Lessons of the Hebron Massacre

— Editors of Challenge

The horrendous massacre of Palestinians in Hebron at a moment of prayer in the holy month of Ramadan is not only a crime against humanity and a horrible tragedy; it represents a historic turning point in the relations between the Palestinian people and Israel.

The massacre brought the conflict between the Palestinians and Israeli settlers to a climax. The settlements have been at the heart of Israeli occupation policy. In 1968, a year after occupation, a Labor government had already sanctioned the first settlement deep in the West Bank – Kiryat Arba. During the following twenty-six years, Israeli governments have consistently used the settlements to control Palestinian land and to deny the Palestinian people national sovereignty.

Successive Israeli governments have built settlements on top of every Palestinian village and city, rendering the lives of the Palestinians unbearable. They settled the heart of Hebron and of the Old city of Jerusalem, compelling Palestinians to vacate. Every Israeli government has armed the settlers, incorporated them into special regional military units, put the Israeli army at their service, turned a blind eye to their vandalism, and given generous amnesties to Jews who killed Palestinians. The massacre should not have surprised anyone who knew what was transpiring in Hebron, least of all the Israeli government and its security apparatus.

Israeli attempts to portray mass murderer Baruch Goldstein as a unique phenomenon unrelated to Israeli policy are patently absurd. Goldstein, a reserve officer, was armed by the Israeli government and had violently attacked Palestinians in the past. He was never punished, despite an October 1993 complaint against him filed by the Muslim authorities. As a settler in Kiryat Arba, he was a representative of Israeli occupation policy.

Equally preposterous are Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s efforts to convince the world that Goldstein’s bullets alone, and not the army’s fire, slew Palestinians. This belies eyewitness evidence and logic. Neither does Rabin account for the large number of Palestinian martyrs who fell trying to escape the massacre, just outside the mosque, two later in the Hebron cemetery, three in front of a Hebron hospital, and six more in the sanctuary outside the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, all over the Occupied Territories, and even in the Bedouin village of Rahat inside Israel. (Ten more were killed in Hebron by March 30.)

A Chain of Massacres

Goldstein’s crime enjoys understanding if not direct sympathy in Israeli circles that are far from marginal. Especially worrying is the widespread support for settlers, and even for the massacre, among high school youth (as reported in the Israeli press).

The bloodbath in Hebron is the latest in a long line of massacres perpetrated against the Palestinian people over the past forty-six years. From the massacres of Dir Yassin (1948), Kufr Qassem (1956), Black September (1970), Tel a-Za’atar (1976), Sabra and Shatila (1982), Al-Aqsa (1990), to Hebron, the massacres epitomize that the Palestinian people never enjoyed a moment of security.

The most obvious lesson of this terrible history is that only self-determination and an independent state can safeguard Palestinian security and guarantee peace for all sides in the conflict. Unfortunately, this lesson has frequently been dismissed or ignored. It was ignored in the opening of the Madrid talks almost two years ago; it was ignored in the Declaration of Principles (DOP) signed in Oslo last August; and, perhaps more fatally than ever before, it is being ignored by the Rabin government after the Hebron massacre.

The DOP cannot prevent the recurrence of future massacres; indeed, the agreement contains the seeds of the Hebron massacre. The DOP stipulates that no Israeli settlement will be dismantled during the interim period, and makes no commitment to do so in future.

The Rabin and Clinton administrations are calling on the negotiators to redouble their efforts to implement the DOP. They still believe that peace, coexistence, settlers and settlements are compatible – all that is needed is to restrict the movements of some Goldsteins in the settlements. So far, the only lesson Rabin has drawn from the massacre is to invite Raphael Eitan’s right-wing Tsomet party into the government. Eitan has declared that his main concern is to safeguard the future of Israeli settlements. Rabin is simply placing more obstacles to peace, leaving the door open for more massacres, and showing what little faith he has in the whole peace process.

Those concerned with real peace in the Middle East cannot continue in the DOP framework. The road to peace does not go through Oslo. A just peace necessitates a new agreement based on two principles: a clear linkage between the interim and final periods, and a clear Israeli recognition of the inalienable Palestinian right to self-determination, including a commitment to full withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and full dismantling of the settlements in the final stage. Only such an agreement can create the necessary conditions for meaningful peace negotiations.

ATC 50, May-June 1994