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Violent Rioting in Hebron Breaks a Day of Eerie Calm

March 11, 1988
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The relative calm that has prevailed in this ancient city during three months of Arab unrest elsewhere in the West Bank was violently broken Wednesday night by the worst rioting since this largely Arab town was captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

At least three Arabs were wounded in clashes that may have been triggered by militant Jewish settlers in Hebron and from the neighboring Jewish township of Kiryat Arba.

Jewish residents of Hebron claimed they prevented an Arab mob from committing another massacre of Jews, such as the one in 1929, when Jewish residents were driven from the town.

But a senior Israel Defense Force officer said the rioting was aimed at soldiers only, not at Jewish civilian centers.

The eruption of violence climaxed a week of rising tension between settlers and the Arab populace. On Sunday, several Arab cars in Hebron and Bethlehem were vandalized by settlers. Settlers also allegedly burned an Arab bus.

According to the settlers, thousands of Arabs on Wednesday approached the Hadassah building and the Avraham Avinu synagogue in the center of town, where Orthodox Jews established an enclave some years ago on property they say belonged to Jews who were driven from Hebron nearly 60 years before.


The settlers claimed the Arabs also tried to attack the Jewish settlement of Tel Rumeida, overlooking Hebron, throwing stones and shouting, “Kill the Jews, let’s get them.” The settlers say the attackers were firing into the air and stoning them. Jewish reinforcements were rushed from Kiryat Arba.

According to the army, Arab rioters took to the streets armed with Molotov cocktails, stones and iron bars. The skirmishes lasted for two hours until troops dispersed the rioters.

The outburst followed a day of almost ghostly calm in Hebron, where Arab residents locked themselves in their homes in observance of a total general strike to mark the beginning of the fourth month of the Arab uprising.

The scene there was in sharp contrast to continuing disturbances in the rest of the administered territories and had Israelis expressing wonder why Hebron, a hotbed of Palestinian nationalism and Islamic religious zeal, chose to strike rather than demonstrate.

Hebron until Wednesday night was the only major Arab population center not torn by serious disturbances. But Israeli authorities fear now that strife between Arabs and Jewish settlers will escalate, not only in Hebron, but elsewhere in the West Bank.

Earlier this week, Jews from Ariel, in the Samaria district, clashed with residents of neighboring Arab villages. Arabs from Biddu village, north of Jerusalem, have threatened the nearby Jewish settlement of Har Adar.

Knesset member Rabbi Haim Druckman, a leader of the militant faction of the National Religious Party, warned Thursday that “the Jewish settlers will rise up,” unless the army takes drastic measures to restore law and order.

But Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated flatly in a television interview Wednesday night that it would have been easier for the IDF to cope with the situation in the territories if there were no Jewish settlements there.

He said that in the present situation, the army must assign special forces to secure the roads to the settlements, which diminishes the IDF’s resources elsewhere. He said there was no magic remedy to restore calm in the territories.

Unrest also is growing in Arab villages inside Israel. An Israeli car was pelted with stones Thursday on the Afula-Nazareth road. Police arrested two suspects. Palestinian flags were raised and anti-Israel slogans were painted on walls in the Arab town of Umm el-Fahm.

Roadblocks were erected at the entrance to Sakhnin village, in lower Galilee. They were removed by police. No arrests were reported.

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