Middle East & Africa
The Day I Became Crippled: The Massacre of Hebron Recalled
By Yasser AbuMoailek
Middle East Correspondent
Gaza City, March 8, 2004 — In a small house in the city of Hebron, Mohammed Abu Helwa sits on his wheelchair watching the festive preparations to commemorate the same man that caused his disability ten years ago. Abu Helwa is one of the survivors of the "Hebron Massacre" in 1994, perpetrated by the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein. By the end of the week, Abu Helwa will once again witness, from his humble abode, the festivities around the tomb of Goldstein, remembering the good old days where he was able to walk and play with his children. He will also thank God for surviving the massacre, though he feels no meaning in living anymore, as he says. Ten years ago, Abu Helwa was 33 years old, and as he used to do in the month of Ramadan, he went early in the morning to the "Ibrahimi Mosque" to perform the Dawn Prayers. "There was between 400-500 Muslim worshippers in the Mosque when we started praying. When we bent for the first kneeling, I heard thunderous explosions and sounds of gunshots filling the void. Then, blood started covering the Mosque and bodies piled up over each other. Everyone was running for cover when I felt a bullet penetrating me. I was unable to move."
|Al-Ibrahimi Mosque where Goldstein committed the massacre|
On that day, Goldstein killed 29 Palestinians, while 17 others were killed by Israeli soldiers during the clashes that erupted afterwards. Abu Helwa mentions that the atmosphere in Hebron was very tense before the massacre, as the Israeli settlers of the city provoked the Palestinian population a lot. "They threatened us all the time, saying 'We will deal with you soon.' The Israeli soldiers were also involved in these acts. Even on the night of the massacre, the presence of Israeli police and soldiers was unusually decreased, despite the boiling atmosphere of the city," Abu Helwa points out. He further confirms the Israeli forces were aware of the massacre and even supported it. "I am sure that the Israeli soldiers knew of what was to happen inside and even lent a helping hand to the butcher Goldstein. When the hail of bullets began to pour on our heads, we tried to escape in the first minutes, but the doors were locked! They were never locked before, so why now on this particular day? We were able to hear screams coming from outside, and later realized that they were from people trying to get inside and help but the soldiers were preventing them, until they overwhelmed the soldiers with their numbers and managed to get inside and finally kill Goldstein." Abu Helwa remained in a coma for several days after the massacre, and due to his severe condition he was moved from Hebron to Ramallah, and from there to Amman where he was treated on the expense of King Hussein of Jordan. Only after four months of hospitalization and seven more of rehabilitation treatment was Abu Helwa able to go back to Hebron, in a wheelchair, with a complete paralysis in his lower body.
|Undated photo of the Israeli fanatic killer, Baruch Goldstein|
The irony of life saved the best for the last, as the balcony of his house overlooked the tomb where Goldstein was buried, inside the "Kiryat Arba'a" settlement in Hebron. Abu Helwa bitterly watches each year's festivities around Goldstein's tomb and says, "each year I watch the festival they (the settlers) hold around the tomb of the man who killed my brothers and nearly killed me. They are celebrating his crime as if rewarding him, but the victims are not remembered. When I watch them celebrate, I feel unable to understand what has happened to the world; I feel as if it turned up-side-down." Despite painful memories of the incident that robbed half of his body its livelihood, Abu Helwa has not been spared the torment until recently. He used to enter his house through the neighbors' backyard, in fear of clashing with the settlers who often attack him on sight. "A few months ago, the settlers used to beat me up whenever they laid eyes on me. Sometimes I used to spend the night at my brother's house so I would not bump into them. One time they knocked me off my wheelchair while a camera crew was there, and the attack appeared on TV. During each attack they shouted at me saying 'too bad he (Goldstein) did not kill you and all the Arabs'."
|Courtesy Holy Land Photos|
Nearly 160 thousand Palestinians live in the city of Hebron and its suburbs, while 850 Israeli settlers live in settlements around the Irbahimi Mosque, known to Israelis as "Tomb of the Patriarchs." The residents of Hebron call the old town of Hebron "Ghost Town," because many families deserted their homes there and hundreds of shops were forced to close down by orders of the Israeli army. According to a report by Hebron's Chamber of Commerce, the city of Hebron alone incurred $1.5 billion of material losses over the past 41 months of violence, as it suffered 544 days of curfew and nearly 20 months of complete closure.
|Israeli settlers have always provoked and assaulted the Palestinian population of Hebron.|
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Yasser AbuMoailek, a journalist and feature writer working for the International Press Center in Gaza Strip. He contributes to many circulations inlcuding the Seoul Times, as well as monitoring the situation in the Middle East, especially the Palestinian territories.