News Analysis: the Intifada is Changing, and So Are the Army’s Tactics of Dealing with It
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News Analysis: the Intifada is Changing, and So Are the Army’s Tactics of Dealing with It

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When a popular Israeli television program broadcast pictures last Friday night of army undercover agents using Arab disguises to arrest Palestinian agitators in the administered territories, it produced an explosion of diverse reactions here.

But it also highlighted the fact that after more than three years, both the nature of the intifada and the tactics Israeli security forces are using to cope with it are changing.

The local Palestinian leadership is calling for a critical review of the intifada. But first, it must find a way to end the bloody terror campaign being waged by Palestinian activists against fellow Arabs suspected of collaborating with the Israelis.

The Israel Defense Force, for its part, is zeroing in on individual troublemakers, instead of confronting entire populations. The Friday television broadcast showed pictures of IDF operatives in traditional Arab headdress quietly nabbing surprised suspects in the streets of Arab towns.

The defense establishment cooperated with the disclosure of the operation, which was hailed in some government circles for its “surgical” precision. But the Cabinet is split.

Some politicians and former defense chiefs think the expose, if not the tactic, was a serious mistake that could be used against Israel.

Israelis meanwhile are keeping a close watch on developments in the Palestinian community.

They wonder if the influence of the Palestine Liberation Organization is on the wane and, if so, whether it will be replaced by Arab pragmatists or by Moslem fundamentalists more violent and uncompromising than the PLO.

Local Palestinian leaders have called several meetings since the end of the Persian Gulf War to review the course of the intifada.


The debate has been conducted in the pages of the pro-PLO East Jerusalem daily Al Fajr and at political gatherings in the big Al-Hakawati theater in East Jerusalem.

There has been much self-criticism. A new political organization, the National Palestinian Union, has emerged to oppose the violence that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Palestinians.

The Israeli authorities are keeping to the sidelines to see if the new group will give rise to a rational local alternative to the PLO.

“If the new organization will prompt more people to abandon the way of violence, I welcome it,” said Maj. Gen. Danny Rothschild, coordinator of government affairs in the territories.

“The intifada is not dying out, but people are reconsidering its pros and cons,” he observed. “The majority of the population understands that there have been more losses than gains.”

While the level of violence may have dropped, most Palestinians have not distanced themselves from the PLO. Their disenchantment with the Gulf war may have accelerated the emergence of a local leadership in the territories. But it will not act without the PLO’s approval.

The emerging Palestinian leadership is of a younger generation. It consists of people in their 30s: journalists, university professors, trade union leaders and former security prisoners. They are an educated social strata that cannot be accused of lacking nationalist zeal.

Adnan Damiri of Tulkarm in the West Bank served seven years in Israeli jails and spent additional months in administrative detention. Recently, he published two sharply worded articles against the intifada’s masked men, the hit squads who go after alleged collaborators. They generated an unprecedented public debate on the course of the intifada.


But the argument and self-appraisal have by no means ended intifada violence.

Serious disturbances Monday in Khan Yunis caused the army to clamp a curfew on the Gaza Strip town. A curfew also was imposed on the Shati refugee camp adjacent to the city of Gaza.

Last week, the IDF seized an armed gang of Arab youths in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah who called themselves the Black Panthers. They are believed responsible for the brutal murders of 13 Arabs suspected of collaboration and other crimes of violence.

Meanwhile, the Civil Rights Association said Monday that it welcomed disclosure of the IDF’s undercover tactics in the territories.

But Professor David Kretzmer, the group’s chairman, complained at a news conference here that the publicity was intended to serve the interests of the IDF, not the public right to know.

Yehoshua Schoffman, a lawyer for the association, said there was at least one case in which undercover units are suspected of beating a resident of Adik village in the West Bank without provocation. The incident is being investigated.

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