Mass killer given status of a saint

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The Independent Online
"THE SETTLERS hit my father on the back of the neck with a wooden stick," said Musa abu Turki, a Palestinian in his twenties, as he waited yesterday with other mourners on the outskirts of Hebron. "It was the end of his life. He was dead when we brought him to hospital."

"There were three of them in a white minibus," continues Musa. "My father was a farmer. He was building a stone wall in his fields. At about 6.30 in the evening he was walking back to his house along the main road. As the minibus drove past one of the settlers leaned out and hit him with the stick. It was about a metre long. We found it later and gave it to the police."

The death of Abdul Majid Mohammed al-Turki, 45, the father of 12 children, is the latest in a string of attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians in and around Hebron. Two settlers, both minors and from the nearby settlement of Hagai, were arrested yesterday by the Israeli police. Saleh abu Turki, a cousin of the murdered man, said that the day before the killing a settler had thrown a bottle at a Palestinian man at the same spot.

Down at the settler headquarters, called Avraham Avinu, in the heart of Hebron, we asked David Wilder, the settler spokesman, what he thought of the murder. "It was kids in a car," he said. "They did something very stupid. The chief of police in Hebron says it was unintentional and they were just kids playing a game." Mr Wilder's tone was detached, as if "the kids", one of them strong enough to break a man's neck with a single blow, had accidentally put a ball through somebody's window.

The largest Jewish settlement in the area is at Kiryat Arba. Seven thousand militant settlers live there in a fortress-like suburb on the eastern side Hebron, a Palestinian town with a population of 100,000. Just past the electrically-operated sliding steel gates at its entrance a triumphal causeway leads off to the right. It ends in an octagon-shaped plaza, surfaced in cut stone at the centre of which, illuminated at night by ornamental lights, is the massive grave stone of Baruch Goldstein, the Brooklyn-born doctor from Kiryat Arba, who on 25 February 1994, entered the al-Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and fired his machine-gun into the backs of the worshippers. By the time he was beaten to death by the survivors as he stopped to reload he had killed 29 people.

Goldstein's victims are not mentioned on his gravestone. It calls him a saint. The incised letters read: "Having given his life on behalf of the Jewish people, its Torah and its ancestral homeland, he was an innocent, pure hearted individual."

Around the grave of this mass murderer are aids to prayer, such as a metal cabinet holding religious books, another with memorial candles and charity boxes. Water taps are provided for visitors who want to wash their hands ritually after a visit. Clumps of red carnations bloom in a concrete trough close by the grave.

Kiryat Arba is at the cutting edge of the militant Jewish settler movement, which believes God gave the West Bank - the land of Judea and Samaria - to the Jews. It is not surprising that they have built Goldstein a large memorial. An attempt by a left-wing member of the Knesset, Ran Cohen, to pass a law to remove all memorials to terrorists apart from a grave and tombstone, has revealed the sympathy felt for Goldstein by one of Israel's chief rabbis, who opposed the attempt.

The settlers have more than a sentimental reverence for Goldstein. They recognise that his massacre of worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque was a fatal wound in the Oslo agreement. Part of Palestinian opinion became convinced then that there was nothing to be got from Israel. Hamas, the Islamic militant group, felt it had enough support to start its suicide bomb campaign. Israelis, in turn, began to wonder what was the point of a peace agreement if they were afraid to send their children to school in a bus.

The settler offensive in 1994-95 effectively destroyed the chances of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It began with Baruch Goldstein's mass murder and ended with Yigal Amir, who organised student tours of the Hebron settlement, shooting Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, in the back.

This might have been a disaster for the settler movement, because of the backlash against the religious right. "The only thing that could save us is if the Palestinians let off some bombs," said one elderly Hebron settler at the time. "And even they aren't that stupid." Soon afterwards, Palestinian suicide bombers killed 60 people in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon, enabling Benjamin Netanyahu to squeak home in the election to become prime minister of Israel.

Even now, the settlers see Rabin as their most potent enemy. Responding to the threat to the Goldstein grave, Baruch Marzel, a settler militant in Hebron, told an Israeli reporter that if anything happened to it "some left-wing graves might be harmed, perhaps, heaven forbid, the grave of Rabin".

By the end of this week the Israeli army is due to apply what is officially called the Law Prohibiting the Erection of Memorials to Terrorists. But the boys who casually broke the neck of Abdul-Majid abu Turki, as he walked home after a day in the fields, shows that in Hebron the spirit of Baruch Goldstein still goes marching on.

t Israel yesterday rejected a call by European Union leaders not to rule out the establishment a Palestinian state.

"Israel rejects the reference to the possibility of a Palestinian state as unhelpful intervention in negotiations on a final settlement," Israel's Foreign Ministry said in response to a communique issued on Tuesday at the EU summit in Cardiff, expressing "grave concern" at the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

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