Op-Ed: Twenty Years Since Baruch Goldstein

History and analysis of the events surrounding the massacre.
Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 7:24 AM


Twenty years have passed since that fateful Purim morning when, at the crack of dawn, Baruch Goldstein put on his military uniform, complete with Major’s insignia on his shoulder-boards, walked into the Machpelah Cave where the Muslims were praying the Fajr (Islamic morning service), and sprayed bullets into the crowd.

The official death toll stands at thirty – 29 Muslims and Baruch Goldstein, who was lynched. At the time, however, some media reports put the death toll as high as 59.

The Israeli left and other pro-Arab propagandists were shocked as we all were, but in a way, also cynically delighted. After decades of Arab terrorism, they now had a Jewish terrorist to balance out the “cycle of violence” mantra cum equation, and after decades of having to make do with Jews who occasionally vandalized Arabs’ cars and Israeli air strikes in which civilians were accidentally killed, they at last - alas - had a bona fide, Jewish terrorist.

Baruch Goldstein is still invariably trotted out as Exhibit Number One when portraying Israel as a terror-state. (Or, for the more moderate Jew-haters, when portraying all settlers as terrorists.)

Twenty years on, it is nigh-impossible to re-create the background against which the events of that Purim occurred – particularly for Israelis who were too young to be aware, not yet born, or not yet in the country.

The Oslo Accords had been signed just under half a year earlier, and the Labour-led coalition had been in power for slightly over a year and a half.

Since Yitzchak Rabin had taken office, there had been a dramatic rise in Arab terrorist attacks against Jews throughout the country – not only, as certain left-wing pundits had expected, against the “settlers” of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, but also within the pre 1967 Armistice Lines that they termed “Israel proper”.

In the ten years before the Oslo Accords were signed, 112 Israelis were murdered in terrorist attacks in Israel; in the first five and a half months after the signing,  27 Israelis were murdered.

To express this callously, the death-toll from terrorism rose from an average of 0.03 Israelis per day pre-Oslo to 0.18 Israelis per day post-Oslo – six times higher. (Far, far worse was still to come in the mass suicide terrorism that would mark the Oslo death process; but on Purim of 20 years ago, that still lay in the future.)

Among the “settlers” – that is, the Jews who lived in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, the areas which had been under Jordanian and Egyptian occupation respectively until the Six Day War – the perception prevailed that they were being systematically abandoned by their government. Indeed Rabin, who was both Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, would later (in a television broadcast on 24th January 1995) infamously state that he “was responsible for the security of 98% of Israelis” – explicitly stating that he and his government were not responsible for the security of Jews living on the “wrong” side of the Green Line.

The government’s response to every terror attack was to blame not the PLO who were perpetrating most of these attacks, often with weapons that Rabin’s government had supplied them with, but “Jewish extremists”, “right-wingers”, “settlers". Indeed it was quite common at the time to hear government spokesmen and sympathisers claim – outrageously – that the Likud was collaborating with the Hamas terrorist group to prevent peace.

Official hostility to the “settlers” was palpable, and had been ever since the Labour-led coalition had come to power.

It was against this backdrop that the Jewish community of Hevron faced threats of pogroms from the Arabs of Hevron.


Friday during Ramadan coinciding with Purim in Hevron is as close to nuclear fission as Middle Eastern geopolitics can reach.
As the centre of the most fanatical Arab nationalism and Muslim fundamentalism, Hevron is always potentially explosive; it is even more volatile during Ramadan. In the year 5754 (1994), the Jewish month of Adar coincided with the Muslim month of Ramadan.

Friday during Ramadan coinciding with Purim in Hevron is as close to nuclear fission as Middle Eastern geopolitics can reach.

Since the beginning of Ramadan, Hamas in Hevron had been handing out flyers urging local Arabs to store up food and water in preparation for a prolonged siege. Clearly the Hamas anticipated an event which would cause the Israeli authorities to enforce a closure.

The only action likely to cause such a reaction would be a massacre of Jews.

Baruch Goldstein, in his capacity as the only on-duty doctor in Kiryat Arba and an expert in emergency medicine, was only too acutely aware of what Hamas in Hevron were plotting. On Sunday before Purim, 9th Adar (20th February), Shaul Mofaz (then a Brigadier General and commander of all IDF forces in Judea and Samaria, later promoted to Chief of Staff) visited Kiryat Arba for an emergency meeting with the town’s leaders. He told of intelligence information concerning a planned terror attack in the area of Machpela towards the end of the week, and asked Baruch Goldstein to “be prepared”.

The Jewish residents of Kiryat Arba approached the Civil Administration, who referred them to the local police. The police responded that they could not take action against a crime that had not yet been committed, and referred them to the Army. The Army responded that they were under the control of the Civil Administration.

The feeling was that a mass terror attack against the Jews of Hevron would serve the hard-Left government’s policies. There was, after all, a precedent: the Arab massacre of Hevron’s Jews in 1929 had served as the British administration’s pretext to expel all the Jews from the city; most returned in 1931. Following the pogrom of 1936 the British expelled the Jews again, and the city would remain Judenrein until Israel liberated it from Jordanian occupation in the Six Day War of 1967.

The feeling among Hevron’s Jews – and indeed among a large segment of the general Israeli population – that the government would find a massacre of Jews expedient might not have been justified. Nevertheless, the fact that this perception was so widespread is in and of itself a terrible indictment of government policies at the time.

Just two days after the event, the Government established the Shamgar Commission to investigate. (No Government ever established any Commission to investigate the hundreds of mass murders perpetrated by Arab terrorists against Jews.) The Shamgar Commission (its findings in English can be seen here) determined that the Arabs of Hevron were indeed preparing for a massacre of Jews, and that the Army, the police, and the Civil Administration had failed in their duty to coordinate any action to prevent such a massacre.

The Shamgar Commission called the shooting “a base and murderous act, in which innocent people bending in prayer to their maker were killed”.  And a clear inference of the Shamgar Commission’s conclusions is that the events of that Purim morning forestalled the planned massacre of the Jewish community of Hevron.

The Shamgar Commission consisted of three judges, one professor, and one retired Army general. Of these five, one was centre-Right, one centre-Left, two extreme Left, and one Arab. Not even Peace Now could argue that the Shamgar Commission was biased in the settlers’ favor.

A few hours later, 79-year-old Morris Eisenstadt was murdered in Kfar Saba by Ali Ibrahim al-Rai (who was sentenced to life for murder and released by the Israeli Government half a year ago), and then for almost four weeks, not one Jew was murdered anywhere in Israel. Only those who were in Israel at the time can remember - it was the longest break in violent deaths since the Oslo Accords had been signed.

26 days later, on March 23rd, Victor Lashchiver was shot and murdered near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on his way to work, and Israel returned to its routine of Jews being murdered in terror attacks every few days.

What is indisputable is that had the terrorists of Hamas perpetrated a massacre of Jews that Purim morning twenty years ago, the event would have been all but forgotten. After all, there were other massacres of Jews -  and how many people today recall the murder of 13 Jews in the suicide bombing in Dizengoff Centre the day before Purim 18 years ago?

How many people can recall with certainty in which year the Park Hotel suicide terror-bombing occurred, in which 30 Jews were murdered and another 140 injured while celebrating the Passover Seder?

Does anyone, Jew or Muslim, still remember the massacre of 22 Jews by gunmen of Abu Nidal in the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul on 6th September 1986?

Terrible as the act was, there is unquestionably hypocrisy in the annual hate-fest excoriating the one “Jewish terrorist”, by those who at best forget, and more usually attempt to justify, the many hundreds of Arab terrorists who have murdered thousands of Jews.