JERUSALEM (Mar. 18)
The elected mayor and municipal council of El Bireh, north of Jerusalem, were removed from office today on grounds that they refused to cooperate with the Israeli civilian regime set up on the West Bank late last year by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.
The order ousting the local officials was signed by Menqchem Milson who heads the civilian government. According to Israel Radio it was the first time Israel has disbanded a municipal council on the West Bank since it occupied that territory in 1967.
The ouster was followed by a violent demonstration in El Bireh. Rocks were hurled at a bus carrying Israeli troops, shattering the windshield. Several demonstrators were arrested. Although the El Bireh council was replaced by one headed by an Israeli officer from the civilian administration, the deposed Mayor Ibrahim Tawil declared that he was still the legal mayor and that the townspeople continue to regard him and the council as their duly elected leaders.
In Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank, Mayor Bassam Shaka announced a three day shut-down of all municipal offices in protest against the Israeli action in El Bireh. He vowed that he and his town council would never cooperate with the Israeli civilian government.
DEFENSE MINISTRY EXPLAINS MOVE
The Defense Ministry issued a statement today saying that Tawil and his colleagues were removed in the interests of the citizens of El Bireh who were being adversely affected by the municipality’s refusal to cooperate with the civilian government.
The Israeli move climaxed 10 days of sustained unrest on the West Bank which spread to the outer suburbs of Jerusalem. Earlier this week a bus was stoned near the Jewish suburb of Neve Yaacov and similar incidents occurred on the roads from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and Hebron.
Israel’s troubles on the West Bank were compounded by a series of defections by local Arabs from the Village Leagues after the Jordanian government warned that they would be tried in absentia for collaborating with Israel and executed.
The Village Leagues were established by Israel to counteract Palestine Liberation Organization influence on the West Bank. Arabs prepared to cooperate with Israel were given local functions under the civilian regime and their villages were supplied with cash.
Mustafa Dudein, who heads the Village Leagues in the Hebron area, is trying to stem the tide of defections. He met today with Eliahu Ben-Elissar, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, to urge more Israeli support for the villages.
Reaction in Israel to the removal of El Bireh’s elected officials was split along party lines. Labor Party Secretary General Haim Barlev accused the government of heightening tension on the West Bank instead of defusing it.
But Likud MK Ronnie Milo said the move was much less harsh than what would have occurred if there was no civilian administration on the West Bank and it was left to the Military Government to remove an inept local council.