16 APRIL 1988, Page 13


The death of Tirza Porat has enraged the soul of

Israel, writes Gerda Cohen Jerusalem UNNATURALLY hot and dry, this weekend. We sit in the hot windless night, watching television. 'She was stoned to death.' Gusts of scent waft out of the darkness; wistaria and garbage and heavy flowering trees. 'She was stoned to death!' We sit watching the. funeral on television. My host is a fat, ordinary man in jeans, who keeps a hardware shop and loves Buster Keaton. 'Shall we turn off the television?' Yes, please. No one can bear to watch any more. Four months of vio- lence and 130 Arabs killed count as no- thing, nothing, to this death. `Tirza Porat was 15. Bit younger than my daughter.' We sit drinking coffee out of the best Doulton china from his hardware shop, while the dark lugubrious scents waft in. 'Five Arab houses have been demolished. Good! They should tear down the whole place.' His fat countenance, normally mild, is convulsed in rage and grief. Tears run down, onto his chocolate cake.

Next day it appears that Tirza Porat was probably killed by a bullet from the gun of the armed escort accompanying the hikers who were ambushed in Beita village. But this fact makes no difference at all. The death of Tirza, a beloved daughter with a pony-tail, has touched the innermost soul of Israel. In the dry heat, we are all bereaved, all thirsty for a necessary re- venge. 'The Army have blown up 14 houses in Beita and uprooted many olive trees.' Good!. By now, though, it appears that the hikers were not exactly ambushed. Led by two men of violent and criminal disposition, the hikers deliberately en- croached on land belonging to a village known for anti-Zionist sentiment. Indeed, the guard whose bullet killed Tirza Porat was slightly off his head. He lived in an old car and devoted his energies to colonising Nablus, the wealthy Arab capital of Samar- ia. But thege facts make no difference whatsoever. The settler movement and right-wing politicians demand revenge: create more settlements! Deport Arabs by the hundred, by the tens of hundreds! Up the road here, on the dusty, baking pavement, Mr Benny Katzover and Mr Gal have been encamped for several days and

nights opposite the Prime Minister's resi- dence. They head the settlers' movement: Mr Katzover unnaturally thin, Mr Gal grossly obese. Their filing, cabinets and collective piled mattresses line the kerb, for this piece of pavenient at the junction of Gaza Road and Balfour Street is a known demonstrating point. 'Why, during the war against Lebanon, we had ten demonstrations here at once; we couldn't sleep at night for the noise.' This current encampment is quieter, except for the high, anguished chanting of prayers.

Great signs in black ink call for 'Re- venge', 'Blot out Beita'. Admittedly, agreed Mr Katzover, his thin dark fingers closing on a cigarette, admittedly, one or two Arabs in Beita had not succumbed to blood-lust. One woman even rescued his own daughter from the mob. 'For her sake, the righteous shall be saved. But the rest must be banished.' Mr Katzover, crouched over his cigarette like a coil of black wire, suddenly vanished. 'Oh, he does that all the time,' ex- claimed his secretary, a plump, mottled girl of cheery aspect, 'we love him. We adore him! I expect he's gone to a meeting with Shamir.'

The pavement was getting uncomfort- ably full of young men in prayer shawls and black trilbies, who had driven in from Samaria to chant psalms with Mr Katzover. Their car seemed over-loaded with 'We think it's causing acid rain.' machine guns and a great deal of salami, bought at the wholesaler in Jerusalem. Mr Katzover's secretary explained that they were stocking up for a siege. 'This is a war,' she cried cheerfully, her plump cheek mottled with heat, 'a war of stones. Tirza Porat, of blessed memory, was stoned to death. The stone which smashed her skull was meant for me, and for you.'

On the opposite pavement, another crowd has been gathering: all women, dressed from head to foot in black; mothers, grandmothers, daughters, aunts, garbed majestically in black. Their banners read, 'End the Occupation'. Among their ranks can be recognised professional wives and waitresses from the Kosher Vegan restaurant and white-haired ballet dancers. They have been gathering here week after week, in dumb and dignified protest.

A few motorists sound their horn in sympathy. Others lean out of their car windows and shout `Go to the hairdresser, you old bag!' Unfortunately, said a shy, winsome young thing in delicate black satin, Israeli men did not take female protest seriously. 'Get back to bed,' a motorist advised her. 'Cockroach,' she bellowed at him, 'You piece of dirty cockroach', her delicate, maidenly features distorted in fury.

'Oh, that's nothing,' giggled Mr Katzov- er's secretary , over the road. 'That is

normal. In plain Hebrew, those women are

traitors. No one will take notice of them!' And she is perfectly right. Since the death of Tirza Porat, the many peace groups have lost touch with reality. Ten more Arabs killed today; so what! Ten Arabs deported — so much the better. Reality is here on the pavement, at the swirling noisy junction of Gaza Road and Balfour Street.

Opposite the Prime Minister's house. there's a fierce argument of smells — lilac and dog turd and wistaria. The heat has

brought them out. Great yellow trajector- ies of Banksian rose, wild white antirrhi- num, sprout out of the masonry.

The settlers are still camping on Gaza Road, their gun barrels under a litter of salami sandwich. On the traffic island, a few women in black distribute handbills urging solidarity with the Palestinian upris- ing. 'They are traitors, of course. But let them — who cares, now?' On the opposite pavement, a cripple with a ginger cat has been camping out for the best part of a year, campaigning for a better pension. Nobody takes any notice of him, either.

Outside the Prime Minister's gate, below the floodlit pill-boxes, yet another crowd is gathering. Five cello cases and a drum appear. It is the Isle of Man Youth Orchestra. Freckly, blonde, baggy Helen Quaggin and Fiona Bullock — so normal I could weep. 'But we're having a great time, simply great!' Their conductor said, 'No, to be quite honest, no, I haven't noticed any tension. The Isle of Man Youth Orchestra has been given a tremendous welcome everywhere.'