MUEZZIN'S LIFE LIES SUNK IN A GAZA MOSQUE'S RUINS
- MUEZZIN'S LIFE LIES SUNK IN A GAZA MOSQUE'S RUINS
BEIT HANOUN, Gaza, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Hussein Kafarneh is a muezzin
without a mosque.
For nearly 30 years he led the traditional call to prayer at Beit
Hanoun's al-Nasser shrine, one of the oldest mosques in Gaza, climbing
the twisting steps to the top of the white stone minaret five times a day.
His father did the same for 40 years before him.
Then, on Nov. 3 this year, as Israeli forces pursued an offensive in
Gaza, they clashed with Palestinian militants holed up inside and
nearby the mosque, using it as cover.
A dramatic stand-off ensued, with Israeli tanks aiming their barrels
towards the shrine and around 60 well-armed militants firing rounds
back towards the Israelis.
The army decided that since the mosque was being used for military
purposes it was no longer protected under the rules of conflict.
Commanders sent in armoured bulldozers to knock down its ancient
walls, which dated to the 13th century.
"They came and they crushed it," said Kafarneh, sitting in the shadow
of the mosque in Beit Hanoun's Martyrs Square, large mounds of brick
and rubble lying behind him.
The minaret, with its ornate gallery, still stands, but it is badly
damaged and near collapse. It can't be climbed.
"For the first time in 28 years I have not made the call to prayer. I
am just sitting here," said the 62-year-old, still looking slightly
stunned by the weight of events.
"If I had 20 sons, I would give them all for my mosque."
Asked whether gunmen had used the shrine for protection as they fought
Israeli troops, Kafarneh and his friends sitting on plastic chairs
around him are quiet and then dismissive.
"There were gunmen, yes. But they weren't inside the mosque. They were
nearby, in the buildings. Look, the buildings and the mosque are all
together here," said one as the others nodded.
On the day of the stand-off, Hamas, the Islamic militant group that
runs the Palestinian government, said itself that dozens of its gunmen
were holed up inside.
It put out a call on local radio asking women to create a human shield
around the shrine so the gunmen could escape. Just about all of them
did, before the bulldozers rolled in.
For many people in Beit Hanoun the destruction of the mosque was
symbolic of Israel's hardline policies in Gaza. They regard it as a
Jewish aggression against Islam.
Very few are willing to link the actions of the militants to the
destruction of the building, even though it's very unlikely it would
have been targeted if gunmen weren't hiding inside.
Others, though, are aware of the damage the militants frequently cause
to their communities.
"I am against them. No one wants them here. They come and fire rockets
and we just know there will be problems," said Sheikh al-Shabat, 42,
who teaches at the local university.
While not a militant sympathiser, Kafarneh also isn't willing to
condemn them outright. He just wants his mosque back.
"Sometimes I just sit and cry," he says of the four weeks since the
building was demolished.
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