ALTHOUGH they did not learn his name until Friday, the figure of Baruch Goldstein had long been familiar to the Palestinian storekeepers on the Jerusalem road out of Hebron. Once and sometimes twice a day, Goldstein's big Peugeot station-wagon would swing out of the gates of Kiryat Arba, the Jewish enclave where he lived, and head out along this main thoroughfare 'as if on parade - just to show us he was there', as Issam Ramseh put it yesterday.
Mr Ramseh owns a car paint shop, and, like most other local traders, often has little to do but watch the wacky world of Hebron go by. The tip of an Uzi sub-machine-gun would always be sticking out of Goldstein's open car window as he cruised the streets, and a large Star of David flag flew from the roof.
He liked to drive slowly, hooting at Palestinian drivers and making eye-contact with those on the street. 'We get to know the settlers well - some would just drive past fast, but some obviously want to make trouble. I saw him two days before the massacre, so when they showed his face on television I recognised him straight away,' Mr Ramseh said.
Goldstein's name now goes down in the annals of Hebron's bloody history. Until Friday 'the Hebron massacre' was a reference to the killing by Arabs of 69 Jews in 1929. Goldstein avenged this on Friday morning with his own 'Hebron massacre', killing at least 48 Palestinians as they prayed in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Hebron sprawls over the Judean hills just 15 miles from Jerusalem. It is a dingy town, and only the Tomb gives it any distinction. According to the Jews the site is theirs - Genesis states that Abraham bought this piece of land for 400 shekels. He and his wife Sarah are buried here, along with Jacob and his wife Leah, and Isaac and his wife Rebecca.
The Muslims, however, also revere the patriarchs, and since Saladin defeated the Crusaders 800 years ago, the building has been a mosque. Until Israel seized the occupied territories from Jordan in 1967, Jews had no access to the site. Then they began to move into Hebron and muscle into the mosque. Now Muslim worship is severely restricted, and a Jewish synagogue has been attached to the building. The two faiths have separate entrances, but Arabs and Jews can often be found praying within yards of each other.
Hebron is not, however, a place of peaceful co-existence. At the outskirts of the town, near the tatty orange sign that says 'Welcome to Hebron', is the Kiryat Arba settlement. From there, day by day, the 7,000-odd Jewish residents go about their religious mission to reclaim the place from its 150,000 Arab residents.
They are heavily armed, for most of them serve in the army reserve and hold arms and ammunition supplied by the Israeli forces. In their own minds they sanctify most acts of violence and justify every 'fist in the face of the Gentile'. For young Jews, Hebron is a school for vengeance and hatred.
All this goes virtually unchecked by the authorities. Hebron is special, Israeli leaders plead each time Jewish violence erupts; it is bound to attract extremists. On one side are the settlers, but on the other Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is strong in the area. The Palestinian militants provoke the settlers, say Israeli leaders. There is nothing to be done.
The truth is that the settlers of Hebron have succeeded not only in subduing their Arab neighbours - witness Goldstein's triumphant tours of the town - but in cowing their own government into paralysis. The result has been that for decades this open wound has been ignored - until on Friday the blood spilled out for all to see.
For months, tension had been steadily mounting in the Hebron area. There had been signs that the Israeli army was starting to reduce its support for the settlers. Three weeks ago the mayor of Kiryat Arba was arrested by Israeli soldiers during a protest after the killing of two settlers, and there had been threats to place the settlement under curfew. The killing of a pregnant Jewish woman nearby 10 days ago had also set Kiryat Arba on edge.
But last Thursday evening in Kiryat Arba they were in joyful spirits. It was the eve of Purim, the Feast of Esther, when for all Jews private and public merriment is the order of the day, as they celebrate the deliverance of Babylonian Jews from the hands of their Persian enemies. It is an occasion when Jews are encouraged to drink alcohol and make merry, and the ultra-orthodox take this seriously. In the concrete apartment blocks and neat suburban streets of the enclave, a fancy- dress parade was being prepared for the next day.
Baruch Goldstein could not share in the celebrations to the full. According to several settler friends, he was in a sensitive state, having recently witnessed the murder of his friend Mordechai Lapid, gunned down with his son by Palestinians at the entrance to Kiryat Arba.
Goldstein was seen attending synagogue for the Purim reading from the Book of Esther. He 'seemed quite at peace with the world,' a friend said. 'He sat with his children in his lap. It was a picture of family domesticity.'
