Slaying of Jewish settler who miscalculated risk spurs widespread protests

December 07, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

HEBRON, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- A thick metal screen covered the windshield on the family van of Mordechai Lapid, evidence of the risk he accepted to live as a Jewish settler in an Arab city.

The screen guarded his family from rocks. He did not expect the bullets.

Mr. Lapid, 56, paid for his choice to live here yesterday when gunmen ambushed his van, killing him; his eldest son, Yisrael, 19; and lightly injuring three of his children.

He and his son died on almost the same spot as a Palestinian vegetable merchant slain by Jewish settlers Saturday.

Yesterday's attack -- laid by authorities to Palestinian radicals -- ignited demonstrations throughout Israel.

Protesters called for the government to scrap its agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization to begin withdrawing troops on Monday from portions of the occupied territories.

"This is the result of giving in to terrorism," railed Noam Arnon, one of the leaders of the Jewish settlers in Hebron. "The government is misleading the nation into an abyss, into a whirlwind of bloodshed."

The dark night in Hebron seemed to echo that whirlwind yesterday. Settlers gathered at the spot of the shooting, and then took their Uzi submachine guns into Arab neighborhoods, where Arab residents cowered behind closed doors. The sound of gunfire stuttered from several directions in the night.

The killing of Mr. Lapid and his son was the latest dip in a daily see-saw of violence.

Israeli troops yesterday shot and killed a Palestinian near Ramallah. Authorities said the Palestinian was wanted for killing two Jewish settlers on a roadside.

Two Israelis also were injured in a firebomb attack on a bus north of Jerusalem yesterday, authorities said. On Sunday, an Arab attacked an Israeli bus, leaving two dead. On Friday and Saturday, Jewish settlers rampaged through Hebron, killing the Arab vegetable merchant. On Thursday, Arab attackers killed two settlers. The tally has reached 14 Jews and 37 Arabs in the nearly three months since the Israeli-PLO agreement was signed in Washington.

"I have no doubt the objective of those who committed this terrible murder . . . [is] to create a chain of events that will result in a cessation of the peace negotiations," Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said yesterday.

Radical Israelis and Palestinians have vowed to use violence to disrupt the agreement between Israel and the PLO calling for limited Palestinian autonomy.

Israelis demonstrated in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Galilee and at least three other spots throughout Israel last night. The settlers, among the most extreme of the opponents, gathered in the Kiryat Arba community of Mr. Lapid to plan their next move.

"This killing absolutely must stop," said Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, who is shuttling about the Mideast this week in an attempt to expand the peace agreement to Syria. "Those who are doing the killing are the enemies of peace."

But the settlers who mourned Mr. Lapid were in no mood for reason. They attacked several journalists at the scene, beating at least one and crushing his television camera with rocks.

More than 300 gathered at the scene of the attack, a knoll close to the guarded gate of Kiryat Arba. The Jewish settlement, one of the first in the West Bank following the Israeli conquest in 1967, shoulders Hebron, a city with a long history of clashes between Jews and Arabs.

The Israeli Army at first allowed Jewish settlers to gather last night, then tried unsuccessfully to stop them from moving into Arab neighborhoods of Hebron. The army, which has been stung by criticism for siding with settlers in the recent attacks on Palestinians, brought in truckloads of reinforcements last night, expecting further confrontations.

In Hebron, Jihad Mohammad stayed behind closed doors and angrily contemplated the chunks of rock that had sailed through the window of his home an hour earlier.

"If my mother hadn't been in the kitchen, she should have been hurt," he said. "They have no right to do this."

Authorities expected further violence today in Hebron. Some settlers have vowed retaliation for the Palestinian assaults.

Mr. Lapid was an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, and had 15 children. According to reports from authorities and eyewitnesses, he stopped along the road near the settlement of Kiryat Arba to let one of his children out of the red minibus he was driving.

A passing car opened fire with an automatic weapon, puncturing the van and its occupants. The three wounded children, aged 10, 11 and 17 were injured in the legs and taken to a hospital in Jerusalem.

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