Twenty Years Ago Today: Massacre in Hebron

Baruch_GoldsteinTwenty years ago today, an American-born Israeli called Baruch Goldstein died. The inscription on his gravestone runs a bit like this: Here lies The saintly Dr. Reb Baruch Kappel Goldstein Of holy and blessed memory, May God avenge his blood.


Murdered as God’s martyr On Purim 1994 May his soul be bound in the bond of life

...which is pretty rich for a man who walked into a mosque dressed in army fatigues and carrying an assault rifle, with which he sprayed bullets at the congregation until 29 people were dead and 125 were injured. His own 'martyrdom' came after a fire extinguisher was thrown at his head, stunning him. The angry crowd then disarmed him and beat him to death.

He was an emergency doctor working in the occupied territories, and often treated casualties of the ongoing conflict between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinians who objected to someone settling on their land. But he refused to treat any of the Arab victims; he hated them with a passion. He'd already acted on his hatred the year before, by pouring acid and blood onto prayer mats in the mosque. Letters were written to the Israeli Prime Minister in protest, but nothing was done.

Goldstein had long been an extremist. As a boy in Brooklyn, he'd joined the Jewish Defense League, a militant organisation created by Meir Kahane, a man who had a series of interesting views - for example, that a second Holocaust was about to happen in the US, so all Jews should get themselves to Israel immediately. Goldstein joined Kahane's political party Kach (now banned as a terrorist organisation) when he emigrated to Israel, and stood for the Knesset in 1984. Despite his participation in an election, he disliked the Israeli democratic system so much that he likened it to that of Nazi Germany. Just to make his point clear, he wore a yellow star with the word Jude written on it.

The massacre, in a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, was a blow to the peace process - as Goldstein perhaps intended. He was certainly troubled by the thought that there might be some kind of peace settlement, though it's hard to be clear about the mindset of someone who committed such a terrible act. Perhaps he thought he was striking before arab terrorists could do the same. In the event, his actions provided justification for other extremists to do equally abominable things, whichever side they were targeted at.

Perhaps most hideously, his tomb became a site of veneration for ultra-orthodox Jews who claimed, among other things, that he was '100 per cent perfect', and 'holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust'. A shrine was built by his grave, although that was torn down in 1999 after legislation was passed outlawing monuments to terrorism. The grave itself remained, and is still a focus for those who wish to celebrate Goldstein's murders - and continue the cycle of violence and hatred that continues to this day.

This video sums up the whole thing; it's very much from the Palestinian point of view, but it's about as close to being even-handed as such a thing is likely to get.