Hebron killer acted alone, panel finds

June 27, 1994|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- Angering most Arabs but satisfying some Jewish settlers, an Israeli inquiry concluded yesterday that settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein acted alone in killing 30 Muslim worshipers in a Hebron mosque Feb. 25.

The 338-page report acknowledges a double standard in Israel's enforcement of the law among settlers and Arabs in the occupied territories -- with a preference toward settlers and their right to carry weapons.

But, the report says, the double standard had no bearing on the massacre.

The killings occurred during dawn prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, an ancient shrine holy to both Muslims and Jews that has long been a site of confrontation.

Dr. Goldstein strolled fully armed past an Israeli guard on his way into the crowded mosque, on a tense Friday when the Jewish festival of Purim overlapped with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The worshipers attacked him as he fired and, eventually, beat him to death.

The five-member commission of inquiry, headed by Meir Shamgar,chief justice of Israel's Supreme Court, says that before the massacre Israeli authorities received "a general warning about the danger of a fatal attack against Arabs, and that the attack would be carried out, with high probability, by extreme Jewish groups."

But a greater concern at the time, the panel says, was a threat of violence against Israelis by the fundamentalist Islamic group, Hamas.

"Therefore," the report concludes, fear of an attack against Muslim worshipers "did not, and need not have occurred."

The report recommends that when the Tomb of the Patriarchs reopens that settlers no longer be allowed to take guns inside.

There was no need to address the issue of disarming Arab worshipers, because it is already illegal for Arabs to carry weapons in the occupied territories.

Complete separation'

The report also recommends that security be ensured by a "tomb guard" of specially assigned Israeli soldiers and police, and that new arrangements be made "to create complete separation between the Muslim and Jewish worshipers . . . to prevent friction, disputes and acts of violence."

Arabs reacted strongly against the commission's findings.

"I don't think that the act in the Hebron mosque was an individual act," said Shaeb Erekat, an official with the Palestinian self-rule authority on the West Bank. "The Israeli government and the policy of settlement carry complete responsibility for this ugly crime."

Mr. Erekat said, "The presence of settlers in the occupied territories is a time bomb, and as long as the situation is like that, the time bomb is on and can explode at any time."

Reaction in the street was similarly bitter.

"The whole report has been planned according to the government's needs. It is [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin's decision put into the mouths of these judges," said Khader al Owaini, who runs a children's clothing store in the center of Hebron.

"If someone told you there are two gods, would you believe it? I wouldn't, and I don't believe this. He didn't do this by himself. The Israeli army participated in it."

Settler groups were more appreciative.

"The Shamgar commission vindicated our assertion that an entire segment of the population cannot be held responsible for the actions of one man," said a statement from the Yesha council of settlements in the occupied territories.

But the council objected to the recommendation that settlers no longer be allowed to take weapons into the Tomb of the Patriarchs, saying that that would be "a dangerous precedent."

Pre-emptive attack

Some of Dr. Goldstein's friends, who now see him as a hero, also complained that the commission ignored reports that he was carrying out a pre-emptive attack after hearing that Arabs were planning a massacre of Jews. And last week, Dr. Goldstein's wife, Miriam, attempted to block the report's release until investigators looked into whether he might have opened fire in self-defense.

The Shamgar commission convened March 8, hearing 106 witnesses in 31 sessions that ended April 18. From the beginning, the biggest question was whether Dr. Goldstein acted alone.

Many Arab witnesses said on the day of the massacre and the next morning that they'd seen others helping Dr. Goldstein.

A few cited the existence of a second gunmen, or more, but a more common account said that a second man had helped by handing him another gun or more ammunition.

"The evidence before us indicates that Goldstein acted alone," the commission concluded. It said that the accounts of Arab witnesses citing accomplices, heard long after the shooting occurred, "did not convince us of the credibility and truth of this claim; rather it did the opposite."

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