Hebron cauldron is at the boiling point
The Jerusalem Post

March 13, 2003

"When the rest of Palestine is on fire, Hebron is calm. When the rest of Palestine is quiet, Hebron explodes," Rafik, a wizened 60-year-old Hebron resident told The Jerusalem Post last April.
That was during a period of distinct quiet in the city.

Now much of the West Bank is relatively quiet and Hebron appears to be a cauldron that could soon bubble over. Attacks in the area have killed 25 in the space of four months.

The violence this time could come from the Jewish community, which has issued lightly veiled threats of revenge.

If the army and the government fail to respond to terrorist attacks "with the proper force," said community spokesman David Wilder, "it is possible that someone will try to fill that vacuum."

This statement, and others like it, come almost nine years to the day after Dr. Baruch Goldstein stepped into the Tomb of the Patriarchs and shot dead 26 worshipers.

While Wilder said the community rejects "all unnecessary violence," he added that its leaders are "thinking of responses" to the Friday night murder of Eli and Dina Horowitz in Kiryat Arba and Monday's killing of St.-Sgt. Tomer Ron in Hebron.

In some places, the threats are not at all veiled.
Along the Erez pathway dedicated to a yeshiva student stabbed to death alongside its ancient ruins, almost every flat surface is spray-painted with the words "Death to the Arabs," or "Burn the Arabs."

In addition, the symbol of the banned Kach movement is becoming ubiquitous. A Jewish terrorist cell that has been dormant for the past six months was credited for the killing of 10 Palestinians.

"The police and the security forces are doing their utmost to prevent the harming of civilians," read a police statement, in response to rumors that the dormant cell might have been reactivated.

An IDF source said the Hebron sector is the most complex in the West Bank. With some 200,000 Palestinians and about 800 Jews living within "spitting distance," he said, "we spend as much time ensuring that the settlers act within the limits of the law as trying to prevent terror."

While the army has arrested 111 wanted men in the past four months, the city's Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders Abdullah Kawasmeh, Ahmed Bader, Muhammad Sider, and Diab Shweiki remain at large.

Wilder asserted that the army has reacted too weakly in the past, inviting terrorists and their supporters to gain strength from what they perceive as Israel's inaction.

Many in Hebron hold the IDF partially responsible for Ron's death. He was killed from the very same building as two other soldiers in January. Trying to minimize disruption to civilian life, the IDF demolished half the building used as the sniper's perch but preserved the rest.

The community is clamoring for the right to accelerate settlement, especially in the Wadi Nassara neighborhood, where Col. Dror Weinberg and 11 others were killed in a November ambush.

"The settlement endeavor in the area is one of the best ways to provide security," said Wilder, who also noted the community's chronic housing shortage.

Furthermore, entire clans whose members were involved in terrorist attacks should be exiled, "and I don't mean to Gaza," he said.

The community is also calling for the use of the Erez pathway as a protected link between Kiryat Arba and Hebron. But there is a price for such security: The area, settled by a handful of Palestinian families, is littered with rubble and crumbling arches and domes, all of which must be bulldozed to clear a protected path.

Despite the settlers' claims, the IDF's activities in the area do have an effect. According to Palestinian sources, the housing demolitions have engendered such fear in locals that many have fled to what they consider the safer section of the city.

Amer Jabber, a resident of the Israeli-held section officially known as H2, said many of his cousins have fled.

"There is constant curfew, constant intrusions of the soldiers," he said. For the past several weekends, soldiers have been commandeering his third-story apartment, which has an unobstructed view of Worshipers' Way.

Like many others in the area, Jabber is jobless. He said the curfew makes it impossible to work, so people have taken to living off their vegetable gardens.

"Not everyone here is a terrorist," he said.
Military sources, however, say that terrorists are often aided by family members more than willing to reconnoiter or smuggle for the cause.

In the meantime, the IDF is doubling its forces in the city, adding units from the Nahal Brigade and Combat Engineering Corps taken from other, currently quieter, cities.