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Israeli Arab Killers - A Nightmare for Israel

March 5, 1992

MUSHEIRIFA, Israel (AP) _ When Arab attackers hacked three soldiers to death in their encampment last month, Israelis were stunned at how easily they entered and left the base.

Now, three weeks later, comes another surprise: The four alleged killers are not Palestinians from the occupied West Bank as first suspected, but Arab citizens of Israel.

Jewish and Arab officials are eager to portray the involvement of Israeli Arabs as a rare exception, and that is understandable. The notion of Israeli Arabs being swept into the Mideast conflict is a nightmare nobody wants to contemplate.

″We tried hard not to believe that they were Israeli Arabs,″ Albert Moussafia, a senior police officer, told reporters.

Thoughout the intefadeh, the Palestinians’ 4-year-old uprising against Israeli occupation, the 800,000 Arab citizens of the Jewish state have hugged the sidelines. They sympathize with the Palestinians but profess a loyalty to Israel that insulates them from the intefadeh.

Thus, Wednesday night’s police announcement was a bombshell; the four suspects were Muslim fundamentalists from the Ara Valley in the heart of Israel, two of them brothers from Musheirifa, a prosperous village proud of a long history of friendship with its Jewish neighbors.

″It was something we didn’t expect and it is very grave,″ said Defense Minister Moshe Arens. ″I hope that they are the only exception, but I am not certain.″

Initially, it was thought the killers came from the nearby West Bank, but most Israelis were preoccupied chiefly with the security blunders that allowed attackers armed only with knives, axes and a pitchfork to get into the camp. Several officers and troops are being court-martialed.

Wednesday’s announcement drew anguished responses from Israeli Arab leaders, including the head of the country’s Islamic movement. They appealed to Israeli Jews to see the whole affair as an exception and refrain from wholesale condemnation of their community.

Israeli Arabs are the descendants of the Palestinians who stayed put when Israel was created in 1948 and hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or were driven from the territory of the Jewish state.

The Israeli Arabs are citizens, elect representatives to Israel’s Parliament and are equal under the law.

But in a state that was set up for Jews, Arabs inevitably suffer from discrimination and divided loyalties. Prevented from developing a clear, vigorous political identity, many have turned to Islamic fundamentalism.

Musheirifa’s headman, Hassan Mussa Igbariya, said the two brothers came from a family so puritan in its Muslim zeal that it boycotted weddings where music was played.

″We have always lived in peace with the army,″ he said. ″When we heard that people from our own village were suspected, it was if we had discovered that these people had killed our own children.″

Mohammed Igbariya - many of the villagers bear the name Igbariya - is a 26- year-old engineer who studied in Tel Aviv. His brother Ibrahim, 24, worked in the village aluminum factory.

Ibrahim Mohammed, the village schoolmaster, said many children came to Thursday classes disturbed and frightened. He said some had read newspaper reports that Jewish extremists were threatening reprisals against the village.

″This village is so quiet and peaceful that it doesn’t even cough loudly,″ he said.

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