The Baruch Goldstein Effect

The massacre’s price - an exorbitant one - is being paid to this day by the settlers in the West Bank. On the day after the massacre, parts of the nation started to sever their emotional ties with the settlements.

An accomplished doctor and an exemplary family man entered the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and gunned down Muslims kneeling in prayer. Twenty-nine people were killed and more than 100 were wounded in this act of madness. Shock, sorrow and shame gripped Israel on a day meant to be one of the happiest in the year – the Purim holiday.

It happened 20 years ago this week, and the trauma is with us to this day. This is confirmed by the public statements made in the last few days. Some of these statements use the 1994 slaughter to settle political scores with the settlers in the West Bank, but the feelings of rage and guilt are authentic. True, many told themselves at the time, Baruch Goldstein took revenge on a community whose people carried out murders more heinous and terrible than this massacre (certainly in 1929). But this is such a “non-Jewish” act. Only “goyim,” as we have been taught from infancy (and history proves to be true), are capable of such brutal acts. So maybe in principle we are no different from the goyim? Hardly have we gathered in our own country and already we’re proving that we’re like all of the gentiles.

The years immediately after the Hebron massacre were the Oslo years. Buses exploded with their passengers, café patrons and dance club attendees were murdered, old people were murdered while reading the Passover Haggadah. Cries for revenge rose from all directions. But although the blood boiled, Baruch Goldstein’s act did not recur. Even in the official, military war on terror, almost no untoward acts were registered (there was of course the Jenin blood libel, which even many Israel-haters rejected). The IDF remained pure. Not to mention civilian Israel.

The massacre’s price – an exorbitant one - is being paid to this day by the settlers in the West Bank. On the day after the massacre, parts of the nation started to sever their emotional ties with the settlements. Throughout the years the Israeli public worried it would lose the Jewish majority because of the settlements. But on the basic, instinctive and ideological levels, most of the Jews sympathized with the return to the land of our fathers.

But after the massacre, a large part of the public was convinced the two communities could not continue to live together. Since the Arabs cannot be deported – the world would not allow it – the Jewish settlers must pay the price, even if it means uprooting them from areas that make up the cradle of the nation’s birth.

Apparently these basic feelings, that Jews and Arabs cannot dwell together, continue to simmer. Maybe in time they would have been forgotten, for after all, the settlements’ continued success, despite the disasters they suffered (the Goldstein massacre is only one of them) is unprecedented in modern history. Since the massacre - and despite it - the settlements have tripled their population, growing from 115,000 people in 1993 to some 365,000 in 2013.

The worm of doubt has been enlivened in recent years by the malignant “price tag” tactic (violence by young, radical settlers against Palestinians). Although these acts are blown out of all proportion, they are enough to make a large part of the public distance itself from the West Bank settlers and even loathe the settlements. Even so, the outrageous, racist graffiti and the attacks on Arabs and their property are dwarfed by comparison to the organized crime raging in the streets and the acts of violence, including murder and sexual assaults, by youths even in prestigious neighborhoods.

But only the fundamentalist settler youths make the writer Haim Gouri and other one-time loyalists give up on the Land of Israel. This is the work and the price of the Baruch Goldstein legacy.