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Controversy Brewing over Anti PLO Pledges Clerics, Academics on West Bank Have to Sign

A controversy is brewing in government circles over the intention of the West Bank civil administration to apply the anti-Palestine Liberation Organization pledge requirement to Christian clergymen and women working in the area.

There is also a groundswell of feeling within the academic community against the civil administration’s policy of requiring foreign academics at West Bank universities to sign the pledge or leave the country.

Some 200 leading Israeli academics are reported to have signed a petition against the application of the pledge to academics on the West Bank. The petition, which reportedly includes the signatures of some past winners of the prestigious “Israel Prize, ” was organized according to informed sources, before U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz called on the academic community in Israel and elsewhere last Thursday to take a stand against the pledge requirement. (See separate story from Washington.)

So far, 21 foreign lecturers, mainly at Bir Zeit University and Al Najah University in Nablus, were forced to leave the country when the civil administration refused to extend their work permits because they refused to sign the anti-PLO pledge. More than 100 other foreign academics working in West Bank institutions are likely to be affected when the time comes for them to extend their work permits.

CONTENT OF THE PLEDGE

The pledge reads: “I hereby … undertake to desist from committing any act or rendering any service which is likely to give assistance or support to the organization called the PLO or to other hostile organizations as defined by law.”

Only a handful of visiting academics on the West Bank have signed it. The majority refused on the grounds that infringes upon academic freedom and freedom of thought. The protest signed by the 200 Israeli academics say the pledge would “turn the university staff into an instrument for achieving political objectives.”

Government and Jerusalem municipal circles who especially oppose extending the signing requirement to clerics say this would generate international outrage for greater than the row over the academics. It would inevitably be seen, they contend, as an attempt by Israeli authorities to curtail religious freedoms and upset the delicate religious status quo.

CONTENTION BY CIVIL ADMINISTRATION

The civil administration contends that the pledge is similar to those demanded by the immigration authorities in the U.S. and other Western countries. They stress that academics and clerics are not being singled out for its application. On the contrary, all foreign persons wishing to live and work on the West Bank are required to sign, and working clerics should not be given favorable “discrimination,” civil administration resources argue.

These sources concede that clerics whose sole occupation is divine service will not be required to sign. But those who work in schools, orphanages or hospitals may be. A high source in the civil administration said it was “a mere accident” that no working clergy has yet been required to sign the pledge, instituted three months ago for all foreigners seeking a work permit.

But the same source also said there was “no final decision” as to whether working clerics, or which of them, will be required to sign.

It is still unclear what the ultimate intention of the civil administration is. This lack of clarity seems to reflect an ongoing controversy within the government. Certain key officials outside the West Bank civil administration are known to be pushing hard for a waiver of the pledge signing requirement in the case of all clerics. There were reports today that the Foreign Ministry, in fact, is pushing for a waiver for academics as well.

POSSIBLE CAUSES FOR THE PLEDGE REQUIREMENT

Opponents of the extension to clerics attribute the pledge requirement directly to the acting head of the civil administration, Col. Yigal Karmon, who replaced Menachem Milson in that office after Milson resigned last September. These opponents say Karmon was also responsible for recent unpleasant incidents involving searches made of cars and baggage of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and other top prelates when they crossed into the West Bank from Jordan over the Allenby Bridge. By long-standing custom, senior prelates are exempt from searches.

Under pressure from other government departments Karmon relented and clerics have been informed that such incidents will not be repeated. Nevertheless there is serious unrest in the churches of Jerusalem. Many prelates suspect a new, hostile turn in Israel’s policy toward the churches. Some link it to the resentment expressed in Israel over the audience Pope John Paul II granted to PLO chief Yasir Arafat in September.

The unrest has been exacerbated by the ongoing situation of the Armenian Grand Sacristan, Karekin Kazanjian, whose resident’s visa was not renewed by the Foreign Ministry. (See separate story.)

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