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The Hebron Massacre and the American Connection

Stephen Zunes


It is wrong to dismiss the February 26 massacre in Hebron simply as an act by a deranged individual. While it was probably not part of a broad conspiracy, it was a calculated move to disrupt the peace process, as has been the many lesser atrocities committed by both Jewish and Muslim extremists in Israel and its occupied Palestinian territories in recent months. This time, however, they may have succeeded.

One aspect which has escaped the attention of the mainstream media, however, has been the role of the United States.

Hebron is the only place in the West Bank where Jewish settlers live in the heart of an Arab city. Their presence is justified on the grounds that the Arab homes they expropriated belonged to Jews prior to a 1929 pogrom that killed or forced out the town's Jewish population. (The Israelis insist, however, that such a principle does not follow for the tens of thousands of Jewish homes within what is now Israel that once belonged to Palestinians.)

Most Israelis who choose to live in rural areas outside of Israel's internationally-recognized borders do so because of generous government subsidies designed to encourage the colonization of Arab lands seized in the 1967 war. By contrast, most of the settlers in and around Hebron are right-wing ideologies, who--with the support of the Israeli government--have become vigilantes against the local population.

Like Baruch Goldstein, the principal assailant of the attack on the Ibrahim Mosque, as many as one-third to one-half of these right-wing settlers are from the United States. For these recent immigrants, it is a chance to live out childhood fantasies of cowboys and Indians, taming a frontier through force or arms and a fair amount of racism to match. Most native Israelis, anxious for peace, see these American émigrés as an embarrassment at best and, at, worst, a threat to the long-term security interests of Israel.

I have spent time with these American émigrés, who brag of their ability to "keep the Arabs in line." They swagger through the town, pointing their weapons at passers-by and laugh as their targets scurry out of their way.

It is as if these Jewish colonists feel a desperate psychological need to relive the persecution of their people in an earlier time. Rather than live in the relative security of Israel proper, they have consciously moved onto Palestinian land and set up their own ghettos--complete with high walls and barbed wire--to wait out a perceived siege by hostile goyim. Rather than recognize that Palestinians' desire for national freedom is as sincere and legitimate as that of the early Zionists, they see their Arab neighbors as the new Nazis who must be destroyed in order for Jews to survive.

These Jewish extremists are much like the Islamic extremists in their zealotry, intolerance, and propensity towards violence. The difference is that the extremist Jewish groups are legally sanctioned, issued arms by the Israeli government, and are often directly supported by elements of the Israeli military.

Israeli Reserve General Matti Peled has accused his government of connivance at the settlers' "openly declared war against the pace process. Not only are they allowed to carry out with impunity pogroms against Palestinian cities and villages, they are also given free time on the state-owned media."

Dozens of Israeli soldiers from different units have written to the Israeli press, to Knesset members, and to government ministers, complaining that they had been ordered to stand aside as rampaging settlers dragged Palestinian motorists out of their cars, beat them up, and torched their vehicles.

The relationship between the Israeli military, whose ranks--including commanders--include most of these far right wing extremists, bear a striking resemblance to those between the established armed forces and para-military death squads which terrorized Central American countries during the 1980s. And again, the U.S. is footing the bill. This time, however, the most strident supporters of U.S. policy are liberal Democrats, and the peace movement appears to be letting Congress and the Clinton administration get away with it.

Most of the direct funding for Gush Emunim, Kach, and other far right movements come from private contributions from the United States. Indeed, one could argue that the generous subsidies these colonists receive from the Israeli government are, in fact, subsidies form the U.S. government, since such expenditures would not be possible without the tens of billions of dollars worth of unconditional aid sent in foreign aid packages to Israel since its 1967 conquest of the West Bank and other Arab lands. The American taxpayer has, in effect, spent millions of dollars for these rightists to build their communities and then have them protected by Israeli conscripts.

Despite a long criminal record in both the United States and Israel and his links to terrorists, the U.S. government routinely granted visa applications of Kach founder Meir Kahane to come to the United States to recruit people like Goldstein to come to colonize Palestinian territory. (Kahane was assassinated on such a visit to New York in 1990.) At the same time, the U.S. was consistently denying visas to Palestine Liberation Organization officials, including those advocating peace with Israel.

What has been largely ignored by the mainstream media is that all the Jewish settlements are illegal, according to international law. No occupying military power can transfer its own civilian population onto territory seized by force. However, the Clinton administration has refused to refer to them as illegal. In a reversal of policy from previous administrations, Clinton has not opposed the expansion of existing settlements and has been ambivalent regarding the large scale construction of massive housing developments in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.

UN Security Council resolutions 446 and 465, adopted unanimously with U.S. support nearly 15 years ago, explicitly obligates Israel to withdraw from its settlements. However, the United States--which has been quick to push for sanctions when Arab states like Iraq and Libya have violated UN mandates--has thus far blocked effective enforcement of this important resolution.

Indeed, the Clinton administration insists that the Jewish settlements should not even be an issue at the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at this time.

According to U.S. law, the costs of such additional Jewish development in the occupied territories must be deducted from the $2 billion annual allocation of the controversial $10 billion American loan guarantee to Israel passed in 1992. In October, the U. officially announced to Israel that there would be a $437 million deduction in this year's loan due to settlement construction during the 1993 fiscal year. However, State Department Middle East peace talks coordinator Dennis Ross immediately let the Israeli government know that the U.S. would find a way to restore the full funding. Within a month, Clinton announced the U.S. would indeed give Israel an additional $500 million, ostensibly to pay for the "redeployment" of Israeli troops which are yet to evacuate from any part of the occupied territories. The numbers of Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and Gaza have actually been increased.

In the aftermath of the massacre, the U.S. successfully blocked an effort by the UN Security Council to send in a multi-national peace keeping force to the occupied territories, believing that the Israeli military and the settlers should maintain their monopoly of force. In another reversal of positions by previous administrations and in contradiction to several previous UN Security Council resolutions, the U.S. also blocked a resolution which included Arab East Jerusalem as an occupied territory, effectively endorsing Israel's illegal unilateral 1967 annexation.

As a result of the massacre and the intensified repression of Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces that followed, the PLO has lost its mandate to continue the negotiations. The U.S. opposes the only concrete measures which would allow the PLO to get the talks started again. It is yet another example that the United States is more interested in a Pax Americana than real peace in the Middle East, even if it means allowing the cycle of bloodshed to continue.


Stephen Zunes is director of the Institute for a Middle East Policy. located on Bainbridge Island, Washington and a visiting professor of Politics and Government at the University of Puget Sound.