Looking For Trouble: Militant Israeli Patrols Stir Emotions In Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (AP) _ A clenched fist thrust inside a Star of David is their insignia, a symbol of their anger and their allegiance.
Loaded guns and lengthy arrest records represent their willingness to express both.
″The Arabs are more afraid of us than the police,″ says Shmuel Herman, an immigrant to Israel from Elizabeth, N.J. ″We have a freer hand.″
Herman is a member of the Committee for Safe Roads, an innocuous name for a militant group whose armed patrols in Arab sectors of Jerusalem have stirred emotions in this divided city.
The group is made up of followers of American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Kach movement, which advocates expelling all Arabs from Israeli-controll ed territory.
They patrol in vans and on foot in defiance of police, who have arrested 20 of the vigilantes in six days. Some officials fear the group will provoke violence between the Holy City’s 135,000 Palestinians and 340,000 Jews.
″They are absolutely irresponsible elements and one has to do everything to stop them,″ Mayor Teddy Kollek said on Israel radio this week.
On one patrol Thursday, four men whose ages range from 16 to 24 drove through Arab east Jerusalem to the Jewish community of Neve Yaacov and escorted bus No. 25, often a target of Arab stoning attacks, to the center of the city.
Shmuel Ben Yishai, organizer of the patrols, said many Jews appreciate the efforts of his committee. He was among those detained and warned by police, but he said that if he catches a Palestinian stone-thrower, ″I will break his arm.″
All 20 of those detained were freed on bail of up to $3,750 after being charged with incitement, and most are patroling again.
On Thursday, the van drove slowly past mosques, Palestinian restaurants, stores and homes in east Jerusalem. The four men looked out the windows. A 9mm handgun rested on the dashboard.
As it passed three Arab workers eating lunch beneath a tree, 22-year-old Shmuel Dayan, formerly of Minneapolis, Minn., shouted: ″We’re from Kahane 3/8″
Herman, also one of the men arrested, says the volunteer patrols literally look for trouble.
″We keep our eyes open for some suspicious-looking Arab, someone who looks around like a thief in America. Then we drive back and forth. If we catch them trying to hurt an Israeli, we rough them up. Sometimes, we put them in the trunk of the car and take them to the police.″
Herman, 24, said the committee has about 100 volunteers in Jerusalem, 80 in the West Bank and 60 in Haifa, the northern port city.
They saw no suspicious Palestinians on Thursday’s hour-long patrol, however.
″It’s a shame. I wanted to see some action,″ Herman said.
Kahane’s supporters began citizen convoys in March 1987 - generally in the occupied West Bank, where most of them live as settlers - and began patrolling Jerusalem last week.
Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and has annexed, has become a focal point of the rebellion against Israeli rule in the occupied territories.
Since the uprising began Dec. 8 among the 1.5 million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, more than 230 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed.
The road committee’s symbol, the fist inside a Star of David, illustrates its philosophy that Jews must be tough to survive, even in Israel.
Supporters of Kach hope the image of a protector of Jews will help in November’s election. Kahane now is its only representative in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Like most Kahane supporters, Herman believe peace with the Arabs is not possible because ″they don’t want it.″
Dayan said he is prepared for violence.
″We weren’t put on this Earth to live happily and peacefully,″ he said. ″We were put here to study the Bible and to hold on to our land.″