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In West Bank, Heartbreak Can Lie Just Around Bend

August 27, 1989|DANIEL WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

ARIEL, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — There are few stories in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to match the tragedy of Daniel Hamzani and his baby, Itai--a story that captures the growing sense of brutality and tension of the Arab uprising and Israel's response to it.

Hamzani, a Jewish resident of the West Bank settlement of Ariel, recalls being relaxed as he drove the dark, winding two-lane hardtop from his father's house back to his home in the largest of such settlements.

The cassette tape in his little sedan played lilting Middle East music, and his two boys, Ordan and Itai, lay tangled atop one another, asleep in the back seat.

Hamzani drove slowly as he approached the turnoff to the Arab village of Biddiya. His idyll was broken suddenly. Did he see figures lurking in the terraced olive groves that adjoin the road? A light flashed at about the height of a man, illuminating an outstretched arm. Hamzani's immediate thought: "It's an Arab about to hurl a gasoline bomb at my car!"

He slowed and felt around in the side pocket of the car door for a pistol he carried with him. He pulled it out and fired twice at the presumed enemy among the gnarled trees.

"I just wanted to scare them away, just move them back," Hamzani explained during an interview last week.

But the shadowy figures didn't retire. Instead, they unleashed a hail of rifle fire in Hamzani's direction.

"Like firecrackers going off," he recounted in a whisper.

Hamzani himself fired a third time and sped off crazily, trying evade the bullets. He felt a sharp pain in his back and pulled the car to a stop, blocking the path of an oncoming vehicle and demanding help.

"There are terrorists! There are terrorists!" he yelled at the shocked occupants. The cassette in his car kept playing.

A military jeep skidded onto the scene. The helmeted driver popped out and pointed a rifle at Hamzani. Hamzani tried to direct his attention toward the grove. "There are terrorists!" Hamzani repeated. "But I'm a Jew!"

Screams from the back seat of his car pierced Hamzani's ears. He looked in. His sons were covered with blood.

Hamzani only learned the next morning, just before going in for an operation to remove bullets that entered his shoulder and back, that 3-year-old Ordan was lightly wounded in the shooting. But his youngest, Itai, just 18 months old, had been hit twice in the head and killed.

Israeli Patrol

There were no terrorists in the shadows that night of Aug. 8. It was, rather, an Israeli army patrol that had set up an ambush for Palestinian stone throwers who harass traffic on the highway. The glow that Hamzani mistook for a bomb was a flashlight.

Hamzani's tragedy is a cautionary tale about life these days in the West Bank and Gaza Strip where the stand-off of the Arab uprising, or intifada, is into its 21st month. Wherever Arab and Israeli, or their backers, stand close, there exists a front of war. A peaceful winding road may in a minute become a blinding battleground.

For Palestinians, the conflict is no longer solely one of throwing stones at troops or Israeli settlers. In the name of national solidarity, Palestinians are turning on their own, killing suspected collaborators with a frequency that has alarmed leaders of the uprising. Almost suddenly, out of the more than 700 total Palestinian fatalities in the conflict, almost 100 have been Arabs who died at the hands of Arabs.

The body of another young Palestinian suspected of collaborating with Israeli authorities was discovered Saturday. Arab journalists said Amen Tayem, 20, was found hanging by the neck in an orange grove in the West Bank town of Qalqiliya.

'Mistakes' in Killings

Sometimes, Arab activists now speak of "mistakes" in the killing of their fellows.

For the Israeli army, the assertion of riot control and law and order has given way to systematic stalking of activists in the uprising. Soldiers are permitted to ambush and fire at fleeing Palestinians. Troops and secret agents disguise themselves as civilians not only to apprehend participants in anti-Israeli attacks but shoot them down at close range.

It is a practice kept hidden from public view by censorship of the press, television and radio.

For Jewish settlers, reliance on the promise of the army to protect them has faded. Many take their defense--some say the law--into their own hands because they feel the army has done too little to crush the uprising.

Victims of 'The Situation'

Hamzani, 31, is living with the deadly results of a growing hysteria. Newspapers remarked later that the father and his baby were victims of "the situation."

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