Israel strikes back with car bombing of Palestinian militant

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The Independent Online

Rexhavam Zeevi's elder son, Yiftach-Palmach, evoked the rhetoric of his murdered father in a graveside eulogy in Jerusalem yesterday. "Take revenge," he urged the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. Addressing a state funeral attended by thousands of mourners in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, the younger Zeevi dismissed his father's Arab killers as "temporary sojourners in the land of Canaan."

The message was ominously clear. So was Yiftach-Palmach's farewell to his warrior father, who named him after a brigade in Israel's 1948 War of Independence. "From the time you entered politics, you were pushed out of the consensus, but now finally you are getting the appreciation you deserve."

His words seemed to echo the mood of the country, captured in an opinion page headline in the liberal daily paper Ha'aretz: "Almost everyone will turn right."

Last night, less than 24 hours after Mr Sharon vowed retribution for the assassination of Mr Zeevi, three Palestinians, including Atef Abayat, a militant of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, said to be on Israel's "most wanted" list, were killed in a car explosion in the West Bank. It was the second retaliatory strike of the day. The first was an invasion of tanks and troops into the West Bank, which left a 10-year-old girl and two other Palestinians dead.

Israel's nationalist right feels vindicated in its opposition to the Oslo peace process and its demand for a ruthless response to the Palestinians. Their mood is, "we told you so". Their most strident exponent yesterday was the former Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. "Arafat's regime, which encourages terrorism against us, must cease to exist" he wrote in the tabloid Ma'ariv.

At Mount Herzl yesterday, it was as if Israel buried Rechavam Zeevi twice. First, there was the state funeral. The coffin, draped in the blue-and-white national flag, was borne to the grave by six major-generals. A guard of honour fired a rifle volley.

After the family and dignitaries had left, hundreds of Mr Zeevi's admirers, men in the knitted skull caps of the settler faithful, women in the green baseball caps of the strident Women in Green, gathered around the grave for a private valediction. Here and there, members of his Moledet youth organisation waved banners with the party's name in green between the stripes of the Israeli flag, but it was a show of grief without polemics. They stood in silent tribute, between the rows of uniform military tombstones, no slogans, no beating of breasts, no cries of vengeance. Some prayed, swaying back and forth. Others read psalms. As darkness fell on Jerusalem, where their hero was born and died, they were reluctant to leave.

The state ceremony was short and dignified. In the tradition of Jerusalem Jews, an army chaplain formally apologised to the deceased in case they had done anything wrong. While Mr Zeevi's Knesset colleague, Benny Elon, was delivering a eulogy ("How are the mighty fallen") on behalf of their party, Yael, the kibbutz girl whom "Gandhi" – as the young Zeevi was known – married 50 years ago, knelt with her elder son, pensively sifting soil on to the newly filled grave.

When it was over, the widow, two sons, three daughters and innumerable grandchildren stood to received condolences from the departing dignitaries. In a rare public appearance, Shimon Peres's reclusive wife, Sonia, sobbed her heart out.

The mainstream political leaders, who spoke earlier at a lying in state outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament, were careful to distance themselves from the murdered minister's opinions. Mr Sharon struck a rueful note in taking his leave from an old comrade-in-arms, who had tendered his resignation in protest at the government's decision to withdraw from an Arab suburb of Hebron, two days before he was gunned down in a Jerusalem hotel.

"I say farewell to a friend with whom I walked a long way," the Prime Minister said. "We knew agreement and disagreement, closeness and distance. We knew the meaning of friendship. I bid you farewell with pain, my friend and rival."

Not all those mourning or paying tribute to the murdered minister were of his political persuasion. Friends and foes, Jews like the actor Haim Topol, Arabs like the MP Abdul Malik Dehamshe, honoured Mr Zeevi for his scholar's knowledge of the disputed land and his private respect for parliamentary enemies (not always evident in the chamber).

"I do not know if I will miss him in the Knesset," Mr Dehamshe, his partner in many a slanging match, wrote in yesterday's Ma'ariv newspaper, "but people like him, political rivals who know how to respect others, are very necessary, especially during this period when incitement and hotheadedness are so common."

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