"Israeli defense minister storms al-Ibrahimi Mosque," blares the headline of an EgyptIndependent.com headline this week, referring to Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's visit to the Machpelah Cave in Hevron. The article actually proceeded to quote the Islamic director of the Machpelah mosque as saying that the "incident" comes in the "framework of the Israeli occupation to turn the mosque into a Jewish synagogue."
As is well-known, and widely-ignored in the Arab media, the city of Hevron, and especially its Machpelah Cave, have been holy to the Jewish People ever since the Patriarch Abraham buried the Matriarch Sarah there 3,590 years ago – more than 2,000 years before Muhammad was born.
The PA's WAFA agency went the Egyptian report one better when it put Ya'alon's title in quotation marks, calling him the "Israeli 'Defense' Minister." It stated not that Ya'alon "stormed in" to the site, but rather that he "broke in." The report termed his visit "provocative."
Both reports referred to the throngs of Jewish visitors who were expected to arrive at the Machpelah Cave today (Thursday) – but in a puzzling manner. The Egyptian report noted that the Israeli forces were preparing to "shut down the mosque… to allow settlers to celebrate feast on September 1."
Since September 1 is not for another few weeks, the PA report must be consulted for explanation – and it in fact states that the army "allowed Jewish settlers to force their way into it [emphasis added – ed.] … purportedly for celebrating the first of September according to the Jewish calendar."
Still more explanation is required: The Machpelah Cave is divided all year round between Jewish worshipers and Moslem worshipers, with the latter receiving the large Isaac Hall, and the Jews allowed to pray in the smaller Abraham and Jacob Halls. On religious holidays of each religion, the entire complex is closed to the other religion. This Sunday will be the beginning of the month of Elul, the month of introspection, prayer and repentance, and it was commemorated early this year, on Thursday of this week. The date "September 1" has nothing to do with the Jewish calendar.
Hevron is considered Judaism's 2nd-holiest city, after Jerusalem. In Islam, Jerusalem is #3 in sanctity, while Hevron does not appear on lists of holy Islamic sites. This may change, however, if Hebron follows the path of Jerusalem – which, in well-documented fact, was not considered a holy Islamic site until it became politically expedient to do so.
In addition to Sarah, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are also buried in the Machpelah Cave in Hevron, as are the Matriarchs Rebecca and Leah.