Of all the many massacres committed by Israel and Israelis against the Palestinian people, that which was carried out on 15th Ramadan in February 1994 was unique. Coming as it did just months after the signing of the Oslo Accords it was clearly an attempt to “derail” what then US President Bill Clinton described as “the peace of the brave”. This week’s shooting dead of a Palestinian boy, Mahmoud Rafat Badran, aged 15, by Israeli soldiers on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the Hebron massacre was a chilling reminder of the failure of the Oslo process.
Badran was not a “terrorist” and nor was he wanted for any crime. He was shot while returning home from a visit to a nearby swimming pool. After a swift initial inquiry the Israeli army admitted that it shot him “mistakenly” while pursuing a group of stone-throwers. Like the 29 worshippers who were gunned down in cold blood in the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, Badran was a victim of a deceitful US policy, for without the military hardware and political support of successive American governments, Israeli settlers and soldiers could not have acted with the unbridled impunity that they have had to-date.
On the day that the Democrats are holding a sit-in at the US Congress in protest at their liberal gun laws, it is odd that so many Americans call for the tightening of gun control after every mass murder in the US, yet they never feel the need for similar outcries for a review of US military support to Israel after every crime committed against Palestinian civilians. There would be no need for new laws in this respect. The Foreign Assistance Act entrusts the US president with powers to “substantially reduce or terminate security assistance to any government which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognised human rights.”
No American president before or after Oslo has had either the moral courage or political will to implement the clauses of the Foreign Assistance Act with respect to Israel. On the contrary, the daily killing of Palestinians has been rewarded by Congress approving a constant flow of lethal weaponry over many years. As a result, while Palestinians were burying and mourning the young Mahmoud Badran this week, Israel’s newly-appointed — and extreme right-wing — Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman was feted in the US to celebrate the impending US delivery of 20 state-of-the-art F-35 bombers to Israel.
Nobody in the US administration or aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin will dare to question the wisdom of this move. If anyone thought for a moment that the removal of the so-called “Iranian nuclear threat” was going to reduce the level of arms transfers to Israel they were mistaken. To the same extent that they were “untouchable” at the time of the 1994 Hebron Massacre, extremist settlers remain the dominant political constituency within Israeli politics today. Lieberman is their most high-profile leader and has just been handed the powerful defence portfolio by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the aftermath of the Hebron Massacre it mattered very little to Palestinians whether the Israelis erected a shrine to honour the memory of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein. Nor did it matter to them if the US government chose to designate Kahane Chai, the group to which he belonged, as a terrorist organisation. What mattered then, and still matters today, was the unprecedented decision to divide the Ibrahimi Mosque in a manner that gave Jews exclusive rights to worship in it during certain religious festivals and the imposition of a catalogue of restrictions on Muslims at other times. Restrictions on the right to announce the call to prayer over the loudspeakers are only one example. In 2015 alone, the Islamic Waqf (Religious Endowments) department in Hebron recorded 600 occasions when the Israeli occupation forces prevented the Islamic call for prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque. The reason given was that it disturbed the 500 extremist settlers living in the illegal Kiryat Arba settlement (where Goldstein lived and is commemorated) a few hundred metres away from the mosque.
Encouraged by their success in changing the status quo in the Hebron Mosque the settlers have in recent years stepped up their efforts to repeat the same process in Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque. Hardly a day passes without their storming of its compound under the protection of the Israeli army. Apart from the timid calls for “restraint” by the international community, Palestinians have been left virtually on their own to protect the sanctity and integrity of the Noble Sanctuary. The international bystanders, it seems, are waiting patiently for another Hebron-style massacre to provide them with an incentive to endorse the division of the mosque and its compound.
While many may take smug comfort in blaming the US for supporting Israel and its colonial settler movement, we must never forget that regional leaders, Palestinians included, have been no less complicit. The admission this week by veteran PLO negotiator Nabil Shaath that the Palestinian Authority spends more money on Israeli security than it spends on Palestinian education is a shocking self-indictment and admission of guilt.
The 23rd anniversary of the Hebron massacre is thus not just a timely reminder of Oslo’s failure but also an opportunity to change the direction of travel and look elsewhere for solutions. Palestinians can no longer continue to misplace their trust in any notions of US impartiality or Israel’s good faith; such concepts are alien to politicians in both countries.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.