U.S. diplomat revisits Hebron massacre with previously unreleased cables

Exclusive: Declassified US cables show the 1994 Hebron massacre and its aftermath.

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March 7, 2019 05:19

UNITED STATES CABLES HEBRON MASSACRES VIDEO

UNITED STATES CABLES HEBRON MASSACRES VIDEO

 
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Copies of declassified United States government cables, chronicling the Baruch Goldstein massacre of 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron in 1994 and the wounding of more than 125 others, have been tucked away in a box under the desk of former diplomat Lara Friedman.


On that fateful day of February 25, Friedman, who would later work for the left-wing organization Peace Now and today runs the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, was a foreign service officer at the US Consulate General in Jerusalem.

Over a four-month period, she wrote a series of cables for Washington that described the day-to-day drama, the riots that followed where 25 Palestinians were killed in West Bank clashes, an assessment of reaction by settlers and a description of the long-term impact on the city.

The classified nature of the documents meant that she could not keep copies of the cables. In 2013, Friedman filed a request so that she could read her own chronicle of Goldstein’s attack on the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Tomb of the Patriarchs complex.

In light of the 25th anniversary of the attack, which will fall on March 21 in the Hebrew calendar, Friedman posted sections of the cables on Twitter and wrote a brief description of her work, including a tip that the consulate received early, that Goldstein, an Israeli doctor from the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement, had been born in the United States and held American citizenship.
 
“Beginning almost immediately after the attack, when a settler contact [who is free to identify himself if he wishes] tipped me off that the assailant was an American, through the months that followed, I reported extensively to Washington on the attack and its aftermath.”
Friedman attached scanned copies of five sets of cables to her tweets. Below is a transcript of those tweets:

(The [] represents a blacked-out name. Even in the declassified cables text, primarily names, were covered up by an empty box.)

February 25: First batch of cables
1. Between 20 and 30 Palestinians were killed and dozens injured during early morning prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the southern West Bank city of Hebron early morning February 25, reportedly by an Israeli settler. The settler may have taken his life or been killed by worshipers. The West Bank, particularly Hebron, is extremely tense, as casualty numbers continue to rise. Clashes between Israelis and Palestinians are continuing in Hebron, with additional Palestinians having been killed. Consulate General is pursing details of the incident. Faisal Husseini has convoked consular corps to meet at 10 a.m. local time. Consulate General has put out a security advisory urging American citizens not to travel in east Jerusalem or in the West Bank and plans to close its east Jerusalem building early. 


2. According to local media and [], during early morning prayers (about 4:30 a.m. local) at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a single settler, reportedly from the settlement of Kiryat Arba, entered the site and opened fire on the assembled worshipers. Faisal Husseini contacted Consulate General at 6:30 a.m. to inform him of the incident and the serious casualties that had taken place. He emphasized the explosiveness of the incident. There were heavy numbers of worshipers from early morning Friday prayers during Ramadan. Reports 22 dead and at least 80 injured. [] in Hebron has reported 25 dead and up to 210 wounded. Hebron and the surrounding area have been declared a closed military zone and journalists have been banned from the area. The wounded are reportedly being moved to hospitals outside Hebron, including Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.


4. According to Consulate General contacts in Hebron, as of 9:00 a.m. local, armed clashes were continuing between settlers and Palestinians, as well as between the IDF and Palestinians. At least four additional Palestinians have been killed and others wounded. 


5. [] also reports military operations of some kind in Al-Ram, between Jerusalem and Ramallah. [] [are at?] the scene in Hebron and at various possible flash points throughout the West Bank. [] told police they expect the West Bank to “explode.” Palestinian sources report that clashes have begun taking place in Ramallah with the IDF.


6. As noted above, Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini telephoned Consulate General at 6:30 a.m. local to inform him of the incident and has asked the Consular Corps to gather at Orient House at 10 a.m. local to discuss the incident. Consulate General will attend.


7. According to our police contacts, the IDF has completely sealed off the West Bank. All leave for Jerusalem police has been cancelled and reinforcements are being brought into the city. Friday prayers will likely further inflame the situation. Last Friday, the first service for Ramadan, there were over 100,000 worshipers at Al Aqsa Mosque. We anticipate fewer this Friday due to the closure of Jerusalem, but we will be monitoring the situation carefully.


