SURIF, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — The Hebron Hills have been a refuge for fighters and fugitives at least since the future King David hid in their many caves to escape a jealous King Saul 3,000 years ago.
Legend includes among their colorful residents a late 17th-Century Arab highwayman who specialized in intercepting money sent from the Diaspora to his Jewish neighbors. The Jews finally agreed to pay the thief regular protection money if he would leave them alone, justifying the outlay to their benefactors overseas as disbursements to the "Black Rabbi."
In a famous battle during Israel's 1948 War of Independence, Arab fighters from Surif and surrounding villages wiped out a detachment of 35 fighting men sent to help defend the nearby Gush Etzion bloc of Jewish settlements, which ultimately fell to the Arab side.
The Hebron Hills retain their special character today as the home of some of the most hot-blooded antagonists on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict. So it is no surprise that they are a prime breeding ground for what Israeli security officials describe as a new type of West Bank terrorist.
Increasingly, these officials say, random attacks on Israeli civilians are the work of young Arabs of the occupied territories acting on their own initiative rather than because they have received orders from some outside terrorist group.
Recent examples from this area include a seven-member band from Surif and two neighboring villages who, according to security sources, killed five Israelis and wounded 18 Jews and Arabs in a series of terrorist attacks dating from May, 1984. Two of the gang were captured in July and four others were killed and one captured in an army ambush near here in October.
A few days later, security forces found a cache of arms and ammunition and destroyed the homes of two suspected terrorists in Yatta, a village in the southern Hebron Hills.
In mid-November, the army sealed three houses in Sair, northeast of Hebron, charging that four teen-agers who lived in them were responsible for shooting at civilian and military vehicles.
Most of those accused of recent terrorist attacks were either not born or still young children when Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War. Almost 60% of West Bank residents are younger than 20. This is the generation that has been throwing stones at Israeli settlers on the West Bank for years--but now its members are using guns, knives and bombs.
Palestinians on the West Bank are generally forbidden to possess firearms or explosives but, in practice, terrorists have had little trouble stealing them or buying them illegally. The thousands of Jewish settlers on the West Bank are routinely issued weapons for self-defense. And the Israeli army admitted last year that it had lost track of about 600 assault rifles, 400 Uzi submachine guns, 45 light mortars and seven bazookas.
The only other elements necessary are motive and daring, a top Israeli anti-terrorist expert said. And the emerging "home-grown" terrorist has both, this expert conceded. "The only thing he remembers from his childhood is the boot of the Israeli soldier and the bayonet of the occupation," he said.
Some, like the man identified as the leader of the Surif gang, first come to the authorities' notice as common criminals. Residents said Mohammed Ghneimat, who was killed in the October shoot-out with security forces, was a petty thief who later murdered another Surif man from a rival family, accusing him of collaboration with the Israeli authorities.
Escaped From Prison
Ghneimat was imprisoned but later escaped, according to Israeli sources. According to Surif residents, he was freed by the Israelis in return for promising to become an informer but then reneged on the deal.
Another of the Surif band killed in the October clash, Mohammed Bardaiye, 30, was an auto mechanic who, according to his mother, had become increasingly militant in recent years.
Ahmed Khamid Tus, who was captured in the shoot-out, is also an ex-convict with three children whose names translate as Strength, Revolution and Redemption.
Based largely on an account given by Tus to army interrogators, senior Israeli security sources said Ghneimat stole one assault rifle and bought a second from an Israeli underground figure after escaping from jail. Operating initially on his own, he attacked a group of Israeli hikers in Wadi Fukin, near here, in May, 1984, wounding one with gunfire.
Later, Ghneimat enlisted Tus and the two of them allegedly ambushed an Israeli bus on the road between Jerusalem and Hebron in September, 1984, wounding several passengers.