Chorus of criticism grows over Israel's handling of protest

Violence continued in Israel's occupied territories yesterday amid growing criticism from abroad about the way Israel is handling the unrest. Negotiations continue today within the UN Security Council to get the United States to join other members in a resolution deploring Israel's response to the crisis (see story, Page 9).

Egypt, which has sent four protest notes to Israel in 10 days, was under some pressure from Arab countries to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest against Israeli policy. And India, Spain and Brazil over the weekend joined the lengthening list of countries critical of Israeli methods to halt the violence that has left some 17 people dead.

This weekend, the wave of demonstrations that began in the Gaza Strip expanded into Arab East Jerusalem, as protesters clashed with police in the business district of the city. Officials said incidents in Jerusalem on Saturday - in which Arab teenagers stoned cars, set up flaming roadblocks and damaged several Israeli business establishments - were the worst since the city was united under Israeli rule in 1967.

Meanwhile, incidents of stone-throwing, tire burning and blocking of roads were reported yesterday in several West Bank towns and Palestinian refugee camps.

The continuing incidents of violence have provided an unwelcome backdrop to the arrival of the first of an estimated 50,000 religious pilgrims who are expected to converge on Jerusalem and Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas.

So far Bethlehem has been relatively untouched by the demonstrations that have swept through the occupied territories in recent days. But Bethlehem mayor Elias Freij has been under heavy pressure from Arab leaders to cancel Wednesday's annual Christmas reception, to which senior Israeli leaders traditionally are invited.

Meanwhile in Shfaram, in Galilee, leaders of Israel's Arab community voted Friday to call for a one-day general strike today. Arab students and workers are being urged to stay home to protest Israeli methods used to quell the demonstrations.

``It's a very clear political strike with political demands,'' says Muhammad Watad, one of five Arab members of the Israeli parliament who attended Friday's meeting. ``If you care for human rights in Nicaragua or the Soviet Union, you have to prove it here.''

Israeli Arab leaders concede that the strike will probably have little direct effect on Israeli policy toward the territories. But one Arab mayor says the strike will make Israeli public relations efforts more difficult.

Last week, a special public relations unit was set up in the Israeli foreign ministry to respond to widespread foreign criticism that has resulted from the extensive media coverage showing Israeli troops firing on crowds of Palestinian demonstrators.

One especially damaging piece of film footage showed a plainclothes Israeli security officer shooting fleeing protestors in Gaza with a submachine gun.

Israeli authorities reprimanded and dismissed the agent but the incident has contributed to the worst public relations setback for Israel since Israeli-backed Christian militiamen killed hundreds of Palestinians in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982.

More worrisome to Israeli officials has been the reaction from Cairo, which is warning that what it calls ``repressive actions'' by Israel to contain the violence could undermine the Middle East peace process.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir yesterday rejected the urging of the foreign ministry to send a cabinet-level envoy to Cairo to explain Israeli policy.

Ibrahim Nimr Housein, mayor of Shfaram and chairman of the National Committee of Arab Local Councils, said in an interview Friday that several Arab mayors were warned against voting for the general strike by the prime minister's office on Arab affairs.

According to Mr. Housein, the mayors were warned that a strike could prompt the government to ``reconsider'' current funding for local Arab councils. The call for the general strike was approved unanimously by the mayors.

A senior official in the Arab affairs office said yesterday that he was ``not aware of any pressure along the lines described by Mayor Housein.'' The official adds that his office has taken recent steps to relieve financial pressures on several Arab councils.

Today's general strike is the fourth called by Israeli Arab leaders in 10 years.

Meanwhile an estimated 75,000 Lebanese Palestinians demonstrated, vowing to escalate ``the armed struggle'' against Israel because of its policy in the occupied territories.

Israeli police have been put on a high state of readiness in an effort to keep demonstrations from spreading into Galilee during today's general strike.

Citing unnamed Arab sources, city officials said Saturday's demonstrations in Jerusalem were organized by Gaza residents and directed in part by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

City officials say the two groups are eager to keep the spotlight of world opinion trained on the problem of the territories at least through today's expected UN vote.

Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek said one factor contributing to the disturbances in Jerusalem may have been Trade and Industry Minister Ariel Sharon's controversial move last week into the Moslem Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem.

``In a situation like this every match can start a fire,'' Mr. Kollek told the Jerusalem Post.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.