The arrest of six Palestinian journalists Thursday testifies to Israel's mounting frustration over its inability to stanch the bloodletting in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. By singling out opinion leaders whose publications Israeli officials say have helped fuel six weeks of nonstop protests, Israel is now targeting what one Western pundit calls the ``political brain of the Palestinian people.''
Some observers debate whether such actions will tame or further inflame the situation in the occupied territories. But all agree it will further damage Israel's battered international image. (UN vote on Israel's deportations, Page 2.)
The two Palestinian editors and four other Jerusalem and West Bank journalists were arrested yesterday morning for allegedly being identified with unnamed organizations ``hostile'' to Israel. Four other prominent Palestinians, including two doctors and a lawyer, were taken into custody in Gaza.
One of the 10, Hanna Siniora, editor of the daily Al-Fajr, was released after six hours in custody. He told the Monitor after his release that police had questioned him about a 1986 press conference in Washington in which he allegedly encouraged terrorism against Israel.
The real purpose of the arrest, Mr. Siniora charged, was to keep him from attending a meeting with a top UN official, Marrack Goulding, who is visiting Israel to investigate the continuing unrest.
``I feel that it's just to show the tough hand of the Israeli occupation,'' Siniora said.
This reporter and two Western colleagues Thursday visited the apartment of another of the detained journalists - Al-Shaab editor Salah Zuheikeh - and found a scene of chaos.
The contents of every closet, drawer, and bookcase were strewn around the floors. Furniture was overturned. In the bedroom, a closet door had been ripped off and a bedstead dismantled. A painting on the living room wall had been partly torn from its frame.
``That's Israeli democracy,'' Ibtissam Zuheikeh commented as she showed the reporters around the apartment.
Mrs. Zuheikeh said 10 plainclothes agents of Shin Beth (Israel's internal secret service), armed with sidearms and nightsticks, entered the two-bedroom apartment at 2 a.m., locked her and the Zuheikehs' two small children in one bedroom, and conducted a 2-hour search.
The agents, who spoke both Hebrew and Arabic, refused requests to show a search warrant and gave no reason for the search. At 4:30 a.m. Zuheikeh was handcuffed, blindfolded and led away, his wife said.
At press time, four of the 10 Palestinians arrested yesterday had been released.
Siniora, once one of several Palestinians considered acceptable by Israel to be part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian team to negotiate peace, has lately supported a campaign of nonviolent resistance to the occupation.
Siniora has called on West Bank and Gaza Palestinians to boycott Israeli soft drinks and cigarettes.
A statement issued yesterday by a group of moderate Palestinians identified with the Palestine Liberation Organization warned that the violence would continue unless Israel agreed to an international conference to negotiate the future of the territories it occupied in 1967.
[In Baghdad yesterday, PLO chief Yasser Arafat said he would recognize Israel's right to exist if Israel and the United States agreed to such a conference, the Associated Press said.]
The statement by the moderate Palestinians said the atmosphere for such a conference would not be improved until Israel agreed, among other things, to remove restrictions on political contacts between residents of the territories and the PLO.
It was just such contacts that led to the issuance of deportation orders against nine Palestinians by Israel 10 days ago.
Four of the nine, who were deported to Lebanon Wednesday, said they would ask Arab countries to provide them with a plane so they could return on a ``suicide mission.''
Their statement came after Lebanon said it would not allow the four to remain.
The four were taken Wednesday afternoon by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a PLO splinter group which is loyal to Syria, and taken to a PFLP base in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley. Israel says it will prevent the four from being returned to the self-proclaimed security zone it controls in southern Lebanon.
Several other countries joined the chorus of international condemnation over the deportations. An official in Jerusalem yesterday repeated that Israel was not happy with such criticism but reserved the right to do what it deemed necessary to maintain peace in the territories.
Barricades were erected and stones were thrown at passing cars in Hebron, on the West Bank, as violence continued into its sixth week yesterday. Two Palestinians were killed Wednesday, bringing the death toll in the recent unrest to at least 34.