18 years since massacre, Hebron's Palestinians still under siege
Khalid Amayreh, Monday 27 Feb 2012
On 18th anniversary of Ibrahimi Mosque massacre, Jewish settlers - backed by Israeli political/security establishment - are still striving to make lives of Hebron's Palestinians a living hell

On 25 February 1994, as hundreds of Muslim worshipers performed dawn prayers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in downtown Hebron, Jewish-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein descended onto the mosque from the nearby Jewish-only settlement of Kiryat Arba and sprayed worshipers with machinegun fire, killing at least 29 and injuring many others.

The terrorist, using his Israeli Army-issued Galilion rifle, wanted to kill as many innocent people as possible so as to foster an atmosphere of terror throughout the city, which is the largest in the West Bank. Goldstein sought to terrorise the local Arab community, which constitutes 99.5 per cent of Hebron's population.

Israeli occupation authorities, who had to deal with the ensuing public relations disaster, denied any complicity or collusion with the perpetrator. But it was hard to believe that the terrorist could have reached the heavily-protected mosque compound without a degree of coordination with the Israeli army garrison stationed at the site.

Goldstein himself was quickly overpowered and killed by survivors before he had a chance to kill even more people. Many Jewish settlement leaders then had the chutzpah to demand the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for his death.

Many Jewish religious leaders went so far as to praise the mass murderer, calling him a hero and even a saint. Eventually, a monument was erected in his honour in Kiryat Arba, to which Jewish pilgrims from as far away as California continue to come to pay their respects.

Goldstein was also eulogised by many rabbis and Talmudic sages, who argued that a thousand Gentiles – or Goyim – were not worth a single Jew's fingernail. One rabbi, when asked about the religious permissibility of murdering innocent non-Jews, compared the death of innocent Arabs to the death of innocent insects.

Following the bloodbath, the Israeli government launched a massive public-relations campaign aimed at convincing western – especially American – public opinion that the Israeli government had played no part in the carnage. Israeli officials argued that that the self-proclaimed Jewish state, along with most Jews, was as much dismayed by the act as anyone else.

Polls in Israel and abroad, however, revealed that a majority of Jews, including Israeli high school students, enthusiastically supported the act of violence. Moreover, subsequent measures taken against the local Palestinian population, as well as excessive leniency shown towards settlers, further suggested government indifference to the massacre.

The claim that the Israeli government had been surprised by the murder was, for many observers, beyond belief. In truth, the massacre had been preceded by a premeditated campaign of incitement to violence against Palestinians by Talmudic circles.

Notably, Goldstein had been affiliated with the religious Zionist school of thought associated with rabbi Abraham Kook.

In "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel" (Pluto Press, 1999), authors Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky quote Kook as saying that "the differences between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews...is greater and deeper than the differences between a human soul and the souls of cattle."

According to many rabbinic sages, the difference between Jews and Gentiles was not religious or political, but racial, genetic and scientifically unalterable. Some rabbinic circles with which Goldstein had been affiliated would quote heavily from the Talmud and Old Testament to justify the genocidal treatment of non-Jews in general and Palestinians in particular.

Goldstein was also a follower of the manifestly racist rabbi Meir Kahana, who called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. In 1978, Kahana wrote a book to this effect entitled "They Must Go." Fourteen years later, after giving a speech in a New York City hotel in which he called for expelling all Palestinians from Palestine/Israel, Kahana was assassinated.

Now, 18 years later, while Goldstein and Kahana no longer exist, "Goldsteinism" – i.e., virulent anti-Palestinian hatred and violence – remains alive and well among most Jewish settlers.

A few years ago, settler leader Daniella Weiss visited Hebron to encourage settler squatters who had taken over an Arab property in the city to resist government efforts to vacate them.

Weiss, a former mayor of a northern West Bank settlement, quoted extensively from Old Testament verses urging the ancient Israelites to slaughter every man, woman and child among their enemies. According to Weiss, such ferocity represented "the only way to deal with the Arabs."

Following the 1994 massacre, Israeli occupation authorities put Hebron – the Arabs, however, not the settlers – under the longest and harshest curfew ever imposed since the occupation of the city began in 1967. So cruel was it that several Hebron residents succumbed to illnesses after being denied access to local hospitals.

Israeli officials, for their part, argued that the curfew was justified by "the security situation."

It was clear, however, at least from the Palestinian perspective, that the main purpose of the extended lockdown was to push as many local Palestinians as possible to leave their homes in order to facilitate the gradual takeover of the area by Jewish settlers.

These suspicions have since been vindicated by subsequent Israeli actions.

The Shamgar Commission, a board of inquiry appointed by Tel Aviv to investigate the circumstances of the massacre, concluded that Israeli occupation authorities had consistently failed to investigate – let alone prosecute – crimes committed by settlers against Palestinians.

Perhaps it was local Israeli military commander Noam Tivon who stated it most frankly when he told Israeli daily Haaretz: "Let there be no mistake about it. I am not from the UN; I am from the IDF [Israeli Defence Forces]. I didn't come here to seek people to drink tea with, but first of all to ensure the security of the Jewish settlers."

The current situation in Hebron, like that in the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories, remains very similar to that seen on the eve of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre 18 years ago.

Jewish terrorists, referred to innocuously as "settlers" in mainstream discourse, routinely vandalise mosques – and, to a lesser extent, Christian churches – and scrawl racist graffiti on their walls, profaning the symbols of both religions.

What's more, Jewish settlers, under heavy protection from Israeli soldiers and police, regularly storm Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque. The military/police protection gives them a sense of empowerment, emboldening them to commit acts of terror and vandalism – even murder – against the Palestinian population with no fear of arrest or prosecution by a justice system that openly discriminates against non-Jews.

Had the Ibrahimi Mosque carnage happened in any other country, the government would, at the very least, have expelled the noxious settlers from the area. Far from taking such a step, however, the Israeli government instead stepped up the settler presence in Hebron while doing everything possible to harass native Palestinians in hopes of encouraging their eventual voluntary departure.

Israeli occupation authorities even adopted additional draconian measures against the Palestinian presence in Hebron's Old City. On Shuhada Street, for example, Palestinians are banned from using the central thoroughfare linking the city's commercial district with the eastern and southern suburbs and neighbouring towns.

Some of the street's buildings date back to the British and Ottoman eras. In recent years, efforts were made to rehabilitate the historic street, but Jewish settlers fought the project, breaking street lights and pavements and hurling stones at the workers.

Today, Shuhada Street looks more like a ghost town, with only Israeli settlers, soldiers and foreign tourists allowed to access it. It remains covered in anti-Arab graffiti, much of which is particularly ugly, featuring slogans such as "kill the Arabs" and "Arabs to the gas chambers."

Even more bizarre are the metal mesh cages enclosing the balconies of houses in which Palestinians continue to live. Since the Israelis have bolted their outside doors shut, these Palestinian residents can only exit their homes by using rickety ladders or crawling out windows.

The mistreatment has been specifically designed – by both Jewish settlers and the Israeli political/security establishment – to make the daily lives of Old Hebron's Palestinian residents an enduring nightmare. And, unfortunately, it has largely succeeded.