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Hebron Massacre Revisited: Understanding Today's Politics

By Khalid Amayreh

03 March, 2010

On February 25, 1994, hundreds of Muslims were performing the Dawn Prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, also known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs.

However, a former Jewish immigrant from the United States, who was also a soldier in the Israeli security forces, ascended to the holy shrine and opened fire indiscriminately from his Galilion semi-automatic rifle, killing at least 29 people and injuring more than 160 others.

Adel Idris, a survivor, described the scene.

"It was like a slaughter house, the carpets were soaked in blood, many people were lying dead or injured, some moaning and on the verge of death, blood was everywhere, [and] dead bodies scattered all over the place, it was a day unlike any other day."

Goldstein, a disciple of the racist Rabbi Meir Kahana, was eventually killed by survivors who feared he would kill more people.

Kahana, an American Jewish Rabbi who eventually became a Knesset member, argued that non-Jews in Israel/Palestine would have to accept servitude and to be expelled or physically exterminated. He wrote a book entitled "They Must Go." He was killed following a fiery speech in Manhattan; New York, in November, 1990.

The mass murder took place in the full view of Israeli army guards posted along the corridors leading to the interior of the mosque, and no attempts were made to stop the killer.

Pacifying Arabs

As word of the massacre spread throughout the city, hundreds of locals converged at the Mosque to save lives and take the badly injured to the two main hospitals in Al-Khalil, the Princess Alya and Ahli ones.

However, Israeli army soldiers began shooting, killing, and injuring several people. The same thing occurred outside the Ahli hospital, where Israeli troops opened fire on Palestinians who wanted to donate blood, killing at least six people and seriously injuring others.

In the meantime, Jewish settlers in the nearby Kiryat Arbaa and also in the small Jewish enclave in Al-Khalil's old quarter were celebrating.

One of their leaders, Moshe Levinger, remarked, "I am not only sorry for dead Arabs, but sorry for dead flies as well."

Levinger blamed the Rabin government for the massacre because it "exerted so much mental and emotional pressure on Goldstein" by way of accepting the Oslo peace process and allowing the creation of the Palestinian self-rule authority.

Another settler leader, Hanan Porat of the National Religious Party or Mifdal, declared: "A thousand Arab lives are not worth a Jew's fingernail."

None of the settler leaders was arrested for incitement to murder and for celebrating the massacre.

Indeed, far from doing so, the Israeli government was busy preparing a public relations campaign aimed at limiting damage caused by the massacre. Israeli officials, one after the other, appeared on television screens, condemning the carnage and swearing that they had never expected such an act to ever happen.

They also strove to convince the world that Goldstein was merely a "nutcase", who in no way represented the moral values of the Jewish people, a claim that really lacked in credibility, given the fact that a close to majority of Israeli Jews either supported the massacre or were totally apathetic about it.

In a classical example of adding insult to injury, the Israeli army immediately imposed a hermetic curfew on Al-Khalil, with orders to shoot violators.

The Israeli government claimed the curfew, which lasted several months, aimed at preventing Arab protests and possible revenge. However, the fact that the curfew was imposed on Arabs, but not on Jews, showed beyond doubts that Israel punished Palestinians for a crime perpetrated by Jews.

During the curfew, many Palestinians who fell ill had to succumb to their illness, because Israel would not allow them to be taken to hospitals. This happened while gangs of Jewish settlers were provocatively strolling in the streets of the Old City, assaulting Palestinians and vandalizing their businesses and property.

Similarly, Israeli occupation troops sealed most of the internal roads and routes inside the old town, effectively cutting it off from the rest of Al-Khalil.

The Israeli message to the people of Hebron was unmistakable: "leave, period."

The closure of roads and denial of access were also intended to narrow Palestinian horizons and allow the settlers to walk the streets undisturbed, as if the estimated 30,000 Palestinians who lived in the Old City did not exist.

However, Palestinians would not leave, which really frustrated the Israeli army and government, forcing them to relax the curfew ten weeks after the massacre.

Partitioning the Mosque

To give the impression that Israel was following the due process, the Rabin government decided to appoint a commission of inquiry to look into the circumstances surrounding the massacre and to find out if there was any negligence on the part of the occupation army.

