The Aftermath: Israel focuses on a national nightmare: Violence of Jew against Jew

By Colleen Siegel Reuter
KIRYAT ARBA, West Bank -- Shock mingled with fear of civil war gripped Jewish settlers Sunday after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, allegedly by a fellow Jew.

At Kiryat Arba in the occupied West Bank, a teacher in the settlement's Nir Jewish seminary, said: "What happened last night, God forbid, could cause war between us, between Jews."

An expert on Israeli right-wing militant groups said the ideology which fostered hatred of Arabs and had its center in Kiryat Arba had finally overflowed in Saturday night's killing.

It had became what Israelis fear most: violence of Jew against Jew.

Kiryat Arba was the home of U.S.-born settler Baruch Goldstein who massacred 29 Arab worshipers in a mosque in nearby Hebron in February 1994 before survivors killed him.

"He (Rabin's assassin) murdered another Jew and we can't understand it. We can't justify it at all," said Rabbi Shimon Ben-Zion, the seminary teacher.

"That is what we told our students ... although everyone had a lot against the prime minister and felt he endangered us, endangered the nation and the Land of Israel," Ben-Zion said.

Hebrew University Professor Ehud Sprinzak, an expert on Jewish militant groups, said despite the town's shock, it was the ideology of many of its residents that had spawned the first assassination of an Israeli prime minister.

The suspected assassin is from near Tel Aviv, but the atmosphere in which he acted came from the West Bank, he said.

"There was a very clear process ... Rabin became almost fair game and it took place exactly where you are today (Kiryat Arba)," Sprinzak said.

Kiryat Arba is a main center of Kach, a Jewish supremacy group, founded by American-Israeli Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was shot to death in New York in 1990.

Sprinzak said all settlers had a great interest in not provoking the rest of Israel so soon after Rabin's death.

"The Israeli people are not going to forgive the groups or ideologies that identify with killing Rabin," Sprinzak said.

Kiryat Arba is a fortified enclave of 4,000 people abutting Hebron, home to more than 100,000 Palestinians in the West Bank.

The town's small park is named after Kahane. At its center is Goldstein's well-tended grave-turned-shrine.

A young couple prayed at Goldstein's grave -- a tomb on a plaza complete with street lamps -- Sunday afternoon. Shortly after they departed, a teen-age girl came to pay her respects.

Sprinzak said Kahane had always admonished against shedding Jewish blood but there were Kach members ready to "cross the line."

"First you have Kach, which can lead to no borders. Then (more moderate) organizations come up with posters of Rabin with blood on his hands and talked of putting Rabin on trial. This is how you create an atmosphere," he said.

One 11-year-old boy said people in Kiryat Arba had not wanted a Jew to die.

"On the other hand, punishment was coming to him, not death, but punishment because he was endangering us with this peace," he said.


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