The Erased Heritage of Palestine: A traveller’s itinerary

By Homeintheair (Instagram: @Homeintheair)

During my 10 hours visit to Jerusalem I got a mild form of the famous Jerusalem Syndrome. I was so amazed by all the holy and historical sites. It is truly the most culturally dense city in the world. But Palestine is much more than just Jerusalem. The country is filled with historical sites.

However, during the Nakba the Israeli’s initiated a military program to erase as much non-jewish heritage from the country as possible. This meant the demolishing of some of the most holy sites in Islam and Christianity. Of course the Islamic sites has been hit the hardest, due to the Pope’s intervention which saved some Christian sites and made it possible for hundred thousands of the Christian Palestinians to return after being expelled in the first place.

Nonetheless countless of mosques and churches were either destroyed completely or turned into synagogues, warehousing, horse stables, nightclubs or the like. The exact number is of course disputed but both sides agrees that at least 570 villages were completely destroyed by the Israelis where each one had probably 1-2 mosques. On top of that comes the bigger towns and cities that were destroyed and the many muslim neighborhoods in Jerusalem. You can do the math.

So finally, I have a huge interest in discovering lost places. I seriously should have been an archaeologist! Some of these places I discovered while doing research for my itinerary for my next visit to Palestine. My researcher gene took over and I listed those 10 significant holy sites that were destroyed by Israel during the Nakba and until today. Number in parenthesis is the year of destruction.

1. Nabi Rubin (Reuben son of Jacob) (1948)
Nabi Rubin was one of the most popular sites in Palestine before 1948. The mosque housed Reuben’s grave and every year one of the largest festivals in Palestine would take place here. The festival included singing, dancing the Dabke, distribution of colorful candy, sufi prayers, horse races and magic shows. The festival was so exciting, that Palestinian women from afar would tell their husbands: “Either you take me to Nabi Rubin or you divorce me!”. In 1947 the last festival was held. The next year the city was razed by the Israelis and the mosque destroyed. 
Today, Jews are trying to claim the ruins of the shrine to be one of their own, but their plans has been facing difficulty since Jewish tradition place the grave of Reuben somewhere very different.

Nabi Rubin Festival
The Nabi Rubin Festival before 1948

 

2. Nabi Yamin (Prophet Benjamin) (1948) 
This mosque was not destroyed but converted into a synagoge and prohibited muslim entrance even though the place in the first place was holy to muslims only. Before 1948 the place was not considered holy by the original Palestinian Jews (the Yishuv Jews), nor was it considered the true burial place of Benjamin. 

Nabi-Yamin-50
Nabi Yamin mosqye turned into a Synagoge

 

3. Nabi Shuayb and Mosque of Hittin (1948)
Hittin was a very special city to muslims. Here Saladdin won the battle against the crusaders that lead to the reconquest of the holy land. He built the city and the mosque in this place where the tomb of Nabi Shuayb happened to be. Nabi Shuayb has always been important to the Druze population of Palestine. Muslims and Druze shared this mosque until Hittin was destroyed by Israel in 1948. The mosque of Hittin was completely destroyed and ruins can still be visited while they gave the mosque of Nabi Shuayb exclusively to the Druze as a payment for them to join the Israeli forces.

PikiWiki_Israel_48150_Nabi_Shuayb
Nabi Shuayb still looking like a mosque from the inside

 

4. Nabi Samt (Judge Samson) (1948)
This shrine contained both the tomb of Samson and his father Manoah. It was destroyed with the city of Sar’a (Zorah). After it was proven that the tomb actually belonged to the two holy people, the ruins of the city has been taken over by Israel as an important archeological site.

5. Al-Nabi Yusha’ (Joshua) (1948)
This was the name of a small village that also housed the tomb of Joshua. The village was under French control during the colonization and therefore, officially, a part of Lebanon. However, the French decided to leave the village to the British who were colonizing Palestine. The British gave Palestine to the Jews which included this originally Lebanese village. And yes, they destroyed it all including the tomb. Ruins can still be found but are rarely visited.

Al_Nabi_Yusha_Mosque
What is left of Nabi Yusha Shrine

 

6. Al-Hussein mosque, Ashkalon (1950)
This site was the holiest to muslims outside of Jerusalem. Here the head of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad was buried. The shrine was said to be the most magnificent building in Ashkalon at the time. This having absolutely no value for Jews, it was the most important mosque for zionists to erase. Today a medical center has been built on the grave.

Sey'd_Hussein_ashkelon
Pilgrims going to the Al-Hussein Shrine in 1943

 

7. Sheikh Eid mosque, Jerusalem (1967)
The destruction of this mosque is part of the story of the destruction of one of the most historical areas in Jerusalem, the Moroccan Quarter. This quarter of Jerusalem dates back to Saladdin’s era and the Sheikh Eid Mosque was the biggest and most prominent in this quarter. The whole quarter was destroyed in order to make room for a big square where 200.000 Jews could stand in front of the Buraq Wall (Wailing wall). The residence got 15 minutes warning to leave their houses before the demolishing. Those who did not leave, were killed by the bulldozers wrecking their walls down. 

Moroccan quarter
The Moroccan quarter. I cannot believe I actually stood there just right there not knowing what thriving life has been here once.

 

8. Al Buraq mosque, Jerusalem (1967)
This mosque was also destroyed during the raze on the Moroccan Quarter. This mosque however, was the second most holy to muslims in Jerusalem. It was built where muslims believe that prophet Muhammad tied his divinely sent horse (the Buraq). One of the leaders behind this demolition said “”Why shouldn’t the mosque be sent to Heaven, just as the magic horse did?”. The basement of the mosque, I believe, is still accessible today. 

9. Al-Khadra Mosque, Nablus (2002)
The Nakba never really ended. So I have included a very historical mosque that was destroyed not long time ago. This mosque was built on the holy site where Prophet Jacob cried after believing Joseph had been killed. The mosque is also named “Sadness of our Lord Jacob”.

Nablus is a large city belonging to the Palestinians on the West Bank. In 2002, Israel razed the city and their bulldozers destroyed countless UNESCO heritage sites including this mosque and Abd Al-Hadi Palace.

10. Siksik Mosque, Jaffa (1948)
This mosque is one of the examples of how they used mosques to other purposes after conquering land. This mosque was first turned into a Bulgarian restaurant, then a nightclub and then a warehouse for a plastic factory. And this is the fate of many mosques and churches as well in the bigger cities.

Maybe at some point I will research the churches and do a blog post about those too. And of course, there are countless more holy sites I did not include. There are also palaces, archeological sites, hamams and historical city centers that were completely destroyed that I did not include here. Long story short: thousand years of heritage was destroyed in this country, but ruins remain for us to go and explore which I would love to have the chance to do.

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