In the thin dawn light, Cohen raced to a nearby cave once home to an old hermit. Inside, the sight was indescribable. A rock the size of a computer rested on Kobi's smashed skull. Both bodies were covered with stones. Blood smeared the walls, and the dirt floor was muddy with it. When the searchers rolled the rocks away, they didn't see faces but unrecognizable pulp. "I had only one thought," Cohen says, standing in the cave two days later. "To get my hands on the killers."
That sentiment reverberated around Israel last week as the latest outrage in the seven-month Aqsa intifadeh touched nerves already dangerously raw. The brutality of the murders raised ever louder demands that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon strike harder at the Palestinians. Israeli newspapers expressed shock that surpassed their anger seven weeks ago when a Palestinian sniper killed Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old in the Israeli settlement in Hebron. It somehow seemed worse that this time the victims were not Hebron extremists, but peaceable people of Tekoa in Gush Etzion.
The stoning deaths were not the only awful landmarks of the week, in a struggle where an outrage by one side is followed by an outrage from the other. In Gaza, a four-month-old Palestinian girl killed by an Israeli tank shell became the youngest victim of the violence. Two Romanian immigrant workers mending a security fence at the Gaza border were blown up by Palestinians. Settlers stoned Palestinians on the roads through Gush Etzion.
This intifadeh has sent a surging tide of hate flowing from Palestinians to Israelis and from Israelis to Palestinians. The hate doesn't ebb back and forth now; it runs at full flood, overwhelming those who hate and those who don't and those too young to know what hate is.
With so much blame to go around and such thirst for revenge, neither side's leadership seems willing or able to find a way out. Sharon called the deaths a "horrific murder" and ordered a missile strike on Yasser Arafat's Fatah offices in Gaza City, which wounded 20 Palestinians. But Sharon is caught between his hard-line constituents' demands to raise an iron hand against the Palestinians and the outside world's pleas to pursue a diplomatic solution. Even as fresh blood soaked the soil of the disputed land, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was in Europe searching for a formula that could bring the enemies back to the negotiating table.
Neither Sharon nor Arafat dares to look as if he backed down, especially the Israeli Prime Minister, who was elected on get-tough promises. Late last month, Shaul Goldstein and other settlers warned him the toll of the intifadeh was pushing them too far. "Our patience is about up," Goldstein said. "Every day we get closer to an explosion among our people." Sharon tried to calm them. "Don't worry," he said. "Be patient." One week later, Goldstein found himself in the basement of the Gush Etzion Regional Council he heads, where the two boys' bodies were brought to be cleaned. He watched a mortician try to patch together their facial features so their uncles could identify them. In the end, Kobi and Yossi could be recognized only by their dental records.