Wednesday, November 24, 1999
No shrine for a massacre
By Larry Derfner
The Jerusalem Post
(November 24) -- By After the High Court decision to remove the shrine by Baruch Goldstein's grave, Larry Derfner visits the site and talks to passersby --
No one came to pray at Baruch Goldstein's grave [Image] in Kiryat Arba during the midmorning hours this Tuesday. On the stand behind the grave, however, amid the used-up yahrzeit candles and dried wax, one candle still burned. On the gravestone, some person or, more likely, persons, had placed 12 pebbles.
"People come to pray there just about every day," said Noam Federman, a leader of the ostensibly outlawed Kach movement, which Goldstein represented on Kiryat Arba's local council. Noting that he himself prays at the grave "from time to time," Federman said in a phone interview, "a lot of people go there to pray for healing. He was a doctor, don't forget."
To the world, Goldstein is remembered as a killer who shot to death 29 Moslem worshippers, both men and boys, as they knelt to pray at theTomb of the Patriarchs in February 1994, before he himself was killed by some in the crowd. To discourage others from following his example, the High Court of Justice on Sunday gave the IDF final permission to demolish the "shrine" surrounding the grave - although not the grave itself.
"Goldstein's grave is not an ordinary grave, but rather a multifaceted, splendidly appointed site... Its splendor and glory, together with the inscription on the gravestone describing him as 'holy,' offers praise and fosters admiration for Goldstein as a person, and, inevitably, praises and encourages acts of violence that could result in death," wrote Justice Mishael Cheshin.
The gravestone is inscribed to "the holy Dr. Baruch Kopel Goldstein," saying he "gave his soul for the People, Torah, and Land of Israel" and was "murdered for sanctifying God's name." His grave is slightly elevated; one has to ascend to get there. It's at the end of a landscaped path in Meir Kahane Park and is "announced" by a tiled walkway with three steps. Above the steps, the gravestone is embedded in the middle of a tiled, circular expanse. Two lampposts stand at the head of the gravestone, and two more flank the tiled circle.
There is a bench, and a fountain for washing hands.
There is a bookcase with shelves of prayer books. The platform put out for candles carries the religious inscription, "And for my eternal flame I will take the fire from the sacrifice of Isaac, and for the sacrifice itself I will give Him my only soul."
By its ruling, the court denied a petition by Goldstein's parents against the IDF's plan to demolish the shrine. The IDF also wants to force Goldstein's family to change the inscription on the gravestone, but has decided to delay that matter.
Asked when the IDF would take down the shrine, the IDF Spokesman's Office released a statement that did not address the question, but merely reiterated the court's decision.
Federman, a Hebron resident who has been in and out of jail for crimes of politically motivated violence, suggested that if the IDF harms the gravesite, Goldstein's devotees could take revenge.
"It's not a one-way street," he said. "If they try to wreck Goldstein's grave, Goldstein's admirers may try to wreck the grave of somebody they don't like."
"Such as the grave of Yitzhak Rabin?"
"You said that, not me," Federman replied. "Who knows? Maybe they'll try to wreck the grave of Rabin's mother."
At the little shopping center next to Meir Kahane Park, some passersby praised Goldstein and warned of divine retribution if his grave were harmed.
"What he did was right. He was a tzaddik. He wasn't a murderer, he was a murder victim. Whoever tries to destroy his grave will himself be destroyed by God," said a man of about 30 in a black T-shirt, who identified himself only as a resident of Maon (whose illegal outpost, the Maon Farm, was recently demolished by the IDF).
Some IDF soldiers were having a bite to eat at the sandwich stand. A woman of about 50 carrying a prayer book, who identified herself only as Naomi, said, "God forbid that they destroy a holy place like this. [Goldstein] was a holy Jew. He tried to redeem the Jewish people from our enemies who are trying to destroy us. Whoever touches this holy place will receive his just punishment from God."
A CNN crew was looking for people to interview in English. Most people didn't want to talk. One local pensioner, Albert Raymond, 55, maintained that the great majority of Kiryat Arba's approximately 5,000 residents agreed with him - "What Goldstein did was awful in the extreme. It never should have happened."
