Jewish settlers vow to ignore Palestinian authority

May 16, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERICHO, West Bank -- Vowing to ignore the "terrorist" Palestinian policemen, a group of right-wing Jews armed with submachine guns traveled to an ancient Jericho synagogue site to pray yesterday.

They were allowed to pass by the new Palestinian police, who took over control of Jericho on Friday. After a few hours, the Jews left at the request of the Israeli military, but they said they would return next week.

The incident ended peacefully, but it was an indication of the problems that lay ahead in executing an agreement that promises Palestinians control but permits armed Israelis to ignore that control.

"We don't recognize the authority of the Arab soldiers," said Mordechai Rabinovitch, who identified himself as a Talmudic researcher. "We will have to take charge of our own security. In case there will be any sort of attack, we will defend ourselves."

The Palestinian police have guaranteed Jews the right of worship at the synagogue site. But the potential for conflict is high, since the right-wing settlers who have declared it a religious site completely reject the peace agreement and say they will ignore orders by the Palestinian police.

The site on the outskirts of Jericho is identified as a synagogue 1,400 years old, but it has been covered in modern times with a two-story concrete Arab house. Jewish activists have declared the house a yeshiva -- a school for biblical study -- and vowed to resist Arab control of it.

"We should not have to go through a foreign authority in our homeland," said Eliezer Waldman, who came from the settlement of Kiryat Arbaa to Jericho yesterday. "We will have to defend ourselves against terror, Arab PLO terror."

Settlers from Kiryat Arbaa, near Nablus, have long been in conflict with Arabs there. When one of them, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, killed 30 Muslims in a Hebron mosque Feb. 25, Israeli commentators were highly critical that settlers were allowed to have weapons at religious sites.

An Israeli officer who escorted the Jews to the site yesterday said in reply to a question, "Of course they are armed. There is no problem."

A Palestinian police officer, Capt. Lutfi Hasan, said the matter would be taken up with the Israeli-Palestinian coordinating committee.

"We wish to all be friends," he said.

The settlers left before sunset, the start of the Shavuot holiday marking the day Moses received the Ten Commandments. Israeli army radio said the settlers were told beforehand that they could not shoot "unless they faced a clear and immediate life-threatening situation."

In the center of Jericho, Palestinians with bulldozers pulled down the 20-foot-high fence around the former Israeli police station that had long dominated the town square.

"This is the view of freedom," said Samir Hilo, 43, watching as Palestinians milled about the open courtyard of the building, now in the hands of the Palestinian police. "The fence made it like a prison."

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers wounded two Palestinians who shot at their jeep, according to Israel Radio. The Israeli soldiers were not injured, and the Palestinians escaped.

Reuters reported a separate attack Saturday night, in which Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli military post in Gaza City and killed by mistake a Palestinian bystander on a nearby balcony.

The transfer of control over most of the Gaza Strip is expected to be finished by Wednesday. Israeli soldiers will withdraw to Jewish settlements within the strip and still will patrol major highways there.

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