Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April/May 1994, Page 7
Seven Views: Reassessing Declaration of Principles of Peace in Light of the Hebron Massacre
No End in Sight So Long as Settlements Flourish
By Rachelle Marshall
If anything could be as shocking as the slaughter by an Israeli settler of 30 Palestinians, and the wounding of another 150, as they knelt in prayer at dawn on Feb. 25, it was the aftermath of that tragedy. When outraged Palestinians took to the streets in Gaza, the West Bank, and Arab areas of Israel to protest, Israeli troops responded with gunfire, killing at least 21 more Palestinians during the next three days and wounding scores of others. Relatives who wished to mourn the dead were confined to their homes under curfew.
Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the U.S.-born physician who entered the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron carrying his Galil automatic rifle and systematically sprayed at least 100 bullets at the rows of kneeling men and boys before he was beaten to the ground and killed, was hailed as a hero by many of his neighbors in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. At his funeral in the settlement at least 100 people turned out to eulogize him, including a rabbi who declared that "one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail."
In Jerusalem, where 300 people gathered to honor Goldstein, a man was cheered when he shouted "We are all Goldstein!" Joyous celebrations of Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating victory over a biblical enemy, continued without interruption throughout Israel.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose policies helped to insure that such a massacre would take place, called it the work of "a single deranged individual, the action of a lunatic." Two days later the government announced that 20 militant settlers would be disarmed and 5 held in administrative detention, an action previously taken against thousands of Palestinians. As a sign of goodwill, Rabin said he would free 800 Palestinian prisoners, most of whom were due for release anyway.
But Palestinian leaders called these hollow gestures. As usual, Palestinians were the ones who were punished, not the perpetrators of the crime. The army sealed off Gaza and the West Bank and put tens of thousands of West Bank residents under curfew. Although the government ordered Jewish settlers in Hebron to stay within their communities, armed Israelis continued to roam the streets while Palestinians in Hebron were prohibited from leaving their homes.
Contrary to Rabin's statement, Goldstein was anything but a lunatic. In Brooklyn, where he grew up, he was known as an outstanding student at Yeshiva University and Albert Einstein Medical College, and a shrewd and articulate follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. He was a leader in Kahane's Kach movement, which advocates the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories. Respect for ideological diversity and minority rights had no place in his program.
"Israel will soon have to choose between a Jewish state and a democratic one," he wrote in a letter published by The New York Times in 1981, reflecting the fear that Israeli Arabs might someday constitute a significant voting bloc in a democratic Israel. In 1983 Goldstein moved to Israel, where he organized Kahane's campaign for the Knesset and became the Kach Party's representative on Kiryat Arba's governing council. He spoke out repeatedly, both publicly and privately, against any peace with the Palestinians, and, according to Kiryat Arba's Mayor Zvi Katzover, said a formula must be found to blow up the peace process." Goldstein apparently decided he had found such a formula.
His murderous rampage at the Ibrahimi mosque was anything but the impulsive act of a madman. It was an act of war, a deliberate fulfillment of threats that have been made repeatedly by Israeli extremists who are convinced it is God's will that Israel and the West Bank belong only to the Jewish people. As one of Goldstein's supporters remarked, "He did it on the day of Ramadan so he could kill as many of them as possible."
The conditions that enabled Goldstein to carry out the slaughter still exist. Despite threats of violence by many settlers in the event of even a semblance of Palestinian self-rule, the government permits all but self-declared members of the terrorist Kach (Thus) and Kahane Chai (Kahane Lives) organizations, perhaps 200 in all, to remain armed. All are issued Uzi machine guns by the army and may buy pistols as well. Since last September settlers have shot to death at least five Palestinians.
Members of Kahane Chai and Kach are suspected of other serious crimes against Palestinians. In early February, Meir Kahane's son Binyamin was briefly arrested with a group of followers near the Arab village of Yasuf after they announced they were on their way to evict the residents and take over their houses. A few days later, Kahane told Joel Greenberg of The New York Times, "There will be a war here, we will win it very quickly and remove the Arabs. We'll create a new independent state for Jews who want to here freely, not under Arab rule. " Despite these warnings, the government has continued to arm the settlers.
