office last year.