8. Consulate General is putting out a security notice advising all American citizens to stay out of east Jerusalem and the West Bank until further notice. Consulate General will close the east Jerusalem consular devices building at noon today and is allowing all local employees to leave earlier as necessary. Police and IDF protection at the Nablus Road building have been strengthened considerably.


9. Hebron, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in particular, is the place where Palestinians and Israeli settlers come into most intense contact. Hebron has been the site of frequent individual stabbing and shootings in the recent past and was the site of massacres of Jews by Palestinians in 1929 and 1980 and of Palestinians by Jewish settlers in 1983.



 
 
February 25: Second Batch of Cables 
**2.The [Hebron] assailant has been identified as an American citizen who immigrated [to Israel] in 1982 and was a resident at the settlement of Kiryat Arba. According to [], as of 11:30 a.m. local, an uneasy truce prevailed between Palestinians and IDF in the southern West Bank city of Hebron. Earlier in the morning, Consulate General contact in Hebron reported that the Ahli Hospital in the center of town was besieged by Palestinians seeking news of their relatives following the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Unrest has broken out in Bethlehem and Ramallah and we have heard of one incident in Jerusalem. The IDF reportedly is trying to impose a curfew in Hebron as well another West Bank city.


3. Consulate General settler contacts report that the individual responsible for the massacre was an American citizen named Benjamin Goldstein, [who is] reported dead by Israeli officials (he may have committed suicide or been killed by a Palestinian). Goldstein was a medical doctor, residing in the Hebron settlement of Kiryat Arba. [] Palestinians have claimed Goldstein escaped alive and was hiding in Kiryat Arba. We told Faisal Husseini and other Palestinian leaders that the government of Israel confirmed Goldstein’s death. A search of Consulate General consular files failed to turn up passport applications for either Goldstein. [] Goldstein, who renamed himself “Baruch” after he made Aliyah in 1982, is reportedly from somewhere in New York. 


*** 4. Several sources have reported that medical resources in Hebron are overwhelmed by [wounded from] the massacre. Consulate General has been in touch with International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and we understand that urgent needs for medical supplies are now being met.


** 5. [] of the union of Palestinian medical relief committees told the economic officer that the injured have been taken to six area hospitals. Noting that clashes between soldiers and Palestinians have broken out now in Bethlehem and Ramallah, he feared that the casualty toll will continue to rise. [] pleaded for the US to persuade the Rabin government to keep the IDF out of densely populated urban centers, which in his view will only inflame the situation.


6. According to [] of Bethlehem University, the clashes in Bethlehem are the worst since the start of the intifada. [] told economic officer the news of the massacre hit campus about 8 a.m. leaving the student body virtually in a state of shock. When mosque loudspeakers began broadcasting urgent appeals for blood donation, many students rushed to two hospitals located close to the main traffics intersection. As lines of students and locals formed, [] said fighting broke out with the IDF. 


7. [] said three Bethlehem University students were seriously wounded by gunfire, including one girl with a gunshot wound to the chest. Students and locals blocked streets with burning tires and trash cans, stoning passing vehicles. Shooting continued throughout the morning , [] said, as smoke mingled with tear gas drifted through the city streets. We have heard from [] that curfews have been imposed on Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Jala.


8. Consulate General has monitored a police report of an incident at the IDF checkpoint in northern Jerusalem of an armed Palestinian firing at IDF soldiers. The soldiers pursued the Palestinian to a house and reported fired RPG’s at the house. According to the police report, the Palestinian escaped.


** 9. Following the massacre early this morning there were announcements on the loudspeakers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs calling residents to donate blood and summoning all medical personnel to Ahli Hospital in the center of Hebron. Hebronites reportedly poured into the streets, many of them heading to the hospital to seek news or donate blood. IDF soldier stationed in front of the hospital reportedly are trying in vain to keep Palestinians (other than the dead and wounded) out. Political officer overheard gunfire from inside the hospital on UNRWA Radio and Consulate General contact claimed to have seen five Palestinians shot by soldiers in front of the hospital . The IDF has declared a curfew in Hebron and is now trying to enforce it.
 

February 28: Third Batch of Cables 
2. Three days after the attack in Hebron extremist settlers remain defiant and unrepentant, with the Kach Party publicly applauding the massacre. Mainstream settler leaders are engaged in an offensive, condemning the attack but holding the government of Israel, not Goldstein, responsible. Leaders are also accusing the left-wing of trying to capitalize on the attack to make political gains and are working to focus attention on the now even more tenuous security situation for settlers in the occupied territories. 


