JERUSALEM (Mar. 2)
Two fatal attacks on Jews this week by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip have Israelis up in arms, with some government ministers calling for a unilateral withdrawal from the territory.
In the latest incident, a gas company worker making a delivery at a gas terminal near the border with Egypt was attacked by stone-throwing youths and shot to death Tuesday after making a wrong turn into the Rafah refugee camp.
The killing came just a day after two Israelis were stabbed to death and seven others wounded in an attack on a Tel Aviv street carried out by a Palestinian laborer from the Gaza Strip.
Adding to Israelis’ fears and frustration, Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon fired more than 60 Katyusha rockets at northern Israel last weekend, some of which landed on a kibbutz but caused no casualties and only minor damage.
Acting to calm the nation and maintain control over Palestinians, the army has temporarily sealed off the Gaza Strip and beefed up patrols in the region. But government officials pointed out that the closure of the territory Monday did nothing to prevent Tuesday’s killing.
Health Minister Haim Ramon of the Labor Party said Israel should seek an agreement with the Palestinians that would leave Israel “not occupying even one inch of Gaza.”
Energy Minister Amnon Rubinstein of the left-wing Meretz bloc said Israel should set a target date for the withdrawal of the army from the territory, which was captured from Egypt during the Six-Day War of 1967.
“I think that this latest murder, which has shocked and frightened all of us, obligates us to discuss anew the double danger of Gaza — our presence there and the presence of Gazans here,” Rubinstein said on Israel Radio.
“I want to ask myself, as a citizen of this country, how long can we go on like this? And my answer is that our presence in Gaza imposes on us too great a burden to carry,” Rubinstein said.
Ramon suggested that once Israel left Gaza, Palestinian workers should be allowed to enter Israel only in limited numbers, according to Israel’s labor needs.
“We cannot allow that 60,000 to 70,000 workers from Gaza come daily to Israel,” he said.
The number of Gazans entering Israel proper has varied greatly.
The military has made a pattern of reducing the number of work permits following attacks in Israel, only to gradually increase the number later. Newspapers said that lately more than 40,000 workers have been entering Israel daily from Gaza. According to the Ha’aretz newspaper, the army was considering measures to cut by half the number of work permits.
RABIN REJECTS LONG CLOSURE
The army said it would use the temporary closure of the territory to reassess security measures at the checkpoint between the Gaza Strip and Israel proper.
The need for such a review became apparent as reports revealed that the Arab responsible for Monday’s attack in Tel Aviv did not possess a valid permit, contrary to initial reports.
But Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said the closure would not be prolonged, emphasizing that such a move would only create more frustration by causing more unemployment, resentment and ultimately attacks against Israeli soldiers on duty in Gaza.
Even security officials admitted that in the long run, there is nothing much that can be done to prevent similar terrorist attacks.
“One lunatic cannot cause the closure of the territories for a longer period,” said one official.
“Even if we had closed the territories for a longer period, it would not guarantee the end of terrorism. Single terrorists would continue to carry out wild attacks,” he said.
After Monday’s attack, Rabin said the only lesson to be learned from the new cycle of violence was the need to intensify the peace efforts, while continuing to take all possible measures against terrorism.
“But in the end, without coming to a political solution,” he said, the reality of mixing Palestinians from the territories with Jews inside Israel proper “has within it the potential that a murderous madman like this will rise up.”
In pressing his argument for Israel to leave the Gaza Strip, Ramon said he was aware of counter-arguments that Gaza, cut off by Israel and left on its own economically, would turn into an explosive pressure cooker.
But he suggested that this should not be Israel’s business. “There are a lot of problems outside Israel that Israel cannot solve,” he said.
Proposals to pull out of Gaza were rejected outright by Likud Knesset member David Levy.
The former foreign minister charged that the mere talk of a possible withdrawal from Gaza was a victory for terrorism. Levy warned that Gaza, if cut off by Israel, would turn into a second Lebanon and become a terrorist base for operations inside Israel.
“What will Israel do then? Will it use airplanes to bomb them?” Levy asked.
Levy suggested no specific alternative, except for saying that the security forces do not have adequate tools to combat terrorism.
ARAB SHOT BY JEWISH DRIVER
In the killing on Tuesday, the 40-year-old unidentified victim, said to be from the country’s center, reportedly arrived at an army guard post at the entrance to the Jewish settlement of Rafiah-Yam in the Gaza Strip.
The man apparently asked the soldier on duty what was the “safest” way to reach a gas terminal where he had to make a delivery.
But despite the fact that the soldier had reportedly given him the correct instructions and had warned him not to go on his own, the man drove on and mistakenly entered a refugee camp.
Once inside the camp, youths began stoning his car. The man turned his car around, but, apparently wounded, crashed into a fence and was forced to jump out of the car. He was then shot, reportedly by one gunman, with four bullets from a submachine gun.
In other violence Tuesday, an Arab resident of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras el-Amoud was shot to death by a Jewish driver after his car was stoned.
Eyewitnesses said the Jewish driver stopped his car and fired several shots, one of which killed the Arab. The driver then fled. Police said they were searching for the Jewish driver.