Violence rises as Israelis answer call to bear arms West Bank Jews, Arabs fear for safety

March 16, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- As Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met with President Clinton in Washington yesterday, many of his countrymen were cleaning and oiling their private guns.

What the Israeli newspapers describe as a "wave of terror" has made Israelis who already feel they live in constant danger even more jittery. The tension was heightened by a top police official who last week urged Jews with gun licenses to carry their weapons with them.

Critics immediately linked the call to yesterday's shooting of a Druze Arab by an Israeli. The man was seriously wounded as he walked to work. The Israeli said he thought the man was a terrorist, police said.

There have been sufficient real dangers to raise fears of both Jews and Arabs.

To Israelis, attacks by Palestinians on civilians seem to be occurring almost daily. Six Jews have been killed in the last two weeks, two others were stabbed yesterday, and two Israeli settlers were killed by a hit-and-run car with Arab license plates.

Settlers said the auto incident was deliberate. In response, according to Palestinian sources, two groups of settlers went on a shooting spree, damaging houses and cars in separate Arab towns in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

To Palestinians, the usual dangers of living under Israeli occupation seem to have become greater. A 3-year-old girl was shot to death by soldiers who opened fire on a car Sunday when it turned around rather than confront an Israeli roadblock during a curfew in Hebron.

Palestinians say Israeli soldiers are shooting with abandon. According to a compilation by Reuters, 10 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in the last three months, and 57 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis.

The spate of violence has prompted three Israeli political parties to submit no-confidence motions to the Knesset, or parliament, alleging the Labor government has not stopped a deterioration of security for Jews.

The motions will come to a vote after Mr. Rabin returns from Washington. He is meeting Mr. Clinton this week about Israeli-U.S. relations and the stalled Middle East peace negotiations.

The Israeli Cabinet proposed adding 2,000 policemen to the national force Sunday and issued a statement urging the public to "maintain composure . . . and self-control." But gun shops and shooting ranges reported brisk activity this week as Israelis who admitted they were nervous sought to arm themselves.

"Israeli citizens are now witness to one of the most serious waves of terror in the history of the state," said Zeev Schiff, an analyst for the Hebrew daily Haaretz.

The inspector-general of Israel's police force, Yacov Turner, recommended Friday that Israelis who have licensed guns carry them.

About 250,000 Jewish citizens have a license to carry a gun, out of a total Jewish population of 4 million. This is in addition to the guns carried by male soldiers on and off duty -- including virtually all young men aged 18 to 21.

Mr. Turner's suggestion prompted criticism from some ministers in the government that it will create in Israel an atmosphere like "the Wild West." His superior, Police Minister Moshe Shahal, yesterday told Army Radio he was not pleased with the recommendation.

An aide to Mr. Turner said Sunday that "people must not panic. We don't intend for people to walk the streets with submachine guns or rifles or shotguns."

But yesterday, a 57-year-old Israeli was arrested after he shot a Druze Arab in the Golan Heights. Many Druze, members of a religious sect, serve in the Israeli military. The Israeli told police he thought the man was a terrorist.

Attacks by Palestinians on Israeli civilians are not new, but Israelis are shocked by the seeming frequency of such attacks lately. In all of 1992, 20 Israeli civilians and 12 soldiers were killed by Palestinians. Israeli authorities killed 136 Palestinians.

On Friday, two Israelis died -- an Israeli soldier and a Jewish woman in Gaza -- and a 17-year-old Palestinian in Hebron was shot to death by the army.

The government has set up new roadblocks throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and it has imposed new restrictions on Palestinian workers with jobs in Israel.

Settler groups claimed yesterday that the hit-and-run incident that left two Jewish pedestrians dead was a new weapon in terrorism.

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