JERUSALEM (Dec. 15)
Nationwide apprehension about the fate of kidnapped border police Sgt. Maj. Nissim Toledano turned to grief Tuesday morning, when his body was found on a West Bank road about nine miles north of Jerusalem.
Toledano, 29, had been stabbed repeatedly and strangled.
The discovery of his body brought to a sad end two days of tension in which the entire nation seemed to share the anxiety Toledano’s family had undergone since the father of two was kidnapped before dawn Sunday on his way to work in Lod.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, delivering the news to the Knesset, pledged a relentless war against Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement in the territories, which claimed responsibility for Toledano’s abduction.
Rabin, who also holds the defense portfolio, said the murder proved the kidnappers had no intention of negotiating over release of the border policeman and confirmed the government’s wisdom in insisting on evidence that Toledano was alive as a condition for entering into any dialogue.
He said the government had been “prepared to hold contacts” with the kidnappers.
But in Amman, Jordan, a spokesman for Hamas said the Israeli government had never seriously intended to negotiate, only to buy time. At the same time, the spokesman said the decision to kill Toledano had been made by the group that kidnapped him, not by Hamas leaders outside the country.
Rabin said 1,200 Hamas leaders and activists throughout the administered territories had been arrested since the kidnapping Sunday. He urged Israelis to demonstrate maturity and restraint, and avoid panic and violence.
But in Lod, police wrestled with Jewish demonstrators, led by out-of-town radicals of the extremist Kach movement, who sought to attack Arab inhabitants of the town.
Toledano’s body was found by a Bedouin woman named Fatima from a tribe encamped just off the main road between Jerusalem and Jericho. She ran back in fear to the camp, and her husband, Nasser, with the tribal chief, drove to the nearest Israeli Civil Administration office to inform the authorities.
Toledano was bound at the wrists and still wearing his green border police uniform. Police pathologists declined to give a precise time of death, but indications were that it had been on Sunday, some hours after his kidnapping.
On Sunday, the kidnappers had left a message at an office of the International Red Cross, demanding the release of the imprisoned Hamas leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, by 9 p.m. that night as their condition for Toledano’s return. Yassin himself went on Israel Television to urge the kidnappers not to kill their victim.
“Neither Ahmed Yassin, nor Ahmed Jabril, nor Yasir Arafat will move us from here — we are here to stay,” a somber-voiced Rabin told the Knesset. “We will suffer setbacks, bite our lips and carry on. Neither stones nor bullets will make us move. Terror has no chance against us.”
Rabin said the army and security services had been instructed to conduct a “merciless” war against Hamas and its accomplices “within the framework of the law.”
There should be no question of “interpretation” regarding the resoluteness of the instructions given to the army, the premier said, clearly anxious to ward off criticism by the right-wing opposition that the government and the army had been too soft or too slow in cracking down on the rising wave of shootings in the administered territories.
The territories were sealed off from Israel proper Monday, and there was no sign by Tuesday night that this measure would be eased imminently.
Rabin, nevertheless, was attacked by David Levy of Likud, the former foreign minister. Referring to Rabin’s announcement that 1,200 Hamas activists had been rounded up, Levy asked: “Where have you been till now? Why haven’t you done this before now?”
Opposition leader Yitzhak Shamir, recuperating at home in Tel Aviv after cancer surgery, asserted Monday night in a televised interview that the security situation had degenerated since Rabin came to power beyond anything experienced under the Likud.
That assessment was challenged by Labor ministers, who cited intifada statistics for the years 1990 and 1991 to argue they were worse.
But certainly in terms of the public mood, the present time is a nadir. Many blame the government, and many others voice a fear that the problem of the territories appears insoluble. Exacerbating this mood are reports from Washington that the peace talks, concluding their eighth round this week, are making negligible progress and are unlikely to achieve any real advance until the new U.S. administration takes over and works itself in.
The bleak mood in Jerusalem has given renewed momentum to the “Gaza-first” school, sources say. Several Cabinet ministers have urged the prime minister to consider announcing a departure date from the Gaza Strip, say in 18 months time, and put the onus on the local leadership to set up a self-rule arrangement by then, with or without the West Bank.
But both Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres are firmly opposed to a unilateral withdrawal by Israel, divorced from the ongoing peace process.
On the far right of the political spectrum, the Moledet party called for the deportation of Hamas activists and for the institution of the death penalty in cases such as the kidnap-murder of Toledano.
The Judea and Samaria Council, representing the sentiment of settlers in the West Bank, blamed the incident on the government’s “mad rush to the peace table.”
On the far left, too, the mood was tough and somber. Yossi Sarid, the Meretz bloc’s Knesset caucus chairman, called for “an iron fist against Hamas,” and the Peace Now movement urged the government to “do everything necessary to stamp out terror.”
In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned Toledano’s murder as “a depraved, mindless act of terrorism clearly designed to sabotage the current Arab-Israel negotiations.”