Family of lawyer killed by terrorists counts the cost of peace he worked for

September 14, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

HAIFA, Israel -- Peace has a price. Ian Feinberg paid it.

They burst into the office in the Gaza Strip. Three Palestinians, armed with knives, an ax, an automatic rifle. The young Jewish lawyer was there. He had thought he was safe because he was a friend; he had come to help. They came to kill a Jew.

Five months after his death, the price remains a heavy burden on his family. The agreement signed yesterday is a bittersweet reminder -- as though his family needed one -- of what they already have paid.

"When I heard [about the peace agreement], I felt sadness that Ian wasn't there to enjoy it," said Cyril Feinberg, his father. "I felt pride, too, that he was able to do something positive."

For the living casualties of this Middle Eastern blood feud, the families who lost a son or husband or sister, the peace plan barged unwelcome into their lives this week with blunt questions.

Is this what they died for?

Ian Feinberg had been working as a consultant for a group arranging loans from the European Community to Palestinian businessmen in Gaza.

"I can still hear him," said Mr. Feinberg's wife, Gillian, who was Ian Feinberg's stepmother. "I remember distinctly when Ian called a few months ago. He had just come back from Gaza. He was all excited. He said, 'What I'm doing is playing a part of world history.' "

Was it worth it? "The people who shot Ian were against peace," she said determinedly. "He was doing something towards peace."

Can they forgive? Can peace make neighbors of enemies?

Mr. Feinberg reflects. "Not at the moment," he finally concedes. "Theoretically, I can say all these things about peace and accommodation. Personally, I guess if it were Gazans moving in next to me, I would wonder if this was somebody who was part of the group who committed the murder."

The Feinbergs' dilemma is that of Israel. After all these victims, all these years of funerals, all that has been sacrificed to the grinding violence, no one is certain that Jews and Palestinians can embrace and live in harmony. Yitzhak Rabin can shake the hand of Yasser Arafat, but neither of them lost a son.

There is a narcotic in bitterness, a natural salve that many families of victims heap upon themselves in layer after layer. It is so simple to hate, so understandable. So human.

The Feinbergs resist. Mostly -- but not entirely -- they succeed.

"I don't have any general anti-[Arab] feelings," Mr. Feinberg said. "Initially, I had no thought of revenge. But as I learned more about this cold-blooded, inhuman thing that had happened, I feel that people who do this . . . should not be allowed to live. Any thoughts I have of revenge are to those who planned it," he said.

"I'm not interested in any revenge," Mrs. Feinberg said. "It doesn't help me, doesn't help us. I have to find other things to help me.

"I'm delighted with the peace process. I pray it works. It's too late for our family, but we have others in the family."

The Feinbergs came to Israel with their five children in 1980 from South Africa. He is an engineer. She was a teacher. They have a handsome house on a hillside in Haifa, overlooking the calm Mediterranean.

Their eldest, Ian, had just turned 30 in April when he was killed. He had spent five years in the Gaza Strip as an army legal officer, writing regulations on such matters as taxes and customs.

When he got out of the army in 1990, he joined a law firm in Tel Aviv. But he kept contacts in the Gaza Strip and became a consultant for a group arranging business loans to Palestinians there. He was no liberal, his parents said.

"Ian didn't fit any mold," Mrs. Feinberg said. "He was right-wing. But because of his personality, he liked to be liked, and people responded to him as a caring individual," she said.

"He felt it was for the good of Israel that the Gaza Strip stop being part of Israel," his father said. He thought his work in Gaza was helping prepare Palestinians to take over. "He was always very sensitive to the underdog."

Ian Feinberg's wife objected to his trips to Gaza, so he stopped telling her when he went. On April 18, she thought he was in Tel Aviv.

Instead, he went to the offices of Cooperation for Development, a European-funded aid program that makes loans to businessmen. A guard at the office -- a man he had once helped with legal advice -- apparently slipped two armed companions into the building. They hid on the roof and waited until 4:30 p.m., when meetings inside were recessed.

According to accounts, they stormed into the room, stabbed Mr. Feinberg in the neck and head, and shot him. One of the Palestinians in the office pleaded: "Don't kill him. He helps us."

"I think the most terrible moment for him was when he saw someone who came to kill him was someone he thought was a friend, someone he had known and helped," Mr. Feinberg said.

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