Status of Palestinian Territories and Palestinian Society under Israeli Occupation

III. Political Status of Palestinian Territories under Israeli Likud Government

In May 1977, Menachem Begin's nationalist Likud party won the Israeli elections, and the first Likud government was formed under Begin as Prime Minster, who was considered too militant and extremist for most Israelis. He was different from previous prime ministers in his way of dealing with the OPT. He was committed to hold onto the OPT permanently, and to settle them with Jewish populations. He even resisted the term Occupied Territories and always referred to it as 'Eretz Yitzrael' (Land of Israel) that belongs only to the Jewish people. He, in cooperation with Ariel Sharon and various religious militants, began a wide, major, aggressive settlement campaign on Palestinian owned land and also brought quite a few Jewish populations into what used to be Jewish neighborhoods in old Jerusalem and Hebron. 69

Although Jewish settlements had started under the Labor government before 1977, the Likud government's philosophy was different. For when the Labor government had carefully avoided the dense population centers of the West Bank and Gaza, the Likud targeted such areas and such lands; Palestinian owned Lands.
The Likud government strategically placed settlements in the very centers of Palestinian populated areas, particularly in the line running from Jerusalem north through Ramallah to Nablus, and in the line running from Jerusalem south past Bethlehem to Hebron. These settlements were often positioned in 'bloc' (Gush in Hebrew) to surround key Palestinian cities or to be on key roads. This was intended to facilitate military and territorial control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, so that in any case of Palestinian uprising the Israeli military would be able to surround them and suppress them, for as Raphael Eitan (former head of the Israeli military) said "Palestinians would be like cockroaches in a bottle". 70

The Likud government did not stop at that, it also denied the nationalist mayors any powers and authorities to manage civil affairs. "It took over water sources in the territories and denied the municipalities any practical power in fields like that of water management, instead, these powers were put in the control of the Israeli Water Company Mekorot in a way that limited the municipalities' role to collecting water bills from residents and administering the daily distribution of water." 71

In a similar fashion, the Likud government denied the municipalities any powers to manage electricity. "All municipalities were asked to obtain permission from the military administration before initiating any electricity-related project. This permission was rarely granted, most requests being rejected. Due to this increased Israeli control, many municipalities were unable to meet local demands for electricity and were forced to link to Israel’s national power grid." 72

Since day one in the office, the Likud government adopted a well planned strategy for land expropriation, settlement expansion and hostility against the Palestinians, in particular, the leaders of the non-violent resistance movements. Israel applied this strategy on a large scale, unlike anything before, especially after the signing of Camp David Accords with Egypt in 1978.   

National Guidance Committee
The first National Guidance Committee (NGC) was established in Jerusalem on July 24, 1967 to deal with the new situation (occupation) and to keep the existing socio-economic and religious institutions out of the Israeli control. The first NGC was chaired by Sheikh Abdel Hamid As-Sayeh, a respectable Shari'a (Islamic Law) judge, and composed of different Palestinian and Jordanian dignitaries. The NGC denounced the Israeli annexation of the city and launched a public appeal to preserve its Arab character. Their actions were mainly legal and comprised of petitions, demonstrations and appeals to the international community. However, the deportation of its leader As-Sayeh in September 1967 and the further expulsion of the subsequent chairman Rawhi Al-Khatib in 1968 seriously weakened the organization. 73

During the 1970's, the Palestinian population sought to establish a common political front composed of various political parties which tried to work along the same lines as the PLO. One attempt was the establishment of the Palestinian National Front (PNF) in 1973, but it was attacked by the Israeli Military Government and many of its members were deported, until in October 1978 when it was publicly declared illegal by Israel. The most important factor in the collapse of the PNF was its repression by Israeli authorities that intensified under the Likud government which took office in June 1977.  However, many members of the PNF had been elected as mayors, a fact that helped in the continuation of the non-violent resistance movement that passed down from the PNF to the second NGC.

