JERUSALEM — Several hundred extremist Jews gathered here with their automatic rifles, their anti-Arab slogans and their deep anger Sunday to eulogize Baruch Goldstein as a righteous hero for slaying 48 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque two days earlier.
While the massacre continued to trigger street clashes across Israel, and to bring strong condemnation from Jews and Arabs alike, the funeral of the Brooklyn-born doctor responsible for the latest Mideast crisis became a rallying point Sunday for right-wing Jews.
"The act itself was one of greatness. It was a great act of sanctifying the Name (God)," said Noam Federman, a spokesman for Kach, the relatively small extremist group that counted Goldstein among its members. "And me, a little man, compared to him, the great, can't condemn it."
Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, in paying homage to Goldstein, told mourners that even 1 million Arabs "are not worth a Jewish fingernail." And angry voices in the congregation shouted, "We are all Goldsteins!" and "Arabs out of Israel!"
The extremists defended Goldstein's actions on religious grounds, setting off a wave of religious self-examination by shocked rabbis and other Israeli leaders Sunday. Leading rabbis rejected the suggestion that killing Palestinians with an automatic rifle was, as some claimed, part of a mission, sanctioned by Scripture, to destroy the descendants of the Israeli nation's enemies.
"I'm ashamed that a Jew did this," said Eliahu Bashki-Doron, one of two chief rabbis in Israel. "And it hurts to see that he did this as a religious man. A religious man has to account for his acts."
After the eulogies in Jerusalem, a white ambulance, with the blue Star of David on the front, carried Goldstein's coffin slowly through the winding, rain-swept streets. The atmosphere was surreal, with some mourners wearing traditional black suits and hats covered with plastic to protect them from the rain--and others decked in clown suits, gorilla outfits and colorful masks, as part of the celebration of Purim.
The body was transported under army escort along a 25-mile stretch of road south through the occupied territories, passing Palestinian shops in the West Bank that had closed for three days to mourn Goldstein's victims and Palestinian cars from which black flags fluttered.
At Kiryat Arba, Goldstein's home, where 7,000 Jewish settlers live next door to Hebron and its 65,000 Palestinians, he was buried by several hundred mourners after dark. No violent incidents were reported, police said.
Friends of Goldstein said the body would later be moved to the old Jewish cemetery in Hebron, near the Cave of the Patriarchs, where the 38-year-old father of four opened fire on the kneeling Palestinians during morning prayers Friday and was subsequently beaten to death by survivors.
Extremists represent only a fraction of the 130,000 Jews who live among 1.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Yet, as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin admitted Sunday, "they are the focus of friction."
But the extremists also reflect a wider anger among settlers, many of whom strongly oppose the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and believe that the Israeli government has lost its will to protect them against Arab attacks.
Few places have seen greater friction between Jewish settlers and Palestinians than Hebron, where Jews' and Muslims' rival claims to the Holy Land converge. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Abraham, founder of the Jewish religion, paid 400 shekels of silver for a plot of land there to bury his family. King Herod built a synagogue on Abraham's tomb in AD 60 and, 650 years after that, Arab Muslims turned the majestic stones into a mosque.
Both Muslims and Jews regard themselves as sons of Abraham. And the Cave of the Patriarchs is today shared by both. Israel took possession of Hebron in 1967, nearly 40 years after 67 Jews were killed there in Palestinian riots.
Within months, Jewish families settled there, first on the hills outside of town and later in a small enclave a few hundred yards from the mosque.
The city has been a traditional center of activity for the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, as well as right-wing Jewish groups. And it was the killing of two of Goldstein's friends in December, apparently by Palestinian guerrillas, that triggered his rampage last Friday, friends said.
To be sure, many Jews in Kiryat Arba were deeply saddened by the massacre, which refueled anti-Jewish feelings and threats of bloody reprisals. A young man stood outside Goldstein's home on Sunday, holding a sign denouncing the killer as "a man with a twisted goal."
And residents said Goldstein and the Kach movement, whose leaders were being sought Sunday by the authorities, do not represent the majority of Jews there.
Hagai Stein, a teen-ager in the Jewish settlement, told state television Sunday night that the massacre "doesn't suit a Jew. It's written that 'Thou shalt not kill'--and that means thou shalt not kill."