History of conflict fueled an Israeli settler rampage

Memories of a 1929 riot combined with a recent attack to feed an anti-Arab rampage.

Elazar Leibovich's murder last Friday was a lit match for the worst Jewish settler violence in the past two years of Mideast confrontation.

But the tinder for the rage seen in the wake of Mr. Leibovich's death – and other outbursts – was largely gathered from an event that happened seven decades ago.

In 1929, Arab residents killed 67 of Hebron's Jews. And Sunday – when Leibovich and three other Israelis killed in a Palestinian ambush were laid to rest in the old Jewish cemetery next to a mass grave for the 1929 victims – was the Hebrew calendar anniversary of the killings.

"Elazar's murder was a direct continuation of the [1929] massacre," says Moshe Ben Zimri, a settler activist. "They do not want Jews here. They want to continue to murder us until we are in the sea." Mr. Ben-Zimri said that "revenge for these murderers needs to come from the government and army, but if they do not do it, people will do things I am not happy about." He advocates emptying the town of Yatta, where the ambush took place, of its Palestinian residents.

The settler rampage that began after Leibovich's death and reached its peak Sunday left a Palestinian girl dead, and at least nine other Palestinians wounded, including an eight-year-old stabbed in his living room, and another eight-year-old shot in the arm. Homes were torched and ransacked. Fifteen Israeli policemen were lightly injured in the confrontation as they tried to restrain the rioters.

Moshe Givati, adviser to Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau, dismissed media accounts that the violence began with Palestinian stone throwing, terming it "a pogrom against the Arabs of Hebron, without any provocation by the Palestinians." He says police officers incurred "murderous blows" from rioters.

In violence Friday night, a Palestinian house that also served as a heritage museum was looted and burned, destroying antique pottery, glassware and books.

With their ideology centered around 1929, and their view of themselves as redeeming the biblical "city of Abraham" for the Jewish people, the insular 400-strong group of settlers who live among 100,000 Palestinians are, in a sense, a group apart from the mainstream.

"1929 provides them with a mythological justification, partly for revenge and undoing an evil, and also for proving that we can stay here," says left-wing commentator Tom Segev. "It fosters a constant element of tension with the Arabs. To [the settlers], the Arabs of today are the same people who killed them in 1929."

"These people are Jewish Hamasniks," adds Segev. "They are really a fanatic sect, shielded by the government and army."

Despite condemnations of settler violence, the government is boosting its support to the community. In April, a decision was taken to build permanent housing for settlers in the Tel Rumeida enclave, where settlers have been living in trailers. "I don't think the settlers are any different than Ariel Sharon," commented Palestinian legislator Mohammed Hourani. "They reflect the policies of this government. But I would not say they reflect the major groups in Israeli society." For Palestinians, memories are still fresh of a massacre in Hebron in 1994, when settler Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 Muslims at prayer.

Those in the Jewish community who speak to the media stress their commonality with other Israelis in light of the Palestinian attacks in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. "People here used to say we are on the front line, but today everyone is in the same boat," says Ms. Levinger, one of the first Jews to settle in the city, a year after Israel captured it during the 1967 war.

Last march, an eight-month-old infant daughter of settlers, Shalhevet Pas, was killed by gunfire from a Palestinian sniper. Nevertheless, Levinger is convinced that "God is supervising" the conflict.

"The Arabs were shooting at us from Abu Sneineh [neighborhood] for a year, and bullets would come through into people's bathrooms. Shalhevet was killed, but it could have been much worse," says Levinger.

Mr. Ben-Zimra, the settler activist, says his view is that Hebron will one day be a city with hundreds of thousands of Jews and no Arabs. "It is either us or them," he says.

Izzedin Sharabati, whose ransacked house contained the Palestinian heritage museum, responded when asked about 1929: "The British were in charge then." He adds: "I did not come here from America. I did not come here from Europe. I was here in Hebron and I did not make all the problems."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to History of conflict fueled an Israeli settler rampage
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today