TEL AVIV (Jul. 28)
Three West Bank Arab youths have been detained in connection with the murder of two Afula school teachers whose missing bodies were discovered Friday stuffed into a cave on the slopes of the Gilboa Hills overlooking the Jezreel Valley.
The three suspects, aged 17, 18 and 19, are family members from the West Bank village of Arabuna, some five kilometers northeast of Jenin, near where the bodies were found, Israel Radio reported. They participated this morning in a police reconstruction of the crime.
Police Minister Haim Barlev said today that two of the suspects have confessed to the murders, and the third suspect admitted to having helped the others hide the bodies. Barlev said the suspects were not part of an organized group. The Mukhtar of the village was quoted as saying the entire village opposed the murders.
Premier Shimon Peres today sent a message of praise to the police and the Shin Bet, the Israel general securities service — the secret service — for the speed with which they solved the crime, on the day the victims were to be buried. He said he hoped the speedy solution to the murder would deter other similar acts of terrorism.
DEMAND DEATH TO TERRORISTS
But news of the murder set off angry protests in Afula over the weekend where residents chanted “death to terrorists” and shouted support for Rabbi Meir Kahane. Some 650 police were on duty in Afula today where a large crowd demonstrated outside the Afula police station.
The bodies of the two school teachers — Yosef Eliahu, 35, and Lea Elmakais, 19 — were discovered by a resident of an Emek settlement and a Bedouin Arab tracker stuffed into a cave that was little more than a crack in the rocks on the Gilboa Hills.
Their disappearance on July 21 after leaving their school to drive home set off a huge manhunt involving police, border police, soldiers and civilian volunteers — including both Jews and Arabs from surrounding villages — searching the area between Afula and Jenin, where Eliahu’s car had been found abandoned with a spent bullet and blood stains on the seat earlier in the week.
The two persons who discovered the bodies were following what they thought were suspicious tracks and were reported to have come across an abandoned private telephone list bearing Elmakais’ name. They were attracted to the crack in the hillside by the stench and masses of flies at its entrance. It took police some time to extricate the bodies because the cave was too small to crawl into, and the bodies must have been pushed in by force.
Eliahu leaves a wife and five children, some of whom he had been due to take to music lessons and whose lateness home led his wife to report his absence to the police. Teachers said he had been giving a lift home to Elmakais, a student teacher doing her national service as an educator in the school.
The murder weapon, police said today, was a carbine stolen several weeks ago from a farmer in the Gilboa area. When the three suspects were detained the gun was reportedly found in their possession, together with a pistol owned by Eliahu, a purse belonging to Elmakais, a two-way radio and binoculars. The binoculars had been used to keep a watch on the area where they held up the car and on the area of the cave.
Police sources said the suspects held up the teacher’s car at gunpoint on the outskirts of Afula and made Eliahu drive it into the Gilboa Hills, where the two were murdered and their bodies hidden the next day, after having been left in the car overnight.
VIOLENT DEMONSTRATION IN AFULA
News of the discovery of the bodies set off a violent demonstration in Afula where police were forced to break up a rowdy demonstration of enraged residents who massed outside the police station and the municipality building. Several Arab looking bystanders were beaten, and police detained at least eight demonstrators.
Security continued to be massive and tight in Afula to prevent any incidents during today’s burial of Eliahu. The funeral of Elmakais took place at the same time in her native town of Hadera, where the atmosphere is quieter but still tense. Both victims were given full state funerals with ministers representing the Cabinet attending both burials.
Deputy Premier David Levy, representing the government at the funeral for Eliahu, said he would press for implementation of the death penalty for terrorist murders. His remarks were greeted with satisfaction by the large crowd of mourners.
But Barlev, representing the Cabinet at the funeral in Hadera, was met with hostility when he said that while stringent measures would be taken to halt terrorism, the perpetrators would receive a fair trial. He was interrupted with cries of “death to terrorists.” Reporters and television cameramen reporting the funeral were attacked at graveside by the family of Elmakais. Police intervened to prevent violence.
Kahane, meanwhile, appears to be reaping benefits from this latest act of terrorist murder. The angry crowds in Afula and near Hadera have been shouting “Kahane, Kahane” as they demand death sentences for terrorists and the expulsion of Arabs from Israel. Kahane had earlier, last week, been prevented from visiting Afula. The family of Eliahu appealed on the radio to Kahane not to visit them before the funeral as he said he would do with his Kach supporters.
Observers say that every murder or terrorist act increases the potential vote for the extremist Kach Party. The murder of Eliahu and Elmakais was the latest in a number of cases involving the disappearance of individuals and couples whose bodies were later found, apparently killed by terrorists.
Tehiya MK Geula Cohen immediately blamed the government for the murders, as the Cabinet had recently released to their homes in Israel and the West Bank hundreds of convicted terrorists in the prisoner exchange for three Israel Defense Force soldiers captured in the Lebanon war.