Cave of the Patriarchs massacre

Cave of the Patriarchs massacre
Cave of the Patriarchs massacre

Cave of the Patriarchs in 2009
Date February 25, 1994 (1994-02-25)
Weapon(s) IMI Galil
Death(s) 29
Injured 125
Perpetrator Baruch Goldstein

The Cave of the Patriarchs massacre was a terrorist attack that occurred when Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler and member of the far-right Israeli Kach movement, opened fire on unarmed Palestinian Muslims praying inside the Ibrahim Mosque (or Mosque of Abraham) at the Cave of the Patriarchs site in Hebron in the West Bank. It took place on February 25, 1994, during the overlapping religious holidays of Purim and Ramadan.[1][2] Twenty-nine worshippers were killed and 125 wounded.[3] The attack ended after Goldstein had expended his ammunition, when he was overcome, then beaten to death by survivors.

The attack set off riots and protests throughout the West Bank, and an additional 19 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Defense Forces within 48 hours of the massacre.[2] Goldstein was denounced "with shocked horror" by Orthodox Judaism,[4] and most in Israel denounced Goldstein as insane.[5] Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin condemned the attack, describing Goldstein as a "degenerate murderer", "a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism".[6][7][8] Goldstein has been seen as a martyr by Jewish extremists in Hebron since the attack and his grave became a site of pilgrimage for his supporters.[9][10][11]



In 1970's, Baruch Goldstein, who was born and lived in Brooklyn, New York, was a charter member of the Jewish Defense League,[12] a controversial militant group which has been called a terrorist organization by the Federal Bureau of Investigation[13] and an anti-Arab hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[14]

After emigrating to Israel in 1983,[15] he served as a physician in the Israeli Defense Force, first as a conscript, then in the reserve forces. Following the end of his active duty, Goldstein worked as a physician and lived in the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron, where he served as an emergency doctor.[16] Israeli press reports stated that Goldstein refused to treat Arabs, even those serving in the IDF; this was also reflected in comments by his acquaintances.[17]

Goldstein became involved with Kach, and maintained a strong personal relationship with Rabbi Kahane, the militant Jewish nationalist[18] whose views, regarded by the Israeli government as racist, had caused his party to be banned from the Knesset in 1988.[19] Kahane was assassinated in 1990 by Arab militant El Sayyid Nosair, and Goldstein reportedly swore to take revenge for the killing.[20]

Goldstein's anti-Arab feelings became publicly known well before the massacre. In 1981, Goldstein wrote a letter, published in The New York Times, which said that Israel "must act decisively to remove the Arab minority from within its borders," which "could be accomplished by initially offering encouragement and incentives to Arabs to leave of their own accord."[21] In October 1993, inside the Ibrahimi mosque, acid was poured over the floor, leaving giant holes in the carpets, and six worshippers were assaulted. From the evidence of the sanctuary guards, Goldstein was identified as the culprit. A letter was written to Yitzhak Rabin, the then Israeli Prime Minister, by the Muslim authorities "regarding the dangers" of Goldstein and asking for action to be taken to prevent daily violations of the mosque.[22] Four years before the massacre, an agent of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, who had infiltrated Kach, passed a warning to his superiors about the danger posed by Goldstein. The agent ascribed to Goldstein the saying: There will be a day when one Jew will take revenge on the Arabs.[22]


The Israeli government divided the Cave of the Patriarchs into two sections, one for Jewish worshippers and the other for Muslim worshippers. At 05:00 a.m. on 25 February, 800 Palestinian Muslims passed through the east gate of the cave to participate in Fajr, the first of the five daily Islamic prayers.[23] The cave was under Israeli Army guard, but of the nine soldiers supposed to have been on duty, four were late turning up, and only one officer was there.[3]

Shortly afterwards, Goldstein entered the Isaac Hall of the cave. He was dressed in his army uniform and carried an IMI Galil assault rifle and four magazines of ammunition, which held a total of 140 rounds in 35 rounds per each magazine. He was not stopped by the guards, who assumed that he was an officer entering the tomb to pray in an adjacent chamber reserved for Jews.[4] Standing in front of the only exit from the cave and positioned to the rear of the Muslim worshippers, he opened fire, killing 29 people and wounding another 125. According to survivors, he bided his time until sojud, the prayer said while worshippers kneel towards Mecca.[24] After someone in the crowd hurled a fire extinguisher which struck him on the head, he was overcome and then beaten to death.[2]

