Israel Will Detain Extremist Jewish Leaders, Seize Arms : Mideast: In reaction to the massacre of Palestinians at Hebron, Cabinet orders security measures similar to those used against Palestinians. Arafat calls the actions ‘hollow and superficial.’
The Israeli government, shocked by last week’s massacre of 48 Palestinians by an Israeli settler, Sunday ordered the detention of extremist Jewish leaders in the occupied West Bank and the confiscation of their followers’ weapons.
In actions unprecedented since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, the Cabinet directed military commanders to apply to “radical elements among Israeli residents” of the region many of the same Draconian security measures that have been used against Palestinians there.
“We have taken these decisions knowing our responsibilities under international law and under our own laws for the well-being of all residents of the territory,” Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared, saying the army would arrest and hold in preventive detention those believed to be a threat to security.
Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat dismissed the moves as “hollow and superficial.”
“These are empty decisions which have no relation with the seriousness of the crime or with the basis of resolving it,” said Arafat, who was in Tunis, Tunisia, to meet with Palestinian negotiators and determine the conditions under which the PLO would return to the peace table.
But the U.S. State Department praised the Israeli Cabinet’s actions, calling them “an important step toward assuring the security of Palestinians and in preventing the recurrence of such horrific acts of violence in the future.”
The Cabinet’s decision, made after a heated debate, permits military commanders to bar Israelis from the West Bank or to restrict their activities there. The ministers also called for “the disarmament of specific individuals” among the settlers.
In addition, the Cabinet ordered a state inquiry into the massacre. And it directed Atty. Gen. Michael Ben Yair to lay the legal groundwork for the outright banning of Kach, an extremist movement that seeks to drive all Arabs from the biblical land of Israel, and similar groups.
Baruch Goldstein, the settler who carried out the massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron on Friday, was a prominent member of Kach, an Israeli offshoot of the Jewish Defense League founded in the United States by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
The Cabinet decisions constitute “a fundamental shift, a real turning point” in the government’s relationship with the settler movement, according to a senior official who was present.
“There was a conviction that these people, and not just the most wild-eyed among the settlers, can bring disaster down upon the whole Jewish nation if they go too far, and the government must act decisively, here and now, to control things,” the official said.
“The detention of the extremists, the restrictions on their supporters, the disarming of some of them and probably the banning of the most radical groups--all this is very strong symbolism for Israelis. It is the loss of legitimacy for the settlers, and probably the beginning of the end of the settlement movement.”
Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom, the military commander of the West Bank, immediately ordered the detention without trial of five leaders of the Kach movement for three months. The national Itim news agency said two of the Kach activists were already detained. Two of the three who remained at large appeared on national television to mock the authorities.
About 30 more activists from Kach and its allied groups will be served with restriction orders, officials said.
“So far, we know he did it on his own,” Rabin said of Goldstein, who was beaten to death by worshipers who survived his fusillade during early morning prayers at the Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron on Friday. “But I am ashamed about others who came up and publicly supported his act. . . .
“Goldstein tried not only to kill innocent Palestinians while they were praying in a holy place,” Rabin added, “but he joined Hamas and Islamic Jihad (Palestinian radicals) in their common purpose of killing the peace negotiations.”
In an effort to quell the Arab anger over the Hebron massacre, the Cabinet moved up by 10 days the release of 800 to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who were to be freed in a traditional goodwill gesture marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former general who had called for tough measures to curb settler violence, said that extremists had to be prevented from using “their own brand of terrorism” to undermine peace talks with the Palestinians.
“The government is determined to reinforce and to speed the peace negotiations, and hopefully this will happen this week,” Ben-Eliezer said.
The United States has invited Israel and the PLO to Washington this week to resume negotiations on Israeli withdrawal from Jericho in the West Bank and from the Gaza Strip. But the PLO has indicated the talks may be delayed.
The Hebron massacre also had repercussions for the broader Mideast peace process, as negotiators from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, acting in solidarity with the PLO, on Sunday withdrew their negotiators from separate talks with Israel.
Israeli President Ezer Weizman, paying his condolences in Hebron on Sunday, appealed to Palestinian leaders there not to allow the desire for revenge to overtake efforts to implement a peace agreement.
“We should, all Arabs and Israelis, show enough wisdom to control the situation and go forward to a better life,” Weizman told Hebron’s elders.
Although some ministers from the leftist Meretz Party wanted to go even further in the crackdown on Kach and similar groups, Rabin rejected demands for removing Israeli settlers entirely from Hebron, Kiryat Arba and other Palestinian population centers.
“The whole idea was that a series of decisions were taken that will allow . . . the security forces and the legal authorities to do whatever is needed to achieve security for both Jewish and Arab people in the territories,” Industry Minister Micha Harish said.
The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the leading settlers group, criticized the government decisions as “punishing Israeli citizens without a trial” and putting some settlers at greater risk in the West Bank and Gaza by confiscating their weapons.
“The pain and sorrow caused by Friday’s attack do not warrant the endangering of the lives of all the Jewish residents due to the actions of one man,” the group said. “Making people more vulnerable is no way to calm the situation.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party, supported the crackdown on the extremists. “They should be dealt with swiftly and very, very harshly,” he said, adding that “the overwhelming majority of settlers have acted very responsibly” in the face of terrorist attacks against them.
The Assn. for Civil Rights in Israel, the country’s leading human rights group, said the government had a duty to deter terrorism but described preventive detention as “a particularly severe measure” and urged that lesser measures, such as house arrest, be used where possible.
Violent protests continued Sunday through much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and spread further within Israel. Four Palestinians were reported killed in clashes with troops, and an Israeli Arab was shot dead by police during rioting in the town of Rahat.
In Hebron, about 2,000 Palestinians tried to enter the mosque where the massacre occurred, but were turned back by troops. The Cabinet ordered the mosque and the synagogue at the Cave of the Patriarchs closed until new security measures are worked out.
Times researchers Dianna M. Cahn and Emily L. Hauser in Jerusalem contributed to this story.