Several weeks ago, a Western reporter dialed information in Jerusalem to obtain the number of Mubarak Awad, the leading exponent of nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After a brief pause, the Israeli operator exclaimed, ``Ooooh, that bad man? Why would anyone want to talk to Mubarak Awad?''
The response was a telling reminder of the strong feelings aroused by this self-styled Gandhi of the Palestinian resistance, described facetiously by one liberal member of the Knesset (Israel's parliament) as ``the most dangerous man on the West Bank.''
This month, an ongoing controversy over what to do about the Palestinian-born American will finally be settled when a three-judge panel rules on the legality of a deportation order issued him last week by the Israeli government.
[The Israeli Supreme Court ruled today that Mr. Awad must stay in jail until his deportation hearing in two weeks, the Associated Press reports.]
The case is significant politically as a symbol of Israel's worsening crackdown against the intifadah (uprising) against Israeli rule in the occupied territories. The uprising, in which at least 185 Arabs and two Israelis have been killed, began five months ago yesterday.
Awad's case is also significant legally. If his appeal is denied as expected, the way may be cleared for the expulsion of other Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, considered by Israelis to be part of Israel since they annexed it in 1967. So far, all the Palestinians deported by Israel were residents of the West Bank and Gaza.
Awad's case will be a test of Israel's ability to deport Palestinians under the Israeli Law of Return, which applies to residents of Israel.
Israel says that after living abroad for 15 years, Awad has ceased to be a Jerusalem resident and is regarded as a tourist whose visa has expired.
Attorneys defending Awad are seeking to prove that, under the Law of Return, Awad's status as a resident of Jerusalem (like that of Jewish residents) should not be affected by foreign citizenship.
Awad is in Israel on a tourist visa because he left Jerusalem, where he was born, to live in the US between 1969 and 1983. He says he was forced to leave Jerusalem after being held for a month in an Israeli prison, where he was tortured by electric shocks. Awad says his jailers gave him the choice of remaining in prison or leaving the country.
Awad's case, which began when Israeli authorities refused to extend his visa last November, has snowballed into a major media event at home and abroad. Thousands of letters of support have reached Awad from around the world.
United States Secretary of State George Shultz last weekend again intervened personally to try to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to reconsider his decision to expel Awad.
Since founding the ``Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence'' in Arab East Jerusalem three years ago, Awad has been regarded with increasing alarm by Israel.
By advocating massive civil disobedience and noncooperation with Israeli authorities, Awad has fueled the uprising and has thus jeopardized the security of the state, according to the deportation order signed Friday by Mr. Shamir.
Awad's acknowledgment, penned in a 1984 article, that nonviolent resistance ``does not constitute a rejection of the concept of armed struggle'' has invalidated comparisons with the peaceful methods used by Mahatma Gandhi, say other Israeli critics of Awad.
Mr. Gandhi's leadership of a national movement of nonviolent resistance to British rule in India led to Indian independence in 1947.
At the root of the controversy over Awad is the role he has played in the intifadah. Backers of the jailed activist say he has never advocated violence.
Many Palestinian activists have dismissed Awad as a ``limousine leader'' with no major following among Palestinians living in the occupied territories.
Nevertheless, there appears to be a striking and growing coincidence between Awad's views and the accent on nonviolent resistance in recent circulars issued by the underground Palestinian leadership.
Awad, and the uprising's leaders, have called on Palestinians to boycott Israeli products, to refuse to work for the Israeli administration, and to stop paying taxes to Israel.
Awad has denied charges that he helped author the latest circular issued by the intifadah's leaders calling for more extensive use of civil disobedience.
``It would be the beginning of the end of the Israeli occupation,'' predicts one West Bank Palestinian of the effect Awad's tactics would have if universally adopted in the territories.
Since the start of the intifadah, 20 Palestinians have been deported by Israel under the provisions of emergency regulations Israel says it inherited from the 1917-1948 British mandate over Palestine and which Israel applies to the occupied territories.
Awad was arrested and served deportation orders early Friday, and has begun a hunger strike in response. Israeli officials have been under pressure from right-wing elements to deport Awad, which has been threatened since his tourist visa expired.
Awad's attorneys filed an appeal Sunday which was heard by the three-judge panel yesterday. No appeal of a deportation order has ever succeded.
``The record is rather dismal,'' concedes Jonathan Kuttab, one of Awad's attorneys.