Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Tragedy in Village of Beita Pitting Settleers Against Army

April 12, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The tragic events last week in the West Bank village of Beita have further polarized opinion in Israel over how to deal with Palestinian unrest in the administered territories.

If anything, attitudes have hardened since the revelation over the weekend that 15-year-old Tirza Porat of Eilon Moreh, alleged to have been stoned to death April 6 by an Arab mob, was actually killed by a bullet fired in panic by an armed Jewish settler, Romam Aldubi.

The cause of her death was determined by autopsy and a reconstruction of the incident by Israel Defense Force investigators. This has turned militant Jewish settlers and their political allies fiercely against the army. They no longer can claim with much credibility that young Tirza was a martyr to Arab hatred and violence.

Revelations about the actual cause of death have not changed the minds of those dedicated to a Greater Israel, encompassing all of its biblical territory, in which there is no room for hostile Arabs.

On the other hand, Israelis who believe that only compromise can end four months of bloodshed between Arabs and Jews see the Beita incident as yet another case to pointing to the dangers inherent in Israel’s continued control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Some advocates of compromise believe Porat’s death could have been avoided had she and 15 other Jewish teen-age settlers not gone on a Passover hike in an Arab-populated area, at a time of severe tension. They noted that the group did not coordinate its plans with the IDF and that it was escorted by two militant adult settlers, both armed.

But Shoshana Illan insists the youngsters had a perfect right to go on the outing near their home. Illan’s husband, Menahem, was one of the armed escorts. He and their daughter were both injured by rocks.

“My daughter traveled at her home. She didn’t go to other areas,” the woman said. “If our children cannot travel where they live, that’s bad.”

But according to David Lanir, a Jerusalem student, “the controversy over the responsibility of the hikers in the affair is off target. The real controversy should have been about the tough measures taken against the villagers” of Beita, he said, “because if these are punitive measures taken when the picture is not yet clear, God knows how the authorities will react when a similar event takes place and the Arabs are clearly at fault.”

The IDF has demolished 14 houses in Beita, but was ordered by Israel’s Supreme Court on Sunday to desist from further demolitions.


Many Israeli leaders and opinion-makers fear the most dangerous long-term consequence of the Beita affair is that it has involved the army in a political controversy with the Israeli right wing.

Zeev Schiff, military correspondent of Haaretz, wrote Monday that the IDF and extremists among the Jewish settlers are heading for an “inevitable confrontaton.” The IDF is not prepared to allow the settlers to determine the security needs in the territories, Schiff wrote.

“In their zeal to achieve their goals, they do not refrain from harming the IDF and do not perceive that by doing so, they are in effect aiding Israel’s enemies,”

President Chaim Herzog stepped into the dispute Sunday, warning that attempts to drag the IDF into the political arena “will bring catastrophe upon us.” He said, during a visit to Galilee, that attacks on the army were “very dangerous and must be guarded against at all costs.”

The settlers counter that more harm is being done to national security by the IDF’s failure to take harsher measures against the Arab population than by their own accusations. They have long taken the view that the security forces are not doing enough to protect them.

The settlers have already demanded that Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin fire the IDF chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron. Rabin has been attacked by ministers of Likud’s Herut wing for the army leak to the media of its preliminary finding that Porat died from a bullet, not stoning.

The situation is complicated by the fact that this is an election year in Israel. The Jerusalem Post stated in an editorial Monday: “True to its most deep-seated political sentiments and fearful of a hemorrhage of its voters to Tehiya and Kach, the Likud has been tagging along.


“Where the integrity of the land is involved, the party that currently holds the premiership apparently does not mind lending a helping hand to attacks on the army and what can only be termed a putschist attempt to take Israel’s democratic order by storm,” the English-language newspaper said.

Tehiya is an ultranationalist right-wing opposition party. Kach, is the extremist movement headed by Rabbi Meir Kahane. It advocates the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel and the administered territories. The party holding the premiership is Likud, headed by Yitzhak Shamir.

Ariel Sharon, the Likud-Herut minister of commerce and industry, proposed Sunday that in reaction to the Beita affair, the government should establish a new settlement near Nablus to be called Tirza, in memory of the slain teen-ager.

In addition, Sharon called for the evacuation of all Beita residents from their homes, except those found to have sheltered Jewish children, and a ban on further building in the village.

Recommended from JTA