A Tale of Two Doctors

By Dr. Shaher Awawdeh

In his well-known novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, Charles Dickens skillfully describes the prevalence of injustice, oppression and brutality that shaped an important episode of French history. It was an age of conflicting feelings as Dickens says “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”. It was an era where noble characters like Dr. Manette confronted the darkness and cruelty of oppressors. Dr. Manette, who was a victim of the social ills that plagued France in the eighteenth century, spent eighteen years of incarceration cobbling shoes. He was “Prisoner 105, North Tower” in the Bastille.

Unlike Dr. Manette, who exemplifies the noble nature of physicians, the other character of this tale is of a different breed of physicians that you would only meet in nightmarish tales. Dr. Baruch Kopel Goldstein, an Israeli physician, was neither cobbling shoes in the Bastille, nor was he helping people dream of a better and more valuable life. He was not a victim of a French Marquis’s tyranny, but a victim of his own fanaticism. He was not a victim of solitary confinement like Dr. Manette, and did not suffer the agonies that the real hero of “A Tale of Two Cities” went through. To put it briefly, he was no less blood-thirsty than the worst blood-thirsty figures human history has ever seen.

While it is not known if Dr. Manette went to any religious seminary, Dr. Goldstein attended the Orthodox Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn and University Yeshiva in New York. For my money, nobody at the Yeshiva told him what Micah told Judah: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

Dr. Baruch Goldstein did not follow the path of Dr. Manette who traveled from London to Paris to perform what doctors usually do; he rather chose to travel from New York to Palestine to be a mass murderer. Neither his religious education nor his medical profession could fix his chronic moral paralysis. He was a kind of a doctor who doesn’t heal, but causes agonies for other healers to cure. He was an impossible and incurable case.

At the dawn of 25 February 1994, Dr. Goldstein put on a military uniform instead of the white coat worn by doctors. He left his house hanging something on his back. What he was carrying did not look like the doctor’s kit, which was carried by Dr. Manette when he visited Paris before the French revolution. It was not at all something that doctors carry.

Donning an army uniform and carrying a machine gun with extra loads, Dr. Goldstein broke into the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron and opened fire at a crowd of praying Muslims. The Doctor’s shooting killed 29 worshippers and injured 125 others. Ultimately, the mass murderer faced his bloody fate at the hands of the survivors of the massacre he perpetrated.

The events entailed by the killing of Goldstein were no less heart-rending. Palestinians took to the streets to protest the massacre, but sixty protesters were massacred the same day by Israeli forces. Ironically, Israel pressed charges against the people who were involved in overcoming and killing the murderer. In the aftermath of the massacre, Israel decided to divide the Mosque between Muslims and Jews. Since then, Muslims will have very restricted access to a small part of their mosque. The rest became smoothly accessible to Israeli settlers, the majority of whom share fanaticism with Goldstein.

Despite his horrendous act, Goldstein became a much venerated figure in his community. The epitaph on his grave says that Goldstein “gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land”. Furthermore, Rabbi Dov Lior made no bones about his admiration of Goldstein’s undertaking, by describing him as a saint whose “hands are innocent, his heart pure”. Considering a savage blood-thirsty murderer as a saint is just an Israeli version of the “fascination of the abomination”, of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.

The grave of the ill-famed doctor became a monument visited and venerated by extremists coming from all Israeli colonies in Palestine. Inside the grave lies the body of a fanatic man who, just like the Marquis in “A Tale of Two Cities” believed that “Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, will keep the dogs obedient to the whip”.

Nevertheless, the graves of the victims of the massacre did not have similar epitaphs. The graves contained only the remains of people who shared what Carton thought before his execution in Dickens’s novel: “I see long ranks of the new oppressors who have risen on the destruction of the old. I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out”.

* OIC Deputy Permanent Observer to the UN-New York