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The Washington Post/International
The Guardian Weekly Volume 156 Issue 5 for week ending February 2, 1997, Page 17

Ending a One-Sided View of Violence

It's about time we stopped pretending that Israel's extremists are crazy, writes Marda Dunsky


With another bloody scenario played out in Hebron recently, it may seem comforting to know that the shooting spree of off-duty Israeli soldier Noam Friedman was the deed of a man with a history of psychiatric problems. After all, no one in his right mind would open fire in a crowded market, as did Friedman, wounding six Palestinians in his own personal bid to halt the peace process as an agreement on Israeli troop withdrawal from Hebron appeared to be drawing near.

Friedman now takes his place alongside Yigal Amir, the assassin of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin -- and also a onetime seminarian -- and Baruch Goldstein, the settler who killed dozens of Palestinians praying in Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994 with an army-issued semiautomatic weapon.

These three shared the belief that any political process that aims to give away that which has been divinely given to the Jewish people should be stopped dead in its tracks.

This triumvirate, though, ought to force reconsideration of the widely held perception that Jewish terrorists commit random, individual acts, while Palestinian Arab terrorists are members of massive, well-structured and well-financed organizations.

The mind-set that categorizes Noam Friedman simply as a crazed individual obscures the fact that the ingredients for terrorism -- ideology, organization, funding and willingness to commit violence against civilians -- are present in the ranks of Jewish and Arab extremists alike.

It also ignores the fact that the settlers, from whose ranks Friedman, Amir and Goldstein emerged, enjoy state support, both financial and moral. Indeed, the settlement policies of the Netanyahu government are provoking and sustaining a cycle of bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians -- with dangerous spillover effects throughout the region, including increased risks for Americans.

Relations between Israel and her two Arab peace partners, Egypt and Jordan, have cooled considerably since Binyamin Netanyahu's election in May last year. Syria and Israel are now trading accusations that the other is preparing for war -- with increased troop movements and buildups by both sides in the Golan Heights as well as in south Lebanon. And it is not unlikely that Islamic fundamentalists active in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle east are inspired to hit American targets by continuing evidence of unmitigated U.S. support for a hard-line, provocative Israeli government.

The perception of Israel's moral superiority is so entrenched, at least in the United States, that comparing the violent settlers with bus bombers of Hamas may seem unthinkable to some. But the history of settler violence shows that the fears of Arab Hebronites for their safety in the mosque and the marketplace are as legitimate as those of Jewish bus riders in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

In May 1990, a 21-year-old gunman named Ami Popper fired an assault rifle at a group of Palestinian workers from Gaza waiting for transport near the town of Rishon Le-Zion, southeast of Tel Aviv. The attack left seven people dead and 10 others wounded. Immediately after the incident, authorities described him as "deranged." At the time, his attorney argued that Popper was suffering from post-traumatic stress, but psychiatrists who examined Popper found him fit to stand trial, and he was sentenced to seven life terms.

Before that there was the notorious Jewish settler underground, 27 members of which were convicted in 1985 for crimes including conspiracy to blow up Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock Mosque, the placing of bombs on Arab buses and the maiming of two Palestinian mayors in the West Bank. When they received relatively light sentences -- ranging from four months to 10 years -- Yitzhak Shamir, then foreign minister, characterized the convicts as "excellent boys who erred" and recommended that they be pardoned.

U.S. Mideast envoy Dennis Ross did yeoman's service in helping Israeli and Palestinian negotiators close a deal on the pullout of Israeli forces from Hebron, which was complicated by linkage to the wider terms of the Oslo accords. But such an accomplishment is contradicted by an overall U.S. policy that does not seriously challenge Netanyahu on the settlement issue. Just as Yasser Arafat is obliged to rein in Palestinian extremists, Netanyahu should not be given carte blanche to allow a climate of Jewish extremism to flourish.

In a telling move recently, eight former high-ranking American diplomatic and policy officials including James Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance saw fit to send Netanyahu a letter chastising him -- albeit in diplomatic language -- for endangering the peace process with his policy on settlements.

Evidence of that danger is abundant. The call-and-response pattern of violence played out repeatedly by Israelis and Palestinians is often sparked by announcements of provocative policy. This was the case in December, when Palestinian gunmen attacked a West Bank settler family, killing two and wounding five a day after the Israeli government approved plans for a new Jewish housing development inside an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Cause and effect also were apparent in September, when Arab sensibilities about Jerusalem were similarly ignored with the opening of a tunnel near the Islamic holy sites on the Temple Mount; a four-day shooting war in the West Bank ensued.

Netanyahu's pro-settler stance has even had a ripple effect from within. Late last year 200,000 striking Israeli workers protested the prime minister's announcement that he intends to raise taxes and cut social spending -- this against the background of a Labor Party estimate that government subsidies to the Jewish settlements -- inhabited by just 140,000 people -- cost Israeli taxpayers $300 million a year.

Ultimately, the peace process may depend in part on changing our way of seeing. We should not be comforted by allowing ourselves to regard Noam Friedman et al as disturbed individuals who have gone astray. They should be seen for what they are: symptoms of a larger and much more destructive phenomenon.

© 1996 The Washington Post Co. The Guardian Weekly Volume 156 Issue 5 for week ending February 2, 1997, Page 17

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