Hebron resident Issa Amro’s memory of his city is divided by the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is part of the Tomb of the Patriarchs complex.
“I woke up to hear people shouting and the mosque [loudspeaker] calling for people to go to the hospital to give blood,” said Amro, who heads an NGO called Hebron Freedom Fund.
At the time, Amro was 13, and in seventh grade. He did not yet know that his friend, Kamal Qafisheh, 12, who he played soccer with every morning, was among the dead.
On that February 25 morning, Baruch Goldstein, a well-known Jewish doctor from the nearby West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, entered the mosque at around 5 a.m. armed with a rifle and began shooting.
On the Hebrew calendar, it was the Jewish holiday of Purim, a time of feasting and merriment.
Twenty-five years later, it is the sounds and sights of that Purim holiday, not the somber silent memory of a massacre, that fills the streets around the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the apartment complexes where Hebron’s small Jewish community of some 80 families live.
But the outward appearance of both those streets and the dynamics within the Tomb of the Patriarchs has changed. Back then, the open, shop-lined streets were crowded with Palestinians, Jews and tourists. There was little security by the cave, with Muslim and Jewish worshipers wandering in and out of its main doors together.
“In my memory, we had many Jewish visitors coming to the city and there was not a tense relationship with the settlers and the Palestinian people,” Amro said. There were also Israeli Bedouin who would come to visit from the Negev, he said.
“On the Passover holiday, we were waiting to go out from the school to see the visitors, but after the massacre all of that just changed,” he said.
In the aftermath of the massacre, the IDF shut down the many of the shops on Shuhadah Street, which links the Tomb of the Patriarchs with the Jewish apartment complexes in the city.
Amro recalls that his school was closed for three months – and when it was reopened, the road on which he walked was divided by a concrete barrier.
“Baruch Goldstein managed to create hate and separation,” he said. “It made it hard for any kind of acceptance and coexistence in the city. I think we started to lose our city on that day.”
HEBRON JEWISH community spokesman Noam Arnon said that obviously the massacre was an important, serious and difficult event for the city.
If one is counting attacks that changed reality, Arnon said, why not the 2002 Palestinian terror attacked that killed 12 Jews on Worshipers Way? One would certainly have to count the 1929 massacre, in which Arab rioters killed 69 Jewish residents of the city, he said. Their deaths destroyed the community, which had ties to Hebron that dated back to biblical times.
Jews did not return to live in Hebron in 1979, after the Six Day War.
“No one is trying to justify or downplay the Goldstein massacre,” he said, but nothing like that has happened since. The attack occurred in the middle of a chain of events in the 1990s that had a much greater impact on the city, he said.
First there was the 1993 Oslo Accords, which he contended unleashed a wave of terror attacks against Jews that continues to this day.
That led to the division of the city in 1997, a move that placed 80% of it under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, and Israelis are forbidden from entering that section of the city. Hebron today is home to more than 220,000 Palestinians, most of whom live in areas of the city outside the area under IDF control.
The Goldstein massacre did not stop the 1993 Oslo Accords, nor did it halt the Hebron division, Arnon said. These events would have happened regardless, so the facts about the impact of that February day speak for themselves, he said.
To say otherwise, “is not objective and not true,” he said.
Amro said, however, that he believes that the Goldstein massacre was the first step on the path to the 1997 division of the city. The mosque shooting, along with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, he said, were two events in this mindset that led to the failure of the Oslo process, which was designed to create peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The tentacles of the killings have extended to today, Amro said, because some members of the Otzma Yehudit Party remain outspoken about their connections to and feelings toward Goldstein.
It was a link that was highly publicized when Itamar Ben-Gvir admitted on television that he had a photograph of Goldstein on his wall. His explanation that it was not a sign of support for Goldstein’s actions but rather a testament to the Jewish lives he had saved, did not sway Amro.
The idea that Otzma Yehudit could be in the next government is a sign that the ideology that led to the Goldstein massacre will now become mainstream. Goldstein’s grave still attracts visitors, Amro said. The isolated grave made of Jerusalem stone is located on a small grass field, behind a commercial center in the Kiryat Arba settlement, with a view of the city of Hebron.
Amro, who also helped found a volunteer group to protect Palestinians from Israeli violence, said he does not feel safe in the city where he lives.
“It is really hard not to feel safe in your own neighborhood and streets,” he said. But Arnon said he does not believe that such an event would occur again and that there is little connection there to the Otzma Yehudit Party, expect for the political support it enjoys in the city.
IN THE INTERVENING years since the massacre, Arnon said, there has been very little Jewish growth in the city. Back then, there were about 50 Jewish families that lived here; now there are only 80, he said.
Before the 1997 division of the city, Jews could go anywhere in Hebron. Now, he said, their movement is restricted to just 3% of the city.
When he looks forward to the future, he is hopeful on many fronts. A new archaeological park was opened in the city and its tourist sites are better developed, Arnon said. Coexistence has improved, he said, explaining the he has significant ties established with Palestinians in Hebron and the area.
Arnon added that he is hopeful that after the election, when the right-wing parties retain their hold on government, it would be possible to undo the division of the city and apply Israeli sovereignty to it.
“Most of the Likud wants sovereignty and Hebron will be the first place that sovereignty will happen,” he said.
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