Israel tests its 'get tough' policy on West Bank
Nablus, Israeli-occupied West Bank
The wounding of a high school student demonstrator here March 10 -- the third shot by Israeli soldiers in four days -- stems from tension brought about by a new Israeli drive to increase its say in West Bank affairs.
The Arab student was wounded in the knee during a protest in the center of town. Two others were wounded March 6 in protest marches. In each case, Israeli authorities say, Arab students were stoning soldiers.
West Bank leaders and residents contacted by the Monitor concur that the Israeli military government has been following a ''get tough'' policy in the occupied territory since a new civil administrator, Menachem Milson, was installed in office three months ago. The drive seems aimed primarily at gaining control of universities and municipalities. But Palestinians insist that land confiscation has accelerated also.
''We feel that they want everything now in a short time,'' Nablus Mayor Bassam Shakaa said in an interview in his office March 10. (At the time, the office was blocked by Israeli soldiers, and employees and townspeople were prevented from entering).
''Since Milson, things are getting much tougher. They have had these laws (military government orders) for some time, but now they are exercising their authority in a direct and continuous way. They hope to create Palestinian quislings,'' Mayor Shakaa said.
Across town on the campus of Najah University, President Munzer Salah told how Arab students were demonstrating because ''they feel a sense of frustration.'' He said Israeli soldiers over the past few days have lobbed tear gas into the courtyards on campus. Dr. Salah said it is ''only a matter of time'' before his university is pressured to come under more direct military government/civil administration rule.
Bethlehem and Bir Zeit Universities have been under similar pressure; Bir Zeit was closed last month for an eight-week period after a scuffle broke out between students and a civil administration employee.
''We are awaiting our turn here,'' Dr. Salah said. ''It will happen, but when and how we don't know. Part of the aim of the military order (No. 854) is to give them control of political ideas in order to serve Israel's needs. This is contrary to academic freedom anywhere in the world.''
Dr. Salah argues that because there is no ''national authority'' over the area under occupation, it is difficult for students to deal with -- much less work within -- the existing system. This causes frustration. But, he adds: ''The students are very well informed. They know what happened at Bir Zeit'' and thus are tempering their protests.
Indeed, the closure of Bir Zeit -- the second two-month closure for that university this academic year -- is one of the most frequently given reasons for unrest on the West Bank today. Other important factors, Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Nablus say, are: the 15 years of Israeli military occupation; the continued initiation and expansion of Israeli settlements (which puts Palestinians in direct contact, often, with militant Jewish settlers); and now what Mr. Shakaa sees as the ''the quickening of Israeli goals.''
The mayor is bitter about Israeli occupation. He says he believes that Israeli strategy is to so frustrate Palestinians that many of them leave. Then, when the Palestinian population is less dense, Mr. Shakaa says, Israel will be able to annex the territory with a minimum of opposition.
Meanwhile, say Mr. Shakaa and two other leading Palestinians (who ask not to be identified), the Milson administration is undermining Palestinian institutions. Mr. Shakaa complains that under Mr. Milson, Israel has begun to enforce military orders that were placed on the books long before. Some of the more important are:
1. Order 854 which gives the civil administration the right to intervene in higher education, appoint teachers, and implement curriculum.
2. Order 418 which gives the civil administration the right to intervene in licensing of business enterprises.
3. Order 427 which forces all new electric hookups to be cleared through the civil administration.
Meanwhile, the military government is supporting a system of ''village leagues'' in the occupied territories. Palestinians in these leagues work closely with the military government and receive Israeli protection. Some 200 village league members are reportedly receiving Israeli training and guns.
''We are being pressed to the wall,'' says a Palestinian leader in Jerusalem. ''Recently I was out of the country and I thought I should not come back. It is just so difficult now.''
Mr. Shakaa and other more committed Palestinian nationalists say, however, that they are determined to resist the tightening hold of the military government.
''My relations with the people of Nablus are very strong,'' the mayor says. He points down the empty corridor outside his office: ''The hall is usually packed. Because of the soldiers it is empty.''