** 3. As reported, extremist setters are openly defiant, refusing (on camera) to condemn the attack or the attacker, with some going so far as to praise both. According to a Jerusalem Post report, Kach spokesman Noam Federman lauded Goldstein saying, “We lower our heads before the holy hero, Rabbi Dr. Goldstein.”


4. On Saturday night, February 26, almost 1,000 people, including Kach activists currently being sought by the police (including Federman), turned out for the Goldstein’s funeral. (Note: Goldstein’s wife had demanded that the body be buried in the Jewish cemetery in Hebron, but the Army refused. In a “compromise” brokered by Israeli President [Ezer] Weizman, the family agreed to bury him in Kiryat Arba, with the body to be moved to Hebron in the future. End note.) Both in Jerusalem, where the funeral procession began, and in Kiryat Arba, where it ended, the press reported that Goldstein was eulogized as a martyr and a hero, a devout Jew and dedicated physician.
 
** 5. [], an extremist commentator and Kiryat Arba resident, told political officer that he and most settlers condemned the attack. “It was an atrocious act, I’m ashamed.” At the same time, however, he admits that a minority of settlers in Kiryat Arba and in the occupied territories is satisfied with Goldstein’s actions, and these people are “naturally more vociferous" than the rest. [] while he believes the “vicious left-wing press” is unjustly focusing on extremist settlers, he also believes that many non-settler Israelis are very pleased about the massacre and claims that the has received countless calls from all over Israel from people expressing their support. This general feeling, [] believes, is being suppressed by the media.


6. Mainstream settler leaders and spokesmen, including the YESHA Council, have condemned the attack, but have placed blame squarely on the government of Israel and supporters of the peace process. Goldstein, according to YESHA Council leaders, was “a warm and caring man, a wonderful doctor who saved both Arab and Jewish lives.” Government of Israel policies, they say, have bred anxiety among the settlers and fostered continued terrorist attacks against them, and are to blame for Goldstein’s inexcusable actions.
 


7. Former defense minister Ariel Sharon, who recently concluded a YESHA fund-raising tour in the U.S. accompanied by YESHA Council foreign relations director Yechiel Leiter, offered the following analysis in an op-ed piece in The Jerusalem Post on February 28: “When the safety of Israeli citizens is forsaken, when the government hurls us down a slope and, with its own hands, destroys the Zionist enterprise and the essence of the Jewish state, it’s little wonder that Jews lose hope, direction and self-control.”


8. [], a YESHA Council member settlement activist, told political officers that settlers are living in a “pressure cooker environment. We were waiting for something to happen, but we’re shocked anyway.” The government of Israel, he said, is responsible for this attack, and attacks by Palestinians against settlers that led up to it. “The peace process will only lead to more anarchy.”


9. While condemning Goldstein’s actions, [] made a distinction between random acts of violence and politically “justifiable” acts, saying “it would have been different if he had assassinated Yasser Arafat, for example, but shooting 40 people in the back is indefensible.” [] noted that the night before the shooting, a verbal altercation took place at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, with Arabs allegedly chanting “Kill the Jews.” This, he said, might partly explain the following day’s event.
 


10. According to a statement issued February 27, the council “rejects out of hand proposals by irresponsible politicians with well-known political agendas” to disarm settlers and supports the establishment of a commission of inquiry empowered to investigate the handling of the whole intifada. The council also calls on the government to halt negotiations until all terrorism ceases and warns that releasing Palestinian prisoners will only “add fuel to the fire.”

June 10: Fourth Batch of Cables
2. After a June 9 meeting of the Joint Hebron Committee the Israeli-Palestinian liaison set up under the mediate of the TIPH (“Temporary International Presence in Hebron”). According to [], Hebron’s military governor did not agree to reopen the city’s central vegetable market and indicated that the government of Israel plans to move the market to another location. In [] view, the planned move indicates that the approximately 400 Jewish settlers in downtown Hebron will not soon move out. [] was angered by the military governor’s continued refusal to reopen the market. 


