JERUSALEM (Aug. 31)
Some opposition Knesset members are charging the Israeli government with dragging its feet on the re-opening of the tomb of the Patriarchs.
“The government simply hasn’t decided to re-open the tomb, and that’s all there is to it,” said Knesset member Yigal Bibi of the National Religious Party, following a visit to the site Tuesday by members of the Knesset Interior Committee.
The group, led by committee chairman Yehoshua Matza, a hard-line member of Likud, had demanded to see the progress of work inside the tomb in the wake of demands from both Jewish and Arab activists that it be re-opened.
The tomb, which is sacred to Jews and Muslims alike, has been closed to the public since Feb. 25, when Kiryat Arba settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein, dressed in army reserve fatigues, opened fire on Muslim worshipers at the site.
Twenty-nine died by Goldstein’s fire before he himself was clubbed to death by enraged survivors of the attack. More than 20 other Arabs were killed in subsequent clashes with Israeli soldiers in Hebron later that day.
The evolving opinion within the army and security services is that the tomb, as soon as it is re-opened, could become an important test of the unfolding Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Particularly in light of this week’s early empowerment agreement, which grants Palestinians control over a number of key policy areas, Hebron, and especially the tomb, are believed to be moving to the “cutting edge” of the ongoing peace process.
Since the massacre, teams of Israel Defense Force engineers and contractors have been at work inside the tomb, installing elaborate new electronic and other security equipment at the entrances and at all internal passages.
Now, with the High Holidays at hand, pressures are mounting on Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to order the site to be re-opened for worship.
BOTH SIDES DETERMINED TO SEE TOMB RE-OPEN
And as those pressures grow, tensions mount in Hebron, where Jewish settlers and Palestinian religious activists are determined to see the site re-open as soon as possible.
The parliamentarians’ visit came a day after Israel’s two chief rabbis had submitted a proposal to the prime minister for sharing the site between Jewish and Muslim worshipers.
The two chief rabbis’ proposal to share space at the site would have both communities using the tomb on the same days, but with Jewish and Muslim worshipers restricted to separate sections of the tomb.
Rabbis Yisrael Meir Lau and Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, who toured the site on Aug. 25 in the company of senior army officers, said their proposal is fair to both Muslims and Jews and that it makes maximal use of the site for worship by both communities.
Muslim clerics reportedly rejected the rabbis’ offer to meet and discuss the plan.
The rabbis wanted their plan to go into effect immediately, thereby enabling prayers to resume at the site during the High Holidays.
But despite their proposal and demonstrations by Kiryat Arba settlers outside the tomb this week, the site appears likely to stay empty and shut for several weeks into the new year.
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