Menu JTA Search

Israel Moves to Quell Continuing Violent Demonstrations on West Bank

Israeli authorities took severe measures today to quell continuing violent demonstrations on the West Bank were one Arab youth was fatally shot in a clash with Israeli troops and at least five others, including two girls were wounded.

This moring the Jordon River bridges were closed to residents of Ramallah, El Bireh and Nablus, the scenes of the most serious political unrest during the past week. The three towns were cordoned off and residents were not permitted to leave or enter them between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

A curfew was imposed on the refugee camps at Balata and Askar in the Nablus region following demonstrations’ there. There were also demonstrations in Hebron where Arab students marched through the streets waving Palestinian flogs and chanting nationalist slogans.

Two youths were wounded in the Nablus area where troops dispersed demonstrators with tear gas and rifle shots. Another Arab, shot in Halhoul yesterday, was hospitalized in Hebron with hand and leg wounds. He was reported in satisfactory condition today.

BACKGROUND OF FATAL SHOOTING

The fatal shooting occurred in El Bireh where last Thursday the elected Mayor, Ibrahim Towil, and his town council were deposed by the Israeli authorities for refusing to cooperate with the civil administration instituted on the West Bank by Israel last year.

The victim was identified as Ibraham Ali Darwish, 18, who was shot in the stomach during a fracas with Israeli troops. Two teen-aged Arab girls were wounded in the same incident. They were identified as Amoni el-Barghouthi, 16, and Aisha el-Barghouthi, 17. It was not clear whether they are sisters or members of an extended family.

The situation on the West Bank, particularly tense since Bir Ziet University was shut down by the Israeli authorities last month, was inflamed by the removal of the municipal governmment in El Bireh. It was the first time that an elected local administration was ousted since Israel occupied the West Bank 15 years ago.

SEEN AS MOVE TO DESTROY THE PLO

Observers see that move and the violence that followed as the beginning of a political battle by Israel to destroy Palestine Liberation Organization influence on the West Bank. Mayor Tawil, like most incumbent mayors in the territory, is a strong PLO sympathizer. Israel, by its action in El Bireh, is making it clear that officials who refuse to cooperate with its conception of autonomy will not be permitted to exercise authority.

The Israeli regime, headed by Menachem Milson, justified the removal of the El Bireh Mayor and the councilmen on grounds that their refusal to cooperate was adversely affecting the citizens of El Bireh.

STATE DEPARTMENT REACTION

(In Washington, State Department spokesman Dean Fischer said Friday, in a prepared statement to reporters: “It is always unfortunate when elected officials are no longer able to serve their constituents. We remain convinced that the best way to assure the politically responsive representation of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza is through the free election of a self-governing authority

ROLE OF THE VILLAGE LEAGUES

Last year Israel set up the Village Leagues on the West Bank, an effort to establish a counterforce to the PLO among local Arabs willing to cooperate with Israel. Those who join the Leagues receive security protection and financial aid from the Israeli government. The Leagues have been active in villages, but it is doubtful that a similar force can be raised in the larger West Bank towns where PLO influence is strongest.

They received a set-back last week when the Jordanion government announced that any West Bank leaders who collaborate with Israel would be tried for treason in absentia and executed. Since then, a number of Village Leagues members have resigned.

GETTING RID OF PRO-PLO MAYORS

Israel, nevertheless, seems determined to get rid of the mayors who are PLO members or have strong pro-PLO sympathies. Heading the list is Mayor Bassan Shaka of Nablus, the largest Arab town in the territory. He is more popular than ever since he was maimed by a bomb in June, 1980, an outrage widely attributed to Jewish extremists, although no one has yet been apprehended for the crime.

Shaka is considered the top PLO man on the West Bank. But dismissing him is a politically delicate matter inasmuch as he has monaged to gamer sympathy abroad. French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson met with Shaka and other West Bank Arab leaders during President Francois Mitterrand’s visit to Israel earlier this month. If Shaka is to be ousted, Israel must wait for an opportune moment.

It remains doubtful whether all pro-PLO mayors can be replaced with maderates amenable to Israeli authority. Many Israeli leaders deeply regret that free elections were permitted on the West Bank in 1976 which brought to office a younger generation of Arab mayors who are staunchly nationalistic and committed to the PLO.

MAYORS CAUGHT IN A DILEMMA

The mayors themselves are caught in a dilemma. For a time the prevailing sentiment was that they resign collectively to demonstrate their protest against Israeli rule. But now they refrain from such a move on grounds that it would play into the hands of the Israeli authorities.

Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem, regarded as a moderate but not a Village Leagues member, stated publicly that he would not resign even if he were the last Arab mayor on the West Bank.

The mayors apparently are awaiting instruction from Beirut where the PLO, meeting in emergency session over the weekend, threatened death to any who callaborates with Israel. But the PLO leacership is also divided. Some still advocate mass resignations by the West Bank mayors for the propaganda impact such a move would have internationally. But others fear that the PLO would thereby lose whatever political control it exercises in the territory.

A complicating factor for the PLO is the lack of cooperation from Jordan. Amman, it appears, would not be displeased if the PLO leadership on the West Bank is removed. The PLO asked over the weekend for a meeting with the Jardanian authorities in order to establish a joint policy toward the West Bank.

NEXT STORY