While maintaining that Goldstein had few devotees, Raymond noted that they were a fervent hard core. "The grave has become a kind of pilgrimage site," he said. "This isn't right."
A number of other people interviewed also opposed the massacre, but nevertheless spoke warmly of Goldstein's memory. Before that bloody Purim, they said, he had been a fine, even special man.
"People here loved him, and that's what upsets them about demolishing the [shrine], although there are some people who also love what he did [in the massacre]," said Avi Cohen-Or, 33, a local yeshiva student, who said he had been "shocked" by the killings.
On Monday night's ITV talk show Politics, this was the line taken by a group of Kiryat Arba residents - that while the massacre was an indefensible crime, Goldstein had been a wonderful fellow before that. "He was truly a 'big-league' doctor," noted Boaz Ha'etzni.
At the shopping center a 19-year-old yeshiva student from Netivot, who did not give his name, said, "My sister is a nurse and she worked with Goldstein, and she said he was the most dedicated doctor. He would treat Arabs, he just wouldn't treat terrorists. He didn't do what he did because he hated Arabs, but because he wanted to save Jews."
This was another popular line - that Goldstein had acted to preempt a Palestinian massacre of Jews in Hebron.
"They found knives and weapons underneath the mosque where the people were killed. The IDF commanders were warning that a big terror attack was going to happen," said another yeshiva student from Netivot.
"Why do they want to destroy his grave when what he did was so right?" he said. Later the student corrected himself, saying the massacre had not been justified, but that Goldstein's intentions had been pure.
One point that went unmentioned was Goldstein's ideology - the fact that since his teenage years in New York, he had been a thoroughly committed member of Kach, whose violent, racist politics are summed up in their signature chant, "Death to the Arabs."
"Goldstein's followers can be divided into two groups - those who admire him for what a great man he was before [the massacre], and those who also admire [the massacre itself]," said Federman.
Asked if he counted himself in the second group, Federman replied, "Me? Definitely." Later he qualified this slightly. "Let's say I don't condemn it."
"Look, basically we're in a war. It's the Jews against the Arabs," Federman explained.
MEIR Lapid, a family friend of Goldstein's whose father, Mordechai, and brother, Shalom, were killed by Palestinian gunmen a couple of months before the Hebron massacre, was making himself available for interviews outside the shopping center.
"We shouldn't be destroying graves, but instead discussing what could lead a Jew to commit such an act," Lapid said.
He stressed that he opposed the massacre, but maintained that Goldstein had been pushed to it by Palestinian terrorist killings of Jews. Even the politics of Kach and Kahane, who was assassinated by a Moslem extremist in New York nine years ago, had also been motivated by Palestinian terror. "Do you know what a wonderful man Meir Kahane was, what good things he did for people during his life?" Lapid insisted.
At any rate, Lapid said, destroying the shrine to Goldstein would only have a "boomerang" effect. "It will cause that many more people to come pray at the grave," he predicted.
Industry and Trade Minister Ran Cohen, who was the driving force behind the 1998 law forbidding the building of shrines to dead terrorists such as Goldstein, said he felt deeply gratified to "finally cleanse our society of this pollutant. The shameful thing, though, is that it took so long, it required such a drawn-out legal and legislative process to take a step that's so obvious, so elementary to the spirit of Judaism, Israel, and democracy."
Asked why he thought it had taken so long, Cohen replied, "Probably 99 percent of Israeli people abhor the shrine and how it's been turned into a pilgrimage site, but I guess people just lacked the courage to take a stand."
About a year ago, on a night after a High Court hearing had been held on the issue and after Cohen had spoken his views on a popular radio talk show, his car was torched in the driveway of his home. "Other times my tires have been slashed, graffiti has been painted on my house, my family and I have been verbally assaulted, we've had stones thrown at us," he said.
Since Sunday's court decision, Cohen said he has not been harassed or threatened. "This is what worries me," he said.
The court ruling came in response to the Goldstein family's claim that destroying the shrine would violate the "honor" of the deceased and his family, this "honor" being protected by Israeli basic law.
To this Justice Cheshin wrote: "We should remember, first and foremost, the honor of the 29 people whose lives Goldstein took. Do we honor their memory by maintaining a glorious shrine to the one who ended those lives?"