West Bank violence radicalizes Israelis
Jerusalem — The shootings of two Israelis in the occupied West Bank over the weekend are the latest signal that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is taking a new turn. Observers say the style of the attacks has personalized Palestinian violence against Israelis and heightened Jewish fears of Arabs. The violence has also radicalized Israel's leadership, particularly the right wing.
The death of one Israeli in Tulkarm and the serious wounding of another in Jenin have provoked new calls for stiff punishment of Palestinians and raised fears of a new, harsher form of conflict between Arabs and Jews.
A spate of similar attacks has left 12 Israelis dead in the last year, with four having been killed within the last month alone. Most of the killings have occurred in remote areas of Israel or in the teeming centers of Arab West Bank towns.
Much of the violence was apparently random, spontaneously carried out by Arab youths with no clear connection to a political or guerrilla organization.
On the popular level, Jewish fears found their harshest expression in anti-Arab rioting last month in the northern town of Afula and in growing support for Rabbi Meir Kahane.
A Knesset (parliament) member, Rabbi Kahane, advocates expulsion of all Arabs from Israel, the occupied West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. A recent poll showed his party would likely increase its strength in the 120-member Knesset from one to five seats in the next elections.
In a speech Sunday, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir of the rightist Likud bloc echoed both the anti-Arab fears and the desire for quick revenge.
The attacks ``should be seen as a threat to our existence,'' Mr. Shamir said. ``Wherever there is a terror attack, normal life must not be allowed to go on. In a place where Jews cannot live, where Jews cannot come and go peacefully, there will be neither peace, nor quiet, nor security for non-Jews. They must know that they stand to lose from every murder and terror action.''
As Shamir spoke, Israeli troops enforced curfews, conducted house-to-house searches in Jenin and Tulkarm, and closed the Jordan river bridges between the West Bank and Jordan to residents of the two towns.
Former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, also of Likud, called for harsher measures and charged that the government was not effectively implementing its policy of deportation and detention without trial of Palestinian activists.
Other right-wing politicians called for collective punishment against Arabs and increased Jewish settlement in the occupied territories.
The settlers have urged immediate extension of Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank.
Some observers warn that implemen-tation of such measures will only lead to a new spiral of mounting violence. They fear that an Israeli crackdown would play into the hands of Arab attackers.
Israel must not appear to be ``waging war on the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip,'' said the respected daily, Haaretz.
``Israel's interest is to frustrate those Arab elements who are gambling on harsher Israeli repression to persuade the Arabs that only by terror can they rid themselves of foreign ocupation.''
But even if the government resists the calls for further action, the polarization caused by prolonged occupation is bound to continue, analysts say.
The youthful age of many of the Arab attackers reflects the growing frustration of a generation of Palestinians born and bred under occupation. Their violence has brought Israel closer to the prospect of Arab civil rebellion, a long-cherished aim of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The random attacks also pose difficulties for Israel's security services, which are used to working against organized guerrilla cells that often take orders from headquarters in neighboring Arab countries.
The spontaneous violence and sharp Israeli reaction has led some observers to conclude that the battle between Jews and Arabs is rapidly taking on the contours of a total sectarian struggle. They note that beyond the vigilante, anti-Arab terrorism of Jewish settlers, the Arabs are also being fought on other fronts.
In recent weeks Israel's chief rabbis and religious educators have condemned organized meetings between Jewish and Arab youth, on grounds they would lead to intermarriage.
Earlier, the local council of the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron decided to fire its Arab employees, a decision later nullified by the Attorney General as illegal.
Some observers say these developments indicate that the Arab-Jewish conflict is no longer just an armed struggle, but a struggle for existence in all aspects of life.