For young Israeli, prospect of peace is buried with his friend

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

KIRYAT ARBA, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- Mordekhai Mageni, 21, searched the Hebrew-English dictionary for several minutes. He found the word he wanted.

"Revenge!" he proclaimed, thumping the table. "There will be a very, very big revenge."

For nearly an hour yesterday, he and his father talked calmly about the murder of their neighbors in this Jewish settlement beside Hebron. Mordechai Lapid, 56, and his son Shalom, 19, were killed in an ambush Monday evening. Palestinian extremists claimed responsibility.

Then emotion boiled over, and the words poured from the young man in a torrent that described why true peace between Arabs and Jews is so very difficult.

"All the Arabs kill us without any reason. All the Arab nations surrounding us want to kill all of us, all of the Jews," he said, his puffy eyes swelling with tears.

"My best friend, Shalom, will be avenged. We will kill all the Arabs," he said, breaking into sobs.

His words are forged from the talk one hears every day among right-wing settlers who are the heart of the conflict with Palestinians.

It's a painful irony that the talk is the same as that of the Palestinian extremists: Just switch the word "Jew" with "Arab," and the message is "They hate us. They want to kill us. We must kill them first."

Because both sides believe it so fervently, they accelerate the cycle of violence, the terrorist attacks and the resulting settler rampages that threaten the whole peace process.

That process would give Palestinians more autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, which Jewish settlers here believe is theirs by divine right. In fact, Hebron first attracted Jewish settlers because the Patriarch Abraham, to whom God promised the land of Israel, is buried here.

It has been a place of bloody confrontation between Jews and Arabs.

Haim Mageni, the father, listened keenly to his son's outburst yesterday. A thoughtful, articulate tour guide, the senior Mr. Mageni confided a few minutes later, "I have heard this for the first time from my son."

But he does not disagree.

"There is no denying that what you are hearing now is something shared by this community, something I share 100 percent," he said. "It's a feeling of not wanting to put our necks out to be slaughtered."

The narrow living room of their home is crowded with bookshelves, sagging with volumes in Hebrew.

The younger Mr. Mageni had studied the books with his friend Shalom. He described the younger boy as a child prodigy, a graduate of the school for 10-year-olds at age 6 1/2 , accepted in the yeshiva at age 14, a candidate for rabbi at only 18.

"He was a very different one. He was always the first, always. At age 7, he knew the Bible completely by heart. He could recite all 24 books by chapter and verse."

The young men came from similar families. Shalom was one of 15 children, Mordekhai one of 10. Both families were early settlers of Kiryat Arba two decades ago. Both families were passionately nationalistic.

Mordekhai went into the army, served three years in southern Lebanon, and returned to yeshiva study. Shalom spurned easy army exemption as an exceptional student; when he was killed, he had papers ordering his induction in March.

Shalom had a bright future. "He could have gone to Jerusalem and been one of the leading Jewish figures," said the senior Mr. Mageni. Shalom's father, too, was exceptional. A native of the Soviet Union, he was imprisoned for two years for his Zionist beliefs and emigrated to Israel after the 1967 Six Day War. An engineer and a scientist, he owned a transport company in Kiryat Arba.

Shalom's mother, Miriam, was born in Israel. She ran as an unsuccessful candidate in last year's election to the Parliament in the Molodet Party, which advocates forcing 2 million Arabs to leave the West Bank and Gaza Strip. When her son and husband were killed, she was in Tel Aviv at a conference of a right-wing women's political group.

Kiryat Arba is a place of political extremism, but inside its gates, it is an enclave of suburban calm. On Monday morning before the Lapid shooting, children strolled gaily to school and old men read newspapers in the small parks between three-story apartment buildings.

Mordekhai Mageni said when he and Shalom were growing up, they had Arab playmates from adjoining Hebron.

"I was born here with Arab friends. We didn't do anything bad to them. Only good things," he said.

But that kinship lasts no more.

"The government throws us to the dogs, the Arab dogs. They kill us without reason," he said. "We won't take this."

Towel on his face to catch the angry tears, the young man fled from the apartment.

The funeral of Mordechai and Shalom Lapid would be held later yesterday afternoon. For Mordekhai Mageni, the prospect of peace would be buried with his friend.

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