JERUSALEM (Dec. 15)
As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators attempt to talk peace in Washington, relations between Jews and Arabs have deteriorated sharply in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The West Bank was especially tense over the weekend, as security forces, egged on by angry settlers, expanded curfews, barred Arabs from parts of main highways and conducted mass arrests in Palestinian towns and refugee camps.
Settlers, seeking reprisals for recent ambush attacks on Jewish vehicles rampaged through Arab towns for the second time in a week, causing extensive damage to Arab property.
The situation in East Jerusalem simmered meanwhile. Jewish settlers who won legal backing for their claim to property in the Arab enclave of Silwan last week were nevertheless placed under some restrictions by the courts, pending hearings on the complaints of evicted Arab families.
In the West Bank, the Israel Defense Force and police mounted joint operations that netted 25 suspects believed responsible for terrorist acts and a large arsenal of weapons.
Police sources said they were mostly “cold” weapons, such as knives, swords and hatchets. But they also uncovered some homemade handguns.
The sweeps were conducted in and around the Askar refugee camp near Nablus, where a settler’s car was attacked driving to Eilon Moreh.
Another settler was shot at from ambush Saturday night near Tekoah, in the Judean hills. No one was hurt.
But settlers are still furious over the fatal shooting of Zvi Klein, a settler from Ofra who was driving through El-Bireh on Dec. 1.
ARABS BANNED FROM HIGHWAYS
El-Bireh and its sister town of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, had been under 24-hour curfew since then. It was reduced over the weekend to a nighttime curfew, in effect from 4 p.m. to 5 a.m.
At the same time, however, Palestinian residents of the West Bank were banned from using sections of highway from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The ban applies not only to the pavement but to a strip nearly 500 feet wide along the major highways where they pass through uninhabited areas. Any Arab found in those areas during the curfew would be arrested.
The army said it was only one of several measures intended to reduce the opportunities for ambush. It had considered placing all of the highways under curfew but feared that would not stand up in court.
The IDF acted at the urging of settlers, who have long complained that security is lax. The settlers demand more severe punishment, including large-scale deportations of Palestinians suspected of violent acts.
But reserve Gen. Ori Orr, retired commander of the central sector, which includes the West Bank, said the new measures would prove ineffective, as they did when imposed in Lebanon.
Other military experts agreed. They said that more troops would have to be sent to the West Bank to enforce the ban, which could harm innocent citizens while terrorists would find ways to circumvent it.
On Sunday, Jewish vigilantes ranged through Ramallah for the second time since Dec. 9, smashing the windows of two homes and the wind-shields of eight Arab-owned cars.
Several settlers were detained for questioning but soon released.
Later Sunday, settlers in the Hebron area boasted that they had damaged 20 Arab vehicles in Hebron and nearby Halhoul.
A group calling itself the Committee for Security on the Roads, which is associated with the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s extremist Kach movement, took credit.
SHAMIR CONDEMNS VIGILANTISM
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir condemned such actions Sunday, saying they are unnecessary.
Defense Minister Moshe Arens used stronger language, saying that vigilantism contributes nothing to security and warning that those who engaged in such activities would be prosecuted.
Arens made his statement near Eilon Moreh, where he met with angry left-wing Knesset members, who complained the government was doing little to stop anti-Arab violence by Jews in the administered territories.
Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Movement said the settlers have begun an “uprising” against the state and its elected institutions.
If the government doesn’t act to “suppress” it immediately, that will mean the “end of the democratic system in Israel, and things may develop into a civil war,” he warned.
Sarid and fellow CRM Knesset member Dedi Zucker were in the area to plant olive trees in place of those uprooted last week by angry settlers.
But the settlers later uprooted the new trees and replanted them inside Eilon Moreh. Settlement leader Benny Katzover accused Sarid of “siding with Arab miscreants.”
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court issued a temporary injunction Friday ordering Jewish settlers to vacate one of the five Arab homes they occupied in Silwan last week, pending a court ruling on its ownership, which could come Monday.
The court limited the number of settlers allowed to stay in a second building to 10. It acted in response to complaints by two Arab families who said they were the legitimate tenants.
The settlers argued that the buildings belonged to two Arab families who departed the country in 1967. That left them in possession of the state, which, in turn, gave the Jewish families the right to move in.
Silwan remained quiet over the weekend. Hundreds of Israeli sightseers went there Saturday to inspect the scene of the controversy. A group of Peace Now activists visited, escorted by Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini.
They suggested to Arabs that they rent flats in predominantly Jewish western Jerusalem, to prove that “there too, money can buy anything.”
So far, no one has acted on the idea.