HEBRON, OCCUPIED WEST BANK — HEBRON, Occupied West Bank -- This is a city of anger, a place so seething with hatred it will severely test the fragile peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians.
It is a city where Noam Federman, a Jewish settler, stood yesterday on his doorstep and laughed at the thought of killing a Palestinian police officer.
"I would shoot first and would not mourn any dead Arab," he said.
It is a place where Edris Zahida, a Palestinian butcher, stood in a shop 50 yards away and dismissed Israelis as "nonhumans."
"They hate us, and we hate them," he said with a shrug. "There is no way we can live with them."
The agreement initialed yesterday between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at the Red Sea resort of Taba goes to great lengths to work out a plan of co-existence for this grim West Bank town, 15 miles south of Bethlehem.
But Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, revealed the agreement's Achilles' heel when he said at the initialing ceremony that any such pact "requires the goodwill of both sides."
There is no goodwill in Hebron.
"What is it in the air of the Hebron hills which nourishes the growth of the most extreme and lunatic elements?" wondered the Hebrew daily newspaper Ma'ariv recently.
The problem that vexed the negotiators was how to deal with about 400 Jewish settlers who live within a city of 130,000 Palestinians. They are among the most radical of Jewish settlers, whose zeal to claim Hebron as their own makes them reject compromise as a religious sin.
'Relations filled with violence'
"The problem in Hebron is not where to build fences and roadblocks and guard posts," said Danny Rubenstein, a reporter for the leading Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz. "The problem is the character of the Jewish settlement and the relations with Arabs -- relations filled with violence, hatred and fear."
The Jewish settlers claim Hebron as a Jewish city, oblivious to the demographics, dogmatic in their historical claim. The Tomb of the Patriarchs, a looming stone building in the center of town, is said to be the burial site of Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism and Islam, and his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Several hundred Jews had lived among the residents of Hebron until a 1929 massacre during Arab riots that left 60 Jews dead and forced the rest out.
The settlers who returned after the 1967 war have defied Israeli governments to live inside the city of Hebron. They reject any deal that turns over some control to the Palestinians. They have sworn to answer Palestinian authority with gunfire.
"This is the city of our forefathers. If we don't have a right to this city, we don't have a right to Tel Aviv or Jaffa or anyplace else," said Shani Horowitz, 36, who moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Hebron 13 years ago. She raises a family of three in a crowded Jewish ghetto in the center of the city.
Israeli soldiers sit outside the ghetto's main building, Beit Hadassah. When a Jewish mother takes her child on a stroll, a helmeted soldier with a flak jacket and M-16 walks beside her.
"This is our country. There is no such thing as a Palestinian. They are all Arabs, and if they want to live in their country, they can move to Jordan or Iraq or Syria," Ms. Horowitz said.
Such anger has provoked the equivalent response by Palestinians, and the slurs have taken the place of dialogue. Each side attempts to provoke the other: There have been murders by both sides and nearly daily acts of violence.
Jewish settlers swagger through the town with automatic weapons, protected by soldiers. Some of the men in army uniforms come from nearby settlements. Baruch Goldstein, a U.S.-born settler from nearby Kiryat Arba who killed 29 Arab worshipers in February 1994, entered the mosque easily because Israeli soldiers guarding the shrine thought he was on reserve duty.
The settlers routinely break the windows of Arab shops and overturn carts in the markets. When Palestinians throw rocks at them, the settlers and soldiers often join in shooting back.
"I can't show anything in my shop that has the Palestinian flag, or even verses of the Koran," said Rafayi Said Hashlamen, a picture framer near the old city. "Every time I do, the settlers break my windows."
They practice daily aggravations, both sides calculating how to infuriate the other. Palestinians fly their flags on buildings next to the Israeli settlements, and the settlers rip them down. Palestinian schoolgirls sing their national anthem in classes, and the Israeli settlers aim loudspeakers at them and play Hebrew songs.
Both sides try to foul the side of the other. Jews who have taken over a few tall buildings near the old market throw rocks and rubbish into the alleyways below. The Palestinians have now put up wire mesh above them. Palestinian youths throw bottles at the Israeli army -- but most fall short, littering their own streets with glass.
Jerusalem has long been considered the possible spoiler to a peace between Arabs and Jews. It may yet be. But in Jerusalem, there are buffers to the friction between the two peoples. There are Arab-Jewish ties -- even friendships -- that go back generations, Arab workers who cross the city's unmarked boundaries and work with Jews, Jewish businessmen who go to the Palestinian side to deal with Arabs.
No offers of reconciliation
But in Hebron, there is only enmity. There are no offers of reconciliation. No one bothers with the ritual disclaimer heard elsewhere in the region: "We don't hate all of them, but " In Hebron, both sides admit that they do hate all of them.
A poll taken two weeks ago of Palestinian residents of Hebron asked, "Would you accept an Israeli as a neighbor?" Eighty-two percent said no. And 64 percent said they would rather wage war than see the Israeli settlers stay.
"There is no place where such deep hostility has emerged as in Hebron," Mr. Rubenstein wrote in Ha'aretz. "There is hardly a day without curses, spitting and stone throwing. Only in Hebron is there a vicious blood feud between settlers and Arabs."
So this dirty, haggard city has earned its grim title as a city of hate. Even the mayor, Mustafa Natshe, cannot walk past the Israeli settlements without being cursed and spit upon by the Jewish residents, he said.
"How do you expect us to live with them? They are fanatics," the mayor said yesterday.
"The Arabs are terrorists," said Mr. Federman, a leader of the settlers.
With such a long ledger of past grievances, neither side will ever settle all the accounts.
"This is a sad place," said Na'el Sheukhi, 28, who was born in Hebron and feels stuck here. "It is a dream just to get out. But instead, we stay and fight each other."