Reports after the massacre were often contradictory or ambiguous. There was initial uncertainty about whether Goldstein had acted alone; it was reported that eyewitnesses had seen "another man, also dressed as a soldier, handing him ammunition."[25] There were also reports that he had thrown grenades at the worshippers.[5] Yasser Arafat suggested that the attack was the work of up to 12 men, including Israeli troops.[citation needed] There were also various questions as to the Israeli guards outside the cave having opened fire; while Israeli military officials claim that no Israeli troops fired on the Palestinian worshippers, the New York Times reported that over 40 different Palestinian eyewitnesses, many of them confined to hospital beds with gunshot wounds and thus "unable to compare notes", all corroborated that three Israeli guards opened fire in confusion as the Muslims fled the shrine, with one firing into the crowd.[26]

The testimony of various Israeli military officials was often contradictory. For instance, a Major General asserted that the guards had fired only in the air, but the guards themselves later testified to firing some shots "chest high".[27] The guards' testimony was also at odds with the testimony of their ranking officer in claiming they had seen another Jewish settler enter the cave bearing arms.[27]



Israeli government

Goldstein's actions were immediately condemned by the Israeli government, the mainstream Israeli parties and the Israeli populace in general.[citation needed] The Kach movement, with which he was affiliated, was outlawed as a terrorist organization. The cabinet decided to confiscate the weapons of some they regarded as right-wing extremists and put them in administrative detention.

In an address to the Knesset, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin denounced Goldstein. Rabin, addressing not just Goldstein and his legacy but also other settlers he regarded as militant, declared,

You are not part of the community of Israel... You are not part of the national democratic camp which we all belong to in this house, and many of the people despise you. You are not partners in the Zionist enterprise. You are a foreign implant. You are an errant weed. Sensible Judaism spits you out. You placed yourself outside the wall of Jewish law... We say to this horrible man and those like him: you are a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.[28]

Benjamin Netanyahu, then head of the Likud party declared, "This was a despicable crime. I express my unequivocal condemnation."[29]

Shamgar Commission

The Israeli government appointed a commission of inquiry headed by then president of the Supreme Court, Judge Meir Shamgar. The commission in the epilogue to its report called the massacre "a base and murderous act, in which innocent people bending in prayer to their maker were killed". Among its specific conclusions were:

  • Goldstein acted alone in planning the massacre, telling no one of his scheme.[30]
  • Coordination between the IDF, the police, and the Civil Administration was problematic.
  • The political leadership and security forces could not have been expected to predict the massacre.
  • Testimony from survivors referring to IDF assistance and grenade explosions in the massacre was found to be contradictory and inconsistent; investigators did not find any grenade fragments.[6]
  • There were, as claimed by some Jews seeking to justify Goldstein's actions as a preemptive strike, substantial warnings of a coming Hamas terror attack against Jews.[30] It further stated that:
8.2a "... warnings were issued regarding an expected attack by Hamas following the distribution of its leaflets in Hebron."
8.7a "Following an incident in Abu-Dis, which ended in the deaths of a number of members of Az-A-Din Al-Qassam [of Hamas], emotions ran high among the Moslem worshipers (about two hundred), who shouted hostile slogans ("Qassam", "kill the Jews"), [at the Jewish worshipers], making it necessary to call in army and Border Police forces. According to one of the Moslem witnesses, the Jews also shouted hostile slogans." (This is in reference to persons present on the previous evening.)
8.8a "Those in charge of security at the Tomb were given no intelligence reports that an attack by a Jew against Moslem worshipers could be expected, particularly since intelligence reports warned of the opposite: an attack by Hamas. Therefore, there was concern about an attack by Arabs against Jews."[31]

Critics of the commission have suggested that Shamgar's judicial record has "consistently displayed his leniency toward the settlers, including those convicted of crimes against the Palestinians, but especially toward the soldiers who had fired at the Palestinians."[32]

