Why did an Israeli kill 29 Palestinian worshipers in Hebron in 1994?
Kiryat Arba suburb of Hebron
Hebron has a long and rich Jewish history. It was one of the first places where the Patriarch Abraham resided after his arrival in Canaan. King David was anointed in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years. One thousand years later, during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, the city was the scene of extensive fighting. Jews lived in Hebron almost continuously throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman periods. It was only in 1929 — as a result of a murderous Arab pogrom in which 67 Jews were murdered and the remainder were forced to flee — that the city became temporarily an Arab-only city.
During the Jordanian occupation from 1948 to 1967, Jews were not permitted to live in the city, nor -- despite the terms of the 1948 Armistice Agreement -- to visit or pray at the Jewish holy sites in the city. Additionally, the Jordanian authorities and local residents undertook a systematic campaign to eliminate any evidence of the Jewish presence in the city. They razed the Jewish Quarter, desecrated the Jewish cemetery and built an animal pen on the ruins of the Avraham Avinu synagogue After Judea and Samaria were recaptured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, Rabbi Moshe Levinger led a group of ten Jewish families to settle in Hebron and eventually develop Kiryat Arba. The Jews living in Hebron today have deep ideological convictions regarding maintaining the city's Jewish presence. The Book of Genesis relates that Abraham purchased the field where the Ma'arat Hamachpelah, Tomb of the Patriarchs (aka The Cave of Machpelah), is located as a burial place for his wife Sarah. According to Jewish tradition, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are buried in the Tomb. The Tomb, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, is known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, and is used for daily prayer services by both religions. Hebron contains many sites of Jewish religious and historical significance, in addition to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. These include the Tombs of Othniel Ben Kenaz (the first Judge of Israel) and Avner Ben Ner (general and confidante to Kings Saul and David), and Ruth and Jesse (great- grandmother and father, respectively, of King David). Victims of the 1929 pogrom, as well as prominent rabbinical sages and community figures, are buried in Hebron's ancient Jewish cemetery. Hebron, with a small number of Jews living in the midst of the now-Arab city, has been the site of many violent incidents. Since 1968 over 24 Jews have been killed by Palestinian Hebronites, including six Jewish yeshiva students who were shot on their way from Sabbath prayers in 1980. Jewish settlers in the area have also been responsible for anti-Palestinian attacks, including the 1983 killing of three Palestinians at the Muslim College of Hebron and the January 1997 shooting of 7 Palestinians by Israeli soldier. But the best known, and most serious incident of Israeli violence against Arabs was in February 1994, when Dr. Baruch Goldstein, a resident of Kiryat Arba, opened fire with a Galil assaultrifle on Muslim worshippers at the Machpelah Cave, murdering 29 and wounding 125. [Some Arab accounts claim many more deaths, but most reports agree on the number 29.] Even though this terrorist act was no larger than attacks carried out against Israeli Jews, and was not in any way supported by the Israeli government or the Jewish people, it seriously impacted the peace process and led to the installation of an international observer force in Hebron, arrangements solidified by the Hebron Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians signed in 1997. All over the Middle East, Arabs rioted, attacked Jewish communities, and staged protests. The massacre remains a flash point of debate today, frequently cited to justify Arab terrorist attacks against Jews. Baruch Goldstein's slaughter cannot be excused or explained away. In order to try to fathom what led to his act, these contributing factors are available:
- The long history of Arab persecution of Jews in Hebron
- Hebron Muslims were aggressive in threatening Jewish residents, nearby settlers, and worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. At Purim services the evening before the massacre, as Jewish worshippers, including Goldstein, were reading the Scroll of Esther, local Muslims loudly disrupted the ceremony with chants of "It-bakh al Yahud" (slaughter the Jews), a cry frequently heard in Hebron.
- Goldstein, an IDF medical officer, may have received reports circulating at that time of an impeding pogrom on the scale of 1929 that was to occur within days against the Jews of Hebron.
- Goldstein lost friends to terrorist attacks and treated victims as their doctor. He may have been motivated by revenge.
- Baruch Goldstein acted alone in planning the massacre in advance and told no one of his plan beforehand
- Palestinian testimony of army and Jewish help in the massacre was discounted as contradictory and inconsistent
- No fragments were found that would support the testimony of survivors concerning a grenade explosion
- The political leadership and security forces could not have been expected to predict such an attack
- Here is buried the martyr, the doctor. May the Lord avenge his blood.