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The building itself was destroyed in 1950 by a military unit under the command of Moshe Dayan (as documented by Meron Rapaport in Haaretz in 2007).There were protests at the time, namely from Shmuel Yeivin, head of the new Israeli Department of Antiquities.This is vividly demonstrated in a wonderful series of photographs from the Matson collection (available from the Library of Congress), taken in April 1943, showing part of a large festival procession for the mawsim of Hussein.The procession went from the town of Majdal (now the Migdal neighborhood of Ashkelon), about 3 kilometers (2 mi) inland, to the Mashhad al-Nabi Hussein and the coast at the site of ancient Ashkelon.Sharing a story from my own experience may help, I think, to illuminate issues of cultural heritage, to bring the past into the present, to deal with the “ancient Near East today.” It involves the Mashhad al-Nabi Hussein (or Mashhad Sayyidina Hussein), “the Shrine of the prophet (or our lord) Hussein”.Hussein ibn Ali was the grandson of Muhammad and an important figure in Sunni and especially Shi‘a Islam: he was the second Shi‘a imam, or communal leader (after his father Ali).In fact, this tradition itself is a later one that cannot be traced back to the seventh century.

Meanwhile, the minbar (the shrine’s pulpit) of the Ashkelon mosque was removed to Hebron (al-Khalil in Arabic), taken perhaps in the late twelfth century by Salah al-Din (Saladin) when he destroyed Ashkelon to keep it from being recaptured by the Crusaders.The story of Hussein’s head alone involves what are now Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank.A variety of persons and states have been involved in the destruction and preservation of buildings – but the basic challenges are shared across time and place.(This is the main event behind the important Muslim holiday of Ashura.) Hussein and his followers were decapitated, and their heads were brought to the Umayyad caliph Yazid in Damascus.What happened to Hussein’s head afterwards, however, is debated.

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” Since my area of study is Israel, I have no direct connection to these unfolding events.