The Shamgar Report: an Evasion of Responsibility
After four months of work, thirty-one sessions and 106 witnesses, the mountain called the Shamgar Commission of Enquiry produced a mouse. Against expectations, the Shamgar report turns out to be a miserable failure.
The Commission accepted at its face value Chief of Staff Ehud Barak's statement on the unpredictability of Dr. Baruch Goldstein's massacre of twenty-nine Muslims and the wounding of 125 in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron on February 25, 1994 as "a bolt from the blue". It thus failed to attribute direct responsibility for the event to anyone. In this, it deviated from the precedents of former and more effective enquiry commissions, like that on Sabra and Shatila, which demanded that those responsible pay for their failure. No wonder that in Kiryat Arba', the Jewish settlement near Hebron where Goldstein lived, the head of the Local Council, Zvi Katsover, said on receiving the report that "a weight has been taken off our shoulders."
Yet, twelve years ago, the report of Deputy-Attorney General Yehudith Karp on violence in the Occupied Territories had already reported on the need for "a radical reform of the basic concept of the rule of law in its broadest and most profound sense". The Karp report stated that "the reaction of Kiryat Arba' residents is tantamount to civil rebellion", an "ugly atmosphere" prevails between the settlers and the Palestinian population and "self-defense must not serve as grounds for immunity before the law".
In spite of this and of all the evidence and documentation (by Human Rights Organization B'Tselem and others) on the failure to enforce the law against Jewish transgressors in the Occupied Territories in general, and Hebron in particular, the report does not connect the massacre with the general background of twenty-seven years of occupation.
In face of the stated and restated record of blatant inequality before the law of Jews and Arabs, the Shamgar report, while noting that "the massacre was one of the harshest expressions of the Jewish-Arab conflict", fosters a "business-as-usual" atmosphere, proposing only cosmetic technical, logistical and organizational adjustments. Page after page is devoted to the killer's entrance into the Tomb, his weapon, the worshippers, the security forces and the police, metal detectors and closed TV circuit, and the orders for opening fire. Yet apart from Goldstein himself, nobody bears responsibility for the massacre and there is no call for any radical re-evaluation of the situation which enabled the massacre to take place. As for the occupation itself, the report seems almost to take it for granted, perhaps like the weather, where there can always appear a bolt from the blue ...
Was Goldstein's action so unpredictable? Not only the Karp report, but also the facts on the ground indicate otherwise. Students were killed by settlers in the past in cold blood at Hebron College, shopkeepers were shot, market stalls overturned, West Bank mayors maimed, and there was even a conspiracy to blow up the Dome of the Rock.
Five years ago Goldstein wrote that "the lands belong to us and the Arabs don't belong to us, so the land we should keep and the Arabs we should let go. The Arab mind is not the Western mind. They are a cruel people who want to spill blood. I don't feel toward a people like that we have obligations". In the light of all this, what is the basis for the report's saying that "we do not believe that anyone can be blamed for not having foreseen the fact that a Jew would plan and carry out a massacre of Muslims in the Tombs of the Patriarchs"?
Compared to the waves of shock felt when the massacre became known, the Shamgar report is flat and un-stimulating. There is a total lack of proportion between the magnitude of the event and the minor key of the report. Most of its prosaic and mundane contents could have been dealt with equally well by the army or by private security experts. Perhaps this was because the Commission produced a legalistic document while the problems it confronted were basically political.
The judges may have persuaded us that Goldstein acted alone, but reading the report leaves us with a surplus of details but a total lack of overall explanation of the background: the consistent policy since 1967 not to punish the Jewish settlers for breaking the law, while rigorously enforcing the law against the Palestinian population, with the help of the same settlers.
Almost the last words of the report read: "we made a series of investigations meant to assist in returning things to normal in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in particular, and generally in Hebron". Unfortunately, even though the peace process is moving forward, the Shamgar Commission leaves unanswered the question of whether the judges see not only the situation in Hebron, but the occupation itself as "normal". If so, it would have been better to have had no commission rather than one which thus evades its real responsibility.