HEBRON (Mar. 9)
An eerie quiet pervaded this largely Arab town Wednesday, in sharp contrast to eruptions of violence in the rest of the West Bank, as Palestinians marked the beginning of the fourth month of their uprising in the administered territories.
Hebron, in fact, has been the only major Arab population center that has not been torn by rioting these past three months. On Wednesday, the residents locked themselves in their homes in observance of a total general strike.
Their gesture seemed to be one of both defiance and despair. The streets were virtually empty, the busy vegetable stalls deserted. All shops were closed behind iron shutters. Only a handful of stands did business, by special permission of the nationalist underground, to supply necessities to the local population.
Even Israeli soldiers, whose presence has been a regular part of the Hebron scene, were hardly noticeable. As if by tacit agreement with local Arabs, they kept off the streets. A few kept watch on such “sensitive” points as the Hadassah building in the small Jewish enclave and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine sacred to Moslems and Jews, where the two faiths have frequently clashed.
There was no public transportation and very few laborers employed in Israel dared to go to their jobs.
The paradox is that Hebron, a hotbed of Palestinian nationalism and Islamic religious zeal, chose to go on strike rather than demonstrate. Its former mayor, Abdul Nabi Natshe, who was deposed by the Israeli authorities, told reporters, “We can continue like this for months on end. When it comes to dignity, economic hardships mean nothing.”
Israelis have been puzzling over the economic endurance of the Palestinians, not only in Hebron but elsewhere in the territories, where total strikes have paralyzed business and commerce for days at a time.
A partial explanation is that a certain amount of trading is going on behind closed doors. Workers who depend on jobs in Israel for their wages sneak away early in the morning and return in the dead of night. A system of mutual help has developed. Better-off family members help relatives who have less.
But this is not the complete picture. Palestinians, particularly at a time of nationalist euphoria, appear able to do with very little in the way of material comforts. “If need be, we shall settle for bread and water,” Natshe said.
Mahmoud Kawassmeh, a young Palestinian passing the empty marketplace Wednesday, told a reporter, “Nothing will change.”
‘SITUATION WILL CONTINUE’
He said “the situation will continue as it is for a long time to come.” He had no faith in U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz’s intensive peace efforts in the region during the past two weeks. “It’s all talk, nothing will come out of it,” he said.
Natshe, too, was critical of the Americans. “Shultz is sending letters to Shamir, to (King) Hussein (of Jordan), to (President Hafez) Assad (of Syria). But where is the letter to Yasir Arafat?” the deposed mayor asked, referring to the Palestine Liberation Organization chief.
Conditions in Hebron were hardly typical Wednesday. At least six persons were reported wounded in disturbances in the Samaria district of the West Bank. One man was brought dead to a Nablus hospital, according to unconfirmed reports.
The Israel Defense Force used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a violent demonstration at the Farah refugee camp and in Silwad village, in Samaria. The Tulkarm refugee camp was under curfew after rioting there. Shots were fired at a bus near the Jewish settlement of Eilon Moreh, close to Nablus. No one was hurt.
Hundreds of Arabs blocked the road from Biddu village, north of Jerusalem, to the neighboring Jewish settlement of Har Adar. Rocks were thrown at soldiers.
A post office bus was burned near the Kalandiya refugee camp, north of Jerusalem, and an Israeli bus was torched in Halhoul, near Hebron, when it came there to pick up laborers. There were no injuries.
Similar incidents were reported in the Gaza Strip, where a 14-year-old Arab girl was arrested on suspicion of throwing a Molotov cocktail.
Meanwhile, IDF soldiers had to contend with furious Jewish settlers from Ariel in Samaria, who raided the nearby Arab village of Kharas Tuesday night, in revenge for stone-throwing attacks on the main highway that crosses Samaria from Petach Tikva in Israel to Nablus.
The villagers countered with stones. Jewish vigilantes burned an Arab car and threatened journalists at the scene. A large military force was rushed to Kharas to prevent the settlers from entering the village.