Hebron killer praised as a hero by young Israelis: Teachers are shocked at the level of support for anti-Arab violence, writes Sarah Helm in Jerusalem

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The Independent Online
THE eulogising of Baruch Goldstein, the perpetrator of the Hebron mosque massacre, by militant Jewish settlers is being echoed by teenagers in Israel's high schools, to the dismay of many teachers and education officials.

This week the Education Ministry ordered special lessons to be held on tolerance and the value of human life, after surveys showed substantial support for the slaughter.

The mass circulation daily paper, Yedioth Ahronot, which surveyed pupils at a middle class school in Jerusalem, found that almost all those questioned praised the massacre. 'It was a mitzva (commandment of the Jewish law),' said Nir Ezra, 17. 'He should have taken grenades.'

Joe Kolodner, head of the ministry's school psychology department, told the newspaper: 'If after 45 years a generation has grown up here who think that what happened in Hebron is OK, that is a sign that there is a deep crisis in Israeli society.'

While many teenagers are uninhibited in their backing for the massacre, a significant number of their parents are also lending tacit, sometimes open, support. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, along with most political leaders, intellectuals and media commentators, has loudly condemned the atrocity, but significant numbers of ordinary Israelis heavily qualify their criticism of the killings. Many declare that the Arabs 'got what they deserve'.

An opinion poll published on Monday showed that 50 per cent of Israelis believe that Jewish settlers should remain in Hebron, and 76 per cent said the government should not disarm settlers.

Liberal Jewish religious leaders say they are deeply disturbed by the readiness of many Israelis to justify Goldstein's act on religious grounds, and are already moving to try to halt what they term 'dangerous' and 'demonic' interpretations of Judaism which 'by osmosis' are entering the common language of ordinary people inside Israel proper. Yesterday a group of 'Rabbis for Peace', Netivot Shalom, held an unprecedented demonstration outside the chief Rabbinate, which they say has not gone far enough to condemn the atrocity. 'We are concerned about the moral wellbeing of the Jewish people. There is a growing demonic interpretation of Judaism and our responsiblity is to show very clearly that the interpretation of Judaism given by this murderer is not Jewish. It should be placed outside the law and outside Judaism,' said Moshe Halbertal, a Netivot Shalom leader, yesterday.

Despite three years of peace negotiations and the election last year of a peace-making Labour government, paranoia and fear remain deeply rooted in the Israeli psyche, leading to fierce anti-Arab sentiments.

Most young Israelis only experience 'Arabs' when they are sent to subdue their volatile neighbours, or when they see the image of the Palestinian 'terrorist' standing up to Israeli forces, played over and over again on television.

What the response to the massacre confirms is that the support given to the peace moves among many Israelis did not spring from feelings of generosity towards Palestinians, but out of a desperate desire to shake off the loathed burden of the occupation. 'The desire of Israelis for a political solution largely stemmed out of fear of the other side,' said Yizhar Be'er, director of B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights group.

Mr Rabin has made clear his personal disgust for Baruch Goldstein and his kind. In an emotional speech to the Knesset, he said: 'As a Jew, as an Israeli, as a man and as a human being, I am shamed over the disgrace imposed upon us by a degenerate murderer.'

Nevertheless, the overall message from the government has been mixed. Mr Rabin's comments have been neutralised by his failure to fit deeds to words. So far the government has refused to remove even the most hardline settlers from Hebron, and has issued detention orders against only five, of which only two have been apprehended.

On Wednesday and again yesterday, Mr Rabin's words were mocked by a 'wanted' Jewish militant, Merzl Barouch, who - still at liberty - was able to call into radio stations and news agencies on his mobile phone, declaring that more massacres were to come.

Israel's political and military leaders have done little to explain the true horror of Hebron, stressing again and again that Goldstein was a one-off 'lunatic' and not a symptom of a whole extremist ideology.

Since the massacre the Israeli government has punished the 2 million Palestinian population by placing them under curfew. As a result Palestinian anger has surged up again, and Israelis sit at home watching 'the Arabs' behaving violently towards 'the Jews'. The cycle of hatred is being fuelled once again.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 18

(Photograph omitted)