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Arab Mourners Hail 'Martyr' to the Uprising

February 23, 1988|KENNETH FREED | Times Staff Writer

KFAR NIMA, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — Abdallah Atta Abdallah was named a "martyr" Monday, a symbol of "the blood the Palestinian people are willing to shed for their freedom," according to the dead man's brother--and an indication of a growing fanaticism by those in the anti-Israeli rebellion.

Outlawed Palestinian national flags stiffened in a shivering wind as more than 1,000 people stood at the side of the double tomb holding the remains of Abdallah, 20, and of another youthful villager, Hassan Mustafa Muali, celebrating their fate as "victories in death." Both died in clashes with Israeli forces.

According to residents of this lonely Arab village, perched at the top of a jagged mountain seemingly centuries away from modern times, the shedding of their blood is a necessary--even desired--part of the effort to end 20 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"These are not just words," Aziz Abdallah, a brother of the dead man, said. "We are willing to die for our freedom. We are dying now, and we will continue to die. To even ask if the death of my brother was worth the sacrifice is an astonishing question."

And Palestinians seem willing to put themselves and their families in positions that create victims, or "martyrs." At least 59 Palestinians have died in clashes with the Israeli authorities during the 10 weeks of the uprising.

Moreover, the uprising's leaders had urged that Monday be made a "day of the martyrs," calling for new protests aimed at provoking the Israelis. Except for a few scattered incidents, however, there was little violence.

Kfar Nima symbolizes the willingness of villagers to send their young people out to die. It also challenges the views of some observers who believe that Israeli force can generate enough fear to bring the uprising to a halt.

The village is isolated, sitting at the end of a crumbling, single-lane road. Its 3,000 residents are mostly farmers who tend olive groves and fruit and nut trees along tumbling hillsides that turn a six-mile route into a 45-minute exercise in driving patience.

'In Name of the Blood'

"In the name of the blood of my brother, in the name of the blood of Hassan, in the name of the blood of all the martyrs of Palestine I give thanks to God," Aziz Abdallah told the mourners, "for God is able to make them all victors."

The villagers, standing in a cemetery so rocky it was difficult to distinguish the boulders from the tombs, applauded. "We will not retreat even if you kill 100 of us, even if you kill 100 a day!" they chanted.

"Martyrdom and blood feed the revolution!" the bearded brother shouted as he stood atop Abdallah's tomb, its freshly cut stone carved with the outline of the Palestinian flag and decorated by placards celebrating the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"We will not retreat even if you kill all of us!" the villagers chanted.

The mourners, who had marched the mile and a half from Abdallah's home to the cemetery and then back again through rain and sleet, included young men wearing traditional Arab headdress, old men in Arab gowns, middle-aged men in suits, women and children.

Such demonstrations, including the celebration of martyrs and talk of sacrifice, is not new to the Palestinian effort to break loose from Israeli occupation. In the past, though, it was often rhetoric instead of action. Moreover, fatalities were usually guerrilla fighters or terrorists killed in exchanges with the army and police--not ordinary Arabs rioting unarmed in the streets.

Isolated Village

In its isolation, Kfar Nima seemed even less likely to rebel. The town leader is an elderly man appointed 24 years ago when the West Bank was controlled by Jordan, which saw to it that careful, conservative men--not revolutionaries--ran the villages.

The village reflected the leader's cautious approach until Jan. 11, when youths--inspired by the rising tide of unrest elsewhere and egged on by the PLO--blocked the only road in or out.

The Israeli army, operating then with the tactic of charging every barricade as a challenge to its authority, moved in. Live gunfire was used when tear gas and rubber bullets failed to break up the massed villagers. Muali, whose tomb Abdallah now shares, died of three bullet wounds in the stomach and two in the chest.

That confrontation, according to several who took part, inflamed the village. After that, when a demonstration was called in Ramallah, a center of the uprising six miles to the southeast, dozens of young people from Kfar Nima would go.

That happened again last Saturday. Abdallah, a student who had shown no interest in politics until the January incident, went to Ramallah. He joined a protest in which an army jeep was stopped and targeted with stones and bottles. A soldier fired, striking Abdallah in the head and killing him.

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