 
3. Political officer and political intern met with [] in Hebron [on] June 9. A frustrated [] arrived late following what he termed an “intense,” lengthy meeting of the Joint Hebron committee. (Note: According to the Temporary International Presence in Hebron’s mandate, the international force is obligated to report bi-weekly to a liaison committee comprised of Mayor Natshe and Hebron Military Governor Shalom Goldstein. End Note). [] said that tempers flared at the meeting after Goldstein refused to reopen Hebron’s central vegetable market and the surrounding area, which have been closed since the February 25 massacre.


4. According to [], Goldstein not only refused to reopen the market, currently located near the main Jewish settler compound in Hebron, but also indicated that the government of Israel is considering moving it, to a new undisclosed location. In [] view, this indicated that the government of Israel intends to allow Jewish settlers to remain living indefinitely in the heart of the city. [] also noted that moving the market from its current position at the hub of the commercial district would adversely affect the dozens of small businesses surrounding it.


5. [] observed that TIPH’s [] was visibly angered by Goldstein’s refusal to reopen the vegetable market. [] reportedly viewed the government of Israel’s refusal to reopen the market and the main streets around it as lack of cooperation with one of the TIPH’s main objectives — restoring a sense of “normalcy” in the city. []


6. [] continued focus on restoring “normalcy” may have been sharpened by a series of events in the last week in Hebron. A grenade attack in the center city June 4 sparked renewed clashes between youths and Israeli security forces. Israeli settler women and children June 8 demonstrated and attempted to pray outside the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs and had to be physically removed by female IDF soldiers. [] charged that arbitrary arrests and shooting continued in Hebron. One municipality employee — a beard (and presumed Islamist) meter reader — had been detained by Israeli soldiers who claimed they could make up charges to arrest him on while another employee, had been shot in the legs by IDF soldiers that morning outside his home. [] claimed said that no attempt to arrest [] had been made and there were no disturbances ongoing at the time of the shooting.


7. Finally, [] claimed that about two hundred Hebronites were still being held by the Israelis after the June 4 grenade attack., According to [] many people had been arrested merely for entering the central city area. Although the IDF had declared downtown Hebron a closed military area, word was not spread and Hebronites did not know to stay away.

June 27: Fifth Batch of Cables
2. Political officer and political intern toured Kiryat Arba and the downtown Hebron settlements June 22, in the company of []. In general, life appears to have returned normal in the settlements following changes in security arrangements in the wake of the February 25 Hebron massacre. In Kiryat Arba, security at gates seemed almost lax, although a substantial new army encampment has been established on land lying between Kiryat Arba and Givat Harsina. In downtown Hebron, roadblocks erected since February 25 remain in place and Palestinian traffic is prohibited near settlement compounds. A large cement wall erected in the center of the downtown area has been removed. The produce market on the edge of the Jewish Quarter settlement compound remains closed and the area is closed off to Palestinians.


3. Life appears to have returned to normal in Kiryat Arba, the settlement of some 6,000 people (including Givat Harsina) on the edge of Hebron, and still home to Baruch Goldstein’s wife and parents. [] told political officer that contrary to press reports, people still want to move into Kiryat Araba. He complained that the government of Israel has been unwilling to complete infrastructure for new units located inside Kiryat Arba. (Note: these units are built on the edge of an Arab neighborhood sandwiched between Kiryat Arba and Givat Harsina), or on a large new neighborhood across the street from the entrance to Kiryat Arba. [] claimed that in some cases, settlers have been hooking up utilities themselves and moving in. [] Also complained that the government of Israel had been offering incentives for owners of small industrial and manufacturing operations in the Kiryat Arba industrial area to move inside the Green Line (comment: we have not heard this reported form any other source.)


4. The only significant change political officer could see in Kiryat Arba was a newly-established military camp located between Kiryat Arba and its sister settlement, Givat Harsina. Kiryat Arba and Givat Harsina are separated by a small valley containing several Arab houses and cultivated fields. The settlements are connected internally by a main road running through this valley. The new army camp is in the area where settlers have attempted in the past to build new units along the main road in order to make the settlement contiguous. The camp consists of approximately 40 large tents and several IDF vehicles.


** 5. [] told political officer that the IDF presence in Kiryat Arba consists of troops formerly posted in downtown Hebron, moved to Kiryat Arba as part of an IDF draw-down in the center of the city. [] could not clarify where the troops were drawn from in Hebron. (Comment: political officer could see no signs of a large draw-down of troops in Hebron center.)


