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The Aftermath of a Killing in Hebron

July 11, 1983
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Jewish settlers are pressing their demands on the government for harsher measures against Arab trouble-makers on the West Bank in the aftermath of the murder of 19-year-old Aharon Gross near the Hebron marketplace last Thursday.

Representatives of the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judaea and Samaria met with Premier Menachem Begin this morning, shortly before the weekly Cabinet meeting. They insisted that the government crack down harder on Arabs and that it expand the Jewish presence in the center of Hebron. Begin promised to raise their demands at today’s Cabinet session. (See separate story.)

Gross, an American-born yeshiva student whose parents settled in Israel in 1974 was buried at midnight funeral services in Jerusalem Thursday. He had been fatally stabbed late that afternoon while waiting for a ride to his home in Kiryat Arba, the Orthodox township adjacent to Hebron.


Israeli authorities clamped a curfew on downtown Hebron and later removed Mayor Mustapha Abdul Nat-she from office for alleged “indirect” incitement to violence against Jews. But despite the curfew, infuriated Kiryat Arba Jews roomed the deserted market-place Thursday night, setting fire to Arab stalls.

On Friday, Israeli border police used tear gas and clubs and fired into the air to disperse some 200 stone-throwing Arabs demonstrating on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem against the Hebron curfew. One policeman and six Arabs were reported injured and about 40 Arabs were arrested. The police also detained a number of suspects in the Hebron stabbing and the market place arson but no further details were released.


(In Washington Friday, the Reagan Administration condemend the violence in Hebron but suggested that the only way to end such incidents was to resolve the issues of the West Bank.

(State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg said, “We deplore the murder (of Gross) and those responsible for it. We also condemn the burning of parts of the Hebron market. Indeed, we are greatly concerned by any development which increases the liklihood of confrontation and violence on the West Bank. Yesterday’s (Thursday’s) events underscore the need to find a way to address, in a constructive way, the underlying causes of unrest in that area, ” Romberg said.

(In New York, the Herut Zionists of America said in a statement Friday that it “condemns the cowardly murder in Hebron of yet another innocent Jew.” Rabbi Dov Aharoni-Fisch, executive director, declared: “We believe that Jews throughout the world should respond by increasing their support for Israeli government efforts to settle the width and breadth of Judaea and Samaria.”)

The events in Hebron confront Begin’s government with a dilemma that has been developing for some time. The West Bank settlers, particularly those in Kiryat Arba, a Gush Emunim stronghold, had been calling for tougher measures against Hebron Arabs, and for the ouster of Mayor Natshe long before the stabbing of Gross last Thursday.

They have since seized upon the murder as proof that they were right all along and have berated the army for alleged “softness” in dealing with Arabs who disturb the peace.

At an emergency meeting Friday morning, settler leaders contended that restrictions imposed on soldiers in the use of their weapons to quell stone-throwing and other Arab acts of violence against Jews only encouraged such acts. The settlers and their supporters within the political community, notably Science Minister Yuval Neeman of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya party, are demanding an end to the restrictions.

Some settlers are asking life imprisonment as punishment for stone-throwers and deportation for local Arab politicians, not just removal from office. But Shlomo ilya, head of the West Bank civil administration, flatly rejected settler demands for the creation of Jewish vigilante units on the West Bank. He declared at a Jerusalem press conference Friday that the army and only the army would continue to be responsible for the security of all inhabitants of the territory.

The settlers responded by threatening to turn in the weapons provided them by the army for self-defense, thereby challenging the army to protect them and their families at all times.


The settlers are a politically potent and highly vocal part of Begin’s constituency. But the government, fearful that harsher measures will only engender worse violence, is anxious to keep the West Bank as quiet as possible, particularly in the next few weeks before Begin goes to Washington to meet with President Reagan. The general mood in the Cabinet therefore is to take no further measures at this time besides the ouster of Natshe.

At the same time, the government is anxious to restore the main municipalities to Arab hands. At present. Nablus, Ramallah and El Bireh, three of the largest West Bank towns, are run by Israeli army officers. Their mayors were deposed some time ago and the Israeli administration has been unable to find Arabs willing to replace them. The same problem has now arisen in Hebron where Natshe is the second mayor ousted by the Israelis in recent years.

Ilya explained to the press that the situation in Hebron should not be used to judge the entire West Bank. He said the case of Natshe was a special one, due to his constant opposition to both the Israeli administration and to the settlers. There would have been no choice but to dismiss him eventually, ilya said.

The settlers, of course, want him deported as was his predecessor, Mayor Fahd Kawasme three years ago after an ambush attack that killed seven yeshiva students in Hebron. But iIya noted that Natshe, unlike Kawasme and other deposed West Bank mayors, was not regarded as a serious political leader but rather a puppet manipulated by his city council members, all of whom are considered “hostile” elements.


Natshe is regarded in some quarters, however, as a Palestinian moderate. He was quick to condemn the murder of Gross and to urge calm. In a radio interview after his dismissal, he remark ed bitterly that the Kiryat Arba settlers have now gotten what they wanted all along and will now be able to do as they please in Hebron.

According to Natshe, he and his councilmen opposed violence. He blamed the steadily increasing presence in Hebron of Jewish militants from Kiryat Arba for provoking violent acts. The settlers have angrily denied this.


The stabbing of Gross had a particularly tragic aftermath. Some Jewish settlers complained that his fellow yeshiva students left him bleeding on the street while they engaged in a running gun battle with his assailants who fled in a car. His body lay near the scene of the stabbing for some time, apparently mistaken for an Arab who, according to an unconfirmed radio report late Thursday, had been wounded by armed Jewish settlers.

The body was taken to the Hebron hospital by local Arabs where Gross was pronounced dead, still under the mistaken impression that he was an Arab. Kiryat Arba settlers who claimed the body much later, insisted that he was still alive but had been allowed to lose too much blood to be saved.

The Hebron hospital director, Abdul Halim Namur, hotly denied this. He said that when the youth was brought in he had no pulse, no blood pressure and was not breathing. He was, in short, clinically dead.

Hebron remained under high tension over the weekend. The Israeli authorities lifted the curfew in the market place yesterday and today to allow residents to shop for the approaching Moslem feast of Id Al Fiter, Israeli officials expressed hope that by the time the holiday ends Wednesday, tempers will be cooler. Meanwhile, municipal employes were given a 50 percent advance on their salaries in the hope that they will cooperate with the new Israeli administration.

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