Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Hebron Massacre: Brooklyn doctor with a prescription for hatred

IN BROOKLYN, they remembered Baruch Goldstein yesterday as distant and gentle, the eldest of three children in a quiet and aloof middle-class family so devoutly Orthodox that the young Baruch and his brother and sister were not allowed to play with children who were secular Jews or Roman Catholics of Italian descent.

They knew he had strong views about the Jewish Establishment being what he called 'weak' about the Arabs, and that he was a fervent supporter of the murdered Rabbi Meir Kahane, who inspired militant disciples to follow him to Israel - but they never dreamt of Goldstein as a mass murderer. They heard him quote the Talmud - 'If your enemy is going to kill you, slay him first' - but they never thought he meant to take a gun to Arabs. In Israel, some say he had been plotting the massacre for at least two years; others that he was pushed into it by the recent murders of two friends in Kiryat Arba, the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, where he worked as a doctor.

He was born Benjamin Carl Goldstein and spent his youth with his brother and sister in a white detached stucco house in the Bensonhurst district of Brooklyn. His father, Irwin, worked as a gym teacher at the local school, and his mother, a secretary, worked in Jewish nursery schools. Every Saturday they worshipped at the Young Israel Synagogue on Avenue J.

Young, idealistic and intelligent, Goldstein went to Yeshiva University, then to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, where he received his medical degree in 1981. He was a good student who was given a prize by his fellow students for his character, personality and special services to the class.

The tightly knit Orthodox communities of Brooklyn have the highest concentration of devout Jews in the United States. They were a fertile recruiting ground for Meir Kahane before he was assassinated in Manhattan in 1990. Kahane's views on Jews defending themselves and his founding of the militant Jewish Defence League appealed to many of the young Brooklyn Orthodox. Goldstein joined the Kahane Chai, an organisation that brought together the followers of the rabbi, and he repeatedly vowed revenge for Kahane's death. An Arab militant was charged with the rabbi's murder, but acquitted.

In 1980, Goldstein was arrested for causing a disturbance at Hunter College in New York during the visit of the then Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin. He was served with a summons, which was not followed up. Always political, often extreme, Goldstein emigrated because he thought that as a doctor he could help Jews in Israel. He left in June 1982, and his parents later followed him to Israel.

Before leaving, Goldstein spelt out his feelings about Arab-Jewish relations in a 1981 letter to the New York Times. 'The harsh reality is,' he wrote, 'if Israel is to avert the kinds of problems found in Northern Ireland today, it must act decisively to remove the Arab minority from its borders. This could be accomplished by initially offering encouragement and incentives to Arabs to leave of their own accord, just as the Jewish population of many Arab countries has been persuaded to leave, one way or another. Before instinctively defending democracy as inviolate, Israelis should consider whether the prospect of an Arab majority electing 61 Arab Knesset members is acceptable to them. Israelis will soon have to choose between a Jewish state and a democratic one.'

In Israel, Goldstein served on the local council in Kiryat Arba as the representative of the Kach party, founded by Kahane in the mid-1970s. He became closely involved in the rabbi's political movement and ran his campaign for parliament. He joined the army. He married an Israeli-born woman from Beersheba and had four children, two boys and two girls. His marriage ceremony was performed by Rabbi Kahane.

As a doctor and an army officer, he treated Israelis injured in attacks by Palestinians; other doctors said he often refused to treat Palestinians.

Last November, after tending to a Jewish man who had been hacked by two men with axes, he spoke of his outrage to Israeli army radio. 'Again the Arab Nazi enemy, who strives to attack any Jew just because he is a Jew in the land of Israel, has hurt a Jew,' he said. 'The army does not do its job. It doesn't protect the Jews here and co-operates with them (the Arabs). We are sick and tired of this, and with God's help we will create the state of Judea here, and we will know how to handle them ourselves.'

Friends say the killing of two of his friends by Palestinians in December changed Goldstein radically. 'He always made clear he was ready to give up his life for his beliefs,' said one settler. The deaths may have set him on the path of revenge.

Mike Guzofsky, a leader of Kahane Chai in the US, said on hearing news of the massacre: 'Baruch Goldstein is the quietest, sweetest guy I ever met. He felt the Arabs wanted us all dead. That's where he got his hatred. He wanted to stop the so-called peace process and save the state of Israel.'

Goldstein was totally opposed to the Israel-PLO accord, announced last September, and particularly to any Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank.

(Photograph omitted)