Rabbi attacked Israelis take revenge on Arabs Dueling extremists oppose PLO accord

November 08, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- Gunmen wounded a rabbi leader of the Jewish settlers and killed his driver yesterday in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, setting off a rampage by settlers to try to terrorize Arabs.

Right-wing Jewish groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip smashed the windows of Arab homes and cars, shot in the air and ransacked Palestinian shops.

At least one Arab was shot and wounded, according to Palestinian accounts. The Israeli Army initially denied those reports.

The events yesterday were carried out by Jewish and Arab extremists who oppose the peace accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The stabbing death of a settler in the West Bank by Palestinian extremists Oct. 29 led to a similar retaliation by Jewish settlers against Arab homes and cars, lasting through Saturday.

The turmoil is intended by both sides to rattle the public and force the government and the PLO to back down from the commitments made in the peace accord. The agreement, signed in September in Washington, grants self-rule to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Israeli-PLO negotiations on implementing the accord broke down last week in Taba, Egypt. But yesterday, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat announced that a joint committee was named to overcome disagreements on the extent of Israeli troop withdrawals from Gaza and Jericho. The committee is expected to meet in Cairo today.

In Jerusalem last night, Jewish demonstrators blocked traffic, and a spokesman for the settlers vowed to stop Arab cars in the West Bank today: "If Jews can't travel safely, we won't let Arabs travel," said Benny Katzover.

The Israeli Army said it was trying to maintain order.

"We will do whatever is necessary to prevent anyone from taking the law in their own hands," said the Army commander of the central district, Nehamayeh Tamari.

He disputed Palestinian complaints that the Army had not acted forcefully to prevent destruction by the settlers.

The demonstrations erupted after the mid-morning attack on a car carrying Rabbi Haim Druckman, 60, a former Israeli parliament member and co-founder of a strident settlers' organization, Gush Emunim.

According to Army reports, a car with Israeli license plates pulled alongside the rabbi's car and raked it with automatic rifle fire. His driver, Ephraim Ayubi, 30, was shot in the head and killed. Mr. Druckman was reported to be lightly wounded in the shoulder.

The car came to rest with its front wheels over a cliff, according to witnesses.

Two different Palestinian extremist organizations later claimed to have committed the act: the Hamas fundamentalist Muslim group, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine ,, based in Damascus.

The attack occurred near the West Bank city of Hebron, a scene of frequent clashes recently between Palestinians and ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers who have moved in near the city.

"The government is supposed to see that there is security for everybody. Jews should be able to move where they want," Rabbi Druckman told Israel Radio from a hospital.

"It's just terrible. You cannot move. You cannot travel wherever you want. It's our country, isn't it?"

About 100,000 Jewish settlers live among 2 million Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Following the shooting, settlers attacked Arab cars on several roads in the West Bank. They erected makeshift roadblocks and smashed the windows of cars containing Arabs. They also threw stones through the windows of Arab houses and ransacked stores in Ramallah, El-Bireh and northern Jerusalem, according to Palestinian reports.

"My aunt was very scared," said Basil Friej, who rushed to his home north of Jerusalem when she called to say settlers were stoning the house. Seven windows were broken, and their car was overturned.

"The settlers were acting like terrorists. And the Army was doing nothing but watching. The Army gave them water and helped the settlers."

Commander Tamari, in an interview last night, denied those reports. He expressed sympathy for the settlers: "It's not easy for them," he said. "You have to understand what it means to live here and have that weight on them."

But he said the Army stopped settlers from damaging Arab homes within one hour. About 40 people were arrested.

"We will use our power against them" if they break the law, he said.

The commander said he did not know if the attack on Rabbi Druckman was planned to target him or whether his car was chosen randomly by the gunmen.

Rabbi Druckman represented the rightist National Religious Party in the Israel parliament, the Knesset, for 11 years until 1988.

Faisal al-Husseini, a leading PLO figure in Jerusalem, condemned the attack and the settlers' response.

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