Settlers remember `Greatest Jew' who killed 29 in mosque

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The Independent Online
As Israel agreed to partly lift the ban on Palestinians travelling to work from the West Bank and Gaza, Jewish settlers in Kiryat Arba township held a memorial service for Baruch Goldstein who, a year ago, killed 29 worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque in the centre of Hebron.

Hebron was declared a closed military zone by the army but that did not prevent several hundred sympathisers from gathering around the stone block beneath which Goldstein, a Brooklyn-born army reserve captain, is buried.

"He was the greatest Jew," said Karen Sinai, wearing a yellow star marked "Prisoner of Zion", who had made her way from Jerusalem by bus. "He gave his life to save a community. We are surrounded by thousands of Arabs who want to kill us."

In justification of Goldstein's action, settlers, some with submachine guns slung across their backs, insisted the slaughter of the congregation at morning prayers had averted a conspiracy to attack them. "They found knives and guns in the mosque," said Peter Goldberg, one of the few mourners to say that at first he was shocked by the killings.

None accepted the idea that the Hebron massacre provoked the suicide bombing campaign by Palestinians which culminated in the Beit Lid attack that killed 21 Israelis on 22 January. "We are in a state of war with the Arabs," Mr Goldberg said. Like many of the settlers, he is a recent immigrant from the US.

Earlier the Israeli government made largely ineffectual efforts to stop sympathisers travelling to what one minister called "a shrine to hatred and massacre". Shimon Shamir, who yesterday was appointed Israel's first ambassador to Jordan, says the failure to remove 400 Israeli settlers from the centre of Hebron a year ago was a serious mistake by the government ofYitzhak Rabin, which fatally undermined the peace talks.

Mr Rabin made a conciliatory gesture to the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, yesterday when they met on the Gaza Strip border by saying 10,000 workers from Gaza and 5,000 from the West Bank would be allowed to return to work. The Palestinian economy is being crippled by the entry ban on 55,000 Palestinians who earn money on building sites and in agriculture.

Israel has linked a clamp-down on the militants of Islamic Jihad and Hamas to an end of the travel ban and the continued implementation of the Oslo peace agreement. As a minor sop, Mr Rabin yesterday offered Mr Arafat control over the municipal government of the northern town of Jenin, but that was rejected as inadequate.

Mr Arafat does not have much room for manoeuvre. He is being criticised for making concessions at recent meetings with the Israelis without getting anything in return. They cite, in particular, the willingness of Nabil Shaath, a senior Arafat aide, to sign a document at the recent economic summit at Taba on the Egyptian border, in which, for the first time, the PLO called for the lifting of the Arab boycott of Israel.

Critics also cite as examples of feeble negotiating, Mr Arafat's team's failure to push more aggressively and successfully for a freeze on settlements at summits in Cairo and Washington. They say Mr Arafat does not have the political strength to collaborate successfully with Israeli security to crush Hamas and Islamic Jihad and, at the moment, has little incentive to do so.