Day's crackdown total: 124 terrorist suspects, one dead farmer Israeli effort against activists enmeshes terrified Palestinian

June 07, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Staff Writer

BALA, Israeli-occupied West Bank -- On the day the Israeli army announced arrests of 124 suspected terrorists, soldiers shot dead Ibrahim Mohammad Abu Yassin, a simple farmer with 12 children, who was working in his field.

The two events on Saturday show different faces of Israel's current crackdown on Palestinians. The arrests made immediate worldwide news; Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin congratulated his forces for apprehending the ring of alleged murderers.

He proclaimed the arrests vindication of his deportation of 415 Palestinians in December, and of the current sealing-off of the occupied territories.

The killing of Mr. Abu Yassin, on the other hand, was only briefly noted by the news, and quickly forgotten. In the current crackdown, soldiers routinely open fire on anyone they consider suspicious.

'I don't understand'

"I don't understand. My father never did anything against the Israelis in his life. He wasn't capable," said Sa'ed, 18, the oldest son of Mr. Abu Yassin. "If they wanted to arrest him, they could shoot him in the legs. But they shot to kill."

The accounts of Mr. Abu Yassin's death offered by government-controlled Israel Radio and by the local villagers are much the same: When soldiers surprised him in his olive grove, the man fled, and soldiers shot him.

His family said Mr. Abu Yassin was illiterate and dimwitted. Villagers uniformly described him as "poor in the mind." He was deathly afraid of the authorities, and they say he panicked and fled when he saw soldiers. The Army said soldiers were "following the procedure for arresting a suspicious man."

The Army has operated with increasingly broad leeway to open fire in the occupied territories. Palestinians contend soldiers fire indiscriminately and without necessity. They offer as proof the death of 12 children among 49 Palestinians killed since Mr. Rabin ordered a crackdown March 31.

Israelis counter that the current tough measures are working to combat terrorism aimed at Jews. After the West Bank and Gaza Strip were closed off, Israeli security forces have made a concerted effort to find and quash Palestinian radicals.

Crime details offered

Late Saturday night, Mr. Rabin offered what he considers the crowning success of that effort. Flanked by officials of the police, Army and secret police, he announced the roundup of 124 Palestinians said to belong to radical Hamas terrorist groups.

Yesterday, a senior intelligence officer offered details of the crimes attributed to those arrested. They had murdered 21 of the 24 Israelis killed this year, he said. They attempted some car bombs, and planned to plant bombs at three public sites in Israel.

Four of the arrested men alone were responsible for the kidnapping and killing of a border policeman in December, murdering two sleeping policeman in March, and running over two Israeli civilian hitchhikers in March, along with several other botched attempts, said the officer, who declined to be named.

It was that spate of high-profile attacks that led Mr. Rabin to order in December the unprecedented deportation of 415 Palestinians the government said were members of Hamas, and to order the closure of the territories March 31.

In announcing the arrests, Mr. Rabin said it proved the expulsions were justified. The Israeli press praised the arrests as "a tremendous achievement." And the police minister, Moshe Shahal, said the arrested men had acknowledged being foiled by the checkpoints erected in the territories two months ago.

"If there was a need for proof that the closure is a factor in security for Israel, their own words are best proof," he said.

Both the deportations and the closure have been internationally criticized as collective punishment, illegal under the Geneva Convention. Recently, outside groups including the International Red Cross have protested the increasing fatalities among Palestinians shot by Israeli soldiers.

Lived on hilltop

Mr. Abu Yassin was but the latest. According to his friends and family, he lived most of his life in Bala, a perch of stone houses on a hilltop 12 miles northwest of Nablus. The land here is creased and stony. In one of its folds, Mr. Abu Yassin farmed a small plot of wheat. He grew almond and olive trees on a hillside roughly fenced by stone walls.

He was never involved in politics, and never arrested, said his son. The 45-year-old villager was intimidated by authority.

"He lost his identity card two years ago, and I tried several times to get my father to go to the Civil Administration to get another, but he would not go," said Sa'ed.

Victim wore headdress

In traditional style, Mr. Abu Yassin always wore a "kaffiyeh" -- a black-and-white checked headdress. The men from the village who contemplated his death yesterday figured an Israeli Army patrol that came into Bala Saturday morning spotted him in the field from above. The soldiers may have thought the headdress was wrapped around his face like a mask.

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