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What About The Victims?
By Nabeel Abraham
Lies Of Our Times
In analyzing the torrent of news coverage following the February
25 Hebron massacre, a great deal can be learned from what was
emphasized and exaggerated and from what was minimized or
The preeminent concern was not for the victims of the slaughter,
nor for its root causes, but for whether the massacre would upset
the deal of the century that Yitzhak Rabin had obtained from a
desperate Yasir Arafat.
Baruch Goldstein’s mass killing unleashed a flurry of apologies
that sought to distance Israel and its American supporters from
his crime. Typical was Elie Wiesel’s lugubrious and calculated
reaction: “How it could have happened, that a physician, a Jew,
on the day of Purim, going to a place that is holy for so many
people and killing? It is something I simply cannot comprehend or
accept… ” (New York Daily News, February 26, p. 6). (Perhaps
Wiesel was unaware that this was a physician who, Hippocratic
Oath notwithstanding, refused to treat Arabs.) And then there was
Cynthia Ozick, who demanded “mutual contrition” from
Palestinians, while simultaneously defending “the overwhelming
majority of the Jewish residents of the West Bank” from being
“maligned as criminals” (op-ed, New York Times, March 2).
The killer was portrayed as a deranged loner, and Israel was once
again “ashamed.” But its regrets and apologies were contrasted
with the PLO’s past silence and “policy” of “terrorism” (Charles
Krauthammer, “Terrorism in the Middle East: For Israel, it’s
shameful; for the Palestinians, it’s policy,” op-ed, Philadelphia
Inquirer, March 8). Israel was allegedly “cracking down” on the
settlers, though evidence of a crackdown was slight, and was
vastly less severe than that immediately applied to the
Although Wiesel, Ozick, and many others strained to differentiate
Goldstein’s act from Israeli policy, his brutality nevertheless
stripped, at least momentarily, the label of “victim” from Israel
and its Jewish supporters and handed it over to the Palestinians.
In reality, Goldstein had done openly on a grand scale what
Jewish settlers and the army have been doing on a smaller scale
for years (see below).
After three weeks of extensive coverage, most people were left
with the impression that only one massacre had occurred in Hebron
on February 25. In fact, two massacres took place on that fateful
Friday morning. The first was Goldstein’s murder of 29 worshipers
in the Ibrahimi Mosque.
In the second massacre, 10 Palestinians were killed and more than
100 injured by Israeli soldiers “who continued to shoot at those
who were trying to flee the mosque, at those who were evacuating
the wounded, and at those who had gathered at the hospital in
order to find out about their loved ones and donate blood” (Tikva
Honig-Parnass, News From Within [P.O. Box 31417, Jerusalem],
March 1994, p. 2). Honig-Parnass reported that over the course of
the following 48 hours “an additional seven Palestinians were
killed, and more than 200 were injured (more than 100 of those
from the Gaza Strip) as soldiers continued to fire at the masses
who were demonstrating daily throughout the Occupied
Territories.” “In drastic measures which have not been taken for
a long time, 21 Palestinians were killed by live ammunition from
the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] in the first six days following
the massacres,” Honig-Parnass added sadly. The Washington office
of the Palestine Human Rights Information Center reported that in
the month following Goldstein’s crime, the Israeli army killed 44
Palestinians and wounded more than 800 others.
It took weeks for U.S. readers to learn the details of this
second massacre. And an equally long time elapsed before readers
here learned the significant fact that the Israeli army was
forbidden to fire at settlers, even if they were engaged in
murder. Even when this was revealed by Israel’s commission of
inquiry into the Hebron massacre, little attempt was made to show
the continuity of settler and army violence and its roots in the
occupation and occupation policy.
Silencing The Victims
What was most troubling about the initial coverage in the New
York Times was the absence of the voice of the Palestinian
victims. Not until March 15, three weeks after the event, did
there appear any significantly in-depth interviews with relatives
and friends of the massacre victims, or even, for that matter,
with average Palestinians. There were stories on the reactions of
Israeli Jews, Israeli settlers, Israeli Arabs, even Arab
Americans and Jewish Americans, but very little on what
Palestinians in the Occupied Territories thought and felt. (On
Jewish settler views see, among others, Alan Cowell, “Settlers
Say the Arabs Can Now Know Fear Too”; on Israeli Arab reactions,
see Chris Hedges, “Among Israeli Arabs, Latent Anger Explodes”;
on Arab-American and Jewish-American reactions, see Francis X.
Clines, “Sad, Angry and Fearful: Voices of Arab-Americans and
American Jews”; all March 1, p. A15.)
