Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Teves 5761 - January 17, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Talking Despite the Terror
by Mordecai Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

When Gush Katif farmer Roni Tsalah, a 33-year-old resident of Kfar Yam in southern Gaza (a community of four families), was found murdered on Monday morning in an onion field, apparently shot with his own gun, talks with the Palestinian Authority were suspended. However they were set to resume Tuesday according to the PA and according to an official in the Prime Minister's office.

The gaps remain wide even between the tremendous concessions that desperate prime minister Ehud Barak has offered and the Palestinian position, as time runs out before U.S. President Clinton leaves office this coming Shabbos morning, January 20, at noon. Even though Clinton cannot make any effective promises in the name of the United States since he has only days in office and his successor is not even from his own party, after he leaves office he have even less standing and George W. Bush is expected to assign a lower priority to reaching a settlement in the Middle East.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called Sunday's murder an "abominable crime" that dealt a "difficult blow to the peace process." In the same interview, Barak stressed that Israel would never accept the "right of return" of refugees to Israel, and stressed that he would not sign an agreement that would transfer sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians. He also said that a victory by Ariel Sharon in the elections would destroy the chances for peace.

President Moshe Katsav said the incident proved the Palestinians are not serious in their efforts to attain peace with Israel.

Political sources in Jerusalem were quoted as saying the latest contacts were aimed primarily at preventing an escalation of violence and ensuring that dialogue continues after Clinton's term ends.

To avenge Tsalah's slaying, Jewish settlers set fire to Palestinian homes, fields and greenhouses in the nearby Al- Mawassi camp. The main targets were Palestinian installations that are adjacent to Tsalah's fields and hothouses. According to friends, Tsalah was one of the last settlers who had continued to work with local Palestinians.

On Monday, however, Gush Katif farmers said they will continue to employ Palestinian laborers as they have no choice if they want to earn a livelihood. They claim that they have asked for permits to employ Thai workers but the government has refused to issue them. As a result they have no choice but to employ Palestinians if they are not to declare bankruptcy.

Israel reimposed a closure on the area in response to the murder. It prevented Palestinian vehicles traveling on the roads, barred Palestinian workers from entering Israel, and closed down the Dahaniya Airport in Gaza, as well as the Rafah border crossing to Egypt and the cargo crossings into Israel. The steps were in addition to the army's operations in the area the previous night, which effectively divided the Gaza Strip into three isolated sections. These steps had been taken previously, but were recently lifted as "confidence building measures."

Palestinian police handed over to army officials the remains of Tsalah's car, which had been burned and wrecked by a Palestinian mob in Khan Yunis hours after he went missing. Israel demanded that the PA track down those responsible and hand them over to Israeli authorities. Israel demanded to question three Palestinian workers who Tsalah had employed a day earlier to plaster the newly built packaging depot next to his hothouse. Tsalah hired those workers without a security permit from the Army, making it much harder to trace them. Both Hamas and Fatah activists claimed responsibility for the murder.

The Gazan settlements' regional council, said, "Roni believed in coexistence . . . and he provided employment for his neighbors."

Likud leader Ariel Sharon declared that Tsalah's murder was the result of the current government policy of "surrendering to Palestinian terror."

OC Gaza Strip Brig-.Gen. Yair Naveh said at a briefing at the Kissufim crossing that the army was informed of Tsalah's disappearance an hour and 15 minutes after it was first noticed, and immediately set up roadblocks and conducted widespread searches. He blamed the Palestinian Authority, which he said acted slowly, putting in a minimal, obligatory effort.

"At the same time, we were informed by the Ituran [tracking] company that Roni's vehicle had been located in Khan Yunis. . . . We were in constant touch with the PA, which we asked to find out if Roni was in the car, and if so to return him to us ," he said. "At 3 a.m. they returned his burned-out car, which had been set on fire in Khan Yunis." The Ituran company claims that it can pinpoint to within 20 meters the location of a car equipped with its hidden tracking broadcasters.

Naveh criticized the PA, which he said continues to declare its intention to restore calm. "I can only talk about the incidents we have dealt with over the last 12 hours: an attempt to detonate a bomb at the border fence of Netzarim, shots fired at a convoy traveling on the Karni-Netzarim road, a bomb that exploded near an army patrol in Gush Katif, shots at soldiers conducting searches last night, shots fired at Kfar Darom," he said. "And this is a sign of calm being restored in the area?"

Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala), the speaker of the Palestinian legislature, criticized the murder of a civilian in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio, but also protested the collective punishment Israel had imposed in response. Other Palestinians, however, said they did not share Qureia's objection to killing settlers.

Tzalach's murder was the first in Gush Katif in almost two months, apparently because a new IDF deployment in Gaza had helped to frustrate most attacks.


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