Behind the Headlines: Israelis Left Demoralized in Wake of Attack in Hebron

On Saturdays, the shops in the Arab Quarter of east Jerusalem are traditionally filled with tourists and locals looking for a bargain.

Last Saturday, a day after West Bank settler Baruch Goldstein gunned down dozens of Arab worshipers in the town of Hebron, the winding alleyways of the quarter were virtually deserted.

Fewer people than usual visited the Old City for fear of being stoned by Palestinian protesters. Those who did venture beyond the high stone walls did so via the Jaffa Gate, where scores of police officers stood guard.

The murder, and the Palestinian violence that has come in its wake, have demoralized Israelis from all sides of the political and religious spectrum.

Right-wing or left-wing, religious or secular, people here are clearly shocked by the massacre. How, they ask, could something like this happen in our country? How could a Jew do such a thing?

Ordinarily a nation of extroverts, Israelis this week turned inward as they searched for answers. The local press devoted full coverage to the attack and the reasons behind it. Psychologists offered their opinions, politicians offered theirs. In the end, there were more questions than answers.

The despair manifested itself in many ways. In some synagogues, worshipers said two special prayers – one in memory of the murder victims, another to ward off retaliatory acts by Arabs against Jews.

Immediately following the attack, frightened parents in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City whisked their children from the streets and set about reciting psalms.

“I decided to take a taxi rather than wait at my bus stop, which is across from an Arab village,” said a 30-year-old Jerusalemite. “I just hope things calm down in a few days.”

The mood of introspection turned Purim, the day the murders took place, into a low-key affair. Cities and towns that are usually packed with children in costumes were uncharacteristically quiet.

Such was the case at Kibbutz Afik on the Golan Heights. “People here have been very sad,” said kibbutz member Marla van Meter. “We felt the effects on Purim, when the entire kibbutz usually comes out to celebrate. This year, only half of our members celebrated the holiday.”

According to van Meter, the attack may have a deeper, more lasting effect. “Morale has been damaged,” she said.

“The attack was the act of only one crazy man, not an incursion into Lebanon, but this one man took away the whole atmosphere of progress (on the political front). There is the fear that the government might try `quick-peddling’ a political solution just to ease the tension,” she said. Rabin “may make concessions to appease the Arabs.”

There are some who believe that concessions are in Israel’s best interests. Saka, a middle-aged Tel Aviv resident, asserted, “If this murder taught us anything, it is that we need to get out of the West Bank and Gaza. It will be better for Israel, better for the Palestinians.”

No one has been more affected by the attack than settlers on the West Bank. “We are a peaceful people,” said Leora Hasson, a resident of Moshav Na’ama, near Jericho. “We all feel sorry for the deaths. But each society has its crazy people, including Muslims and Christians.”

Since the murders, she said, “We have been very frightened. Our children are frightened to go to school. We’re afraid that we will have to leave our homes. If that happens, we’re not going to fight with the government, to stand on rooftops and fight. If they day comes, it will be a personal tragedy for every single one of us.”

For Anna Meler, also of Moshav Na’ama, “insecurity is the worst thing. After the attack, I was afraid to travel on the roads with my children, so I canceled a trip to Tel Aviv.

“I don’t carry a gun – I know I couldn’t shoot someone. I felt insecure even before the attack, but now it is even worse. I want peace and will leave the West Bank if I have to.”

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