Oh, yes, Chris Hedges also reported that PLO chief negotiator
Nabil Shaath had been “traumatized” by the massacre (“Palestinian
Leaders Express Outrage and Urge Disarming of Settlers,” February
26, p. A5). Generally, when the Times looked for a Palestinian
reaction, it turned to PLO officials. The major exceptions
occurred in stories devoted to assessing Arafat’s standing among
Palestinians (e.g., Hedges, “Hebron Massacre Further Wounds
Arafat’s Image,” March 5, p. A1; Clyde Haberman, “As Youths
Battle Israeli Soldiers, an Ally of Arafat Calls for Armed
Struggle,” March 6, p. A6; Youssef Ibrahim, “Two Palestinian
Rivals Warn of Storm to Come,” February 27, p. A18). In a similar
vein, a Times interview with Edward Said, conducted the day after
the Hebron killings, was largely confined to his criticism of
Arafat (Diana Schemo, “America’s Scholarly Palestinian Raises
Volume Against Arafat,” March 4, p. A4).
Recall that only two weeks before the tragedy, Arafat had caved
in to virtually every Israeli demand, shocking even his own
negotiators, some of whom resigned in protest (see the excellent
coverage of the London-based Middle East International, February
18). The Times seemed less concerned with the state of the
Palestinians than with their opinion of Arafat. After all, what
good is the deal of the century if Arafat is unable to deliver
his end of the bargain?
The Sunday after the massacre, the Times ran a page-one story
under the headline: “Massacre Leaves Israelis Shamed, Sad, and
Scared of What’s Ahead: Some Expect Violence; Others See Pressure
for Peace Talks” (Haberman, February 27). As the headline
indicates, the story was devoted almost exclusively to the fears,
anguish, and shame of Israeli Jews in distant Tel Aviv. Haberman
opened with this bouncy line: “Finger-snapping and brisk-paced,
Tel Aviv hardly stopped today, but it skipped a few beats as it
wrestled with the Hebron massacre, a brutal blow that left many
Israelis depressed, shamed, scared and yet faintly hopeful that
good may come of it.” In another story in the same edition,
Haberman observed: “While it was a day of rage for Arabs, it was
one of sadness and shame for many Israeli Jews, recoiling at a
mass killing committed by one of their own” (“Palestinians Battle
Israelis to Protest Hebron Massacre,” p. A16).
What Palestinians might think and feel was of little moment.
Haberman devoted exactly one sentence to the subject: “The
Palestinian mood today was one of rage…” Sadness, grief, and
fear are emotions that seem to elude Palestinians and the
billions of others inhabiting the Third World. If they are not
cheering Saddam’s Scud missiles, they are either languishing
docilely under some tree or rioting with rage. The three photos
relevant to the story showed Palestinians clashing with Israeli
police, thereby reinforcing Haberman’s assertion that
Palestinians only know how to rage. A Reuters story, datelined
Ain Hilwe, Lebanon, “Refugee Camps Echo with Calls for
Vengeance,” surveyed demonstrations and riots in three
neighboring Arab countries. Not a single Palestinian, Arab, or
Muslim was interviewed (February 27, p. A17).
The initial interviews with relatives of the massacre victims
appeared five days after the killings (Joel Greenberg, “Hebron
Mourners Predict Bloodshed,” March 2). A man who had lost a
nephew in the massacre “said the killing was a result of the
accord reached in September between Israel and the Palestine
Liberation Organization.” Another said the massacre had left him
feeling “vulnerable.” Not quite the expressions of rage ascribed
to Palestinians in earlier news stories.
A Few Exceptions
Credit for the few stories that examined the reactions of
ordinary Palestinians goes to Youssef Ibrahim, an Egyptian-born
Times reporter who normally resides in Paris. Ibrahim interviewed
the owner of a pharmacy in Halhoul, a West Bank town not far from
Hebron, who expressed the feelings of many Palestinians when he asked rhetorically:
After the massacre all Israeli politicians said they were sorry
and deplored the killing. But who created the climate for those
killings? It is the same Government whose army you see outside my
pharmacy. Who put the settlers here? Who protects them? Who gave
them the right to bear arms? It is the army and the same
government expressing sorrow (“West Bank Palestinians Wander in
a No-Man’s Land,” March 3, p. A8).
In an earlier story, this one from Bethlehem, Ibrahim observed
that “the estimated 2 million Palestinians living under Israeli
occupation [are convinced] that further talks with Israel are
pointless unless the settlers are disarmed” (“P.L.O. Insisting
That the Settlers All Be Disarmed,” March 1, p. A14).
