Violence in Hebron heralds dangerous developments

The incident on Friday evening, Nov. 15, in Hebron, during which 12 Israelis and three Palestinians got killed and 14 wounded, is a further sharp escalation of the mutual retaliation-for-retaliation-for-retaliation cycle of violence which is ripping Israeli and Palestinian communities apart. This violence is set against the background of the current right-wing Sharon-Mofaz-Netanyahu transition Israeli cabinet and the pre-election rightist upsurge in Israel’s political scene.

The Israeli foreign ministry’s spokespersons claimed in their handouts to the foreign media that it was a “massacre of innocent Jewish worshippers on their way home from Friday night prayers, perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists.” All of the Jewish settlers had already returned to the Kiryat-Arba settlement when the incident occurred.

In fact, the 12 Israelis killed were officers and men of the Israeli army and border police. They fell during a two-hour battle, after having been ambushed by a small group of Palestinian militants of the Islamic Jihad at a bend of the less-than-two-mile road from Hebron to Kiryat-Arba. The three Palestinians were also killed. Islamic Jihad maintained that the ambush was in retaliation for the extra-juridical assassinations of one of their leaders, Eyad Sawalha, five days earlier. The Israeli security services claimed that he was responsible for the attack on Kibbutz Meretz, in which two women, two small kids and the security official of the Kibbutz, had been killed.

Hebron is a city in the southern part of the occupied West Bank, with a Palestinian population of 150,000. About 450 Jewish ultra-religious, rightwing fundamentalists have occupied 20 percent of the houses and compounds in an Israeli-controlled part of the city, in which 20,000 Palestinians are also residing. This arrangement was estbalished in 1998 as an interim arrangement within the framework of the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles. Now Foreign Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Sharon have said that the whole Oslo agreement and the interim arrangements are null and void. Only a few weeks ago, the Israeli army left the 80 percent of the town, which is governed by the Palestinian Authority, but was re-conquered during the summer war drive. Now, as reprisal for the Friday evening incident, the army has returned with tanks, armored troop carriers and heavy bulldozers, to continue its destruction and violation of human rights.

Now, in the wake of last Friday’s event, a group of Kiryat-Arba settlers, most of them belonging to the rightwing religious fantical U.S.-based Kahane Hay sect, have set up a tent encampment at the site of the incident. They demand that all the Palestinian houses along that road be eliminated and it become a fortified “security promenade,” connecting Kiryat-Arba with the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

PM Sharon quickly visited, promising to meet their demands. The first houses along that road had been already destroyed. According to the newest designs of the Sharon cabinet out of the 20,000 Palestinian residents of the area only about 4,000 might be allowed to remain. The others would be expelled either into the Palestinian Authority area of the city, where 150,000 Palestinians reside, or to be “transferred” somewhere else.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz, in its Nov. 18 editorial, called the Sharon-Netanyahu-Mofaz cabinet proposal to destroy Palestinian homes to build a socalled “security promenade” between the settlement and their place of worship, as well the negation of the Oslo accord, to be a “catastrophic response.” Gush-Shalom, an Israeli peace group, called it the “Promenade of Death,” symbolizing the escalated deathly cycle of revenge.

In the daily newspaper, Yedioth-Aharonot, analyst Ran Adelyst remarked that “last Friday’s bloody incident is meant to serve as prelude to a complete conquest of the whole city of Hebron and the transfer of its [150,000] Arab-Palestinian population. In other words, the policy which brought about last Friday’s incident, should be continued, even if it would ultimately result in the end of the State of Israel,” Adelyst stated. He obviously has in mind that the world, including the Arab countries, with or without the oil inflamed Bush war in the region, would stand on the sidelines while the Israeli government wages total war on the Palestinian Authority and people, brutally waged for conquest of land and water, in defiance of international law and countless UN Security Council resolutions.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org