Israelis Edgy as Arab Uprising Moves Into Their Back Yard

Times Staff Writer

Some of the volunteers in the search for missing soldier Ilan Saadon were hard-line anti-Arab political activists, some were dovish proponents of peace talks and some were there just because they sympathized with Saadon’s family.

But as they gathered Sunday to help the Israeli army search for the young soldier, all shared a worry coming into sharp focus nationwide: that the Arab uprising is crossing into Israel from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, threatening the well-being of Israelis who until now felt immune from the hard edge of unrest.

Demands are being heard to prohibit Arabs from entering Israel from the occupied land.

“The intifada is spreading inside Israel, and we have to do something to keep it from happening,” said Yael, a 40-year old advertising executive who joined the search with her teen-age son. She declined to disclose her last name.


“We are too lax letting the Palestinians into Israel,” added Shmuel Kahane, 64, a retired factory worker who was among 300 Israelis who joined the search in south coastal Israel. “We have to let them know that if this kind of thing occurs, we can shut the border and stop them from working here.”

Saadon has been missing since May 3 and is feared to have been killed by Palestinians who posed as Jewish Israelis and picked him up at a hitchhiking station. Police have already found an abandoned car with blood stains inside.

The suspected kidnaping occurred just four days before the body of another soldier, Sgt. Avi Sasportas, was found buried in a shallow grave, a fatal bullet wound in his head. Sasportas had disappeared in mid-February, when he, like Saadon, accepted a ride with strangers. Israeli soldiers commonly hitch rides to get from post to home and back.

The questions of exactly who might have killed the soldiers and why have been swallowed up by a flurry of demands to stop anti-Israeli violence from penetrating Israel. The surge has been fed by a series of killings by Arabs inside Israel during the past month: the fatal stabbings of two Israelis on the streets of Jerusalem; the murder of a 13-year-old boy in Tel Aviv by a child rapist; the discovery of Sasportas’ body, and the disappearance and probable death of Saadon.

In an editorial that reflected the sudden apprehension, the independent newspaper Yediot Aharonot said: “Now we know, or should know, that we are at war, an ugly war in which our enemies do not recognize the Geneva Convention or any other human law. You do not search for political solutions in wartime; first you strike at the enemy.”

In some places, the killings of Israelis have unleashed ugly scenes of anti-Arab rage. After the Jerusalem stabbings, mobs roamed downtown streets looking for Arabs to lynch. After the Sasportas funeral last week in coastal Ashdod, his hometown, gangs searched for Arab workers who, in turn, had to be escorted out of town by police.


In Ashkelon, where Ilan Saadon lived, Israeli youths have lined up along the highway to stone Arab cars on their way to and from the nearby Gaza Strip.

Politicians who favor expelling all Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza Strip used the occasion to promote their views. “Let’s replace rubber and plastic bullets with live ammunition and kill any inciter and rioter,” said Avi Farhan, a member of the Techiya Party.

The anger has spilled into mainstream politics. After the Jerusalem stabbings, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir urged Israelis to make sure that no Arab escaped unharmed if he attacked someone. His aides later said that the prime minister meant only that citizens should assist the police.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin is under fire for having failed so far to quash the Arab uprising. In apparent response to the criticism, he has warned Arabs that if they do not accept elections as a step toward ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the army will crack down harder.

Moshe Katsav, the transport minister and a member of Shamir’s rightist Likud Party, called for Gaza Strip Palestinians to be barred from Israel for three months.

Israeli peace proponents are also under attack. Dedi Zucker, a leftist politician whose political party has been instrumental in uncovering cases of military abuse in the West Bank and Gaza was shouted down before he could make a speech at a military cemetery during Independence Day ceremonies.


Volunteer Kahane backs a small political party that favors annexing the West Bank and Gaza Strip and expelling masses of Arabs to neighboring countries.

“We can’t have a situation where Arabs come in here and make money while we are afraid to move,” he said.

Yael, the ad executive, thinks that quick peace talks would serve best to end the killing. “But in the meantime, we have to show that we are united. The uprising can’t be allowed into our homes.”

No traces of Ilan Saadon were found Sunday.