Cycle of vengeance holds peace at bay in Middle East

April 07, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

JERUSALEM -- The world asks when the violence here wil end. The answer is when mothers no longer weep and brothers no longer seek revenge.

Incidents that seem random acts of hatred are often knitted by a thread of past grievances: The Arab who stabs the Israeli had a brother shot by a Jew.

One act feeds another, and the circle of violence has no end. The mothers' grief is the same; only the language is different.

"The Jews are harvesting their own fate," said the brother of a Palestinian who stabbed three Israelis. Said the mother of a Jewish man whoshot three Palestinians: "The Arabs are like ravens who eat meat. They want to eat us."

Israel has been wracked by a series of stabbings and murders, once again spawning calls for stricter curfews on Palestinians. It is not a new situation, but a wave in a tide that ebbs and flows.

Much of the political troubles of the Mideast are linked to the issue of the Palestinians and the Israelis. But much of the violence here is more personal, its motive hatred sown by past offenses.

To see how one act spawns another is to realize the difficulty of ending them. The solution has less to do with James A. Baker III, Yitzhak Shamir or Yasser Arafat than with strangers like Amer Sirhan, Charlie Shllosh and Faisal Amr.

Theirs is a common bond of violence.

* "He was a good son," said the old woman, resting last week on a concrete slab of what had been her family's house. Amer Abu Sirhan was "a gentle man, a straight man. He always said the truth."

The 19 members of Khadra Sirhan's family now live in two damp, concrete storerooms of the local mosque. The homes they had built over two decades -- fine, sturdy homes of concrete and polished block -- are rubble.

The Israeli army used dynamite to collapse them. They did it at 1:30 a.m. so that the village of Abadiya, a string of Palestinian homes on a rocky ridge near Bethlehem, would awaken to the full message of the blast: This is for what Amer Sirhan did.

He now sits in a prison near Tel Aviv, serving consecutive sentences of three life terms plus 20 years for the murders of three Israelis.

Amer Sirhan is 19. Married. Mona, his wife, was pregnant when he went to prison. In two months, he will be a father.

Sirhan was a plasterer. He went to work at 5:30 each morning with his father and two brothers to construction sites in Baka, a suburb of Jerusalem.

Working in an Israeli area meant good pay, double what he could earn in the West Bank.

But there are risks for a Palestinian. In 1989 he was severely beaten by Israeli soldiers, his family said. The reasons are unclear. He spent a week in bed from the injuries. But the bitterness never healed.

On Oct. 8, 1990, Israeli police shot to death 21 Palestinians at the Temple Mount, enraging the West Bank. Two weeks later, Sirhan told authorities, he felt compelled to avenge the treatment of Palestinians.

On his way to work, he lingered in an alley in Baka. Brandishing a knife and shouting praise to Allah, he attacked an 18-year-old soldierwalking near her parents' home. He then ran to a nearby fTC street and stabbed a 45-year-old florist.

A crowd began chasing him. In it was Charlie Shllosh, a Jewish soldier in an anti-terrorist squad.

Mr. Shllosh was armed, but instead of killing Sirhan, he tried to wrestle the knife away from him. It was a fatal mistake. He was stabbed to death, and his body pinned Sirhan to the ground.

"Of all my children, he was the diamond. He was the most courageous," said Hanna Shllosh, his mother.

He grew up in Hosen, a small farming community in northern Israel. It is a place not unlike Sirhan's village of Abadiya: greener and more prosperous than the Arab village, perhaps, but still tuned to the rhythms of agriculture and sheep.

He was 26. Outgoing and gregarious, he was on his way to becoming an officer. He had just bought a new house. Yael, his wife, was expecting their first child. Their daughter was born two weeks after his death.

The stabbings split the Arab-Jewish seams of Jerusalem. In the aftermath, a firestorm of violence swept the city. Several Israelis and Palestinians were critically injured before a strict curfew on Arabs stilled the incidents.

Mrs. Shllosh still weeps at Charlie's name, and clutches his picture to her heart. A younger brother, Arye, took it harder. The 19-year-oldarmy soldier had revered Charlie.

"Charlie was a role model for Arye. He wanted to be like Charlie," said Asher Shllosh, 26, another of nine brothers and sisters.

Described by his family as shy and quiet, Arye erupted at the funeral.

"At the grave, Arye was acting crazy," Mrs. Shllosh said. "He wanted to get into the grave, like his brother. He couldn't accept it."

In time he seemed to recover, his family said, although he reluctantly returned to his army post near Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.

On Dec. 28 at 10 p.m., Arye Shllosh rose from his bunk and left his barracks with his Galil automatic rifle. He walked to the nearby Hebron Road. A car carrying Arab license plates approached.

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