On Saturday, as in every year, Baruch Goldstein followers will mark 16 years to the massacre of Muslim worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs. This year's timing is especially sensitive, as it comes amidst renewed tensions in Hebron following the government's announcement on the national heritage plan.
In the early hours of the morning, on Purim holiday, February 1994, he entered the Cave of the Patriarchs' Muslim complex while wearing IDF uniform, and slaughtered 29 Arab worshippers and injured 125 others.
A blow to the head with a fire extinguisher put an end to the massacre – and to his life. As years went by, his life and death became a myth among radical right-wing circles. "He knew that Jewish blood was about to be shed, and so he protected his own people. Perhaps some were innocent – but war is war," says Itamar Ben Gvir in an attempt to rationalize the unthinkable act.
"We come here every year to show the Left that suppressing the Right will be met with opposition," said Michael Ben-Horin, who edited a book about Goldstein titled "Baruch Hagever." Recently, the book marked a victory when the District Court ruled that "Lauding Goldstein does not constitute incitement" – a decision that was not appealed by the state.
Ben-Horin, who has never hesitated to speak freely, was convinced of his hero's virtue: "He prevented a large massacre in Hebron's Jewish settlement, and we visit his grave in order to implicitly say – Jewish lives are not disposable."
Paradoxically, Goldstein's followers credit the Left with establishing their hero's fame. They are especially "thankful" to former MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), who initiated a law to evacuate Goldstein's burial site that was built by his family members.
Baruch Godstein's gravestone
"He only strengthened what many already admired about him," said right-wing activist Noam Federman, "Six years after the incident, the state and the Left removed all the symbols that gave the burial site the character of a memorial monument. Many Jews saw it as an attempt to squash the memory of a man who prevented a Jewish massacre in Hebron."
Former Knesset Member Ran Cohen (Meretz) says that "what members of Kach built was no less than a monument to commemorate a nefarious crime." The bill he legislated, Cohen explained, prevented teens from gathering at the site and getting educated to follow Goldstein's way. "Their aim was to educate to terror. The phenomenon surrounding Goldstein brings to mind a crazy ritual. This whole practice is criminal and is being portrayed as having a Jewish spirit," he said.
"All these insane 'Goldsteinites' are enemies of Israel and belong to a strand that is by and large anti-Zionist. Whoever enters a synagogue in Jericho during a period of calm and provokes hatred and hostile activity is a terrorist – and the state should treat them accordingly," Cohen adds.
Criticism not only from Left
Peace Now member Hagit Ofran claimed that Goldstein's followers who uproot trees as part of their struggle over control of West Bank lands, represent the "ugly Jew" and reaches new levels of a moral low. "Those who praise terror acts and call for the slaughter of innocents symbolize everything that is evil and cowardly in our country," Ofran said.
Peace Now is not the only one spewing criticism at Goldstein admirers. Realistic Religious Zionism member Yonatan Urich says that "very few normative people will show support for an act like the one perpetrated by Goldstein, but on the other hand, they do not explicitly condemn his actions either," he said.
Urich adds that he often hears comments such as "Goldstein was a saint, but did unthinkable actions." According to the same logic, Urich noted, "One can assume Stalin was a nice guy who did horrible things."
Goldstein's burial site has become a sort of spiritual center, where barren women and sick people come in order to ask for remedy. However, far-right activists reject this notion, claiming it resembles "Pagan practices."
Either way, if weather conditions allow, dozens of followers will visit Goldstein's grave on Saturday, where they will celebrate the memory of a man responsible for the lives of 29 Muslim worshippers and the further escalation of the conflict in Hebron. Police said they are prepared for the possibility of riots breaking out throughout the city, especially given this year's sensitive timing.