Israeli public

A poll of 500 Israeli adults for the International Centre for Peace in the Middle East found that 78.8 percent of people condemned the Hebron massacre while 3.6 percent praised Goldstein.[33]

Some of Goldstein's friends claimed that Goldstein experienced an emotional crisis in the previous December, when two of his friends were ambushed by Arab attackers near Kiryat Arba. As head of the local emergency medical team, Goldstein was called, and Mordechai Lapid and his 19-year-old son died in his arms.[34] At Goldstein's eulogy Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba stated: "Goldstein could not continue to bear all the cases he was seeing as a doctor; he might have gone insane from all he went through."[35] Rabbi Lior added that "since Goldstein did what he did in God's name, he is to be regarded as a Righteous Man" and asserted that Goldstein was "a martyr of God"; "His hands are innocent, and his heart is pure."[32][36]

Immediately after the attack, Mike Guzofsky, spokesman for Kahane Chai in New York and a close friend of Goldstein said, "He wanted to stop the peace process dead. He couldn't have picked a better day – Purim, when Jews fight back."[37]

Some claimed that Goldstein, in his capacity of head medical officer in Kiryat Arba, was aware of inside information warning of an upcoming Arab pogrom and acted in order to prevent this.[who?][citation needed] It was also claimed that army failed to provide proper security before the attack.[who?][30]

In a pamphlet named Baruch Hagever, published in 1994, and a book called Baruch Hagever: Sefer Zikaron la-Kadosh Baruch Goldstein in 1995, various rabbis praised Goldstein's action as a pre-emptive strike in response to Hamas threats of a pogrom, and wrote that it is possible to view his act as following five Halachic principles.[38][39]

Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburgh has been detained by Israeli authorities several times in conjunction with his praising the massacre, supposedly according to his interpretation of the writings of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.[40] According to Ginzburgh, given the political status of the West Bank, the killing of Arab noncombatants is "fully legitimate".[41]

Veneration of Goldstein

In the weeks following the massacre, thousands of Israelis traveled to Goldstein's grave to celebrate Goldstein's actions. Some Hasidim danced and sang around his grave.[42] Although the government has said that those who celebrated the massacre represented only a tiny minority of Israelis, a New York Times report states that Israeli government claims may understate the phenomenon.[42] According to one visitor to the gravesite in the wake of the attacks, "If [Goldstein] stopped these so-called peace talks, then he is truly holy because this is not real peace."[42] Some visitors kissed and hugged the gravestone, or even kissed the earth under which Goldstein was buried, declaring him a "saint" and "hero of Israel."[42]

The phenomenon of the adoration of Goldstein's tomb persisted for years, despite Israeli government efforts to crack down on those making pilgrimage to Goldstein's grave site.[10] The grave's epitaph said that Goldstein "gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land".[43] In 1999, after the passing of Israeli legislation outlawing monuments to "terrorists," the Israeli army acted to dismantle the shrine that had been built to Goldstein at the site of his interment.[43] In the years after the dismantling of the shrine, radical Jewish settlers would celebrate Purim by invoking the memory of the massacre, sometimes even dressing up themselves or their children to look like Goldstein.[1][10][11]

Jewish diaspora

In the United Kingdom, Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks stated,

Such an act is an obscenity and a travesty of Jewish values. That it should have been perpetrated against worshippers in a house of prayer at a holy time makes it a blasphemy as well... Violence is evil. Violence committed in the name of God is doubly evil. Violence against those engaged in worshipping God is unspeakably evil.[44]

An editorial in The Jewish Chronicle written by Chaim Bermant denounced the Kach organisation to which Goldstein belonged as "Neo-Nazis" and a U.S. creation, funded by American money and a product of American gun culture.[45] The same edition also reported that some liberal synagogues in the UK had begun fund-raising for Goldstein's victims.[46]

Palestinian public

Angry mobs began rioting in the aftermath of the massacre, which led to the deaths of 26 more Palestinians and 9 Israelis.[47] As a reaction to the trauma induced in children in Hebron, the Palestinian Child Arts Center (PCAC), a non-governmental, non-profit organization was founded. The activities of the centre primarily involve the intellectual development of Palestinian children, and to reinforce a positive role for the child within Palestinian society and culture.[48]

The first successful suicide bombing carried out by Palestinian militants inside Israel was launched by Hamas' Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades in 1994, in retaliation for the massacre carried out by Goldstein.[i][49] Eight people were killed and 34 wounded in the attack which took place in Afula on April 6, 1994, at the end of the forty day mourning period for Goldstein's victims.[50]

United Nations

The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 904 condemning the massacre and called for measures to protect Palestinian civilians.

