Worshippers peering down at Prophet Ibrahim’s grave 20 feet underground -Photo by the writer
Worshippers peering down at Prophet Ibrahim’s grave 20 feet underground -Photo by the writer

Salam, I had promised to write to you in Ramazan because you were curious why my parents named me Ramazan. It was at the Ibrahimi Mosque where Prophet Ibrahim, wife Sarah, son Prophet Ishaaq and daughter-in-law Rafiqa are buried, that I told you, that my name had something to do with this holy place where you stood for hours, walking around the holy graves. Remember, you could not stop wondering why the Jews and Muslims had separate entrances to the Mosque named after God’s revered prophet, whose name we Muslims invoke five times a day in our prayers. The city is named after him — the Hebrew word ‘Hebron’ means ‘friend’ as does the Arabic ‘Al-Khalil’, which literally means ‘the friend.’ Both the Jews and the Muslims consider Prophet Ibrahim the ‘friend of God’.

The holy month of Ramazan began with more killings than we see each day. Two Palestinians from a village in Hebron carried out a deadly attack at a café in Tel Aviv killing four Israelis. The blowback from Israel’s defence Ministry was immediate. It sent two military battalions to the West Bank to seal the borders. It froze tens of thousands of permits given to Palestinians to travel to Israel during Ramazan. Overnight, it rescinded 83,000 permits for Palestinians from the West Bank to visit family in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem. Permits for 500 people from the Gaza Strip to attend Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem too were revoked. More punitive measures are expected.

The mayor of Tel Aviv was brave enough to admit after the terror attack that Israel is the only country, “in which another people [Palestinians] are under occupation where they have no rights. We are marking the 49th year of occupation. We can’t keep them in a reality in which they are occupied and [expect] them to reach the conclusion that everything is alright and that they can continue living this way.” He was critical of Jewish leaders who for decades promised us our own state and yet continue to build new settlements on our lands which you saw when I drove you from Jerusalem to the West Bank. I also showed you the gigantic wire fences that Israel has put up to keep us contained in one small area.


A letter from Hebron describes how Palestinians in the city of Prophet Ibrahim are living in fear and dread


You must know that Saudi Arabia plans to open its embassy in Tel Aviv if Israel accepts the Saudi initiative to end the Middle East conflict. The multi-billionaire and media tycoon Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is the first Saudi honorary ambassador to Israel. Only recently, the Saudis and the French held a summit in Paris to revive the Arab Peace Initiative, insisting that it was the best way to reach a solution to the decades-long Israeli-Arab conflict. Delegates from 28 countries gathered to discuss ways to kick-start the long moribund Middle East peace process. Palestine and Israel were not invited to attend. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to the “goal of two states for two peoples.” But he is unwilling to cede Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. And there ends the tale.

Hebron, as I told you, is the second largest city of the Palestinian territories after Gaza. It is divided into two sectors: 80pc is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and 20pc by Israel. Two years back, the Israel military took control of the city claiming to protect some 600 Jewish residents living in the old Jewish quarter. The Israeli Defence Forces is killing Arab youth on the suspicion that they are knife-wielding terrorists. One such execution-style killing happened three months ago but is still referred to national news as the ‘Hebron shooter incident’.’ An Israeli soldier called Azaria is currently on trial for manslaughter of Abdel Fatah al-Sharif. Another soldier killed Ramzi al-Kasrawi during the incident. According to two Hebron witnesses, al-Kasrawi was shot and immobilised and later shot in the head.

It is the holy month of fasting. Instead of sending you a message of peace and blessings, I write to you describing how the Palestinians in the city of Prophet Ibrahim are living in fear and dread of the Israelis. We discussed the belief that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) visited Prophet Ibrahim and his family’s graves during the Isra wal Mi’raj or “Night Journey” from Makkah to Jerusalem and ascension to Heaven. The Holy Quran mentions Prophet Ibrahim 69 times. He is looked upon as the patriarch of the three great monotheistic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — God declares in Surah Aal-i-Imran (3:65): O People of the Scripture, why do you argue about Abraham while the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed until after him? Then will you not reason? And in 3:67, God says: Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclining toward truth, a Muslim [submitting to Allah ]. And he was not of the polytheists.’

Today, sadly, the Muslims and Jews cannot live in peace and harmony. Tourism has taken a hit. My father’s store that was thronged by tourists, as you yourself saw when I took you there to buy a memento, has very few shoppers nowadays. People are afraid of clashes breaking out on the streets at any minute, so they prefer to stay away from trouble spots.

I’ve described to you our lives as we live them each day. I am sure, you are still very curious to know the origin of my name. So, here goes the story: recall your meeting with a man by the name of Al-Karm at Ibrahimi Mosque. After you two had offered fateha at the grave of Prophet Ibrahim, he wished to talk to you and find out from where you had come. When you told him that you were a Pakistani, he warmed up to you. He wanted you to hear how his brother was one of the 30 faithful martyred in 1994. It was the month of Ramazan. Do you remember his words: ‘My brother would go to Ibrahimi Mosque each morning during the holy month of Ramazan to offer his Fajr prayers. One day, a crazy right-wing extremist American-Israeli named Baruch Goldstein opened fire on worshippers. Seconds later, 30 lay dead.’

I am the nephew of one of the men who were martyred. I was born just a few days of my uncle’s death. It was still the month of Ramazan, hence my name. The bloody cycle of death between Arabs and Jews continues even today.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 19th, 2016

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