WORLD

Running out of answers

Israeli tactics fail to stem the intifadeh

JOHN BIERMAN February 6 1989
WORLD

Running out of answers

Israeli tactics fail to stem the intifadeh

JOHN BIERMAN February 6 1989

Running out of answers

Israeli tactics fail to stem the intifadeh

ISRAEL

Since the uprising, or intifadeh, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip began nearly 14 months ago, one of Israel’s most controversial countermeasures has been the deportation of suspected ringleaders. She times the Israelis have dumped activists across the Lebanese border in batches, each time arousing a storm of international criticism. Even friendly governments, including the Reagan administration, have called the deportations—45 altogether—a direct violation of international law. And last week, Israeli Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself questioned the effectiveness of the policy. In a confidential briefing to the foreign affairs and defence committee of the Israeli Knesset (parliament), he reportedly conceded that after five of the six deportation operations, rioting increased instead of diminishing. In addition, Rabin admitted that the equally controversial policy of demolishing the homes of suspected troublemakers had also proved ineffective.

In that and other ways, Israeli leaders appeared to suggest last week that they were running out of ideas on how to deal with the uprising, which has severely damaged the country’s reputation abroad while claiming at

least 352 Palestinian and 14 Israeli lives. Even where new methods of control have been introduced, they have been immediately subjected to critical scrutiny. As a result, when new procedures in January gave the Israeli army greater freedom to shoot at demonstrators, media and public criticism pressured Attorney General Yosef Harish last week to launch a review of those procedures.

Opposition MP Amnon Rubinstein of the centrist Shinui party even urged soldiers to disobey the new instructions, saying that “killing as a punishment or as a deterrent is illegal.” Meanwhile, the authorities came under fire -

from an Israeli doctor who charged that as a means of political pressure, they were withholding medical treatment from sick Palestinians.

The army’s controversial new regulations authorize officers—and noncommissioned officers if they are in command of a patrol—to open fire with plastic bullets even when their

lives are not endangered. They may shoot at people burning rubber tires, erecting barricades or just running away, providing they fire a warning shot first and then aim only for the legs. But as Maj.-Gen. Ehud Barak, the army’s deputy chief of staff, conceded in a media briefing last week, such regulations are easier to draft in an office than to obey to the letter under riot conditions.

In the past six months, plastic bullets have killed 47 Palestinians and wounded an estimated 1,500. Now, there is growing concern over

a new type of ammunition being used by the Israelis— steel balls with a thin coating of rubber and about the size of a large marble. In theory, they are not capable of inflicting a serious wound. In practice, they appear to be lethal at close range. Palestinian doctors and UN officials claim that one such bullet killed a 12-year-old girl in Gaza and that another apparently left a 16-year-old boy with permanent brain damage. Last week, Barak declined to say what controls had been placed on the use of the rubber-coated bullets.

Meanwhile, in London, Israeli pediatrician Ruchama Marton accused Israel of “impeding proper medical services [to Palestinians] as a tool of political pressure and as a means of individual and collective punishment.” Marton, who chairs the Association of Israeli-Palestinian Physicians, said that before the intifadeh, the West Bank

civil administration allocated 31,000 hospitalization days a year for Palestinians but had now reduced that to 10,000 days. On the West Bank, Israeli medical authorities told Maclean ’s that the action was not punitive but a

consequence of Palestinians refusing—as part of the uprising—to pay taxes that are used to provide health care.

At the same time, the Israeli media reflected a growing sense that the intifadeh cannot be quelled militarily. Yoel Marcus, a leading columnist for the influential Hebrew daily Ha’aretz, wrote last week, “There is not a single technique that the se-

curity forces have used that

has not been circumvented or ignored.” Added Marcus, in an admission that the Israelis had been outsmarted: “These are bad days for the famous Jewish brain”—and, it seemed, for the equally famous Jewish heart.

JOHN BIERMAN

ERIC SILVER