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Grief Wars With Bitterness Among West Bank Settlers : Reaction: The words <i> brother </i> and <i> betrayer </i> both crop up in talk of slain premier. Even children are conflicted.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An hour’s drive north of Jerusalem, in the West Bank territory where Yitzhak Rabin enraged thousands of Jewish settlers by seeking peace with the PLO--perhaps to bargain away their neighborhoods--mourning is a subtle exercise.

Speaking of the prime minister who was slain Saturday by a Jewish law student, men use the words brother and betrayer in close proximity, and eighth-graders can’t agree on whether they should feel entirely sad.

“No one can argue that the deed isn’t terrible,” Jay Shapiro, a contract-negotiation specialist who came with his family to Israel from the United States 26 years ago, said Sunday. “Political killing? Unacceptable. At the first level, nobody can be happy [about the killing].

“But let’s go one step above that: What is the atmosphere in which this happened? The government’s attitude toward those who don’t agree with it is disparaging. . . . If there was anyone who fostered an atmosphere of verbal political violence, it was Rabin.”

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Shapiro’s family is among the 1,300 in the Jewish settlement of Karnei Shomron. His street is a pleasant suburban block that would not look out of place in Thousand Oaks. But his 49-year lease is on land beyond the Green Line that marks Israel’s pre-1967 border.

Shapiro worries about animosity in the far less affluent Palestinian village of Kafr Laqif, which lies just a few hundred yards away. He worries even more about the larger Palestinian town of Kalqilya a few miles to the west, where cars belonging to Jews are often greeted with a hail of rocks. It is not much consolation that the government subsidizes the plastic coverings that protect Shapiro’s car windows from stonings.

Karnei Shomron, surrounded by olive trees and barren hills, lies in an area where confessed assassin Yigal Amir is said to have spent time over the summer, joining other students to encourage further Jewish settlement. Neither Shapiro nor his neighbor Haim Spring can recall encountering the 27-year-old Amir, and they say his actions could undermine their cause by making a martyr of Rabin.

But like many of the roughly 120,000 Jewish settlers on about 130 West Bank sites, they have bitterly fought Rabin’s compromises with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the much-celebrated 1993 peace accord.

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Seated Sunday in Spring’s handsome, book-lined study--Spring’s profession is bookbinding--the two lamented the outburst of violence and recalled their whereabouts in the United States on the November day 32 years ago when John F. Kennedy was shot.

Then they outlined the very different circumstances surrounding this killing. They traced a long list of reasons for their loss of faith in Rabin, their participation in demonstrations against him.

“People feel betrayed,” said Shapiro.

“The truth of the matter,” Spring added, “is that our lives are threatened every single day as we come and go. . . . Under such circumstances, don’t expect everyone to say, ‘Rah, rah, democracy, a terrible thing has happened.’ ”

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Nor should one expect, in the West Bank, that ambivalence is reserved for adults only.

Twelve-year-old Natan Spero, on his way home from school Sunday afternoon, reported that in class, “We talked about our prime minister getting shot. Everyone is upset that a Jew had to kill a Jew. But, forgetting how he died, some are glad. He was, like, giving away the country.”

In his eighth-grade class, Natan said, “30% are glad, and the rest aren’t.” He counted himself among the glad, despite the disagreement of his good friend Eran Blomberg, 14.

“I just think everything is going to get worse,” said Eran.

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Several blocks away, on a street lined with duplexes occupied mostly by Israeli-born Jews, a dazed and troubled young mother, Shefi David, offered a similar view.

“This is not what we need right now in the country,” she said, speaking through a translator, as she cradled the youngest of her three children in her arms while other youngsters chased past on bicycles, tricycles and skates. “The people who take Rabin’s place--who knows what they’ll do?”

In the government office where she works as a secretary, David said, one woman, a social worker, had sat quietly all day, resisting conversation.

When she finally spoke, it was to grope, out loud, for a proper way to think of her prime minister’s assassination.

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“Maybe,” the woman said to David, “it’s from God.”


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