One of the first issues Rabhi Amara decided to tackle when he was elected to head the Kafr Kana local council some five months ago was how to alter the town's image. Several weeks ago, council workers planted flowerbeds with the words, "Welcome to Kafr Kana," in Hebrew.

"I know that we have to do a lot more than just plant flowers if we want to improve the image of Kafr Kana," Amara said yesterday, during a condolence visit to the family of Mohammed Hatib, who was killed Sunday night after he and a friend opened fire on Border Policemen near the Beit Rimon Junction in the Lower Galilee.

Immediately after taking office, Amara invited the senior echelon of the Israel Police, including Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki, for a visit. Amara's home is also adorned with Israeli flags. "This was out of a desire to change the image of our village after the murder of the soldier Oleg Sheikhat. I also issued an order for the national flag to be placed on all public buildings... We, after all, belong to this country."

But the death of Mohammed Khatib has again ignited the crisis of confidence between Israeli Arabs and the governing establishment and police. At an emergency meeting, the local council decided to express sorrow over the clash between the police and Israeli civilians, and called on the police to investigate the incident.

Residents of Kafr Kana said yesterday that it was difficult for them to cut themselves off from the incidents of October 2000, in which 13 Arabs were killed in clashes with police. "I'm angry with the police," said Vadia Awada. "They're so quick to run to the media and issue irresponsible statements. That just adds fuel to the flames. Even if it turns out they're right, how is it possible that immediately after the incident they already have a full version of what happened - that an Israeli Arab terror cell was responsible?"

"When it comes to Arabs, the police shoot first and then look for the reasons," said Omar Khatib, a relative of Mohammed Khatib. "In Haifa, there was a Jewish underground. Did anyone shoot them? Did anyone accuse all of Haifa of being involved in terror?" said Faez Khatib, another relative.

Hundreds of Kafr Kana residents turned up yesterday at the Khatib family home to pay their condolences.

Mohammed, they said, had completed 13 years of study at a vocational school about 18 months ago. His accomplice on Sunday night, also a resident of the Galilee, studied with him. Mohammed, one family member related, had to give up on his university aspirations - he wanted to study at the Technion in Haifa - and go out to work in order to provide for his seven siblings and his father, who was sick and unemployed.

Family members insist that Mohammed had had no connection with extremist elements. They did not provide any explanation for why he was armed or why he opened fire, and they rejected the police claim that he had a criminal past. "He was never in trouble with the law and he was never a member of any organization," said Mohammed's uncle, Omar Khatib.

According to Vadia Awada, Kafr Kana has an image of "an extreme village, endangering the security of the state. In reality, the picture is different. Personally, I'm not happy with the identity of the residents here; we have become too Israeli. We react passively to the separation fence; we don't protest the occupation; and we did not object to the assassination of Rantisi. We have cut off our ties with the Palestinians. The youth in the village are more familiar with Shai Agnon than with Mahmoud Darwish."

An ambulance with Mohammed's body arrived at the family home at 2 P.M. Dozens of men surrounded the stretcher with his body and carried it to the house. The youngsters burst into tears.

Hussein Khatib, the deputy head of the council and a relative of the family, accused the police of having being trigger happy: "There have been several incidents like this here in the past few years. Apparently, the police and the media have learned nothing from the events of October 2000."