The Demjanjuk war crimes case, two superpower summits, a steady stream of prominent Soviet Jewish emigres, anti-Semitism in Chicago and the election campaign in the United States all grabbed headlines in 5748. But the story that dominated the Jewish year in news, month after month, was the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The intifada, as the uprising eventually came to be called by Jews as well as Arabs, broke out Dec. 9 as a series of violent protests in refugee camps and villages throughout the administered territories.
By year’s end, more than 200 Palestinians had been killed, nearly 50 had been expelled or ordered deported, and literally thousands had served time in administrative detention.
The orchestrated campaign of violent revolts may have been inspired, in part, by the success of a terrorist attack in November. In that incident, a Palestinian terrorist sailed over the Israeli border from Lebanon in a motorized hang-glider and killed eight Israeli soldiers at a Galilee army base before being shot to death.
ATTACK IN DIMONA
The next large-scale terrorist attack occurred in March, when terrorists stormed a bus near Dimona, in the Negev, and opened fire, killing three Israelis and wounding 10.
But aside from these incidents, the major threats to Israeli security came from the administered territories. One tragic incident occurred in April, when a group of teen-agers from a Jewish settlement in the West Bank took a Passover hike through the Arab village of Beita, near Nablus.
After an apparently trigger-happy adult escort opened fire on an Arab farmer, the slain man’s family began hurling stones at the Jewish hikers. At the end of the melee, 15-year-old Tirza Porat lay dead, the victim of a bullet fired accidentally from the escort’s rifle. Accident or not, the incident enraged Israelis.
But the world’s wrath this year seemed to be directed at Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s announced policy of employing “force, might, beatings” against Palestinian rioters.
Israel found itself fighting the intifada not only in the Palestinian villages and refugee camps, but also in the halls of the United Nations and on television screens around the world.
Deportation, in fact, became one of Israel’s most potent tools in fighting the uprising — but also one of its most controversial. After Israel deported Palestinian non-violence advocate Mubarak Awad in June, the practice came under sharp criticism, even from such longtime friends as the U.S. government.
The intifada also produced rifts in an American Jewish community that generally prefers to speak with one voice on issues that affect Israel’s security. While the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations strived to maintain some semblance of unity, critics in the Reform movement and the American Jewish Congress found it difficult to stay silent.
ASSASSINATION IN TUNIS
By the end of spring, however, the fiery debate had subsided, only to be replaced by an actual inferno: the burning of Israeli forests, much of it by Arab arsonists. By the end of the summer, Israel had lost 40,000 acres to fire.
Israel did not remain only on the defensive in 5748. In April, a commando team gunned down Khalil al-Wazir, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s No. 2 man, also known as Abu Jihad, at his villa in a Tunis suburb. Israel would not claim responsibility for the carefully orchestrated attack, but all signs pointed in that direction.
Amid all the violence, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz tried vainly to bring peace to the region in a series of personal diplomatic missions to the Middle East. But by year’s end, the prospects of a settlement seemed even dimmer than ever, especially after King Hussein of Jordan announced July 31 that he was cutting all ties to the West Bank.
In Washington, meanwhile, the familiar battles between the Reagan administration and Congress over arms sales to Arab countries continued this spring. But friends of Israel received a tremendous shock in July when Britain announced a $35 billion sale of sophisticated arms to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also succeeded in tying up arms deals this year with China, France and eventually the United States.
SCANDALS AND STRIKES
Inside Israel, the year was peppered with the usual allotment of scandals and strikes. Mordechai Vanunu was convicted of sharing Israeli nuclear secrets with the British press. William Nakash was extradited to France for the murder of an Arab.
A Soviet-born businessman named Shabtai Kalmanovitz was charged with spying for the Russians. And Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, faced renewed allegations of improprieties.
At year’s end, an elaborate bribery scheme aimed at exempting recruits and reservists from military service was uncovered.
And in the midst of all of this, doctors, nurses and non-medical personnel at Israel’s public hospitals staged a relentless strike that limited medical care to all but emergency cases.
On the religious front, the “Who Is a Jew” amendment was again defeated, along with other attempts to deny Israeli citizenship to non-Orthodox converts to Judaism. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that women should be allowed to serve on local religious panels and those charged with selecting chief rabbis.
Homosexuality was legalized with scarcely any notice. And a Conservative movement youth hostel lost its kashrut certification and then regained it.
It was also a year of landmarks in Israel, not the least of which was the Jewish state’s celebration of its 40th anniversary.
(Next: 5748 In the Diaspora)