He would have heard, and recognised, the passage from Esther: 'The Jews gathered themselves together in the cities throughout all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt, and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them fell upon all people . . . Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them.'
A neighbour, David Waldman, says Goldstein later took drinks with friends before going home. His movements between 10pm and 5.20am the next day are unaccounted for. Some settlers in Kiryat Arba had a lot to drink that night, but there is no evidence Goldstein was among them. Few doubt that he had planned his slaughter well in advance, storing up extra ammunition from army supplies and timing his attack to coincide with Ramadan morning prayers.
From the evidence available it appears that some time before 4am he dressed in his reserve captain's uniform and left his home to make the short journey to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. At a clinic where he worked, he left a note: 'I very much enjoyed working with you. May God help you continue serving this holy community faithfully.' It was still pitch dark, and the walk down the hill would have taken about 10 minutes. As he arrived, the call to prayer was sounding for the Muslim congregation.
The presence of a soldier at the Tomb would have passed unnoticed. There are always soldiers here, ready to respond to clashes between Palestinians and settlers. Israeli officers said even they would have had no reason to question Goldstein, since rosters change constantly and duty soldiers are often strangers to each other.
Before, or even as the mosque was starting to fill, Goldstein was in position in the courtyard at the rear of the Herodian walls, by the twin tombs of Leah and Jacob. The Palestinians were entering through their side doors and would not have passed near him. As the worshippers knelt down in their first act of prayer, Goldstein moved through the Jewish entrance into the small synagogue, where lie the tombs of Abraham and Sarah.
It was by now about 5.20am, and through the archway leading from the synagogue into the mosque Goldstein would have seen row upon row of backs bowed towards Mecca. There was silence. Eyewitnesses say that the first thing they heard was a bomb. Then, almost immediately, Goldstein opened up with his automatic rifle. Yesterday the Israeli army said 100 spent bullets from the gun had been found sprayed around the mosque, the contents of at least three magazines.
Exact figures are impossible to establish, but it seems at least 48 people died and more than 200 were wounded. Worshippers scrambled for cover but there was no escape, for Goldstein stood in front of the only exit. Many of the dead and injured were hit in the head and chest, testimony to Goldstein's steady aim. The attacker himself seems to have died at the hands of the Muslims. In the space of 10 minutes the mosque became a charnel house.
When the gun was silenced, there was terror and a frenzied rush to get the wounded and the dead out. 'I carried seven dead outside,' said Mohammed Abu Saleh. 'I carried with my hands two boys, about eight or nine years old. Both were dead. I started crying.'
In the mayhem, it has been suggested, some Israeli soldiers misunderstood what had happened and thought one of their officers had been fired on. Angry worshippers are also said to have turned on the soldiers. Either way, as many as eight more people are believed to have been killed by Israeli soldiers at the scene. Survivors said they were prevented from leaving the building during the shooting, and some people are also thought to have been trampled to death. A further six Palestinians were shot dead when soldiers panicked as protests erupted outside the main Hebron hospital.
One of the main questions to be answered now is this: did Goldstein act alone? Eyewitnesses afterwards spoke consistently of seeing another man, also dressed as a soldier, handing him ammunition. Goldstein was not known as a loner.
Since the tragedy, Palestinians on the streets of Hebron have been under curfew. Reports have claimed that Kiryat Arba too has been placed under curfew - the first time such action has been taken against Jewish settlers. However, yesterday soldiers at the checkpoint nearby were letting Jews pass, and it seems settlers are still allowed to rule the streets.
Arab residents yesterday showed little will for mass protest, displaying instead despair and shock. The majority appear ready to leave the fighting now to the armed militants, to whom they will lend ready support.
'We want to feel this is Palestine. We still want to feel this is Palestine,' said Jamal, a 34- year-old driver, as he waited for news of wounded friends while Israeli soldiers patrolled outside. 'Everybody believes in peace. But what now? We are gunned down in our own mosque. We are here under curfew. We cannot get food for our children. We cannot work. What are we to believe?'
Smiling and crying, as she spoke, his wife Hanna told of Jews celebrating at the scene of the slaughter. 'We know they are down there at the mosque, dancing and singing and saying kill the Arabs. And the soldiers look on and do nothing.'
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