Thousands of Israelis Respond to Gush Emunim Call to Visit Hebron

Thousands of nationalist Israelis jammed Hebron Sunday in response to a Gush Emunim call for a mass visit to the West Bank Arab city to prove, as one spokesman said, that Hebron is Jewish.

The visit was in effect a giant political rally by rightwing and religious partisans in the guise of a Passover “tour” and it infuriated the Peace Now movement which had cancelled plans for counter-demonstrations at the behest of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Political rallies have been banned in West Bank towns.

The event coincided with the 18th anniversary of the first Jewish “settlement” in Hebron during the Passover week of 1968. At that time, Gush Emunim leader Rabbi Moshe Levinger brought a small group to Hebron, ostensibly for a seder at a local hotel. They remained in the town as squatters, defying the government to evict them.

PASSIONS RUN HIGH

Passions ran high Sunday because of the stabbing Friday of a Jewish youth, Uri Yifrah, 16, of nearby Kiryat Arba. He sustained slight wounds when an Arab knifed him in the Hebron market place. One rightwing politician, Geula Cohen of the Tehiya Party, held Peace Now responsible for the incident because they allegedly meet with Palestine Liberation Organization representatives and “show the Arabs of Hebron they could raise their heads.”

The Defense Ministry has been allowing Jewish settlers and their supporters to conduct “holiday tours” of Hebron if they promise not to take advantage of the occasion for political rallies. But the leftist Civil Rights Movement (CRM) was banned from holding anti-Gush counter-demonstrations which they said were intended to prove that Jews and Arabs can co-exist peacefully.

Individual members of the CRM and Peace Now visited Hebron Sunday under heavy police guard. They were vastly outnumbered by the Gush Emunim supporters who hurled epithets such as “traitor” and “Arab lover” at them. There were no incidents, however. The only arrest was of a man handing out leaflets for Rabbi Meir Kahane’s extremist Kach Party near the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Peace Now, meanwhile, has accused Rabin of giving in to “pressure and blackmail” by people who “violated the law and practiced violence.” Tension between rightwingers and Peace Now has been mounting since Rabin allowed the peace movement to hold a conference parallel to the Tehiya Party convention in Kiryat Arba last week.

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