JERUSALEM (Dec. 16)
Israel faced challenges on the diplomatic, domestic and propaganda fronts this week as it tried to quell the worst outbreaks of violence in 20 years in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Friendly Western countries, including the United States, Britain and West Germany, have expressed concern and displeasure over the mounting toll of Palestinian dead and wounded in clashes with the Israel Defense Force. Similar feelings were conveyed by Mohammad Bassiouny, at peace with Israel.
Meanwhile, unrest in East Jerusalem, linked to events in the territories, has spread to Israel’s normally quiescent Arab population.
Peaceful demonstrations of solidarity with their peers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were held in Nazareth, the largest Arab township in Israel, and in several Arab villages Wednesday. They were organized by the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, a front of Israel’s Communist Party.
At the same time, the National Committee of Arab Mayors, considered the most influential Arab organization in Israel, has urged the government to leave the territories to put an end to the bloodshed. The mayors are considering calling a general strike in sympathy with the West Bank and Gaza Arabs.
In addition, Israel is facing an image problem that may be as serious as the one during the Lebanon war in 1982. For more than a week now, television and front-page newspaper photographs all over the world have shown IDF troops in full battle gear roughing up Palestinian rioters.
U.S. ENVOY PROTESTS
The Reagan administration has already told Israel at the highest levels that it opposes many of its actions in the territories. United States Ambassador Thomas Pickering met with Premier Yitzhak Shamir to discuss the situation.
Shamir expressed Israel’s regret for the loss of lives, but he blamed the Palestine Liberation Organization and “Arab inciters” for aggravating the situation.
He stressed to the American envoy that the IDF and the police are exercising maximum restraint to avoid clashes with the local population and expressed confidence that the territories will soon be calm.
In Washington, visiting Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin made similar statements Wednesday. He insisted that Israel would not bow to pressure from hostile elements. (See related story.)
Meanwhile, Ezer Weizman, acting foreign minister in the absence of Shimon Peres, who is touring Latin America, met with Shamir for two hours Wednesday to discuss the adverse image arising from the tough presentation of events in the world news media. So far, there is no word of any immediate initiative by Israel to balance those reports.
The strict orders given soldiers, to use their weapons only in life-threatening situations and to avoid provocation to the local population in the territories, reflect Jerusalem’s sensitivity to the problem. The security forces reportedly deferred such tough measures as administrative arrests and the demolition of houses belonging to terrorists.
An idea raised Monday to close the territories to the news media was reportedly dropped. It was said to have come up at a meeting between Shamir and Gen. Dan Shomron, the IDF chief of staff. Weizman said on a radio interview Tuesday that he rejected it out of hand.