Some Israelis seeking vengeance

2 accused in bomb plot near school

By Vincent J. Schodolski
Tribune correspondent

June 15, 2002

JERUSALEM -- Atop the Mount of Olives in the predawn hours of April 29, two Israeli settlers from the West Bank planted an explosive device between a Palestinian girls school and an Arab hospital in the A-Tur neighborhood of Jerusalem.

The men had towed the powerful bomb to the area, detached the trailer that held it and set a timer that would detonate the bomb at 7:35 a.m.

Just about that time, 1,300 young girls would be gathering in the school courtyard, while patients, doctors and other workers would be arriving for duty at the hospital.

Police discovered and defused the bomb.

"It would have been a disaster if the bomb went off," said a mother of a student at the Benat A-Tur School for girls age 6 to 12.

"The girls are still scared," said the woman, who did not want her name used. "They want our children to die."

Shlomo Dvir, 26, and Yarden Morag, 25, have been arrested in the plot and charged with attempted murder. Their trial is scheduled to begin before the end of the month.

While not common, experts say, individual Israeli acts of terrorism against Arab targets do occur and, not unlike many Palestinian attacks, they are often motivated by revenge.

In an interview earlier this month, the lawyer for Dvir and Morag said revenge was their motivation.

"Since the early 1980s, there have been a number of attacks by Jews, usually on Arabs and usually done by [Jewish] settlers," said Ehud Sprinzak, dean of the Lauder School of Government Policy and Diplomacy in Herzliya, a Tel Aviv suburb.

Movement started in U.S.

The two men being held in connection with the failed attack were associated with the Kach movement that grew out of a group founded in the United States nearly 25 years ago.

Brooklyn-born Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968 organized the Jewish Defense League, a militant group that worked to lessen the image of Jews as victims.

The JDL organized vigilante-style patrols in Brooklyn Jewish neighborhoods that bordered African-American neighborhoods. Such groups, armed with baseball bats, would escort Jewish teachers through black areas and taught young Jews how to use firearms and tutored them in martial arts.

Kahane moved to Israel in 1971. He founded the Kach Party, was elected to the Israeli parliament in 1984 and used the party to advance his extremist viewpoints.

Kahane openly called Arabs "dogs" and urged his followers to "give me the strength to take care of them [Arabs] once and for all." He was shot to death by an Arab man in Manhattan in 1990.

In October 1988, Israeli election officials banned the Kach Party, calling it a "Nazi-like, racist" organization.

But Kach remains active in Israel, and its militant political line finds resonance with some Israelis, particularly West Bank settlers who live in overwhelmingly Arab areas.

Sprinzak said a seminal moment came in 1984 when a group calling itself the Jewish Underground was discovered with plans to blow up the Dome of the Rock mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem.

"This was a very big shock to Israelis, who always associated terrorism with Arabs," Sprinzak said.

This came two years after an American-Israeli immigrant, Alan Harry Goodman, carried out a shooting rampage in the Dome of the Rock on Easter.

Sprinzak also pointed to a 1994 attack by Baruch Goldstein, a 38-year-old physician who opened fire with an army-issue rifle in a mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron.

The shooting at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the traditional burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, killed 40 and injured 170. It ended with Goldstein being beaten to death by a mob.

And last March, a Jewish group claimed responsibility for placing a bomb disguised as a toy in the front yard of a Palestinian boys school in Jerusalem. The device wounded seven students and a teacher.

Dvir and Morag--both from the village of Bat Ayin, southwest of Bethlehem--have admitted preparing and delivering the bomb, according to their attorney, Neftali Wertzberger.

Plan for revenge

"They told me that in the last year they went to funerals for their friends and relatives," he said. "After these events they felt they had to take revenge."

The bomb contained about 80 pounds of explosives, gasoline and a gas canister and was packed with nails, according to Israeli police reports.

The two are charged with attempted murder and could get up to 20 years in prison if convicted by a three-judge panel, Wertzberger said.

His defense strategy is to have the charges reduced, based on an argument that the men never intended for the bomb to explode.

"They planned to call the police before the bomb went off to tell them the bomb was there," Wertzberger said.

"They just wanted to scare people," he added. "They wanted people in the area to know that Jews can bomb too. It is terror for terror."

Copyright 2002, Chicago Tribune

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