Jewish settlers seek revenge for attack

Some Itamar residents said to have stormed nearby Palestinian village

June 22, 2002|By Tracy Wilkinson | Tracy Wilkinson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ITAMAR, West Bank - Jewish settlers trudged through the smoldering remains of the Shabo home yesterday, gasping at shrapnel holes in the bedroom walls, then converged on a hillside for the burial of Rachel Shabo and three of her children.

The settlers demanded swift revenge for the family members, killed the night before when a Palestinian gunman slipped over this isolated settlement's fence and burst into their home. A neighbor who headed the community's emergency-response security detail was killed when he rushed to save the Shabos.

A volunteer gingerly swabbed blood yesterday morning from the floor of one of the Shabo children's rooms and sifted through mattress stuffing that had been poured into heaps, seeking pieces of human flesh for burial or removal.

It was the second deadly attack here in three weeks, and the settlers were angry and eager to fight the Palestinians who claim the same rocky hills and valleys of the West Bank.

"With God's help, the blood spilled here will be soaked in the land of Samaria and will nourish the olive trees, and with God's help, we will have revenge," Natan Chay, the settlement's rabbi, preached before hundreds who came to bury the Shabos.

On the fringes of the crowd, a group of settlers scuffled with police and heckled the local army commander. "If you did your job, you wouldn't be attending a funeral," someone shouted at Col. Yossi Adiri as he waded into the mourners.

Others wept or prayed as they walked to the cemetery, carrying on stretchers the shrouded bodies of Rachel Shabo, 40, and her sons Neria, 16, Zvi, 12, and Avishai, 5.

Later, some of the settlers leaving the funeral reportedly rampaged through the nearby Palestinian village of Hawara, shot to death a young Palestinian man, and burned cars and a house.

The Shabos were killed Thursday night after a Palestinian invaded the family home, which was the largest on the block and sat on the southern edge of the settlement.

Adiri said the intruder apparently shot two or three of the children shortly after entering the home. They were on the ground floor, and their mother, upon hearing the shots, rushed downstairs to see what was happening. She was shot then, Adiri said.

Paramilitary border police hurried to the site, forced their way into the home and began a room-to-room search while evacuating the dead and wounded. A young daughter, injured, emerged from a second-floor room where, it turned out, the Palestinian had hidden, Adiri said. The troops bombarded the room with hand grenades. The Palestinian leaped from a window and was shot to death by soldiers positioned on the ground below, Adiri said.

The upper stories of the house burst into flames, probably when gunfire hit a gas canister. The body of the youngest child, Avishai, was not found until after the shooting had stopped and the fire was put out, Adiri said.

He acknowledged the possibility that one or more members of the family could have been killed by Israeli fire, caught in the barrage of bullets and shrapnel.

Rachel Shabo's husband and the two eldest children were not home during the attack.

Palestinian militants consider settlers to be legitimate targets because of their presence on land that Palestinians want for a future sovereign state. Settlements on land seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War are considered illegal under international law that prohibits an occupying power from locating its people in occupied territory.

Itamar, home to about 90 families, is among the most hard-line of settlements that dot the swath of the West Bank that runs north of Jerusalem to Nablus. At the funeral, nearly every adult male was armed, some with M-16 rifles slung across their backs, others with pistols tucked in their waistbands.

The settlers said they would like to be allowed to patrol the region with their own armed squads.

Rinat Khabra, who lives across the street from the Shabos, acknowledged that the fear of danger was taking its toll. Her children, who had played with the Shabos and who hid in a back bedroom of the Khabra home during Thursday night's shooting, ask difficult questions and spent yesterday speaking to a school psychologist, Khabra said.

"When these things happen, you are scared," she said. "But afterward you become stronger. If we don't get stronger, we collapse."

Tracy Wilkinson writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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