Evacuate Jewish Hebron

Weapons, as we all know, are not lacking among these fine young men and women, and death does not deter them.

Click here for more articles by Akiva Eldar

Yigal Amir claims that the opponents of the Oslo Accords - Ariel Sharon, Rehavam Ze'evi, and Rafael Eitan - provided him with the motive to assassinate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The inspiration for the criminal act, a sort of suicide bombing, was drawn from Baruch Goldstein, as well as the Jewish terrorist's friends in the Hebron-Kiryat Arba communities.

In February 1994, Amir traveled to Goldstein's funeral to pay his last respects to the man who had murdered 30 Palestinians while they were kneeling in prayer at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. During questioning, he told police that he spoke with the murderer's friends and at the same time came to the realization that "this is not just some fanatic, extreme community, but one that is fighting very hard for the nation. Values are very important to it ... It started after Goldstein - that was when the idea came to me that we need to take out Rabin."

In their book "Murder in the Name of God," authors Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman wrote that Amir traveled to Kiryat Arba to meet with members of the Kahane Chai organization, who turned Goldstein into an adulated hero and made pilgrimages to the grave site that they prepared in his memory. One of the more conspicuous characters in this group was Noam Federman, the same right-wing extremist who built "the farm," the site of the latest clash between Jewish thugs and the security forces.

The physical and verbal violence to which the Jewish settlers are resorting in an effort to prevent the evacuation of Federman's outpost should make it clear to the political and defense leadership in Jerusalem that the presence of this gang in such a volatile area is tantamount to playing with fire. For now, they are "making do" with vandalizing tombstones in a Muslim cemetery, hurling stones at homes and vehicles belonging to Palestinians, and destroying their fields. The next massacre of Palestinians is only a matter of time.

Weapons, as we all know, are not lacking among these fine young men and women, and death does not deter them. "You can always die," Anat Cohen of the Jewish settlement in Hebron replied to reporter Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker, who asked her how she could allow her young son to play on a street that is exposed to Palestinian gunfire. "At least his death here would sanctify God's name," added Cohen, the daughter of Jewish underground figure Moshe Zar and the sister of Gilad - the resident of the settlement of Itamar who was killed in a terrorist attack in 2001 not far from Nablus.

Dov Lior, chairman of the Yesha rabbinical counsel and chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba, has for all intents and purposes bestowed legitimacy on the creation of a Jewish partisan unit that will fight the bitter Israeli enemy. Lior has likened the official security forces' operation against the controversial outpost to the deportation of his family from its home in Poland by the Nazis.

On the day after the massacre in Hebron, some of Rabin's friends sought to convince the premier to exploit the shock and outrage felt by the wider public and to forcibly remove the fanatics of the Jewish community from there. A judicial opinion submitted to the prime minister stated that the military commander in the area does possess full authority to nullify the land-expropriation orders "for security purposes" by dint of which the settlers reside in the area. Yet, Rabin was fearful of "civil war," and rather than evacuating the Jewish residents, he imposed an extended curfew on the Palestinian neighborhoods of Hebron so as to prevent revenge killings.

Six weeks later, Hamas began its suicide-bombing spree. In his book "Facing their Fate," Dr. Matti Steinberg writes that up until that time, an internal debate raged within Hamas over the usefulness of indiscriminate bombing. Steinberg, who during those years served as the Shin Bet head's advisor on Palestinian affairs, argues that Hamas' transition from focusing on suicide bombings against military targets in the territories to civilian targets within the Green Line "stemmed directly from the Goldstein massacre."

Over 700 Israeli civilians were killed and thousands were wounded in dozens of suicide bombings since that time. The public's faith in the Oslo process has been whittled down to near zero, and Israel's counterterrorist and punitive measures in the territories have contributed to a similar trend among Palestinian society. But it has been business as usual in Hebron: Those following in the footsteps of Goldstein, Yigal Amir's hero, continue to abuse their Palestinian neighbors to the point where many of them abandon their homes. They continue to humiliate and to taunt the soldiers and police officers who refuse to turn a blind eye to their crimes. Even among settler leaders, there is a growing fear that the day is not too far off when a some new "Yigal Goldstein" will emerge from Hebron.

Both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have slightly less than three months to correct Rabin's error and to prove to the Israeli and Palestinian people that Israel is not merely satisfied with statements about peace. This is the time to evacuate the fanatical settlement in Hebron. Tomorrow could prove to be too late.