PA labels Israel’s plans to make Cave of Patriarchs wheelchair accessible a ‘war crime’

Israel’s activities are “tantamount to igniting a religious war in the region and in the world,” said Palestinian Supreme Shari’ah Judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash.


Israel’s plans to make the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron accessible for disabled people on wheelchairs by installing an elevator has been condemned by the Palestinian Authority (PA) as “Judaization.” The PA’s Supreme Shari’ah Judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash threatened that such “aggression” will “have a cost,” warning that “the Palestinians are prepared to do anything” while describing Israel’s activities at the Cave as “tantamount to igniting a religious war in the region and in the world.”

After months of battling, then-Defense Minister Naphtali Bennett approved in May construction work on the Cave of the Patriarchs, which would make it accessible to people with disabilities. The holy site is currently accessible only through a long set of stairs.

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) quoted a report by the PA’s official WAFA news agency in August quoting Al-Habbash as saying that the “oppressive decision” is “a strengthening of the Israeli aggression and a continuation of the provocation of the Muslims’ sensibilities.”

Al-Habbash threatened that Israel will “bear the consequences of this continued arrogant behavior, and that aggression towards our holy sites will have a cost.”

He further warned that the Palestinians are “prepared to do anything” to “protect our religion and holy sites and defend them – regardless of the cost, and regardless of the sacrifices.”

The Muslim religious leader described the Israeli attempt to make the holy site easily accessible to all Jews and Muslims as “an attack on our religion and holy sites.”

“This will have severe consequences and is tantamount to igniting a religious war in the region and in the world,” he warned.

Al-Habbash tried to spark an international confrontation by asking the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to “intervene and stop the Israeli aggression against the Ibrahimi Mosque.” He referenced a UNESCO July 2017 resolution that the PA interprets as confirming that “the Ibrahimi Mosque is a purely Islamic heritage site, and that there is no right to it for anyone who is not Muslim.”

Along the same lines, PA Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad Al-Malki called Israel’s improvement of conditions at the Cave of the Patriarchs a “war crime.”

The PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida in August quoted Al-Malki as saying that Israel’s actions “constitute a war crime and a violation of all the international laws” and Israel of “attempting to strengthen the colonialism, occupation, and forgeries that it is committing on our land, our heritage, and our history.”

Al-Malki also called on UNESCO to inspect “the deliberate Israeli destruction of the values of world art, heritage, and culture of the Palestinian sites.” He urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to “hurry in launching a criminal investigation against the occupation’s leaders who are intentionally destroying the Palestinian heritage sites.”

Israel’s adaptions of the holy site to the needs of disabled visitors prompted Ahmed Tamimi, PLO Executive Committee member and head of the PLO Department of Human Rights and Civil Society, to threaten to unleash a third intifada. He reminded Israel of “the Palestinian people’s willingness to go to the furthest extremes in order to defend its right and basic principles.”