JERUSALEM (Mar. 22)
Appearing for the first time before the state commission investigating the Hebron massacre, a dozen Arab witnesses gave indication that there may have been more than one gunman.
They did not, however, report having seen two people firing.
Their appearance before the official state commission of inquiry marked the reversal of an earlier decision by Palestinians to boycott the hearings.
Throughout the panel’s deliberations, a central question has been whether or not a Jewish settler, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, acted alone in killing at least 29 Muslim worshipers on Feb. 25.
The initial army investigation concluded that he had.
But last week two Israeli soldiers gave testimony that supported the possibility that Goldstein had an accomplice.
In this week’s testimony, several Arab witnesses, some of whom had been wounded in the attack, reported shots coming from more than one direction. One witness mentioned grenades having been thrown.
The two Supreme Court justices on the panel conducted most of the questioning, relentlessly probing discrepancies between what was being said before them and other testimony taken immediately after the events by police and civil rights investigators.
The two judges were also obviously irritated by what they suspected as prior coordination of the witnesses’ testimony.
A witness, asked point blank about it, denied that any coordination had occurred.
Nevertheless, the pressence of the Palestinians and their readiness to testify freely through an interpreter seemed to represent a vote of confidence in the Israeli commission.
The commission is chaired by Chief Justice Meir Shamgar and includes another Supreme Court judge, an Arab District Court judge, an academic and a former army chief of staff.
Last week, officials with Hebron’s Islamic religious council, or Wakf, ignored a summons to appear before the panel, apparently bowing to pressure from their more extreme colleagues in Jerusalem.
The presence of Tuesday’s witnesses is seen as the direct outcome of an appeal to them by the Palestine Liberation Organization, anxious to cooperate in this matter.