'I am not dangerous' Killer: The man who shot up a Muslim holy place in Jerusalem in 1982, setting off riots, returns to Baltimore.

December 17, 1997|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

In the mind of Alan Goodman, it is still the greatest moment of his life, that Easter Sunday nearly 16 years ago in Jerusalem when he stood upon the rock of Mohammed, firing an M-16 into the huge golden dome overhead. Fortified by alcohol, caffeine and a farewell puff on a cigar, he was a wobbly but willing initiate to the fraternity of terrorism.

One Arab man lay dead. Four others were wounded. Shortly he would have the attention of the world, and six days of bloody rioting would follow.

Now, after 15 1/2 years in prison and a few twists of the Israeli legal system, Goodman, 53, is back where he started -- a quiet fellow on the streets of Baltimore whom you'd hardly notice in a crowd.

Since his return Oct. 27, home has been his mother's modest apartment in a Pimlico high-rise for the elderly, a quiet place where he follows the fortunes of local sports teams, catches a bus here and there, and mostly keeps to himself while pondering what to do with the rest of his life.

His violent days are over, he insists, in the manner of an aging ballplayer scoffing at rumors of a comeback.

"Terrorism," he says, "is a young man's game."

As for remorse, he has none, a self-appraisal nurtured during his prison years by visitors with their own extremist agenda.

He was a hero, they told him, a prisoner of conscience who had merely retaliated against Arab violence.

But at some level, Goodman now acknowledges, he had additional enemies in mind as he pulled the trigger in April 1982.

There was America itself, the country he'd fled in anger in 1964, first for Europe, then for Israel.

Perhaps more important, there were his failures with women, particularly the two girls in Ohio who had played him for a fool on another long-ago Sunday, 19 years earlier.

"It was all part of it," he says in a low, hoarse voice, seated heavily before a table during arecent four-hour conversation. And with that statement, he begins at last to answer the question the world has always posed.

Namely, how did a quiet, intelligent, passive, not-very-religious graduate of City College, well-mannered even if a bit awkward, end up as a self-appointed Jewish avenger, waving an automatic weapon in the heart of the Holy Land?

Searching out the reasons is still difficult for him. His beard graying, his voice faltering after years of infrequent conversation, Goodman grows edgy navigating the darker passages of his past.

At times, his eyes roll back slightly in his head and he rocks gently in his seat, byproducts of long-standing psychological problems and the prescription medications he takes to hold them at bay.

Doctors suggest that he also may not be the most reliable witness, saying that in the past he has sometimes been troubled by voices inside his head.

But he talks on anyway, hoping, he says, "to state my case seriously, and with dignity, and so people can see that I am not dangerous anymore, and that my cause was just."

Not the numbers, the spot

In the annals of terrorism, Alan Goodman's body count registers near the bottom. He owes his notoriety more to location, the grounds of the Temple Mount.

It would be hard to find a more contentious place, claimed over the centuries by competing religions, empires, conquerors and zealots. The latter-day combatants have been Muslims and Jews.

Muslims built a mosque on the site, as well as a magnificent shrine, the Dome of the Rock, to house the stone slab from which, tradition says, Mohammed leapt to the heavens on horseback in the seventh century.

Centuries earlier, the Jews had built Solomon's Temple on the spot, and it and its successor stood there until the Romans wrecked the last one in A.D. 70.

That's why Jews venerate the remains of the Western Wall abutting the Temple Mount. And it's why some Jews, such as Goodman, would like to take the whole place back.

Goodman was a role model of sorts for Baruch Goldstein, who in February 1994 carried a machine gun into a mosque on another plot of disputed land, in Hebron, and killed 29 worshipers.

But Goldstein was a deeply religious man, a gung-ho settler on one of the most dangerous corners of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. A doctor, he stoked his hatred by treating friends and neighbors stabbed or shot by Arabs.

Goodman, on the other hand, was and is a bundle of contradictions: an ardent Jewish nationalist who speaks little Hebrew and has little use for Judaism as a religion. His encounters with Arab violence came through news accounts.

To hear him tell it now, his more harrowing experiences came in America, where he incurred deep emotional scars during adolescence.

"He was a young fellow when I saw him, extremely high IQ, kind of a mathematically minded fellow, but he could never accomplish anything, or follow through," says Dr. David Agle, the first psychiatrist to treat Goodman back in 1963, when he was a 19-year-old student in Cleveland at Western Reserve University (now known as Case Western Reserve).

'No prediction of violence'

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