After the Hebron Massacre

March 01, 1994

In 1929, Arab rioters killed some 60 Jews in Hebron. The event is etched in Israeli consciousness. Its remembrance forms part of Israeli nationalism. After partition in 1948, Hebron was controlled by Jordan, the ethnic cleansing complete. To roll it back, ardent Zionists founded Kiryat Arba and other settlements near Hebron and the reputed Cave of Abraham, after Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967.

The slaughter of Arab Muslim worshipers at the Cave of Abraham by the American-Israeli Baruch Goldstein last Friday was a comparable atrocity. The last count was 39 dead by his hand and 25 in clashes that his action provoked. Israelis more than anyone should understand how this atrocity will burn into Palestinian consciousness and be remembered decades hence.

If peace negotiations between Israel and its neighbors break down from this affair, those governments will have handed policy-making to the late terrorist Baruch Goldstein. The intimidation movement to which he belonged, Kach, would be accorded majority status, although its activist membership is estimated as low as 100.

The gestures of suspending negotiations by the PLO, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon can be dismissed as necessary grandstanding. They all have an interest in achieving peace and no sensible alternative. The PLO demand to renegotiate the status of settlements now is also grandstanding. In the Oslo-Washington accord, that question was postponed for three years. So it should be.

But Israel also has obligations in this ritual, to enable its negotiating partners to return to the table, that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin appeared to recognize last night. His reported agreement to disarm some settlers, allow an expanded Palestinian police force and allow international observers went a long way. It had not been enough, Sunday, to detain a handful of Kach leaders, or to impose the first symbolic curfew on Kiryat Arba, or to set up a commission of inquiry.

Israel should begin imposing equal justice in the occupied territories. A curfew enforced against Palestinians should be enforced equally against settlers. If Israel demolishes the house of a terrorist, it should demolish Goldstein's. Since the funeral of Baruch Goldstein at Kiryat Arba turned into a triumphal celebration, the government should consider forcibly closing that settlement.

That this would cause pain and anger among many Israelis goes without saying. It would probably provoke a clash between the Israel Defense Forces and extremist settlers. But it would also be popular with most Israelis. And it would restart the peace process. Doing nothing will not.

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