Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, initiating a pre-emptive approach against the Palestinian uprising, announced on Thursday the outlawing of the popular committees functioning in the Israeli-administered territories.
Membership in these committees was deemed illegal, enabling the army to make arrest without having to prove hostile acts.
Authorities also announced their intention not to open schools in the territories on Sept. 1, as scheduled. Universities there would be shut until further notice.
The committees, which became the backbone of the Palestinians soon after the uprising began, have operated till now as grass-roots, quasigovernmental authorities involved in almost every level of daily life in the Palestinian community.
Their purpose is to allow the Palestinians to function independent from any outside body.
Rabin’s move came a day after authorities deported four Palestinians to Lebanon and issued another 25 deportation orders, comprising the largest group to be ordered deported from Israel since 1967.
All 25 who are under deportation orders are associated with the popular committees.
Also declared illegal were the “shock groups,” which allegedly have exerted pressure on the local population to carry out the committees’ instructions.
Under order of the defense minister, any member of the committees is liable to 10 years in prison.
The same punishment can be faced by any person who takes part in any gathering organized by a committee, any person in possession of documents prepared by the committee–including the popular leaflets that disseminate the communiques of the uprising’s command– and by anyone who supports those bodies financially.
A report in Maariv Thursday said that the Finance Ministry is prepared to allocate $112 million to the Defense Ministry in order to cover the cost of maintaining order in the territories in view of the uprising. The Defense Ministry has requested $170 million for that purpose.
INSTITUTIONALIZING THE UPRISING
Rabin told reporters Thursday that the repressive measures being instituted were due to the actions of the local committees, which he said were functioning to maintain the level of the uprising and to institutionalize it.
He described the committees as branches of the terrorist organizations, designed to lead the uprising.
According to Rabin, there are between 200-300 active committee members already in administrative detention, and he estimated that several hundred more activists still operate.
The idea of making the popular committees illegal was first discussed by security forces six weeks ago. The decision to “take the initiative” in the struggle against the “intifada,” or uprising, was made last Thursday.
Legal experts explained Thursday that declaring the committees illegal did not imply they were legal beforehand.
The Israeli daily Haaretz wrote in a front-page commentary Thursday that the change in the approach of Israeli authorities was marked by the fact that the harsh action would now be taken not just against any committees involved in violent action, but also in those working in community-voluntary activities, mutual assistance and social welfare.
The authorities had refrained from such punitive measures till now because of legal restrictions and fear of harsh international criticism, according to the paper.
But according to security sources, the defense establishment has in the past few weeks become convinced that sufficient security justification and a solid legal basis exist for employing such measures against committees that focus on community activity.
The newspaper reported that the Israel Defense Force has lost control of what transpires in the village because of a reluctance to patrol villages and incur chance friction with the local population.
On Thursday, the Jerusalem District Court again did not complete hearing arguments over the administrative detention of Faisal al-Husseini, the Palestinian activist who was arrested July 31 for a six-month detention period.
Israeli authorities described Husseini as a senior activist in Al Fatah and one of the leaders of the PLO in the Jerusalem area, a charge Husseini has constantly denied.
At the same time, authorities closed the Arab Studies Institute in East Jerusalem, which Hussein headed.
Meanwhile, the IDF spokesman’s office reported that 1,024 molotov cocktails were thrown between Dec. 9, 1987 and Aug. 9, 1988. Of these, 766 were thrown on the West Bank and 258 in the Gaza Strip.
During July and August there has been a 50 percent decrease in the number of Molotov cocktails thrown, in comparison with June; 21 were thrown in Judea and Samaria and Gaza during July and the beginning of August, compared with 65 thrown in the territories in June.