As the Israeli occupation of the West Bank continues, Palestinian sacred, cultural, heritage and ritual sites are being erased one by one, and instead – Jewish heritage sites grow and flourish. A special two-year survey carried out by MachsomWatch volunteers reviews 35 Palestinian heritage sites known as maqamat – and examines the practices of their expropriation and possession.
The MachsomWatch survey is available in Hebrew and will be available in English in the near future.
Prayer sites – maqamat – (graves or commemoration sites of religious leaders, sheikhs) have been religious, cultural and community focal points in Palestinian rural society. People would pilgrimage to the maqam (usually a white square-built structure with a domed roof topped with the emblematic crescent) and to the sacred woods that surrounded it on religious holidays (mawasem). Communities would gather for prayer, religious ceremonies, and rituals, for circumcision and wedding ceremonies. Public and private events were often held at the maqam to pray for the recovery from illness, to pray for offspring, for success, and simply to enjoy family time in nature.
The list of holy persons who were honored with graves and maqamat is long. The names are taken from the Koran, from the Bible (both the Old and the New Testaments), from local distinguished persons, and from holy figures sanctified by Islam.
Since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, a clear distinction has been made for maqamat associated with Old Testament figures, which were identified by the Civil Administration Staff Officer for Religious Affairs. These sites were renovated and attract mass pilgrimages of Jews. On the other hand, maqamat held sacred by Muslims alone, those related to friends of the Prophet Mohammad or other Muslim figures, were annexed to Jewish settler-colonies by military orders, enclosed inside firing zones, nature reserves or archeological sites, and suffer ongoing physical neglect which endangers their survival.
The MachsomWatch survey, carried out over two years, brings testimonies, photographs and maps from 35 sites sacred to Palestinians, including those blocked or partly inaccessible.
In the photographed testimonies, both in the survey and in the attached video, Palestinians speak of the longing and the pain they feel as they are unable to access their own heritage sites.
Here is one such testimony given by Abu Mursi of the village of Bourin in the Nablus area, July 2016:
“Mount Salman is holy because it is named after Salman Al Farsi, friend of the Prophet Mohammad. We used to hike there, especially in the month of March, during the spring holiday season… we would go there to play and have fun and spend the day, and whoever had made a vow and fathered a son would bring the child for his first haircut there, and he would make a sacrifice and invite the whole extended family for a festive lunch at the site. In the days of my father and grandfather, we would go there as well. However, since 1983 we have not been allowed to go there anymore.”
This maqam is trapped inside Yitzhar settler-colony in a 25-dunam nature reserve, out of bounds for Palestinians.
Legally the maqamat fall under Israeli and international law that requires their upkeep and accessibility to believers.
Legal consultation to the MW survey was provided by Attorney Neta Amar-Schiff.
Much important information about maqamat trapped inside settler-colonies was provided by Dror Etkes of the Kerem Navot organization.
Archeologists Gideon Sulimani and Yoni Mizrahi of Emek Shaveh (alternative archeologists) assisted with the archeological aspects of the survey.