JERUSALEM — Israeli troops, firing to disperse demonstrators on the West Bank, wounded a Palestinian woman Wednesday as Israeli Arabs staged a general strike to protest what they called the government's "apartheid" policies.
The strike by Arabs living inside Israel's pre-1967 borders was not meant to extend into the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip, where another 1.4 million Palestinians live under Israeli military rule.
But merchants in the old Casbah quarter of Nablus, the largest town on the West Bank, shut their shops in solidarity with the Israeli Arabs.
An army spokesman confirmed that a 65-year-old woman was injured in a confrontation between soldiers and demonstrators in Nablus, but denied Palestinian reports that she had been shot in the back.
According to the spokesman, troops fired into the air to disperse the demonstrators, and the woman was injured by flying fragments of metal and concrete caused by the impact of a bullet into a wall.
However, the doctor who treated the woman at Rafidiyeh Hospital in Nablus said a bullet passed through the side of her back.
"She had two wounds, one where the bullet entered and one where it exited," the doctor, who requested anonymity, said in a telephone interview. "It was a superficial wound, but it was a bullet wound. It was not caused by fragments."
The one-day general strike was called to protest discrimination and what organizers termed the "government's apartheid policies" toward the 700,000 Arabs who are citizens of Israel and live inside the so-called "green line" that excludes the territories still under military occupation. Apartheid is the policy of racial separation and white minority rule generally associated with South Africa.
Arab Israeli community leaders said that, despite reports of threats by a number of Jewish employers to fire workers who took part in the strike, the protest was a success.
They estimated that more than 80% of the Arab community inside Israel took part in the protest, dubbed the "Day of Equality."
"Some workers went to their jobs for fear of reprisals by their employers, but this was marginal. The strike was total in all Arab areas," said Nimr Morcus, head of the municipal council in the Arab village of Kfar Yasif.
'We Want Equality'
"We sent the prime minister a letter last week laying out all of our demands," he continued. "We want equality as citizens of the state of Israel."
Morcus added that he hoped Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government will "draw the necessary conclusions from the strike and from the fact that the Arab leadership was united." Otherwise, he said, "we will have to discuss other steps."
The strike most seriously affected the construction and hotel industries. But virtually all shops and public institutions in Arab areas also shut down for the day and children stayed home from school.
Strike organizers are demanding that the government give the same level of funding to Arab municipalities as it does to Jewish ones.
Specifically, they are asking for a commitment of roughly $90 million to help cover municipal debts, upgrade health facilities and construct 1,500 new classrooms to ease overcrowding in Arab schools.
Moshe Arens, the Cabinet member in charge of Arab affairs, said Monday that the Treasury would allocate an additional $13 million for new projects and the upgrading of services in Arab towns in Israel.
However, the strike leaders rejected his appeal to cancel the protest, saying his offer was "too little too late."
The organizers stressed beforehand that the issue they hoped to dramatize through the strike was equal rights for Arab citizens, not Palestinian nationalism or the demands of those living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for an end to Israeli occupation.
Nevertheless, Nablus merchants declared a strike to protest Israeli occupation policies, including the recent arrests of a number of Palestinians ordered detained without trial for six months.