Meanwhile Israel continued to impose punitive round-the-clock
curfews on Palestinian towns and villages, prohibiting the
movement of Palestinians to their jobs, and killing and maiming demonstrators, as headlines in the Times reassured readers that Israel was cracking down on Jewish settlers (Haberman, “Crackdown
by Israel Is Off to a Slow Start, But More Is Promised,” March
15, p. A1).
Taking a cue from the Rabin government, the Times was quick to
stress that the Hebron massacre was, in the words of a February
26 editorial, “the work of a deranged and fanatical individual.”
In the news columns, a settler claimed Goldstein had suffered a
“‘mental crisis’ brought on by frequent killings of Jews at Arab
hands” (Haberman, February 26). Similar claims appeared in other
stories, which repeated the settlers’ charge that the government
left them unprotected, thereby pushing Goldstein over the edge
(Hedges and Greenberg, “A Seething Hate…” February 28, p. A1).
One wonders how long the Times would continue to sell
in New York if it reported that every knife-wielding Palestinian
had had a “mental crisis” “brought on” by the occupation and “by
frequent killings of Arabs at Jewish hands.”
The Times initially and briefly reported Palestinian claims
Goldstein may have had an accomplice and that Israeli soldiers
standing guard outside the mosque had shot fleeing worshipers.
But it never took the Palestinian charges seriously enough to
investigate them. In all likelihood the government’s claim of a
lone killer would have gone unquestioned but for the surprise
testimony by Israeli guards, who testified during Israel’s
official inquiry nearly three weeks after the massacre that at
least one of them had “fired into the crowd” (Hedges, “Israeli
Soldier Shot at Crowd, Survivors of Massacre Assert,” March 16,
p. A1; Haberman, “Confusing Israeli Testimony Poses Possibility
of Hebron Accomplice,” March 18, p. A1).
Settlers’ Violent History
Far from being targets of Arab attacks, the settlers have a long
history of perpetrating violence against an essentially
defenseless Palestinian population. In the first year of the
intifada, December 1987 to December 1988, “there were 391
reported incidents of settler violence against Palestinians
resulting in the murder of thirteen Palestinians and the wounding
of at least 110 others. In the first six months of 1989, there
were 133 reported settler raids, nine murders, 100 beating and
shooting injuries, and 206 other violations, totalling 448
violations committed by settlers against Palestinians in a six-
month period” (Colonial Pursuits, DataBase Project on Palestinian
Human Rights, Jerusalem/Washington, D.C., 1989, p. 23).
By 1989, the situation was so bad that it came to the attention
of Times reporter Alan Cowell, who wrote a semi-informative story
on the topic (“Jewish Settlers’ Anger Turning Violent,” June 3,
1989, p. A13). Cowell reported that a group of “30 young
settlers, apparently yeshiva students, stormed into a village,
opening fire on homes, burning crops and killing a teen-age
Palestinian girl”; not the typical picture of besieged settlers
that came across in the aftermath of the Hebron massacre.
In another incident cited by Cowell, settlers “attacked members
of the Peace Now movement trying to take food and medicine to
Palestinian children in the occupied Gaza Strip.” Cowell also
reported that “for the first time” the normally supportive
Israeli army “blocked the advance of settlers who have routinely
rampaged through Hebron.”
A year ago, Clyde Haberman reported an “ominous episode” in which
a Jewish settler near Hebron executed a Palestinian, “firing
eight times into a man who was bound hand and foot… ‘I shot
him to teach the Arabs a lesson,’ the police quoted him as saying
later” (New York Times, April 4, 1993, p. A12).
Articles appearing in the Israeli Hebrew press last November
painted a grim picture of Jewish settlers’ rampages on Arab towns
and villages in the Occupied Territories. All hair-raising stuff,
which several Israeli journalists characterized as “Jewish
Pogroms” directed at the local population. The Israeli press,
unlike its U.S. counterpart, was not squeamish about identifying
the tacit support the marauding settlers received from Rabin’s
Labor government. What follows are a few examples taken from
translations provided by Israel Shahak.
“No one should be surprised…”
Hillel Cohen reported in Kol Ha’ir in mid-November on the
wave of settler riots” in Hebron, where a group of settlers on
their way to the Tomb of the Patriarchs smashed the windows and
slashed the tires of 14 Arab-owned cars (November 12, 1993).
The riot occurred some 36 hours before the car of a settler
leader, Rabbi Druckman, was ambushed, resulting in the death of
his driver. According to Cohen, the “breaking the windows of Arab
cars is an everyday occurrence which stopped attracting attention
Two days later, veteran reporter Danny Rubenstein wrote in
Ha’aretz of “recent and repeated attempts [by settlers] to set on
fire the Islamic mosque within the Patriarchs’ cave,” the site of
Goldstein’s massacre (November 14, 1993).
