Arabs Blamed but Israelis Criticized in Girl's Death

Times Staff Writer

An Israeli teen-ager killed in the West Bank Arab village of Beita three weeks ago was accidentally shot to death by an Israeli guard who had previously exacerbated tensions with the villagers through negligence, recklessness and "superfluous hastiness" in firing his weapon, according to an official army report released here Wednesday.

The report was also sharply critical of the organizer of the outing during which Tirza Porat, 15, was slain and many of her 15 teen-age companions injured. It said he violated standing orders in the occupied territories that such hikes must be coordinated with the army.

Still, according to the report, the primary blame for the controversial incident lies with the local Arabs who initiated it by throwing stones at the hikers and their two armed guards from the nearby West Bank Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh.

In volatile situations such as existed in and around Beita at the time of the April 6 killing, said Col. Raanan Gissin, deputy army spokesman, "the responsibility lies with the one that puts the match to the brush." In this case, he added, that was the Arabs.

A condensed version of the long-awaited army report, some of which had already been selectively leaked to the press, was distributed at a Jerusalem press conference Wednesday, within hours of the full report's submission to senior government ministers at an Inner Cabinet meeting.

Separately, Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, army commander of the West Bank, gave copies of the report to leaders of the Jewish settlement movement, who had previously complained bitterly that the military was trying to shift blame in the affair from the Arabs to the settlers.

Israel Radio reported Wednesday night that the settlement leaders expressed their satisfaction with the final draft because it placed the primary blame on "the motivation and aggression evinced by the local Arabs and their readiness to harm a group of Jewish hikers."

However, a leftist member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) demanded that the organizer of the ill-fated hike be indicted, and the Peace Now movement advocated a further government inquiry into the settlers' culpability.

The army has already destroyed 14 homes in the village belonging to Arabs it accuses of playing leading roles in the April 6 clash, and six alleged inciters from Beita were deported last week.

The incident caused an uproar here when it was initially reported that the girl had been stoned to death by enraged Beita residents after two other villagers were shot to death and two more wounded by one of the hikers' Israeli guards. The guard, Romam Aldubi, was also severely injured in the incident and reportedly is still semiconscious in a hospital.

About 3,000 angry mourners, including leading right-wing Israeli politicians and militant Jewish settlers, turned the girl's funeral the next day into a political demonstration for tougher measures against Arab protesters.

"The blood of the whole nation is boiling!" Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told the funeral gathering.

Suffered Only Bullet Wound

But later that day, senior Israeli sources confirmed that a preliminary army investigation had shown that Porat was shot in the head, apparently by Aldubi. And the final report notes that "except for the bullet wound, no other wound was found in her head or body."

Some of Porat's hiking companions later asserted that she was shot by an unidentified Arab they said fired at the group with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle from a rooftop in the village. But the army said, "The possibility that an additional weapon was used against the hikers . . . was not proven." And it said that "no supporting evidence was found" to indicate that any Arab villagers fired the weapons they ultimately wrested from Aldubi and a second Israeli guard accompanying the youths.

The report also "ruled out" claims by several of the hikers that a grenade or other explosive device was hurled at them during the Beita clash.

Based on interrogations of the hikers, "dozens" of village residents, and a reconstruction of the events, the army report gave its account of the incident.

Sixteen teen-age hikers from Elon Moreh set out on an all-day hike accompanied by Aldubi, 26, and Menahem Ilan, 55, the initiator and planner of the outing.

Known as an Extremist

Aldubi is widely known as an extremist among the West Bank Jewish settlers. Last May, Mitzna officially banned him from Nablus for six months after Aldubi repeatedly caused disturbances in the Palestinian city.

Ilan was convicted in 1984 of destroying evidence and obstructing justice in connection with the killing of an 11-year-old Nablus girl the year before by an Elon Moreh settler. He pleaded guilty to switching the barrel and bolt of a gun used in the incident and served a three-month sentence in community work.

No attempt was made to coordinate the outing either with the army or the security coordinator at Elon Moreh, according to the report.

Trouble began when the hikers stopped for breakfast at a well east of Beita. "During this stage, a statement was made on the mosque loudspeakers in the village of Beita warning of the approach of settlers," the report notes, and dozens of Arabs began to gather near the Israelis. "A few threw rocks and provoked the hikers."

Aldubi walked toward the stone throwers and fired several warning shots from an Uzi submachine gun, prompting a dispute with Ilan, who objected to the use of weapons except in emergency situations.

Arabs Gathered on Hills

As the hikers continued down a dry ravine, up to 200 Arabs gathered on the surrounding hills, and the first Israeli teen-ager was hurt by a rock. Ilan again warned Aldubi against using his weapon, and "against this background, they apparently engaged in a verbal and physical confrontation."

The two men exchanged weapons for unexplained reasons, with Aldubi handing over the Uzi in exchange for Ilan's M-16. And sometime later, Aldubi fired what the report calls a "warning shot" that nevertheless killed Musa Sallah Daud, who was on a hillside about 50 yards away.

Subsequently, Aldubi got into "a dispute" with another Arab resident, who at some point tried to grab the guard's weapon. "Aldubi took several steps backward, fired at the local resident (Tasir Sallah Adili), wounding him in the stomach."

At that point, the residents surrounded the hikers and "forced (them) to walk in the direction of the village of Beita while threatening and provoking them, albeit without employing physical violence." Some villagers said the hikers would be safe so long as they cooperated, according to spokesman Gissin.

In the village the group was surrounded by still more Arabs. The hikers formed a protective circle around Aldubi as they walked so that villagers could not grab his weapon.

Monira Daud, the sister of the resident already slain on the hillside by Aldubi and wife of the man he wounded, threw a rock, and "afterward a mass riot began, including an attack on the hikers."

2nd Palestinian Killed

Aldubi fired his M-16 at least twice during the clash in the village center, the army report says. "In an instinctive reaction after he was injured by a rock thrown at his head, Aldubi fired several bullets while turning around." Later, it adds, "several bullets were fired during a struggle over Aldubi's weapon." A Palestinian was killed and one wounded by the gunfire.

However, according to the report, "the conclusion may be drawn from the testimony and findings that Porat was shot by Aldubi's gun, apparently after he reacted instinctively to the rock thrown at his head."

After the rock was thrown at Aldubi, the report adds, "dozens of village residents attacked the group as hundreds of others surrounding the site contributed to the frenzied emotions by making inciting calls and throwing rocks."

Contrary to earlier suggestions that a significant number of villagers had tried to protect the hikers, the final army report concludes: "Few of the village residents (up to 10) took an active part in the attempts to calm emotions, provide rescue assistance and medical help to the hikers."

While blaming the villagers for starting the trouble, the three-point summary also states that "planning and coordination of the hike in accordance with regulations would have prevented the incident and its tragic outcome."

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