Alternative names

The Cave of the Patriarchs massacre is also referred to as the Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre and the Hebron massacre, one of two events given that name (see also the 1929 Hebron massacre).

See also

  • List of massacres in Palestinian Territories


  1. ^ a b Tuman, Joseph S. (2003). Communicating Terror: The Rhetorical Dimensions of Terrorism. Sage Publications, Inc.. p. 93. ISBN 1412973244. Retrieved 2010-03-13. "Although Goldstein did not say anything during his attack to explain his actions, it is known that the night before his assault he had attended a service at the Jewish side of the Cave of the Patriarchs where after listening to the traditional reading from the Scroll of Esther, he told others there that they should all behave like Esther. The timing of his attack the next day at the same site hardly seems the product of happenstance or coincidence. It was the day of Purim. Moreover, although his actions seemed to be the product of a mind that had snapped or become depraved, there did not seem to be any sign that he was suffering from a mental disorder. His actions were deliberate and intentional. Goldstein was troubled by the ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in Oslo and openly concerned that a Palestinian state was about to be created. His attack on Muslim worshippers at the same site, while Purim coincided with Ramadan, was an attempt to cast himself symbolically in the story as Mordecai. Indeed that was exactly the way his actions were interpreted by other settlers at Kiryat Arba, and in the years to come after 1994, there would be numerous instances in which the settlers would celebrate Purim by also invoking Goldstein's memory and image in a provocative manner." 
  2. ^ a b c "When Fury Rules". Time Magazine. March 7, 1994.,9171,980291-1,00.html. Retrieved 2010-04-28. .
  3. ^ Settlers remember gunman Goldstein; Hebron riots continue. Issacharoff, Avi. Haaretz. March 01, 2010.
  4. ^ The ethics of war in Asian civilizations: a comparative perspective By Torkel Brekke, Routledge, 2006, p.44
  5. ^ 1 Wilson, Rodney. 2007. Review Article: Islam and Terrorism. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 34(2):203-213. [1]. (accessed 29 August 2010).
  6. ^ West Bank Massacre: The Overview; Rabin Urges the Palestinians To Put Aside Anger and Talk. Haberman, Clyde. The New York Times. March 1, 1994.
  7. ^ Alan Cowell (March 2, 1994). "WEST BANK MASSACRE; In 'Tragic Error,' Soldiers Kill a Settler". New York Times. 
  8. ^ Youssef M. Ibrahim (March 6, 1994). "The World; Palestinians See a People's Hatred in a Killer's Deed". New York Times. 
  9. ^ Kimball, Charles. When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs. 2003, page 130
  10. ^ a b c "Graveside party celebrates Hebron massacre". BBC News. March 21, 2000. Retrieved October 19, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b Bouckaert, Peter. Center of the Storm: a case study of human rights abuses in Hebron District. 2001, page 82 [2]
  12. ^
  13. ^ FBI Analysis of Terrorist Incidents and Terrorist Related Activities in the United States 1985
  14. ^
  15. ^ Lacayo, Richard; Lisa Beyer, Massimo Calabresi, and Eric Silver (March 7, 1994). "The Making of a Murderous Fanatic". Time.,9171,980282,00.html. Retrieved October 19, 2009. 
  16. ^ BBC NEWS "Goldstein had lived in Israel for 11 years and was a doctor in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, just outside Hebron." "As the settlement's main emergency doctor he was involved in treating victims of Arab-Israeli violence."
  17. ^ Mass-mediated Terrorism Brigitte Lebens Nacos, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002
  18. ^ Kushner, Harvey W. Encyclopedia of Terrorism. 2003, page 150
  19. ^ Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the Mind of God. 2003, page 55