Last November Rabbi Abraham Toledano was detained at Ben-Gurion airport when customs officials found $50,000 in cash in his luggage along with radio scanners, ammunition, bomb fuses, and detonators. Toledano was returning from New York, where right-wing Jews have raised money and held rallies to support extremist Israeli groups.
Palestinians are not the only targets of violence, however. In mid-January, groups calling themselves "The Shield of David" and the "Maccabee Squad" planted bombs outside New York offices of two Jewish organizations that favor Middle East peace, Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund. A note left at one location said, "The civil war has begun." Afterwards, Mike Gozofsky, a spokesman for the U.S. branch of Kahane Chai, said on -60 Minutes" that "Violence is sometimes a necessary thing. If that's what has to be used to defend the Jewish state from Arafat and Rabin today, then so be it."
Israel Shahak's report in the February/March issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, all but predicted that a tragedy on the scale of what happened at the Ibrahimi mosque would take place, given the conditions in Hebron. Shahak's article describes repeated and continuing assaults by settlers on Palestinian residents of the city, including vandalism, beatings, and attempts to disrupt Muslim worship at the mosque. Many of these acts are committed under the eyes of soldiers, who are under orders to arrest a Jew only if he hits a soldier or shoots a Palestinian directly in front of him. Even then, Jewish suspects are quickly released.
It is no wonder then that Baruch Goldstein was able to walk unchallenged into a crowded mosque wearing his uniform and carrying an automatic rifle. It is no wonder that he was able to reload several times before finally being brought down by Palestinians who dared to rush him. And it is no wonder that during the massive protests that erupted afterwards, Israeli soldiers continued the slaughter of Palestinians.
What made these events inevitable is that the peace accords of last September have had no effect on Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza. The massacre at the Ibrahimi mosque was not the work of a lone gunman but of a government that has kept in place all the mechanisms of a brutal occupation that has lasted 27 years. Instead of withdrawing Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza, Rabin has added to their number. He has vowed that no settlements will be removed for at least five years and has refused to release more than a token number of the 12,000 Palestinians who remain in prison. He has stonewalled on every detail of the negotiations in an effort to insure Israel's permanent dominance over the occupied territories. And he has done nothing to prepare Israelis for a new relationship with the people they have been taught to despise and humiliate for nearly 50 years. On the contrary, by extending the borders of Jerusalem nearly to Ramallah and Bethlehem with new settlements and roads, Rabin has guaranteed supporters of a "Greater Israel" that their continued intrusion into Palestinian land will be protected.
President Clinton has asked Israel and the Palestinians to move their negotiations from Cairo to Washington, but such a move would be meaningless unless he can convince Israel to make fundamental changes in policy, such as releasing large numbers of Palestinian prisoners, disarming the settlers, and preparing to hand over control of the West Bank and Gaza to a Palestinian governing authority. Unfortunately, U.S. opposition to the PLO's most minimal demand-for international protection of Palestinians under occupation-indicates that first Washington must change its own policy in favor of a more evenhanded approach.
Moderate Jews in Israel and the U.S. would support such a move on Clinton's part. Shortly after the mass thousand members of Peace Now demonstrated in Jerusalem to demand an independent inquiry into the massacre and the immediate evacuation of 400 settlers living in the center of Arab Hebron.
In an op-ed column in The New York Times of Feb. 26, Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, wrote that the only way for Israel to prevent further murderous actions such as Goldstein's would be to "extend Palestinian self-rule throughout the West Bank and disarm all West Bank and Gaza settlers." Religious Jews, he added, “should press settlers to leave the West Bank or prepare to live as a minority in another people's country." A Feb. 27 editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz concluded, "If Jerusalem thought that Israel would be able to guarantee the continued existence of the settlements in the permanent peace arrangements there is no longer any basis for expectation."
As these statements by Jewish supporters of a peaceful Israel suggest, the future of the peace process is now clearly up to the Israeli government. PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat put the challenge succinctly in an interview with National Public Radio just after the massacre: "Peace is made not by leaders but by people on the ground. When people on the ground see real changes and want to protect those changes, then you have peace. We have seen no changes."
Rachelle Marshall is a free-lance editor living in Stanford, CA. A member of the International Jewish Peace Union, she writes frequently on the Middle East.