JERUSALEM (Mar. 17)
Two Israeli soldiers who were on guard duty at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the day Baruch Goldstein murdered at least 29 Palestinians have come forward with testimony that contradicts the Israeli army version of what took place on Feb. 25.
“We saw (Goldstein) with an M-16,” Sgt. Kobi Yosef told the official commission investigating the killings at the Hebron mosque.
“About five minutes after him, another man entered with a Galil (assault rifle) strapped against his body,” Yosef said.
His testimony, presented Wednesday, was supported by Pvt. Nir Drori who, along with Yosef, had been positioned at one of the gates leading into the mosque on the day of the killings.
Their statements directly contradicted the official army accounts, and provided some support to statements by Palestinians that more than one man had been involved in the shooting.
According to officials with the Israel Defense Force, Goldstein had acted alone.
Army investigators, who had found shell easings on the floor of the mosque after the killings, said all the casings had come from an Israeli-made Galil assault rifle. No shells from an M-16, an American-made weapon, were found at the scene.
The two soldiers further testified that they had fired toward the crowd of Muslim worshipers that came stampeding from the mosque after Goldstein opened fire.
Drori testified that he shot three or four times, and Yosef said he fired one bullet. Both denied that their fire had struck any worshipers.
SOLDIERS FEARED FOR THEIR LIVES
The soldiers said they had feared for their lives, believing a Palestinian was shooting inside the mosque. Their gunfire, they stated, had been intended to stop the worshipers from pouring out of the mosque.
“We wanted to create a jam at the door,” said Yosef. “We thought it was an Arab who fired. We were afraid he would come out.”
Earlier Wednesday, Lt. Rotem Ravivi, the only Israeli officer who was inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs at the time, contradicted portions of Yosef and Drori’s testimony.
According to Ravivi, who saw Goldstein at the gate to the mosque, the settler was carrying a Galil rifle. He further stated that Goldstein was dressed in army uniform and had a bag and two-way radio.
Ravivi said he greeted Goldstein at the entrance to the cave and noted that he was in IDF uniform.
“He said he was on reserve duty,” the officer told the panel, which met in Jerusalem’s High Court of Justice.
Goldstein then went into the complex, and the officer, who was not in the prayer hall when Goldstein opened fire, said he had no further contact with him.
Nor had Ravivi any reason to suspect anything was amiss, he told the court. Goldstein had never drawn the soldiers’ attention to him in any way, he said.
Ravivi further described Goldstein as a “good guy,” a man who could be trusted.
He also testified that Goldstein’s car was one of only three civilian vehicles permitted to park in an IDF area near the mosque.
A total of 11 soldiers testified Wednesday before the five-man panel, which is chaired by Chief Justice Meir Shamgar and includes an Arab judge and a former IDF chief of staff.
There was some disagreement among the soldiers regarding the controversial standing orders to never open fire on Jewish settlers.
Some claimed to be aware of the orders, while at least one said he was not. Some added that they would not have obeyed the orders because they were illogical.
Border policemen, accompanied by attorneys, also testified Wednesday before the commission. The lawyers were present because the men had failed to be at their posts on the morning of the killings, and the policemen required the presence of counsel to prevent them from implicating themselves while testifying before the panel.
One man asking to be heard by the panel is reserve officer Shlomo Idelstein. On the morning of the killings, Idelstein said, he received an urgent phone call from Goldstein’s wife, Miriam.
Miriam Goldstein, Idelstein said, asked him to intercept her husband, whom she said had not gone to the Tomb of the Patriarchs — a site holy to Jews and Muslims alike — simply to pray.
Idelstein tried to locate Goldstein, but failed to reach him on an emergency beeper.
Idelstein has written to the panel asking to give testimony about the month of reserve service he spent in Kiryat Arba, where Goldstein lived.