Preliminary Report on the Events in Hebron

as presented by
Commanding Officer of the Central Command General Dani Yatom Before the Diplomatic Corps

Tel Aviv, 26 February 1994

The Cave of the Patriarchs – General Background

In Hebron, there are several places where Jews and Arabs live together in close proximity. In particular, in the center of the city itself, where Jews and Palestinian Muslims, are very close to each other. One of the places where Jews and Muslims gather together from time to time is the Cave of the Patriarchs, the traditional site of the tomb of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

For many years, there have prevailed established procedures regarding the way Muslims and Jews pray there. These procedures are maintained by the Israeli Civil Administration and the Muslim Religious Authority, the Waqf, which is the Muslim party responsible for religious affairs in Judea and Samaria. The procedures are not new and have been in effect for a number of years.

It is agreed that there are three ways, or three categories. It depends on the day of the year, and it depends on the feast if it a Jewish festival or a Muslim festival and there are special arrangements for each event and for each festival.

We must recall that we are now in the month of Ramadan, the holy month of the Muslims. There are religious observances which are carried out by the Israelis, the Jews. As a result of the different observances, there are prayer arrangements by which there are some days that Jewish people and Muslims pray together in the same place, in the same cave either in separate rooms, or even in the same room separated by a barrier, something which you can move from one place to another.

Yesterday morning, there were two groups praying simultaneously together in separate rooms about 15 or 20 Jewish people were praying in a room called the the Room of Abraham; and in the other, there were about 300-400 Muslims who were praying in the Room of Isaac. There was another group, which mainly consisted of women, Muslim women, which were praying also, but in a separate third room.

At the cave itself, at the holy place itself, the Jews enter from one gate, the Muslims enter from another gate, but they are very close to each other while they are praying. There is only a wall, with several doors, which separates one room from the other.

The Events at the Cave of the Patriarchs – 25 February

At about 5:30 in the morning, the assailant, a man by the name of Dr. Goldstein, entered the holy site. He was known to the soldiers because he is a doctor. He is a physician, not only in Kiryat Arba (a Jewish town bordering Hebron), but also he is a physician in the reserves. In fact, in many of the latest terrorist attacks against Jews, he was one of the first to appear in order to give first aid. And it was not unusual when he appeared dressed in his uniform with his rank in the reserve. He was a captain, a medical officer in the reserves.

There were several soldiers as usual at the site. On this morning, due to several reasons, there were about three soldiers less than usual in the cave itself, within the structure. But there were some others, as usual, in very close proximity, next to the site.

He entered the place where Jews were praying, and after a short period of time, the soldiers that we questioned suddenly heard somebody shooting, in long bursts.

They tried to enter the hall where the Muslims were praying. There was one officer, a first lieutenant, who tried to enter through the door near which he was positioned before the event itself took place. He could not enter, because those Muslim worshippers who had been praying in the hall started to run out through the same door – they blocked the entrance and pushed him away.

So he ran to another entrance, and tried to enter the hall through the room where the Jews were praying. It was blocked by the Palestinians because they were afraid that maybe somebody else was trying to enter the room and shoot at them. So he ran to the third room, to the third door, and tried to enter through the third door, and the same thing happened. He could not enter.

Then he ran back to the first door, where he was standing before. It was after maybe three minutes, maybe two minutes, and it was all over. Only then was he able to enter. By that time, most of the people were running away carrying those killed and wounded.

What he found in the hall were some Palestinians who were still there, and the assailant who was dead. He may have committed suicide this is all we know now. The matter is still under investigation, but there are several accounts from witnesses that after he shot the Palestinians, he shot himself, committing suicide.

We have also found the gun that he used. Apparently, he fired more than one hundred bullets. But you know that while firing and squeezing the trigger, it takes only several seconds to empty a magazine. It appears that he fired about three and one half magazines.

Disturbances following the Shooting

Disturbances started immediately following the shooting. Next to the El-Ahali Hospital, which is adjacent to one of the central intersections, in the northern part of Hebron, there was one such disturbance. The main road was blocked, and large rocks were thrown by hundreds of Palestinians. We have heard some claims, that in this event which occurred next to the hospital, some other Palestinians got killed. As far as I know until now, it is not true, but I am not completely sure. We ordered an investigation in order to find out what happened over there, and I think that we will know much more details in the coming hours.

I have been told that a letter from the assailant was found. In the letter I did not see the letter, it is something reported to me by the police detective who is heading the team which is investigating the issue it is written that he is liable to do something terrible.

A few hours after the event, we began heavy reinforcement of our forces in the Hebron area, and in the rest of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip. We ordered a curfew of Hebron. We also closed the areas where the Israelis are living, preventing them from leaving the area both in Kiryat Arba and in the Israeli complexes within the city of Hebron.

There were a series of violent incidents both in the Gaza Strip and in many other villages, and in some cities in Judea and Samaria. As a result of which, yesterday, five Palestinians lost their lives. And today, another three in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and one in eastern Jerusalem. We ordered our soldiers to be as restrained as possible, and to try not to use weapons unless they are physically threatened.

  Casualties:      Preliminary IDF figures from 26 February 1994 (16:30):  Judea/Samaria      Arab Fatalities as a result of the Shooting:       45 Arab Fatalities in Events following the Shooting:   5  Arab Wounded as a result of the Shooting:         128 Arab Wounded in Events following the Shooting:     34  Gaza District      Arab Fatalities in Events following the Shooting:   4 Arab Wounded in Events following the Shooting:     159  Israeli Security Forces Wounded:                    10