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What About The Victims?

By Nabeel Abraham
Lies Of Our Times
May 1994

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 neglected.

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 Palestinians.

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).

Incredible Omissions

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?

Palestinian Rage

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 newspapers 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 that 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 “latest 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 long ago.”

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 crime.

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 message.

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 Center:

  1. Abu Hadid, Jaber Aref Abu Sneineh, 12, eldest in family.
  2. Abu Hamdiyeh Gheith, Walid Thuhair, 14, one of 10 children.
  3. Abu Nijmeh, Marwan Mutluk Hamad, 31, married, 6 children.
  4. Abu Sneineh, Abdel Rahim Abdul Rahman, 47, married, 11 children (eldest child is mentally handicapped).
  5. Abu Sneineh, Ahmad Abdullah Mohammad Taha, 27, family of 20.
  6. Abu Sneineh, Ala’ Badr, 17.
  7. Abu Sneineh, Tareq Adnan Ashour, 12, one of 12 children.
  8. Abu Hussein, Khaled Khalaweh, 55, married, 8 children.
  9. Abu Zanouneh, Mohammad Sadeq Ayoub, 46, married, 4 children.
  10. Badr, Saber Musa Katbeh, 35, married, 4 children, wife pregnant.
  11. Burkan, Arafat Musa, 34, married, 4 children.
  12. Dandis, Talal Hamad, 24, married, wife pregnant.
  13. Fakhouri, Hatem Qader, 26, married, 2 children.
  14. Gheith, Mohammad Radi, 50, married.
  15. Idris, Mohammad Salim Idris Falah (Imam), 35, married, 2 children.
  16. Jabari, Suleiman Odeh, 30, married, 10 children.
  17. * Jabari, Abdul Haq Ibrahim, 57, married, 13 children (employee in Hebron court).
  18. Jabber, Zeidan Hamoudi Abdul Majid, 30, married, 4 children.
  19. Kafisheh, Kamal Jamal, 13.
  20. Karaki, Diab Abdul Latif, 20, only supporter for family.
  21. Karaki, Khaled Hamzi, 19.
  22. Marakeh, Mohammad Kifah Abdul Mu’az, 12.
  23. *Mojahed, Nimer Mohammad Nimer, 30, married, 3 children.
  24. Muhtasib, Wael Salah Abed, 29, married, 3 children.
  25. Muhtasib, Nour ad-Din Ibrahim, 20, father sick.
  26. *Natsheh, Jamil Ayed Abdul Fattah (Muezzin), 50, married, 13 children.
  27. Natsheh, Raed Hassan, 20, eldest child.
  28. Rajabi, Rami Arafat, 12.
  29. Zahded, Sufian Barakat, 20.
(Information from the Hebron Graduates Union, except for persons starred, which is from fieldwork.)