JERUSALEM (Mar. 30)
The unrelenting wave of Palestinian attacks that has swept over Israel intensified this week, leaving Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin little choice but to announce new security measures he previously insisted were unnecessary.
After two policemen were shot dead in their patrol car Tuesday near Hadera, Rabin announced he would immediately beef up army troops in the territories, loosen regulations on when soldiers are allowed to fire live ammunition and ban West Bank Palestinians from entering Israel proper for an unspecified period of time.
He also said, in a somber television address to the nation Tuesday evening, that his goal is to create a “gradual reduction, as expeditiously as possible,” in the number of Palestinian workers employed in Israel proper.
The Gaza Strip had already been sealed off since Sunday, after an Israeli man was stabbed to death there. But the move did not prevent another fatal stabbing from taking place Monday.
The almost daily killings have catapulted the level of violence to an unprecedented level, provoking rage at the government from the political right, and insecurity and fear on the part of average Israelis.
Last week, Rabin stressed that ultimately the only solution to the violence was a political one, reached in the peace process with the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors.
But the worsening security situation apparently pushed the prime minister this week to take bolder security measures in the field.
Rabin’s decision to allow, soldiers to shoot at any armed Palestinian, even if not in imminent life-threatening danger, has long been sought by the right-wing parties and settlers.
TALK OF A NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT
The deepening mood of gloom among the public has even prompted some Israelis to float the idea of Rabin joining forces with the right-wing opposition in a national unity government, a move that past Israeli governments have adopted in times of emergency.
Although nearly all Labor Party figures have so far rejected the idea outright, the mere fact that it was being discussed illustrated the gravity of the situation.
In Tuesday’s attack, two traffic policemen were shot at close range as they sat in their patrol car before dawn near the village of Talmei Elazar, outside Hadera in central Israel.
Police say they were attacked by at least two assailants, who also stole the victims’ service revolvers.
Some witnesses said the two victims, Sgt. Mordechai Yisraeli and Sgt. Danny Hazut, had been sleeping in their cars, but national Police Chief Ya’acov Terner discounted these reports.
The attack near Israeli Arab villages in the Wadi Ara region came on Land Day, when Israeli Arabs commemorate the 1976 protests against land confiscation in which six Arabs were killed.
Arab civic figures expressed sympathy for the families of the two murdered policemen but said it was too late for them to call off the Land Day events they had planned.
Investigators said they had no positive clues as to the identity of the killers, though they were checking out reports of a white Peugeot van leaving the scene.
In graffiti scrawled on the walls in the Gaza Strip’s Rafah refugee camp, the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas claimed responsibility for the Hadera attack.
The assailants in the two Gaza killings earlier this week have not been captured either.
LIKUD MOUNTS AN ATTACK
While Gaza settlers have been the leading voice this week of the anger and anguish that has engulfed the country, the settlers are not alone in their demands for firm action.
The attacks in Jerusalem and Hadera have drawn the entire populace into the eye of the storm, with a sense of personal insecurity pervading every sector of the Jewish population.
The Rabin government is suffering from the backlash of these attacks. Almost nightly demonstrations outside the prime minister’s home in Jerusalem and elsewhere around the country have pilloried Rabin personally and demanded his resignation.
Several leading Labor Party officials have accused opposition leaders of deliberately fanning and exploiting the public unrest for their party’s political purposes.
Meanwhile, the opposition has been invigorated by the election last week of Knesset member Benjamin Netanyahu as Likud’s new chairman.
The two political camps sides clashed Tuesday in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, with Rabin squaring off for the first time with Netanyahu acting in his new capacity.
A special session of the full Knesset to discuss the opposition’s criticism of the government was scheduled for next week.
At the Tuesday meeting, Rabin disclosed the decisions of an emergency Inner Cabinet meeting held hours after the Hadera attack to loosen the military’s standing shooting orders and take other security measures.
The closure of the territories was to take effect at midnight and last “until further notice,” Rabin said.
Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told army radio the government had information on heightened terrorist activity on the West Bank.
‘TERROR HAS NEVER DEFEATED US’
Terner, in comments to the media Tuesday, reiterated his call to the public at large to step up its security consciousness.
The outgoing police chief has urged all gun-owners to carry their weapons with them and has called for mass voluntary enlistment in the Civil
The Cabinet has resolved to beef up the police force immediately by 1,000 new cadets, diverting budgets from other ministries to cover the costs.”
Proposals are also under study for the distribution of nightsticks to 11th and 12th-graders in high schools, and the compulsory teaching of self-defense techniques to younger pupils.
Rabin, in a series of public addresses, has called for a revival of the “spirit of ’48,” a reference to the days when the small Jewish Yishuv was pitted against armed attacks by Palestinians and defended itself with vigor and resoluteness.
In his TV appearance Tuesday night, the prime minister vowed a “war with all our strength” against the wave of terror, saying, “Our enemies must not begin to think we are weakened.”
But other public figures have voiced queasiness over Rabin’s approach, suggesting it may be seen in some quarters as giving license to Jewish vigilantism in defiance of the law and the law-enforcement agencies of the state.
That is apparently a risk the prime minister is prepared to take. He knows, that if the deterioration in the security situation continues unchecked, his government could be in real danger of losing the public base of confidence needed to govern.
In an effort to boost morale, Rabin reminded the nation Tuesday night that Israel has won wars in the past “not by weaponry, but by strength of spirit.”
“I understand the grief, the pain and the anger” that Israeli citizens are feeling, the prime minister said. But he added, “Terror has never defeated us, and it is not going to defeat us now.”