Tel Aviv (Jan. 13)
– Police have arrested four suspects, all Druze, in the murder last night of Bedouin Shiekh Hamad Abu Rabia, 51, a Knesset member for the United Arab List which is affiliated with the opposition Labor Party. Abu Rabia, shot to death outside of his Jerusalem hotel, was the first MK assassinated in Israel and the Killing has shocked the country.
Thousands of Bedouins and representatives of the Arab and Druze communities were joined by government leaders and Jewish friends at his funeral today. Abu Rabia was buried in the Bedouin cemetery at Keseifa, the home of his tribe in the Negev between Beersheba and Arad. Attending were President Yitzhak Navon, Deputy Premier Simcha Ehrlich and Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Berman.
Premier Menachem Begin called the killing a “shocking event” and praised Abu Rabia as a “good man and a faithful citizen of Israel. “Begin’s adviser on Arab affairs, Benzion Gur-Arye, described Him as a “proud Bedouin and a loyal citizen” who sought to bring the Bedouin and Jewish communities closer for their mutual advantage.
Eye-witnesses said Abu Rabia was shot twice at close range as he parked his car in front of the Holy Land Hotel where he usually stayed while the Knesset is in session. A bell boy at the hotel told police the assailants sped away in a jeep. Two
of the suspects were arrested when their jeep was stopped at an army roadblock near Nablus a few hours after the killing. One was reported to be wearing an army uniform.
The other two were picked up some time later in the Druze village of Yerka in western Galilee, apparently as a result of the interrogation of the first suspects. Police said they were investigating several angles and checking out reports that Abu Rabia had been involved in a number of disputes and that he told friends he feared assassination.
Recently he was in a legal battle with Druze Shiekh Jaber Muadi of Yerka who was second to him on the United Arab List election slate. Muadi claimed that Abu Rabia had promised to step down and allow him a turn in the Knesset. But a district court ruled that agreements to rotate Knesset seats were illegal and Abu Rabia continued to represent his faction.
Bedouin sources also said that Abu Rabia was blamed by some of his own tribesmen for having been too accommodating with the Israeli authorities on the issue of the government’s seizure of Bedouin lands for the new military airfields in the Negev. In recent months, Abu Rabia had been trying to formulate a new platform for his party which he hoped would attract young Israeli Arabs away from the Communist Party.
In an interview on the Israel Radio Arabic program two hours before his murder, Abu Rabia expressed hope that the Labor Alignment would be returned to office in the next elections because it might be able to lead Israel into peace agreements with Arab countries. Arab affairs experts said they hoped the police would find the killers quickly, if only to avoid a blood feud involving innocent people. Such internecine battles are frequent among Bedouins when one of their number is murdered.