The commission, headed by Judge Meir Shamgar, held several hearings and listened to several eyewitnesses. Eventually, the commission exonerated the Israeli government, army, and even the settler leadership, ruling that Goldstein acted alone and that no other person was to blame for the crime.

The findings of the commission, which Palestinians viewed as illegitimate since it represented the occupying power, not a third party, ignored the phenomenal incitement of the religious Zionist camp, especially the settler camp, against Palestinians.

Interestingly, it was the same incitement that led to the assassination of the Israeli prime minister Yitzahak Rabin at the hands of a Jewish extremist a few months later.

However, the central recommendation of the Shamgar Commission proposed the partitioning of the Ibrahimi Mosque, an exclusive Islamic place of worship for nearly 1400 years.

According to the arrangements proposed by the commission, the holy shrine would be used as a synagogue on Saturdays and major Jewish holidays and as mosque on Fridays and major Muslim holidays.

The arrangements, which were made without the slightest consultation with Muslim officials, infuriated Palestinians at all levels, who considered them null, void, and illegitimate and amounting to an act of usurpation against one of Islam's holiest places.

Saint Murderer

The murderer Goldstein was buried in the settlement of Kiryat Arbaa, following a massive funeral procession in West Al-Quds. His grave eventually became a pilgrimage site frequented by national religious and other Jews from all over the world who came to view him as a great saint and Rabbi.

On April 6, 1994, the Israeli newspaper Yedeot Ahronot published excerpts of a book about "Saint Baruch Goldstein", which refers to the mass murderer as "Rabbi doctor Baruch Goldstein of blessed memory, may the Lord avenge his blood."

The book contained eulogies of Goldstein and Talmudic justifications for the right of every Jew to kill non-Jews. In the book, Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, who was the then head of the Kever Yosef Yeshiva (religious Talmudic school) near Nablus, argued that the blood of a Jew was redder than the blood of a non-Jew and therefore a Jewish life was more important in every aspect than a non-Jewish one.

The late Israeli philosopher and intellectual Israel Shahak commented on this evil discourse in his book "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel," saying:

"Those people, especially Germans, who were silent and did not condemn Nazi ideology before Hitler came to power are also, at least in a moral sense, guilty for the terrible consequences that followed. Similarly, those who are silent and do not condemn Jewish Nazism, as exemplified by the ideologies of Goldstein and Ginsburgh, especially if they are Jews, are guilty of the terrible consequences that may yet develop as a result of their silence."

Shahak added: "Changing the words "Jewish" to "German" or Aryan" and "non-Jewish" to "Jewish" turns the Ginsburgh position into the doctrine that made Auschwitz possible in the past. To a considerable extent, the German Nazis' success depended upon that ideology and upon its implications not being widely known early."

There are two more points I would like to make before ending this piece. First, it should be noted that it was only after the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre that Palestinians began carrying out suicide bomb attacks (martyrdom operations) against Israeli military and civilian targets.

Hence, one can argue rather plausibly that Israel's terror against Palestinians, which by far exceeded Palestinian violence against Israelis, forced some Palestinians to tear their bodies into bits and pieces in the streets of Israel in order to deter further massacres by Jewish fanatics.

Second, it was clear from the beginning that the Israeli authorities never took any punitive act against the family of Goldstein. Not only the Goldsteins' home in Kiryat Arba was not demolished, and none of his family members was arrested, as is the case when Palestinians are involved in a "terrorist" act, but the government of Israel also paid a huge amount of monthly salary to Godlstein's widow and children.

Even today, a lot of money from North America is being channeled to the families of Jewish terrorists in the West Bank, and security agencies in both the United States and Canada do nothing about it.

This happened as Israel enlisted the entire Western world to cut off all financial aid to the families of Palestinians killed during the First and Second Intifadas.

This really underscores the criminal hypocrisy and moral duplicity espoused by Israel toward its Palestinian victims.

Khalid Amayreh is a journalist living in Palestine. He obtained his MA in journalism from the University of Southern Illinois in 1983. Since the 1990s, Mr. Amayreh has been working and writing for several news outlets among which is Aljazeera.net, Al-Ahram Weekly, Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), and Middle East International. He can be reached through [email protected].