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Arabs Observe Strike but Ignore Call to Hit Israelis

February 17, 1988|MICHAEL ROSS | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — The "day of rage" turned into a day off as Palestinians throughout the occupied territories observed a total commercial strike Tuesday but, with few exceptions, did not heed calls to attack Israeli troops and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Soldiers shot and wounded three youths in scattered clashes on the West Bank, and the protests seeped again into East Jerusalem, where police dispersed Arab youths who threw stones and erected roadblocks.

By and large, however, the protests were muted, and the level of violence remained far below that of the past few weeks despite calls by the clandestine leadership of the Palestinian uprising to make Tuesday a "day of rage" in the Israeli occupied territories.

A one-day strike called by the "Unified National Leadership for the Uprising in the Occupied Territories" shut down virtually all shops and offices in the territories, and most of the Palestinians who live there but travel to jobs in Israel stayed home. But the committee's appeal to Palestinians to confront soldiers with stones and to attack Jewish settlements in the territories went largely unheeded.

Some analysts attributed this to exhaustion after nearly nine weeks of unprecedentedly violent unrest in the territories, resulting in the deaths of at least 54 Palestinians. Other analysts cited Israel's success in either arresting or severely beating hundreds of activists believed responsible for organizing demonstrations and inciting riots.

The tough "break their bones" policy under which soldiers are free to beat any demonstrators they apprehend has capped much of the violence, although it has caused controversy in Israel and damaged the country's image abroad.

Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak, Israel's deputy chief of staff, conceded at a press conference Tuesday that there had been "divergencies and irregularities" in the policy of physical force, the result of some soldiers carrying out their orders too zealously. He said efforts are being made to "minimize" this.

Reports of excesses continued, however. On Tuesday, shortly before Barak's press conference, reporters witnessed a severely injured Palestinian man, his head swathed in bloodied bandages, being rushed into St. John's Hospital in Jerusalem. Two men who were with him said he had been waiting to pass a military checkpoint when the driver of an army bulldozer attacked his car by raising the bulldozer's shovel and slamming it down onto the car's roof.

A military spokeswoman, denying this account, said the man was injured in a traffic accident when his car struck the side of a civilian tractor on a road south of the West Bank town of Hebron.

But the two other Palestinians, both of whom said they witnessed the incident, sharply disputed any suggestion that it was an accident. They requested that their names not be used, saying they feared retaliation by Israeli authorities. However, they identified the injured man as Ziad Suleiman abu Zahara, 22, of Yatta, a village 5 miles south of Hebron.

According to their account, they were stopped at a checkpoint near Hebron on the road to Idna about 7 a.m. Tuesday as they were driving to their jobs in Ramle in Israel. They were in one car, they said, while Abu Zahara was in the car ahead. A convoy of about 15 military vehicles, including the bulldozer, was parked alongside the road.

Without warning, they said, the driver of the bulldozer raised the shovel and let it fall on the roof of Abu Zahara's car. They said the driver, whom they identified as a soldier, then backed up the bulldozer and started to push Abu Zahara's car off the road toward the edge of a steep ravine.

"The soldiers saved him," one of the Palestinians said. "They came running up to the driver and ordered him to stop. They asked him why he did it, and he shouted, 'Because I want to kill them all!' "

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