Reconciliation After Hebron
Jews and Arabs, Zionists and Palestinian nationalists, should stand side by side in grief and remembrance
THE murder of at least 40 Arabs at prayer last Friday morning in Hebron has filled Israel with revulsion and profound sadness. There has been a near universal outpouring of condolence to the bereaved families and to the whole Arab Palestinian community. The news that one of their fellow citizens was capable of the same terrorism they have so often endured sickens Israelis.
Only on the fringes of Israeli society, where racism produces its usual corrosion of the human spirit, does one hear support of or understanding for Baruch Goldstein, the doctor who dishonored both his Judaism and his Hippocratic oath.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke for the great mass of Israelis when he declared that Dr. Goldstein and those who extol him are alien to Israel and the Jewish People: ``You are a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.''
Israel's President Ezer Weizman called the massacre ``the worst thing that has happened to us in the history of Zionism.'' On Sunday he traveled to Hebron to pay his respects to the bereaved. Later he told the Jewish settlers in adjacent Kiryat Arba that they had a responsibility to ease the tensions there.
Israel is the result of Zionism, and Zionism is historically not racist. It has always been simply the national liberation movement of the Jewish people attempting to regain a lost sovereignty over their homeland. For two thousand years this connection has remained unbroken. But Zionism loses its raison detre if it achieves its aims by fomenting hatred of Arabs. Both Mr. Rabin and Mr. Weizman believe this.
The leader of the Zionist movement in 1947, at the time the United Nations provided for the creation of the State of Israel, was Ezer Weizman's uncle, Chaim Weizmann. The day after the UN decision he declared, ``There must not be one law for the Jew and another for the Arabs.... I am certain that the world will judge the Jewish state by what it will do with the Arabs.''
The government of Israel's response to the Hebron killings has been consistent with Zionism's ideals. Appropriate limitations on Jewish extremists are being put into place. The Israeli Army is being deployed to protect the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Legal action is likely against groups that encourage racism, such as Kach. The legislation will seek to deprive known extremists of their weapons.
In an unprecedented step the Israeli government placed a condolence message (see above, right) in all of the country's Arabic newspapers, the Hebrew papers, and in the English language Jerusalem Post. This is an act of a government aware of the pain that Palestinians as well as its own Arab citizens feel. I walked the streets of Tel Aviv on Friday, just hours after the killings, and I felt the moral outrage of the Israeli people. Later in the day, just before the Jewish sabbath (Shabbat) began, I spoke with several people who hold senior positions in the Rabin government and others who held high office in the previous government of Yitzhak Shamir. Their reactions were expressed almost as one - horror, shame, and grief.
The Shabbat in Israel is a time of serenity and joy. But this past Saturday a sadness enveloped the country as Israelis confronted the evil of a murderer whose actions profaned the divine name and the attachment of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. For thousands of years this Holy Land has been drenched in blood as people of one faith have sought to dominate people of another. There is little difference between the motivation of Goldstein last Friday, and the legions of the Roman Empire and the Crusaders centuries ago. Intolerance and religious triumphalism are once again the curse of the land of Israel.
What happens in the aftermath of this tragedy is as much a test of Chairman Yasser Arafat's leadership as it is of Prime Minister Rabin's. Thus far Mr. Arafat is headed in the wrong direction with his demand that the Jewish settlements be disarmed and dismantled. Most of the settlers have peaceful intentions toward their Arab neighbors. By some interpretations, the settlements themselves are protected by the Oslo agreements that the Palestinians and Israelis signed in Washington last September.
What is needed now is Arafat's public rejection of the easy road of reprisal. There will be no better way to pacify the occupied territories than for him to declare the sanctity of the memory of those who died with a statement that reprisals will dishonor their memory, and only serve to retard the beginning of Palestinian self-rule.
The appeal of reconciliation is far less compelling than the appeal of hatred. On the Arab streets the appeal for fiery rhetoric makes this choice difficult. But leadership requires hard decisions, and if Arafat wishes to achieve his goals he must refuse to seek political gain from these killings.
Jews and Arabs, Zionists and Palestinian Arab nationalists, should stand side by side in a shared grief for everyone who has died since the Israeli-Palestinian agreement was signed on Sept. 13. It would be fitting if Arafat and Rabin, in this moment of agony, led their peoples in joint memorial services at the earliest possible time, with each side acknowledging the humanity of the other and publicly expressing their shared commitment to a better life for all Palestinians and all Israelis. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.