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Israel Forces Arab Shops to Open, Will Bar Food Aid

January 20, 1988|DAN FISHER | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Israeli authorities stepped up the pressure Tuesday on Palestinian workers and shopkeepers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, putting into effect what was described as Stage 2 of the government's program to break a six-week cycle of civil unrest.

Touring the Ramallah area north of Jerusalem, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said the government will block food shipments from relief organizations and other countries in an effort to end the commercial strikes that continue to paralyze Arab East Jerusalem and a number of towns in the occupied territories.

"We will show who is running the territories," he said.

Rabin said the violent stage of the unrest, which has left at least 36 people dead, appears to have passed as a result of massive troop reinforcements, new riot-control tactics and curfews in the Palestinian refugee camps.

Soldiers forced merchants in Ramallah to open their stores Tuesday morning despite a strike called by the Palestinian "Uprising Committee." However, most of the merchants remained outside their shops, and there were no customers. East Jerusalem stores were shuttered for the 10th day in a row.

In Gaza City, soldiers reportedly confiscated the identification papers of about 50 Palestinian shop owners and said the vital documents would not be returned until they ended their strike, which has been almost continuous since the unrest began last Dec. 9.

Israel Radio reported Tuesday night that the Jerusalem police and Mayor Teddy Kollek were considering new measures to counter the commercial strike, but it gave no details.

Rabin said Tuesday that despite statements by U.N. officials and Palestinian leaders that there is hunger in the refugee camps, there are "ample supplies of whatever is needed by the population."

He said it is a contradiction for the Palestinians to complain about shortages while closing down the means of distribution.

"Therefore," he said, "we will not allow any support from the outside . . . not by countries, not by organizations, because there are commodities, and once all the shops will be open there will be no shortage."

Israel Will Bar Shipments

Asked if this means that Israel will prevent shipments of food or clothing to the territories, he replied, "No doubt about it."

Meanwhile, Israeli businesses that are normally dependent on large numbers of Arab employees from the territories were finding alternative manpower sources in a move that could have a long-term impact on the interwoven economies of the two societies.

Palestinian nationalists see economic protests as a way to maintain the pressure generated by street demonstrations, and possibly to translate that momentum into political gain. Also, the tactic is meant to involve a wider segment of the Arab population in a protest that has been focused mainly on the refugee camps.

Business Set Ablaze

Organizers of the commercial strike in East Jerusalem had underscored their words Sunday night by setting fire to the business of a money changer who refused to close.

Israeli officials point to the incident as evidence that the great majority of businessmen have simply been terrorized into going along with the strike, but interviews with Palestinian merchants indicate that many of them support the protest.

The economies of the territories and that of Israel proper have become mutually dependent in 20 years of occupation. But in any economic showdown, Israel would have much greater staying power than the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel imports about $275 million in goods from the territories each year, but its sales in the territories are valued at $800 million--roughly 70% of all the goods and services consumed in the West Bank and Gaza.

The total value of goods and services produced in the territories is less than 7% of that in Israel proper, and nearly one-third of the wealth in the areas comes from the 40% of Palestinian wage-earners who work in Israel.

Manpower Pinch in Israel

The combination of voluntary strikes and involuntary curfews preventing Palestinians from reaching their jobs has caused a manpower pinch for many Israeli employers.

Moshe Katzav, Israel's minister of labor and welfare, told the Cabinet that only about half the usual number of workers from the territories had shown up in the previous two weeks. However, employers in some of the hardest-hit areas said Tuesday that they are making do.

Of most concern in Israel is the citrus harvest. Arabs usually fill about one-third of the 15,000 picking and packing jobs.

Last week, Katzav approved a plan to bring 550 workers from south Lebanon to help with the harvest, and Yoram Wineberg, director general of the Council of Citrus Distributors, urged that up to 200 Portuguese pickers be imported as a "strategic backup," so "the Arabs won't hold us by the throat."

Students Mobilized

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