An Israel Defense Force investigation into the bloody events at Beita village, where a teen-age Jewish girl was allegedly stoned to death by Arabs last week, triggered a new political controversy at the Cabinet meeting Sunday.
Ministers of Likud’s Herut wing assailed Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a Laborite, and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Shomron for mishandling the incident and leaking to the news media the initial conclusions of the IDF probe before it was completed.
Rabin told the Cabinet that an autopsy performed on 15-year-old Tirza Porat before her burial Thursday showed she was killed by a stray bullet, which penetrated her head at close range.
He said the bullet’s trajectory was upward, indicating it was fired by an Israeli settler, Romam Aldubi, who was one of two armed guards accompanying 16 teen-agers from Eilon Moreh. They were on a Passover hike last Wednesday in the Samarian hills around Beita village, south of Nablus.
But the Likud ministers challenged that version and insisted it must be weighed against the accounts of the youngsters and another armed guard, Menahem Ilan. They claimed to have been trapped by rock-throwing Arab mobs in Beita.
Twelve of the children, who were interviewed by Premier Yitzhak Shamir and other Likud ministers Sunday, said they were never questioned by the security forces. According to the teen-agers, they were surrounded less than an hour after beginning their hike by hundreds of stone-throwing Arabs, who injured eight of the hikers. One of the Arabs attempted to grab Aldubi’s M-16 rifle, they said.
At that point, Aldubi opened fire, killing the attacker, which further infuriated the villagers, the Likud politicians were told.
‘WOULD HAVE BEEN SLAUGHTERED’
Ilan, the second armed escort, claimed the group was forced to walk slowly through the village “with people pressing at us from all sides. They tried to take our weapons from us, threw stones and they beat us with sticks,” Ilan said. “We would have been slaughtered on the spot.”
But Rabin told the Cabinet that according to the IDF’s debriefing, the Israeli youngsters were in the village for a considerable time, without armed escorts, and none was hurt. He said this told something of the mood of the village at the time. It turned nasty when villagers learned that Aldubi had killed a local Arab.
Aldubi himself was struck by rocks and hospitalized in serious condition.
The 26-year-old yeshiva student is reputedly one of the most extreme of the religious militant nationalists living in the West Bank. As a follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s racist Kach movement, he has had run-ins with the Israeli authorities in the past.
He and other yeshiva students opened fire last year on the Balata refugee camp, near Nabllus, leading to his exclusion from the region for six months. The ban, ordered by Gen. Amram Mitzna, commander of the central region, was the first use of such emergency powers against a Jewish citizen of Israel. Nevertheless, Aldubi continued to carry an army-issue rifle while the ban was in effect.
Police Minister Haim Barlev noted that the hike, through a tension-filled area, was not coordinated with the local military authorities.
The death of Tirza Porat brought impassioned demands from Jewish settlers for revenge and the expulsion of all Arabs from the West Bank. Shamir vowed at the funeral that “God will avenge her blood.”
But the IDF investigation seems to indicate the tragedy was not a clear-cut case, but rather the cumulative result of four months of Palestinian revolt against the Israeli presence in the territory, during which some 130 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with the IDF and armed Jewish settlers.
Shamir summed up the controversy by saying the IDF investigation should not be brought before the Cabinet until it is completed.
Israel’s Supreme Court issued an order Sunday barring the further demolition of houses in Beita village by the IDF, pending a court review of the events.
The high court acted at the request of the Civil Rights Association which claimed that new evidence sustains a different impression of what went on in Beita than the initial reports of last week.
So far about 14 houses, allegedly owned by Arabs who participated in the attack on the hikers, have been blown up or bull-dozed.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.