Israeli soldiers’ Shabbat host: Hebron’s monster-in-chief

Kach leader Baruch Marzel in Hebron
Kach leader Baruch Marzel in Hebron, March 23, 2007. Wikipedia Commons

In Hebron, the evil of the occupation is most plainly visible. Shuhada Street, once a busy commercial row, has been off limits to Palestinians for over 20 years, the homes and shops welded shut, the turquoise awnings marked by Stars of David and anti-Arab graffiti. Above the nearby souk hangs a chain-link and cloth netting that catches at least some of the rocks, dirty diapers, bleach and urine poured down frequently on vendors and shoppers by residents of the Avraham Avinu and Beit Hadassah buildings, in clear view of two IDF lookout posts. The 1,000 or so settlers, protected by the army, go around like masters over their Palestinian subjects. There is no more radical, racist, violent Jewish community in the West Bank.

The most infamous of Hebron’s settlers is Baruch Marzel, who for the last quarter-century has been the leader of Kach, which is outlawed in this country for racism and incitement to terrorism and in America for just plain terrorism. On Sunday it was revealed that many soldiers stationed in Hebron spend their Shabbat lunch as guests at Marzel’s home in the settlement’s Tel Rumeida enclave.

This tidbit came out in the testimony of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who is on trial for shooting to death a Palestinian assailant in Hebron after the latter had already been shot several times and was lying all but motionless on the ground.

Asked by his attorney about video footage showing him shaking hands with Marzel after the shooting, Azaria told the Jaffa military court:   

“Tel Rumeida is a family-like post, civilians can go into the post. Baruch Marzel would invite us, the whole company, to eat lunch with him every week at Shabbat lunchtime. The company commander and the battalion commander would eat with him. It never raised a problem. … We used to eat at Baruch’s every Shabbat, he’d treat us and give us the best.”

Azaria went on to describe Marzel as “a good man. He would also treat us with chocolates and drinks when we were doing guard duty.”

Anti-Arab graffiti on Palestinian home in Hebron.
“Gas the Arabs” graffiti on gate of Palestinian home in Tel Rumeida, an enclave of the Jewish settlement in Hebron and home to Marzel. The graffiti is signed “JDL” – Jewish Defense League, the forerunner to Kach. Photo: Magne Hagesaeter, June 29, 2008.

It’s always bothered me that 19-year-old Israeli boys and girls are sent to guard a community where there may be some debate over Yigal Amir, who murdered a Jew, but there’s doubtless none over Kach alumnus Baruch Goldstein, who murdered Muslims. Now it turns out the soldiers are not only guarding the settlers, they’re being adopted by the worst of them.

I remember one Friday in the early 1990s, two Palestinian laborers were murdered in the West Bank and eyewitnesses said the killers were settlers. Marzel, whose movement naturally came under suspicion, said on the radio, “We had nothing to do with this, but when I heard the news it really enhanced my oneg (celebration of) Shabbat.” I asked him later if he stood by those words. “Of course,” he said, describing the double murder as “holy work.”

Marzel is the leader of a movement that produces and glorifies Arab-killers. He himself has a record of criminal violence that includes assaults on Palestinians, a peace activist and an Israeli policeman. He has organized Purim parties in tribute to Goldstein’s Purim massacre of 29 Muslims. He has called publicly for Uri Avnery’s assassination.

He preaches violence against gays, too. After the stabbing of three marchers in the 2005 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade (by Yishai Schissel in a prelude to his murder of Shira Banki 10 years later), Marzel said, “The stabbing incident during last year’s parade will seem minor in comparison with what is anticipated this year. We have to declare a holy war [to] stop crimes in Jerusalem and acts of sodomy.” He also was on hand to help stir up racist, at times violent protests in South Tel Aviv against African refugees.

The Boston-born Marzel is Israel’s answer to the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the man who hosts Sgt. Elor Azaria’s “whole company to eat lunch with him every week at Shabbat lunchtime.”

How long has this been going on? How does the army allow this? Now that it’s been reported, I wonder if Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman will put a stop to it; after all, it was Marzel and a couple of other Kach elder statesmen who ratted him out some years ago for having been a Kach activist at Hebrew University, something Lieberman naturally denies.

But the defense minister may well have missed the news about the hospitality being laid on for the troops by the grand dragon of Tel Rumeida; several major news outlets didn’t mention it at all. Which shouldn’t be too surprising. We’re talking about Hebron, the occupation’s heart of darkness. We send our children there to serve their country. If that’s unremarkable, so is oneg Shabbat with Baruch Marzel.

Originally published in Haaretz.com on July 26 under title “Why Are Israeli Soldiers Fraternizing With Hebron’s Most Racist, Terrorist-inciting Settlers?” 

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Larry Derfner

I was born in New York in 1951, grew up mainly in Los Angeles, began my career in journalism in 1981, and moved to Israel in 1985. I live in Modi’in with my wife Philippa and sons Alon and Gilad.

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