RESPONDING to international pressure, Israel has decided to reopen West Bank schools which have been closed through most of the 19-month Palestinian intifadah (uprising). The phased reopening of 1,200 public, private, and United Nations-run schools is to begin Saturday with the six elementary grades and the 12th grade. Israeli sources say that a decision on whether to extend the openings to junior and senior high-school students will hinge on whether the schools once again become staging grounds for anti-Israeli demonstrations.
The decision to reopen the schools followed months of quiet negotiations in which Palestinian educators and political leaders assured Israeli officials of their serious interest in keeping education as removed as possible from the intifadah.
But Palestinian sources insist that no guarantees were given that the schools would be trouble-free.
The reopening does not apply to the four universities and several community colleges in the West Bank, which have also been closed since the start of the uprising.
The West Bank schools, which serve 320,000 students, have remained shut for all but 40 days since the issuance of a military closure order in January 1988. Schools in Arab East Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip have remained open despite regular interruptions caused by Israeli-imposed curfews and general strikes ordered by the uprising leadership.
``The children may be difficult to manage since they have lived for so long without organization, order, and authority,'' says Khalil Mahshi, principal of the Friends Boys School in Ramallah in the West Bank.
Palestinian educators are also worried that many students may refuse to return to school to show their solidarity with dozens of students and teachers who are now under administrative detention because of intifadah-related activities.
The civil administration spokesman says Army patrols will be asked to stay away from the school campuses to avoid provoking incidents that could lead to a new closure order.
``The big question is how long this will last,'' says Mr. Mahshi. ``If they are serious, it will last. If not, the authorities can always find excuses to close down the schools again.''