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New Zealand massacres bring back memory of Ibrahimi Mosque attack

People lay flowers and notes to pay tribute close to the Al Noor Mosque, following a mass shooting on March 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand on 16 March, 2019 [Peter Adones/Anadolu Agency]
People lay flowers and notes to pay tribute close to the Al Noor Mosque, following a mass shooting on March 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand on 16 March, 2019 [Peter Adones/Anadolu Agency]

The horrendous terrorist attack against Muslim worshippers at two Mosques in New Zealand evokes a chilling memory of one of the first terrorist attacks against a mosque in 1994.

Twenty-eight-year-old Australian White supremacist, Brenton Tarrant, entered two mosques on Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand firing at the congregants as they prayed, massacring 50 Muslims as they were praying and wounding dozens more.

The massacre took place within weeks of the 25-year anniversary of one of the first terrorist attacks against a mosque, committed on 25 February 1994 by a US doctor, Baruch Goldstein. Goldstein enjoyed dual citizenship and loyalty with Israel and was wearing an Israeli army uniform, issues that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar had warned were antithetical to American principles.

Goldstein was carrying an Israeli-issued automatic weapon and was serving with a heavily armed unit of Israeli soldiers who were engaged in protecting 400 Jews who had forcibly taken over a large section of Hebron’s downtown market as a settlement. The city’s 120,000 Palestinians, Christian, and Muslim, were subject to severe restrictions prohibiting their movement.

READ: 127 Israel aggressions on Al-Aqsa, Ibrahimi mosques in February

During the attack, which took only minutes, Goldstein killed 29 Muslims who were kneeling during prayers and wounded more than 125 others. Israeli soldiers who were protecting the settlers did not immediately respond to the violence and Goldstein was stopped only when Mosque-goers courageously ran towards him to restrain him and beat him to death as he tried to kill more.

The Ibrahimi Mosque, which Israelis call the Cave of the Patriarchs, is the burial tomb of several Biblical prophets that include Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their wives, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah.

Goldstein would have kept shooting had it not been for the brave Muslims in the mosque who tackled him and eventually killing him.

The massacre took place in the wake of the Oslo Peace Accords signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin issued a strong public condemnation of Goldstein’s assault in a personal call directly to Arafat. But Goldstein is idolized by many in Israel’s society, and a tomb was erected in the extremist Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba where admirers paid homage to Goldstein’s terrorist beliefs. Goldstein’s memorial was later torn down in the face of international protests but it was relocated to a park in the settlement where Israelis continue to pay homage to Goldstein’s memory and his grisly legacy.

The Ibrahimi Mosque attack raises serious questions about the sincerity of the Israeli leaders who this week expressed condolences to the families of those killed in New Zealand. It was Israeli government policies that enabled Goldstein’s terrorism. Those policies of separation, racism, and discrimination have not changed.

Israeli settlers in Hebron are among the most radical of the settlement movement because they remain in direct conflict with Palestinians.

I traveled there one year after the Goldstein massacre, in August 1995, as National President of the Palestinian American Congress. I was able to tour the mosque and witness the bullet holes caused by Goldstein’s automatic weapon which remain for all to see and remember.

The mosque and settlement are surrounded by heavily armed Israeli soldiers whose priority is to protect the settlers. They often prevent Palestinian Muslims from praying at the mosque. The main road to the mosque in the centre of the city is guarded by Israelis who prevent Palestinians from using it. I refused to allow the Israeli soldiers to stop me as I walked to the mosque waving my American passport. When I left the mosque, I was surrounded by Israeli settlers waving sticks at me and threatening me. The Israeli soldiers stood between us but it seemed as if they were there to protect the settlers, not me.

READ: Israel forces seal off area near Ibrahimi Mosque

It was the most frightening experience of my life.

Goldstein was an extremist like Yigal Amir, the disciple of the right-wing politics of Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin on 4 November 1995 walking right up to him and firing his Beretta handgun three times at Rabin as he was “guarded” by Israeli soldiers and police. Rabin was hit by two of Amir’s bullets.

Although today many Israelis assert sympathy for the victims of the New Zealand terrorist attack, the truth is that as many Israelis are expressing hostility and celebrating the attack, considering Muslims and Palestinians threats to their goal of creating one state for only Jews.

Israeli officials reacted to the New Zealand killings with displays of both disgust and by injecting their own politics into the incident.

The Zionist Federation of Australia quickly put the massacre in its own selfish context, declaring, “As Jews, we know all too well what it is like to live in fear.” Other Israeli officials were also quick to denounce the massacre, although they are silent about the killings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. More than 250 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli snipers who carefully aim their weapons using high-powered sniper scopes.

Many citizens in Israel’s Apartheid nation celebrated the killings on social media cheering and calling for more dead. The anti-Muslim hatred is documented by the Massawa Centre for Arab Citizen Rights in Israel which has called on Israel’s government to respond. (Massawa means “equality” in Arabic.)

Officials at the Massawa Centre assert Israel’s government has implemented a duplicitous screening of “hate speech” on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Hundreds of Palestinians have been accused and even charged with inciting hatred on social media, but the same crackdown on hate does not apply to Israeli Jews according to Quds Press which documents anti-Palestinian violence by Israel’s government.

Israelis are even sponsoring a law to force Facebook to remove anything they deem to be “hate speech”, especially posts by Palestinians against Israel’s occupation, or in support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement which targets the exploitation of Palestinian lands and resources confiscated by Israel for Jewish-only settlements and use.

Powerless Israel facing BDS - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Powerless Israel facing BDS – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin forcefully denounced the hate-driven attack but he has always been a moderate voice in a land dominated by Apartheid and racist practices. Rivlin doesn’t have the same political power as Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister who is seeking re-election in the 9 April election.

During this election campaign, Netanyahu has provoked anti-Arab racism by warning Israelis that if they vote for the centre-left coalition of his rivals, Israel’s Arab population will increase their influence.

Electing a coalition that includes Arab parties would, Netanyahu said, “undermine the security of the state and citizens.”

Netanyahu engaged in the same fear-mongering during the 2015 elections.

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The very same extremism and fear-mongering that fuelled Tarant’s assault against worshippers in New Zealand is practiced every day in Israel. Although some Israelis stand up to the fanaticism, too many do not and allow it to continue through discriminatory policies that separate Jews from non-Jews in Israel.

When you live in a land that entombs racism, you can’t express genuine sympathy for those who are the victims of violent hate.

Arabs in Israel have never had a greater motivation to turn come out and vote in the election and confront the rise in anti-Arab extremism.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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