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Jews Cry for Revenge as Girl Is Buried

West Bank: Militant Israelis demand that army seize land after infant's slaying. Palestinians hold a funeral for another child.

April 02, 2001|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HEBRON, West Bank — To cries of anguish and demands for revenge, Jewish settlers buried 10-month-old Shalhevet Pas on Sunday, six days after the army says she was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

Hundreds of settlers and their supporters wound through the streets of this tense, divided city to accompany the tiny, velvet-shrouded coffin from the Tomb of the Patriarchs to Hebron's ancient Jewish cemetery. Palestinians were ordered to remain in their homes as Israeli security forces put on a massive display to prevent violence, blocking roads to Palestinian motorists and patrolling the length of the funeral route.

"Shalhevet, there is no one in the land of Israel who does not know your name and feel pain," Rabbi Moshe Levinger, the right-wing spiritual father of the settler movement in the West Bank, intoned at the graveside. "You have awakened the flame in every heart of every Jew. You are the spark that awakened the nation."

Shalhevet was shot to death and her father, Yitzhak, was wounded by what Israeli authorities say was a single bullet from a Palestinian gunman, firing from the Abu Sneineh neighborhood above downtown Hebron.

Quickly, the little girl became both a political pawn and a rallying point for militant Jews who are demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon take back territory under Palestinian control. Her smiling, chubby face appears on posters all over Jerusalem, and supporters have also used the Internet to circulate a picture of her after the shooting, blood flowing from her head.

The child's parents and the community of Jewish settlers in Hebron initially refused to bury Shalhevet--a drastic break with Jewish law and tradition, which require quick interment--to dramatize their demand that the Israeli government seize the Palestinian-controlled hills around Hebron to guarantee their protection.

About 400 Jewish settlers live in Hebron amid more than 100,000 Palestinians. It is perhaps the most volatile municipality in this violent region and will probably serve as an early test of Sharon's ability to fight the 6-month-old Palestinian revolt.

"Shalhevet, your blood is shouting for revenge," the girl's sobbing aunt, Ayelet Zarbiv, eulogized as the funeral began. In the background, a Muslim call to prayer rang out. "We'll take revenge yet, Shalhevet. We'll not forgive. We'll not forget."

Noam Arnon, a Hebron settler, addressed the mourners with an impassioned plea for the government to act immediately.

"The blood of this girl is screaming from the earth, and we won't be quiet and we won't be silent until this hill and all the other hills where murderers are sitting will be seized by the army," Arnon said. "Government of Israel: You are responsible. Prime minister: You are responsible."

Shalhevet's family finally agreed to bury her after appeals from Sharon and one of Israel's two chief rabbis. David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron settlers, said the community was satisfied that the point had been made. He promised that Sharon will not be allowed to "sit comfortably" until Jews--either the army or the settlers themselves--occupy the Abu Sneineh neighborhood.

The baby's death last Monday touched off a week of consuming anger among the Hebron Jews. They went on a rampage, torching and ransacking Arab-owned stores and piling the contents in trash heaps. They spray-painted the Star of David on many of the stores to stake their claim. Some buildings were still smoldering Sunday.

Settlers also repeatedly attempted to invade the Palestinian neighborhoods, but they were pushed back by Israeli security forces. Settlers then set upon the soldiers, calling them Nazis and dogs, slashing their tires and pelting them with eggs. Seven settlers were arrested, not all of them from Hebron, and two soldiers ended up in the hospital.

"Suddenly, I felt a blow to my helmet, and then everything got blurry," one of the injured, 25-year-old policeman Shahar Mahsomi, told reporters at the hospital where he was treated late last week. "I was sure my helmet was for protection against Arabs, not Jews."

On Sunday, some of the Jewish mourners hurled stones at Palestinian homes. After the funeral, Palestinian gunmen opened fire from Abu Sneineh toward a Jewish neighborhood, and Israeli troops fired back. There were no injuries, the army said. Intense gun battles raged most of Friday night as well.

Shalhevet was killed in her stroller as she and her parents entered a playground in the heart of the Abraham Our Father neighborhood, one of several Jewish enclaves in Hebron.

Her father, who attended Sunday's funeral in a wheelchair and sobbed during the funeral prayer, described the shooting to a settlers' radio station last week.

"I don't know if they were aiming specifically at my daughter's stroller," Yitzhak Pas said. "Thousands of bullets were fired from the hill of Abu Sneineh until the incident, and it was a miracle that no one was injured. And now, the miracle stopped. It finally hit. My daughter was the victim."

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