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Israeli Death Squads Amid Mideast Talks

Escalating violence in territories isn't incidental but a direct result of the vague Oslo agreement

ON Tuesday, Dec. 7, I learned from reading the New York Times that my cousin Abdul-Rhaman Yusif Aruri had been assassinated by an Israeli death squad. Subsequent reports by Agence France Presse and from people back home conveyed a gruesome picture. The 31-year-old grocery store owner was the victim of what the human rights organization, Al-Haq, described as ``premeditated execution.'' He was shot and killed by two bullets fired from a silent revolver at a close range in front of his own home as his eight-months pregnant wife, three children, and relatives watched out the window in horror and disbelief.

It did not matter that he came out with both hands on his head, bearing in one hand the receipt for the benign orange ID card, which had been exchanged two weeks before for the green card, which identifies former prisoners. He was not on any ``wanted list''; his expulsion to Lebanon in December 1992 with 413 Islamist activists was ruled a ``mistake'' by the Israeli Army and he subsequently returned home.

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The death squads typically arrive without uniforms, dressed in Arab clothing, in a car with an Arab license plate. They hone in on their target in the manner of an ambush. The official announcement of death is prepared in advance. In my cousin's case, according to the New York Times, an Israeli Army spokesperson said he was suspected of taking part in the Dec. 1 killing of two Israeli settlers. As he was spotted in his village he made a ``suspicious move,'' a gesture as if he was armed. An officer shot him - then found he was not carrying a gun!

Eyewitness accounts reported the killing as a premeditated execution; moments after the victim fell to the ground an Israeli agent asked a relative to identify him as ``Aruri.''

This is a classic case of execution - both in the manner it was carried out, and in the way it was officially explained.

During six years (1984-90) as a board member of Amnesty International-USA, I dealt with the phenomenon everyone in the organization called ``EJE'' - extra-judicial execution. Our involvement was supposed to be detached; I never thought my family would enter the gloomy statistics that included the name of a Chilean colleague, Veronica De Negri, whose teenage son was killed by Pinochet's agents.

In fact, for most human rights activists, EJE is synonymous with places like Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Argentina under the military. The idea that Amnesty would produce a report on death squads in Israel seemed unthinkable.

But it happened in January 1990, when the organization's newsletter warned that ``the Israeli government had effectively condoned and even encouraged extra-judicial executions of Palestinians by its security forces in order to help control unrest during the intifadah.'' The number of Palestinians executed between April 1988 and May 1992 was put at 86 by the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, B'Tselem.

Since the more ``dovish'' Labor government assumed power in June 1992, the human rights situation in the occupied territories has grown enormously worse. A recent report by Amnesty International shows that during the first six months of 1993 the Israeli occupation forces shot dead 110 Palestinians, including 30 children. According to the same report, many of the killings were, in fact, assassinations.

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The historic handshake of Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn has not brought improvement. According to the Israeli magazine Challenge (December 1993), 29 Palestinians and 9 Israelis were killed between Aug. 14 and Oct. 13. The Palestine Human Rights Information Center documented the killing of 8 Palestinians between Nov. 23 and Nov. 30.

The story about a new dawn ushered in by the Arafat-Rabin agreement is overly optimistic. Amid the euphoria and exultation surrounding the historic signing on Sept. 13, a rational analysis was futile; the media summoned ranks of Middle East ``experts'' to offer the instant optimistic analysis needed for an historic occasion.

Now it is time to ask if the alarming rise of violence in the territories is incidental - or if the violence itself is due to fundamental disagreements about the nature and objectives of the historic handshake.

CONTRARY to the many voices that pronounced the Oslo declaration a masterpiece, the current diplomatic impasse and escalation of violence indicate conflicting visions and substantive differences about means and ends. This is not surprising in light of the declaration's vague preamble, which is short on principles and classifies everything of importance as a ``remaining issue'' to be deferred to future negotiations.

Details normally can be ironed out if an agreeable framework is in place, and the will to negotiate exists. The sticking points at present, however, are not over details such as the size of Jericho and the control of traffic over the Jordan River bridges, but over the concept of land and sovereignty, essential attributes of a nation-state. These crucial points are what Israel has not conceded, nor is likely to concede five years from now when the Oslo accord is finished.

The agreement is predicated on the assumption that the Palestine Liberation Organization will be Israel's enforcer in the West Bank and Gaza; these areas are not described as occupied, leaving Israel in a position to act as de facto sovereign even in Gaza and Jericho. The accord also assumes that Israel's security is a Palestinian priority. In fact, the escalation of violence in the territories is related to a determination by Israel and the PLO to reassert their own conceptions of security and sovereignty. Palestinians in the occupied territories are concerned about an impending surrender by leaders in Tunis. Israel wants to drive home the point that its own security requires the liquidation of Palestinians who actively oppose the accord.

Sadly, the escalation of violence has caused President Clinton, the man who oversaw the White House handshake, to condemn the killings of the Israeli soldiers and settlers - but not the ongoing executions of Palestinian civilians by so-called Israeli undercover agents. Mr. Clinton called on Mr. Arafat to condemn the killing of Israeli settler Mizrahi on Nov. 12 - and Arafat obeyed his call, to the dismay of many Palestinians who suffer daily humiliation by soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories and who are looking for a more balanced attitude from the chief conciliator.

Many in the Arab world wonder whether Clinton, who views himself as a liberal Democrat, is really different from his two conservative predecessors, who, according to recently declassified CIA documents (New York Times, Nov. 9) gave tacit support to the Salvadoran death squad leader Roberto d'Aubuisson, whose victims included Archbishop Romero.

Peace and stability in the Middle East will not be served by an arrangement where the ``victor'' imposes terms on the ``vanquished.'' A balance must be struck between parity and equality on the one hand, and political, military, and economic forces in the Palestine-Israel region.

Otherwise, my deceased cousin, who was not charged, tried, or even questioned in connection with the killings of Israelis, will be a simple entry (number 1148 since the intifadah) into the kind of statistics that can only breed new violence and future wars. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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