The complicity of the Israeli government and army is evident in
this story by Yoav Kaspi that appeared November 21, 1993, in the
now-defunct publication Hadashot. With the start of the current
wave of settler riots, “[a]lmost every day the commanders of the
troops in the Territories are ordered to reiterate to their
soldiers the set of instructions prepared on personal orders from
the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, Yitzhak Rabin.”
The orders are that “soldiers must avoid, at all costs,
confrontations with the settlers; but if absolutely necessary,
and only after obtaining a special approval from their commander,
they are to politely ask the settlers to disperse.” If the
settlers refuse to budge, the soldiers can only report them to
the local police. Not surprisingly, “many army officers who serve
in the West Bank have developed feelings of disgust at the
settlers’ behavior,” Kaspi reported.
Last January Israeli commentator Olek Netzer reported that in a
meeting between settler leaders and the Israeli army commander
for the West Bank “an important religious Jew stood up and said
that no one should be surprised if a religious settler will go
into some Arab village and mow down 30 to 40 people.” At a press
conference following the meeting, his grim warning was echoed by
settler leader Zvi Katzover, who cautioned, “Do not be surprised
if there is a murderous terrorist action by one of our impatient
comrades who could not bear the situation any longer” (Davar,
January 20, 1994). Such undisguised warnings left little to the
imagination other than the exact date of Goldstein’s heinous
Feeble And Misleading
Contrast the foregoing with the feeble and misleading attempt by
the Times to situate the Hebron massacre “in the long history of
terrorist attacks involving Arabs and Jews” (Associated Press, “Terrorism Over Israel,” February 26, p. A6). The story listed 12 examples “of some earlier major attacks since the founding of Israel, ranked in order of the number of people killed.“ One
incident was a bomb that in 1970 destroyed a Swissair plane en
route from Zurich to Tel Aviv; another involved a murderous
attack in 1986 on a synagogue in Turkey, allegedly carried out by
“two Arabic-speaking terrorists.” Not a single entry had anything
to do with Jewish settler violence, and therein, no doubt, lies a
Humanizing The Victims
The following list of those who died at Hebron was provided by
the Washington, D.C., office of the Palestine Human Rights
(Information from the Hebron Graduates Union, except for persons
starred, which is from fieldwork.)
- Abu Hadid, Jaber Aref Abu Sneineh, 12, eldest in family.
- Abu Hamdiyeh Gheith, Walid Thuhair, 14, one of 10 children.
- Abu Nijmeh, Marwan Mutluk Hamad, 31, married, 6 children.
- Abu Sneineh, Abdel Rahim Abdul Rahman, 47, married, 11
children (eldest child is mentally handicapped).
- Abu Sneineh, Ahmad Abdullah Mohammad Taha, 27, family of 20.
- Abu Sneineh, Ala’ Badr, 17.
- Abu Sneineh, Tareq Adnan Ashour, 12, one of 12 children.
- Abu Hussein, Khaled Khalaweh, 55, married, 8 children.
- Abu Zanouneh, Mohammad Sadeq Ayoub, 46, married, 4 children.
- Badr, Saber Musa Katbeh, 35, married, 4 children, wife
- Burkan, Arafat Musa, 34, married, 4 children.
- Dandis, Talal Hamad, 24, married, wife pregnant.
- Fakhouri, Hatem Qader, 26, married, 2 children.
- Gheith, Mohammad Radi, 50, married.
- Idris, Mohammad Salim Idris Falah (Imam), 35, married, 2
- Jabari, Suleiman Odeh, 30, married, 10 children.
- * Jabari, Abdul Haq Ibrahim, 57, married, 13 children
(employee in Hebron court).
- Jabber, Zeidan Hamoudi Abdul Majid, 30, married, 4 children.
- Kafisheh, Kamal Jamal, 13.
- Karaki, Diab Abdul Latif, 20, only supporter for family.
- Karaki, Khaled Hamzi, 19.
- Marakeh, Mohammad Kifah Abdul Mu’az, 12.
- *Mojahed, Nimer Mohammad Nimer, 30, married, 3 children.
- Muhtasib, Wael Salah Abed, 29, married, 3 children.
- Muhtasib, Nour ad-Din Ibrahim, 20, father sick.
- *Natsheh, Jamil Ayed Abdul Fattah (Muezzin), 50, married, 13
- Natsheh, Raed Hassan, 20, eldest child.
- Rajabi, Rami Arafat, 12.
- Zahded, Sufian Barakat, 20.