Hardly had nerves calmed from a weekend of communal violence in Israel than emotions were inflamed again Wednesday by the fatal stabbing of an Israeli rabbi in the Gaza Strip and the shooting of a Palestinian woman in the West Bank.
The violence comes within a context of intense political jockeying as the Israeli election campaign approaches its final weeks. Both Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of the rightist Likud Party and his chief rival, Yitzhak Rabin of the center-left Labor Party, called for a crackdown on armed Arabs. Far-right politicians demanded that the Gaza Strip be sealed off, and leftists campaigned for an end to the intense government-led settlement drive in the occupied lands.
In the morning, a 19-year-old Palestinian knifed Rabbi Shimon Biran in the heart outside the Kfar Darom settlement in the southern Gaza Strip. Soldiers at the gate of the settlement shot and wounded the assailant, who was also sideswiped by a car driven by civilians.
Biran, 32, described as the spiritual leader of the settlement, was the second Israeli knife victim in the past three days. The killing of a 15-year-old girl near Tel Aviv set off anti-Arab rioting in her hometown of Bat Yam that continued into early Tuesday morning.
After Biran was slain, residents of Kfar Darom besieged a Palestinian school, and the students were escorted to safety by soldiers. The settlers also burned Palestinian crops and beat up two Arabs and an Israeli photographer.
In Janin, a town in the northern West Bank, a 50-year-old Palestinian woman was shot to death after Palestinians stoned a troop bus. Reports differed as to who killed her--Arab reporters quoted witnesses as saying she was shot by soldiers aboard the bus, but Israel Radio said she was shot by masked Palestinians. West Bank merchants closed down their shops to protest the killing.
The recent violence--also including a Sunday shootout that left three Palestinians and an Israeli soldier dead--has caused observers to wonder what effect events might have on voters and how the candidates might exploit fear for their own advantage.
No political trend is yet clear. On Sunday, Shamir told his Cabinet that he could "understand" why Israeli citizens might take the law into their own hands and said no one would be prosecuted for acting in "self-defense." However, his justice minister cautioned against vigilantism.
Rabin called the Bat Yam stabbing "inconceivable" but made no suggestions as to how such incidents might be headed off.
Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini took the unusual step of condemning the stabbing of the 15-year-old girl. In a press conference, he said that unless Palestinians repudiate such attacks, they cannot call on the world to condemn Israeli killings of Palestinians.