  20. ^ Pringle, Peter (1994-02-27). "Hebron Massacre: Brooklyn doctor with a prescription for hatred". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  21. ^ A History of Anti-Arab Feeling. The New York Times. February 26, 1994. " Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg is correct when he asserts that in annexing Judea and Samaria (which he refers to as the West Bank), with its large Arab population, Israel would be endangering its Jewish character. According to statistics published by the Israeli Government in 1980, the Arabs of Israel have an average of eight children per household, as compared with an average of 2.9 children per Jewish home in Israel. However, Rabbi Hertzberg fails to note that even within the pre-1967 borders of Israel this same disparity of birth rates, associated with a declining Aliyah, assures Israel of an Arab majority in Israel (70 years?) unless steps are taken to prevent this from occurring. Ceding the "West Bank" to the "Palestinians" would, therefore, not solve the problem which Rabbi Hertzberg raises; it would serve only to further jeopardize Israel's security and betray a Biblical trust. The harsh reality is: if Israel is to avert facing the kinds of problems found in Northern Ireland today, it must act decisively to remove the Arab minority from within 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. Baruch Goldsein Brooklyn, June 30, 1981 ."
  22. ^ a b Helm, Sarah. Jewish killer attacked mosque last year: Evidence is mounting that Baruch Goldstein was known to be dangerous well before the massacre. The Independent. March 01, 1994.
  23. ^ Report of Shamgar Commission p. 15
  24. ^ Yoram Peri,The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin,Stanford University Press, 2000 p.101.
  25. ^ "Hebron Massacre: Hell comes to a holy place", The Independent (London), 27 February 1994
  26. ^ Hedges, Chris (1994-03-16). "That Day in Hebron -- A special report.; Soldier Fired at Crowd, Survivors of Massacre Say". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  27. ^ a b Haberman, Clyde (1994-03-18). "Confusing Israeli Testimony Poses Possibility of Hebron Accomplice". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  28. ^ Haberman, Clyde (1994-03-01). "WEST BANK MASSACRE: The Overview; Rabin Urges the Palestinians To Put Aside Anger and Talk". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  29. ^ quotes from The Jewish Chronicle (London) 4 March 1994, pages 1 and 2
  30. ^ a b c Commission of Inquiry Into the Massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron - Excerpts from the Report
  31. ^ Shamgar Commission report
  32. ^ a b
  33. ^ The Jewish Chronicle (London): 2. 4 March 1994. 
  34. ^ The Making of a Murderous Fanatic, Time, March 7, 1994.
  35. ^ Ilana Baum and Tzvi Singer in Yediot Aharonot, 28 February 1994.
  36. ^ Auerbach, Jerold S. Hebron Jews. 2009, page 128
  37. ^ Geoffrey Paul (New York) and Jenni Frazer (Jerusalem) From Brooklyn to Kirya Arba in The Jewish Chronicle (London), 4 March 1994.
  38. ^ Motti Inbari, Jewish Fundamentalism and the Temple Mount: Who Will Build the Third Temple? (State University of New York Press, 2009), p132.
  39. ^ Don Seeman, Violence, ethics, and divine honor in modern Jewish thought, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 73 (2005), 1015-1048.
  40. ^
  41. ^ Peri, Yoram. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. 200, page 112-3
  42. ^ a b c d Haberman, Clyde (1994-04-01). "Hundreds of Jews Gather To Honor Hebron Killer". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  43. ^ a b Greenberg, Joel (1999-12-30). "Israel Destroys Shrine to Mosque Gunman". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  44. ^ The Jewish Chronicle (London) 4 March 1994, page 1 and then expanded on page 23
  45. ^ Chaim Bermant Has one settler settled the settlers future? in The Jewish Chronicle (London), 4 March 1994
  46. ^ The Jewish Chronicle (London), 4 March 1994
  47. ^ Barsky, Yehudit. The Brooklyn Bridge Shooting: An Independent Report and Assessment. The American Jewish Committee. Nov. 2000. Accessed June 12, 2006.
  48. ^ Irving Epstein (2008) The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Children's Issues Worldwide Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-33878-7 p 197
  49. ^ Gus Martin (2009). Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues (3rd, illustrated ed.). SAGE. ISBN 1412970598, 9781412970594. 
  50. ^ Stork, Joe; Human Rights Watch (2002). Erased in a moment: suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians (Illustrated ed.). Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1564322807, 9781564322807. 

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