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General Strike Shuts Down Virtually All of West Bank East Jerusalem

Virtually all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem was shut down today by a general strike called by local Arab authorities. Israeli security forces were kept busy suppressing riots and demonstrations; mainly by high school youths and curfews were imposed in a number of towns.

One of the most serious incidents occurred in East Jerusalem where some 500 high school students set up road blocks near the Lutheran School. Police opened fire to disperse them and a 15-year-old boy, Tashin Nasser, was wounded in the leg. Police immediately began an investigation of the incident. There was a partial strike in Gaza but shops closed this morning reopened at noon.

The strike is a one-day affair, called by Arab municipalities ostensibly to protest the value added tax imposed on the West Bank Dec. 1. The anti-inflation measure took effect in Israel earlier this year. But it seemed clear that the tax is only a pretext for a new wave of demonstrations against Israeli authorities with a strong pro-PLO tinge.

Teen-aged youths were in the vanguard of these demonstrations, as they have been in earlier West Bank disturbances. They set up road blocks burned piles of rubber tires and heaps of garbage in main thoroughfares, stoned Israeli vehicles, hoisted Palestinian flags and scrawled pro-PLO slogans on walls.

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For the past week, in fact, militant high school youths have been intimidating local merchants to close shop. It would seem to an ordinary observer that the youngsters have taken control. But a closer look at the situation makes it apparent that the students are willing tools in the hands of local authorities–primarily the newly elected mayors in many West Bank towns–who seek to assert themselves as leaders of Palestinian nationalism.

Some of these leaders are outright supporters of a PLO take-over of the West Bank. Others want to share power with the PLO as representatives of the Palestinians. Many are advocating incorporation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into a projected Jordanian-Syrian federation. As a first step they would demand inclusion of Palestinians in the Jordanian and Syrian delegations to a reconvened Geneva peace conference or any other Middle East forum.

Today’s general strike was the first instigated by the Arab municipalities against Israeli authority since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967. The first strike vote was taken in Nablus where the municipality invited high school students to sit in on the deliberations. A strike vote followed in Ramallah and the same measures were approved in most other West Bank townships and in East Jerusalem.

The strike was effective. Streets in the business districts were deserted, Shops were locked. Schools were closed and all municipal activities were suspended. No strike was called in the East Jerusalem suburb of Kalandia but pupils there staged demonstrations Curfews were imposed in Nablus and Ramallah but later lifted. The strike is expected to be over by tomorrow. But the West Bank Chamber of Commerce is scheduled to meet in East Jerusalem to consider future measures.

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