'Hard hand' for occupied West Bank
Jerusalem — Israel's military administration on the occupied West Bank intends to pursue a "hard-hand" approach to maintain order there -- including a firmer policy toward universities, according to military sources here.
This policy, they say, will not be affected by international and some local criticism of the Israel Army response to a series of stone-throwing demonstrations in several towns last week, incidents in which 11 West Bank youths were injured by soldiers' bullets.
The demonstrations followed the closure by Israeli military authorities for one week of Bir Ziet University on the West Bank because its Palestinian students staged a "Palestine week," including anti-Israel speeches, without obtaining prior military approval.
Israeli military sources credit the "hard-hand" policy, put into full force after the resignation of former defense minister Ezer Weisman last May, with the quiet that prevailed on the West Bank for the five months preceding last week's outbursts.
But concerned West Bankers argue that the demonstrations prove that protest will continue to erupt, if less frequently, even under the "hard-hand" policy. They point out that these outbursts occurred even though activity by elected West Bank political leaders has been effectively banned by restricting their movement. And while two prominent West Bank leaders -- former mayors Muhammad Milhem of Halhul and Fahd Kawasmeh of Hebron -- sit in jail awaiting an Israeli high court decision on their deportation.
Moreover, West Bankers and some Israeli establishment critics claim that the shootings and the university closure will only incite further protest. The English-language daily, the Jerusalem Post, which supports the opposition Labor Party, editorialized after the disruptions that "a military treatment" is being sought for a problem proved "susceptible . . . to none but a political solution."
The hard-hand policy was adopted last spring after several months of growing unrest and a deepening level of political organization on the West Bank. It had two principal aims: to restrict the nationalistic political activity that military authorities considered to be behind the growing unrest, and to crack down hard on demonstrators, especially stone-throwers.
Although the policy was discussed before the resignation of Ezer Weizman, it was mainly implemented after his departure and following the murder of six Jewish soldier-students in Hebron, both of which occurred in May. While strong tactics were sometimes used under Mr. Weizman, the former defense chief had a sensitive eye for public opinion and was willing to change or even rescind an action he thougt might make Israel look bad at home or abroad. Thus, he reversed a decision to expel Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka in November 1979.
After Mr. Weizman's resignation, however, the defense portofolio was taken on by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who had little time for policymaking on running the West Bank. According to several articles in the Israeli press, West Bank policy is now both formulated and executed by armed forces Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, who, in the words of Jerusalem Post military correspondent Hirsh goodman, "sees problems through one set of lenses only: security."
The hard-hand approach toward demonstrators included, last spring, collective all-night roundups of refugee camp males in camps where youths had stoned military vehicles, and in one case the banishment of a stone-thrower's parents to a deserted desert camp in Jericho.
Chief of Staff Eitan insisted after last week's shootings that the order to open fire on students was given only after soldiers' lives were in danger and had been preceded by shouted warnings and firing in the air.
Defense sources said soldiers who were filmed firing from rooftops fired only warning shots. When asked why tear gas or rubber bullets were not used, a military informant replied, "The soldiers didn't expect this trouble. They didn't have time to prepare themselves."
Labor Party's Eve Yossi Sarid demanded an investigation into whether Army policy toward demonstrators had changed.
West Bank military authorities view the universities as a prime source of political agitation. They say that with the reopening of Bir Zeit University, the new military line wil be "not to give in to incites even if this involves frontal clashes with protesters and university heads."
A new higher education law, adopted by Isralei authorities but called illegal by West Bankers, requires universities there to apply annually to the military for license renewals. New faculty and students must receive written military approval before joining any university.