Whose West Bank? Jews, Arabs voice rival claims

"We must make the Arabs aware that they have to leave. . . . Anyone who thinks Jews and Arabs can coexist is kidding himself." The words are from Yossi Dayan, a prominent literary translator, Jewish nationalist, and Israeli West Bank settler. For ultranationalists such as Mr. Dayan, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin has become patsy, a fool, a traitor , or worse.

The only trusted allies of these Israelis are God, their Messiah, and each other.

There enemis: Anyone, Israeli or Arab, Jew or Gentile, who opposes their claim to Biblical Palestine, including the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River.

This inclues Mr. BEgin, who at home and abroad is considered by many to be a "hard-liner."

The ultranationalists are idealists in every fiber of their being.Like the Palestinians battling for the same chunk of land, they say they are ready to die for their ideals.

But with the June 2 bomb attacks on Palestinian mayors in the West Bank, anguished Israelis are increasingly asking a much more serious question: Are these extremists ready not only to die, but also to kill?

The answer to that question, if a still stymied Israeli government investigation of the bombings ever discovers it, could well lie inside the fenced confines and stark stone apartment blocks of Kiryat Arba. (Israeli radio reported late June 4 that Mr. Dayan had been detained.But it was not immediately clear whether this was in connection with the attack on the Palestinian mayors. Prime Minister Begin told this and several other American correspondents that the investigation of the attacks had as yet turned up no major leads.)

One of the largest and oldest of Israel's West Bank enclaves, Kiryat Arba overlooks the Arab town of Hebron, one of Judaism's four ancient holy cities and the burial site of its patriarchs. It is home to Mr. Dayan, cohort of American-born extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, and to Rabbi Moshe Levinger of the ultranationalist settlement movement, Gush emunim (Faith Bloc). Most Kiryat Arba residents are militant pro-Gush Emunim.

On May 2, exactly a month before the bomb attack on the mayors, Arab gunmen in Hebron killed an associate of Rabbi Kahane and five other Jews, caping excalated violence on both sides of the battle for control of the West Bank. Among the several thousand Israelis in Kiryat Arba, there was talk of violence, hatred, and revenge.

"I would gladly spend the rest of my life in jail if that is the price for revenge," one settler told a neighbor after the Hebron attack.

Days later, Rabbi Kahane told a news conference the Israeli government should recruit Jews to "throw bombs and grenades to kill Arabs." A week later, the government detained Rabbi Kahane instead, on what one Israeli newspaper termed suspicion that he, himself, was planning attacks against the WEst Bank's Palestinian Arab Majority.

Little wonder, then, that only hours after the bomb strikes that seriously injured two West Bank mayors, prominent Israelis bgan pointing accusing fingers at the small but vocal Kach (Jewish Defense League) political faction of the detained rabbi.

Other Israelis also cast suspicion on the Gush, a larger and less extreme group whose militants nevetheless had gone so far as to battle Israeli troops in a bid to resist Prime Minister Begin's pledge to give up Sinai settlements in return for peace with Egypt.

Did either group try to do in the mayors? "No," say Yossi Dayan and Rabbi Levinger. But. . . . "I'm sure this [attack] was done by good Jews," Mr. Dayan told a reporter the day of the bombing. "It would be a desecration in the name of God if we did not take revenge."

Rabbi Levinger noted that if some Gush Emunim supporters did turn out to be involved, "I would understand," adding that now, not only Jewish settlers "but the Arabs, too, will have to have guards."

Much of Kiryat Arba -- a full-fledged Jewish town with more housewives than rabbis, and more toddlers than either -- seems to share that opinion.

At least a few rebel at the prospect that Jews might be found responsible for the attacks on the mayors.

"No man with any human feelings can be happy about injury to another," said one bearded settler with a skullcap attesting to his orthodoxy. "The Bible says. "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice.'"

Yet for may more, such distinctions seem to have become blurred amid increased opposion even within Israel to Jewish extremism on the WEst Bank.

"We are in a life-and-death struggle," says one young woman, slicing at the air for emphasis.She says the same criticisms being directed against Israeli settlements on the West Bank could theoretically apply to cities inside Israel proper -- in the sense that Arabs also had predominated there beofre the large- scale Jewish immigration that culminated in the birth of Israel in 1948.

"If we do not live here, in Kiryat Arba, no [Jew] will be able to live in Tel Aviv," she says. "The Arabs want if all."

But increasingly -- and to a chorus of increasing opposition within Israel -- the extremists include among their enemies not only Arabs, but also fellow jews.

Mr. Begin, who for decades before becoming Prime Minister had advocated full Israeli control of the West Bank, now is seen in Kiryat Arba as a weakling and a "stupid fool," in the words of one resident.

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