US army officers were given a tour of the Palestinian city of Hebron (Al-Khalil) last week by a far-right settlement spokesperson at the request of Major General Yehuda Fuchs, the head of the Israel Defence Forces' Central Command. This was despite the settlers in and around Hebron having a reputation as some of the most fanatical of all.
Fuchs contacted extreme-right spokesman Noam Arnon to ask him to lead the full-day tour, which included a visit to the Ibrahimi Mosque, which settlers refer to as the Cave of the Patriarchs. The American officers were also shown around the areas in the occupied Palestinian city where the illegal Israeli settlements are located.
Although Palestinians make up the vast majority of the population in Hebron, the occupation army made no effort to invite anyone to represent the community living under what many commentators and human rights groups have described as racial segregation imposed by the occupation state.
Some 850 heavily-armed Israeli settlers live in the city. They are protected by soldiers among more than 200,000 Palestinians. Hebron has often been a flash point. In February 1994, a Jewish American settler, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on worshippers as they prayed in the Ibrahimi Mosque, killing 29 Palestinians and wounding many others. He continued to fire until he was overpowered by survivors and beaten to death.
Goldstein's act of terror earned him cult status as a hero amongst Israeli settlers. His grave in the occupied West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba outside Hebron has over the years become a pilgrimage site for extremist Jews. A shrine to his memory was also erected there.
Israel's coordination with a far-right settler reflects what many see as a worrying shift fuelled in November by Israeli President Isaac Herzog's visit to the Ibrahimi Mosque. In recent years, the military has stopped its own tours and field trips in conjunction with the settlers in the occupied city.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh slammed Herzog's visit and accused him of attempting "to distort the truth about the Arab and Islamic city, to Judaise and control it while subjecting its indigenous population to racist rule."
The Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and several Arab and Muslim countries — including Jordan and Saudi Arabia — described the president's visit as provocative. The OIC said that Herzog's visit was part of "Israeli plans to Judaise the Ibrahimi Mosque and tighten Israel's grip on it."