JERUSALEM (Mar. 9)
The fivemember commission of inquiry into the Feb. 25 killings of Arabs by a Jewish settler traveled this week to the Hebron mosque where the attack took place.
Guarded by dozens of soldiers, the commission on Wednesday was given a tour of the site of the murders by Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom, whose command includes the West Bank.
The commission also heard from the officer on duty at the time that Dr. Baruch Goldstein entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs and began firing into the crowd of Muslim worshipers.
The officer, whose name was later given only as Second Lt. Rotem, told the commission that Goldstein had arrived at the tomb, a holy site to Jews and Muslims alike, in a white car driven by an unknown man.
Rotem also said that Goldstein had left behind a letter of confession at the mosque. The contents of that letter have so far not been made public.
On Tuesday, the first day of the commission’s hearings, Yatom told the commission that according to the Israel Defense Force, Goldstein had killed 30 Palestinians at the mosque.
Initial estimates put the death toll anywhere between 29 and 50, but in recent days Palestinian and international monitoring groups have reportedly lowered the total to 30, in line with the estimates of the Israeli army.
The commission also heard on Wednesday from local Muslim religious leaders, who complained that Israeli security authorities had cleaned the site immediately after the killings and had destroyed what the leaders believed could have been vital evidence.
Nevertheless, the chairman of the local religious council, Sheikh Salah Natshe, promised that he and his colleagues would testify before the commission after March 13, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The religious leaders also indicated that local Arab residents would be ready to testify despite their having “little confidence in the commission,” which is headed by the president of the Israeli Supreme Court, Justice Meir Shamgar.
The commission, which includes an Israeli Arab judge, spent almost seven hours in Hebron talking to local people and inspecting security arrangements.
The Arab residents of Hebron complained to the reporters who were accompanying the commission that while they have been under a strict curfew since the Feb. 25 killings, Jewish settlers in the town are free to move around as they please. They also complained that they have been subjected to constant provocations by the settlers.