It takes a careful and measured historian to do justice to the long history of Jewish life in Hebron and its restoration after the terrible 1929 Arab pogrom that decimated the community. Auerbach, a professor of history at Wellesley College, has succeeded.
Hebron is the cradle of Judaism, the resting place of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, and was the capital of Israel under King David before Jerusalem came to occupy that historic role. Auerbach takes the reader through the story of the re-creation of the Jewish communities in the territories, established under both Labor and Likud governments. He presents a history in which successive Israeli governments failed to provide adequate protection when these communities were increasingly subjected to both random and calculated attacks by neighboring Arabs. In the Oslo and post-Oslo era, as neighboring hillsides were transferred to Palestinian control and with armed Palestinian forces in close proximity, the travails and tragedies of Hebron's Jews have only increased.
Auerbach takes pains to explain the competing viewpoints of his protagonists. It is not often, for example, that one reads such a scrupulous account of the circumstances surrounding the 1994 killing of twenty-nine Muslims in Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs by Baruch Goldstein. Auerbach convincingly debunks widespread notions of messianic settlers, ideologically driven to terror, which collectively damn all Jews who live in these disputed territories. Instead, he locates Goldstein's acts within the man's personal history and amid rumors of an impending Arab assault on Jews. Goldstein, who, as a physician had tended to Israeli victims of terrorist attacks, including personal friends, had heard the calls for the murder of Jews rise from neighboring mosques. On the morning in question, he had been urged to prepare himself for treating a large number of anticipated casualties and decided to preempt a pogrom with a tragic and ill-conceived massacre of his own.
Auerbach has written with proper dispassion on a subject close to his heart, providing an unusually useful history that can benefit anyone who wishes to acquaint themselves with an explosive subject that normally produces supercharged, one-sided prose.