6. Most of the complicated security and traffic arrangements imposed in downtown Hebron after the February 25 massacre remain in place. Traveling through downtown from the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs, cars must pass through numerous IDF checkpoints that bar Palestinian vehicle traffic from entering the city center (Consulate General car was one able to pass after [] assured soldier that it was alright). [] complained to political officer that Israeli police were brutalizing settlers who tried to come to the holy site to pray at the steps, including women and children. "When we see the blue-uniformed police, we know they’ve come to beat up Jews.” 


7. Touring the Jewish Quarter/Avraham Avinu synagogue settlement complex political officer confirmed that the produce market at the entrance to the settlement (some 25 stores) remains shut down and large barriers block entry to the area from side-streets. An IDF unit appears to have taken up residence in a shop at the mouth of the settlement complex. Visitors must now pass through a narrow IDF-guarded entrance to get to the main courtyard. IDF soldiers also stand guard on the rooftops surrounding the settlement and at several posts in the empty streets in front. Political officer saw armed settlers and young settler children wandering through the streets outside the settlement area (where shops are open). Palestinian vehicle traffic is prohibited in the area and Palestinian pedestrians avoid the area. Palestinians are nonetheless still living in homes above the closed shops. 


8. [] told political officer that Beit Romano is currently under renovation. In the meantime, the yeshiva has been moved to the second floor of the settler’s gift shop (next to the Ibrahimi Mosque complex). The area adjoining Beit Romano, the old bus station, also appears to be under some sort of renovation. According to [], the deed for the property belonged to the recently-deceased Rabbi Schneerson, and now apparently belongs to the Lubavitcher movement, which strongly supports the Hebron settlers. IDF soldiers were posted on the street outside the Beit Romano/Bus station complex and on rooftops of surrounding buildings. (Note: Arab Hebronites consistently charge that the renovation at the bus station, which apparently involves extensive excavations, is new settlement construction.)


9. Like the Jewish Quarter, located some three kilometers away, security at Beit Hadassah has been stepped-up over the past months. A permanent IDF outpost has been established directly in front of the building and checkpoints have been erected on the road running past. In addition, soldiers are posted on the roofs of several buildings adjoining or facing Beit Hadassah. Political officer saw a group of soldiers also patrolling the streets of the downtown area on foot.


10. Political officer and political intern were also taken to Tel Rumeida, a caravan outpost located on the edge of the old Jewish cemetery, approximately two kilometers from Beit Hadassah. The road leading to Tel Rumeida has been completely blocked off (soldiers at the checkpoint had a list of license plate numbers of cars allowed access to the area), restricting access not only to the settlement, but also to several Arab homes located on the same street. An army unit appears to have taken up residence in the backyard of one Arab house overlooking the settlement, and political officer saw IDF soldiers patrolling the area around the caravans.


11. Touring Tel Rumeida, [] points out the home of Baruch Marzal, the head of the Kach party, currently in administrative detention. Explaining the “Welcome Father” sign on the Marzal door, [] decried government of Israel treatment of Marzal, claiming that prison authorities promise Marzal weekly that he will be able to visit his wife and new baby, then, at the last-minute refuse.


12. At Beit Hadassah, political officer and political intern were welcomed into the home of a Yemenite Jew [] and his family. Jews, he said, had come back to Hebron, and were never going to leave. He said that he talks to local Arabs, Hamas supporters, who say they understand and respect this (even if they do not agree).  What the Hamas supporters don’t understand, he says, are left-wing Jews who want to give up claims to the land. Regarding the Hebron massacre, he said that the community was still “in shock.” “You had to know Goldstein. He was a very special man. He did everything perfectly.” [] refused to condemn the massacre, arguing that no one condemned attacks on Jews. (Note: in referring to the events of February 25, few settlers used the term “massacre.” Mostly they refer to the event as “last Purim."
 
 
14. Hebron settlers have long been at the cutting edge of ideological zeal and commitment to the West Bank settler movement. They seem to thrive on both the risks and controversy that define their daily existence. Now, several months after the Hebron massacre — in which they see themselves as the primary victims, since it created negative publicity for and political backlash against the settler movement — the settlers appear to have returned to something of a normal daily routine in Hebron (including provocative activities like parading through the city with weapons and heightening tensions at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Prophets [Patriarchs].

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