The Background and Consequences of the Massacre in Hebron

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Article/book #: 24
Title: The Background and Consequences of the Massacre in Hebron
By: Israel Shahak  
Published in: Middle East Policy, volume III, issue 2
Date of issue: 1994
Topic(s) addressed: People/entities mentioned in this item: Place(s) mentioned in this item: Timeline event(s) mentioned in this item:
   25 Feb 1994:Baruch Goldstein massacres 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi mosque; secondary massacre carried out by soldiers

Commentary (by a person who is not a member of the UCC Palestine Solidarity Campaign ):

Astonishing article.

»It seems certain that the real story of the February 25, 1994, events in the Patriarch's Cave of Hebron will not be known, even in its rough outline, at least until the secret archives of the Israeli army and Shabak [secret police] are opened. By destroying evidence, preventing professional investigation and spreading massive disinformation, the Israeli army saw to it that nobody, the newly appointed Inquiry Committee included, would learn the whole truth. The army's power to destroy evidence and fabricate stories about the crime itself is indeed formidable; yet it is much less formidable as far as the background of the massacre is concerned, which in my view is no less important than the massacre itself. Fortunately, the control of the Hebrew press by the Israeli government is not as tight as the controls the army exerts in the territories. That is why the Israeli version of the events can be conclusively contested, but it still cannot be rectified to the point of yielding another consistent version. This is also why in this article I have to confine myself to a disclosure of reticences of the army and then to proceed to discussing the background and consequences of the massacre.
To begin with, the Israeli army first deliberately destroyed all on-site evidence of the massacre by cleaning its aftereffects in haste, and only then proceeded to "investigate" it as unprofessionally as possible. On February 27, Nahum Barnea (Yediot Ahronot) informed that the army commanders in Hebron had first evacuated all the survivors, the wounded included, from the Patriarch's Cave, then removed the corpses, and then scoured the hall by cascading water from the largest fire engine in the Hebron municipality. The next day Barnea added new information: that the previous day's cleaning was not considered sufficient and hence, on Saturday, soldiers were ordered to "scrub" the entire hall of the Patriarch's Cave meticulously. But the Israeli army is supposed to observe Sabbath with due rigor, enforced by military chaplains serving in all units -- especially in Hebron, where many officers are religious and the religious settlers can watch how Sabbath is observed. It can therefore be presumed that the scrubbing of the hall was elevated to a level of urgency sufficient to justify the violation of the Sabbath in the eyes of both the army and its rabbis, whom the officers are instructed in such cases to consult.«

»Anyway, the "findings" of General Yatom's "investigations" seem to surpass all records of deception and disinformation in the army's communications during the intifada. Let me just quote a single such "finding." On February 27 and 28 the Hebrew press reported that Arab eyewitnesses had said that on escaping from the Patriarch's Cave after the slaughter, they were shot at by the soldiers from an army lookout located on a hillock opposite the Cave, and that some of them were then wounded. On March 1, the same papers reported how General Yatom had "explained" this fact at a government meeting. He said that he had asked the soldiers involved, "who could be relied upon to tell me the truth, as the Israeli soldiers generally can" and that the soldiers he queried told him that all the shooting had been into the air. (The poor general has apparently never heard a 26-year-old Israeli joke, according to which the Palestinians must be capable of walking in the air, because soldiers shoot only into the air and yet the Palestinians are being hit.) But "the truth" as communicated to General Yatom by his soldiers apparently didn't suffice to convince the ministers, because he also told them that he himself had inspected the bloodstains on the way between the Cave and the army lookout, to find that "the blood clotted on the ground conclusively proved that it could only have squirted out from the wounds of those hit at in the Cave during their evacuation, and not from any wounds inflicted by shooting from the army lookout opposite [the Cave]." The press didn't dare to ask about the rules of inference followed by General Yatom to reach his conclusions on the basis of inspection of pools of clotted blood. Nor is it known whether any government minister queried the general about this matter.«

»President Weizman expressed his "sorrow" perhaps more extravagantly than anybody else. After four days of this extravagance, it turned out that, acting on Rabin's behalf, he was at the same time busy promoting the entry of Rafael Eitan and his Tzomet party to the government coalition. When serving as chief of staff, Rafael Eitan not only became notorious for his repeated exonerations of soldiers who had murdered innocent Arabs (in one case after a protracted torture), but also for referring to the Palestinians as "drugged cockroaches in a bottle." And nothing indicates that he has changed his views since. But Uzi Benziman (Haaretz, March 4) also informs us that while Weizman was expressing his "shock" at the massacre, he was engaged in amiable negotiations with Goldstein's family and his Kach comrades over a suitably honorable funeral for the murderer. 'The Kiryat Arba settlers, among whom many declared themselves in favor of the mass murder in radio and TV interviews, lauding Goldstein as a "martyr" and "holy man," demanded from General Yatom that the funeral cortege parade through the city of Hebron, then under a curfew. Yatom didn't dare to reject this demand outright, but he opposed it on the ground that it could cause "disorders." Thereupon Tzvi Katzover (one of the most extremist among the leaders of the religious settlers) and mayor of Kiryat Arba, phoned Weizman with threats that "the settlers were going to carry out a pogrom" if their demands are not met. Weizman responded to this outrageous threat with favor, and "phoned the Chief of Staff to ask him why the army opposed the demands of the settlers. Barak answered that the army was afraid that Arabs may desecrate [Goldstein's] tomb and carry away his corpse. In further negotiations involving inter alia Barak, Yatom, Rabin, the Kach leaders and Kiryat Arba settlers, Weizman took a consistent position that "the army should pay all the respects to the desires and sensibilities of the settlers and Goldstein's family." Ultimately a compromise satisfactory to all sides was reached. A massively attended funeral cortege would take place in Jerusalem, and the police would close some of the busiest streets to the traffic. And so it was. But following that Jerusalem affair, the murderer was buried with all due ceremony in Kiryat Arba, on the extension of "Kahane Avenue." His tomb, with a permanent guard of honor provided by the army, at once became a site of pilgrimage, not only for the settlers but also for delegations from all the Israeli cities, as noted with revulsion by Nadav Haetzni (Maariv, March 4). According to Benziman, however, the consent of the Kach leaders to this compromise was hard to obtain. General Yatom had to approach them and Katzover in person, promising that "Goldstein's burial in Kiryat Arba is only temporary and that eventually he will be reburied in Hebron." Consent had also to be obtained from the notorious Kiryat Arba rabbi Dov Lior, who had declared that "since Goldstein did what he did in God's name, he is to be regarded as a Righteous Man" (Yerushalaim, March 4). Benziman quotes an explanation of this disgraceful conduct by Weizman's entourage: "After the fact, the officials of the Presidential Residence justify those goings on by the need to becalm the mood of the settlers." His comment is that "one needs to be quite optimistic to expect that, with such attitudes in high places, the [Israeli] government may muster enough courage to do something really significant, like removing the Jewish settlers from the city of Hebron." A demand to this effect has indeed been voiced by some commentators, but it was fiercely opposed not only by the settlers but also by all the right-wing parties.«

Quotations from this item:
Israel Shahak:  "Dov Lior said: "[Baruch] Goldstein was full of love for fellow human beings... "
Moshe Levinger:  "I am sorry not only about dead Arabs but also about dead flies.... "

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