By JOHN KIFNER, Special to the New York Times
Published: February 16, 1988
JERUSALEM, Feb. 15— The Israeli Army said today that it had opened an investigation into reports that its troops had buried four young Palestinians alive. It said that it had detained two soldiers and that it expected to detain others.
Witnesses said soldiers severely beat four Palestinians Feb. 5 in the West Bank village of Salim, then ordered them to lie face down and dumped dirt from a bulldozer over them. Reports of the incident shocked many Israelis as the details appeared in the Israeli television and press in the last 24 hours.
After the army left Salim, villagers dug the youths out, according to witnesses. Three were treated at the hospital in Jericho and released, and one was kept there for eight days with fractures in both arms. A General’s Warning
”Even in my worst dreams, I would never imagine such a thing,” Gen. Amram Mitzna, the commander of troops in the West Bank, said of the case. He spoke to the army radio today from the Arab village of Abu Dis, where soldiers dismantled protest roadblocks, ripped down Palestinian flags and arrested 18 people.
The general said, ”I constantly warn commanders to expect the most awful things could happen when soldiers find themselves all of a sudden commanding and deciding the lives of civilians.”
The army expects more demonstrations Tuesday. The protests are described as a ”Day of Anger” in leaflets from the underground leadership of what Palestinians are calling the ”uprising.”
As scattered clashes continued today, the Palestine Press Service reported that a Palestinian, identified as Mohammed al-Rai, died Sunday of injuries he suffered during a beating by Israeli soldiers in the Shajaiye quarter of Gaza city. He was the 58th Palestinian reported to have been killed by Israeli troops during the unrest, now in its third month, and the fifth said to have died of injuries suffered during a beating.
Since Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin described a policy of ”force, might, beatings” in mid-January, Israel has drawn international criticism as its soldiers clubbed Palestinians and broke hands and arms in what ranking officers have described as an effort to prevent stone-throwing and to instill fear.
General Mitzna, among the army’s most respected officers, defended the conduct of the troops under his command at a news conference Jan. 28, insisting that the beatings were ”exceptions” that would be investigated. ”We, the Israelis, the Jews, have a very sensitive conscience,” he said then. ‘A Horrible Impact’
Many in this country, where the army is a revered institution to which virtually every family has a connection, seemed anguished as the reports of the live burial began unfolding on television Sunday night and in this morning’s newspapers.
”It had a horrible impact – even people on the extreme right said it went much much too far,” said Yehuda Litani, an editor at The Jerusalem Post. ”Someone working with me who is known for his nationalist views said he wanted to bury himself out of shame.”
”People feel it went beyond all borders and that it has to be stopped,” Mr. Litani said, adding: ”But when you allow people to beat and harass, that’s one of the results. The Minister of Defense and generals think you can control it, but you cannot.”
On Sunday night Israeli television viewers watched a resident of the Arab village of Salim, Yusef Hamdan, describing a soldier ordering the four youths to lie face down on the ground.
”He hit them on their heads and told the soldier driving the bulldozer to run them over,” Mr. Hamdan said. ”When the driver refused to do so, he was told to cover them.” The Villagers’ Account
”How can I go on living here?” asked a teacher who is a devoted Zionist and the mother of three sons who have served in the army. Deeply depressed after watching the television news, she asked, ”What do I have in common with the people who did that?”
The incident is said to have begun after Moslem Friday prayers when village residents staged a protest and built barricades of big stones and burning tires.
The army came and, according to the villagers, forced four youths to clear the stones, then beat them and forced them to lie face down. Then, the villagers said, the troops called over an army bulldozer that was building an earthen rampart to seal off the village, and had it dump its load on the four, covering them with about a foot of dirt.
The army announcement today said: ”This investigation is receiving the highest priority. So far two soldiers have been detained and other detentions are expected in the near future.”
The army began its investigation after inquiries by journalists. Accusations of ‘Barbarism’
In an editorial titled ”Barbarism,” the Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Ahronot said today that even those who support ”a hard hand against the rioters in the territories will be shocked.
”The investigation is still continuing, but the army already confirms that this horrible act did take place: A tractor bearing army markings buried alive four village youths as a ‘punishment’ for participating in disturbances.
”An official policy of a hard hand is one thing; barbarism in the form of a ‘private initiative’ is something altogether different, which must not be agreed with or passed over silently,” the editorial said.
”In more than one case, the strong arm has become the sadistic arm,” the independent daily Haaretz said in an editorial this morning, adding that the time has come for ”those who gave their permission – explicitly or silently – to prohibit, and make sure the prohibition is strictly observed.”
The incident occurred more than a week ago, and had been the subject of widespread rumors in Palestinian villages. But it is being widely reported only now because many of the Israeli and foreign journalists crisscrossing the West Bank had assumed it was too outlandish to be more than a rumor. ‘Things That Other Armies Do’
Even the minority of Israelis critical of the Government’s policy in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were surprised that there could be a report of a burial alive.
”My wife wouldn’t believe it when I showed her the paper,” said Michael Groton, a psychiatrist who, along with his wife, is active in a newly formed organization of mental health workers who oppose the occupation policies.
”People are shocked. Israelis have a certain kind of ideal of the Israeli soldier that he will handle himself with decency. These are the kinds of things that other armies do – the French in Algeria, the Americans in Vietnam.” SHAMIR CRITICIZED IN ITALY
ROME, Feb. 15 (Special to The New York Times) – Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel defended his policies in the occupied territories today at the start of his first overseas trip since Palestinian protests erupted.
At a meeting with Italian Jews this afternoon Mr. Shamir was given an appeal bearing more than 500 signatures that expressed ”dismay and preoccupation” over both ”violent rioting” by Palestinians and Israel’s ”exclusively repressive” response.
According to Tullia Zevi, president of the Council of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, the overall message at the meeting was one of ”apprehension and criticism.”
Photo of Mustafa Abdel Majid pointing to spot where he said Israeli soldiers buried him and three other Palestinians alive (AP) (Pg. A6); map highlighting Salim (NYT)