The second NGC was established in 1978 by the newly elected mayors, many of them were once a part of the PNF. It represented a democratic leadership from all of the OPT that attempted to help the Palestinians confront the expanding Israeli colonization. Unlike the PNF, which operated secretly and was dominated by communists,74 the NGC was openly formed and its members were well-known people. It was led by the mayors of the major cities, and included labor and professional unions, women's and student organizations, and many owners of small commercial and industrial enterprises as members.75

The NGC adopted a local tradition of peaceful political resistance. The NGC members dealt with the Israelis on a daily basis, but at the same time they peacefully resisted the expropriation of land and the continuous colonization through several declarations and demonstrations. Nonetheless, the Israeli Likud government considered the NGC a threat, for it had the ability to mobilize and organize all Palestinians in practicing non-violence 'with perfection'. Thus it was difficult for the Israeli government to confront a leadership that wanted peace; and that called for an independent Palestinian state, side by side with Israel, on 22% of UN mandated Palestine. Israel feared this leadership because it clearly denied Israel's propaganda ploy of pointing out that the Palestinians wanted only to destroy Israel.76

The NGC called for independence and nothing less. It did not see it as an emotional proclaim, it saw in it a necessary tool to undermine fragmentation that made the construction of a meaningful political entity impossible. For accepting local autonomy under Israeli occupation would only continue Israel's right to impose its sovereignty over Palestinians and to ensure Palestinians economic dependency.77

The NGC generally took a defensive approach to mobilizing public opinion to prevent the imposition of an autonomy regime in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; however, it was not that successful in establishing independent institutions, one NGC member indicated that the body's ineffectiveness was due to Israeli pressure to suppress any kind of Palestinian development and independence, and the pressure that was imposed before it by the British and the Zionists, he said "Those on the offensive [the British and the Zionists] were following a well-detailed scheme, while those on the defensive were limited to impromptu formulations… We were not able to build institutions able to withstand increasingly aggressive Israeli institutions. If a Palestinian system had been strongly in place in the West Bank and Gaza it [effective opposition] could have worked, but as it was, from the beginning [of occupation] we were vulnerable." 78

Attack on Palestinian Mayors
As soon as the Likud government took control, it began to harass mayors, restrict their activities and limit their jurisdiction. Israel launched its war against the mayors and the NGC in the apparent attempt to drive the Palestinian people towards violence. Torture, humiliation, destruction of homes, uprooting of trees, confiscation of land and plantations, closures of schools and cities, the murder of a family member or a friend became the systematic actions of the Israeli government. Furthermore, frequent clashes between the Palestinians and the Israeli settlers took place especially in Hebron, Nablus and Jerusalem districts, where the radical Jewish settlers began to take an active role in 'policing' the West Bank, that the lines between the Israeli military and civilian, however armed, settlers were becoming blurred. 79

Land expropriation and settlement construction were carried out by the Israeli government on systematic basis. Palestinians were not allowed to even protest to it, for example, in late November 1976, the Military Governor of Bethlehem issued a military order forbidding Beit Jala citizens from demonstrating against the construction of an Israeli settlement on their land. 80 However, demonstration did continue all over the OPT, for instance, in mid April 1977 when Meir Kahane, the leader of a group of extremist Jewish settlers, who called themselves TNT (Terror Neged Terror = Terror against Terror), and who undertook several assault actions towards the Palestinians in Hebron, came to Nablus and announced that he had the intention to establish himself there, demonstrations and strikes broke out in Nablus and no sooner it turned to a protest against settlement construction which spread through the OPT. 81

In 1979, a series of protests took place in the West Bank under the leadership of mayors Bassam Shak'a, Fahd Qawasmeh, Muhammad Milhem and Karim Khalaf against the increasing settlement activities of Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful), 82 a movement that sprang out after the Six-day War in 1967, though it was not formally established as an organization until 1974, its supporters believe that the coming of the messiah can be hastened through Jewish settlement on land they believe God has allotted to the Jewish people as outlined in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh).83 The Israeli army responded to the protests by denying funds to the Nablus municipality and denying Qawasmeh access to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. 84

The attacks by settlers increased; for example on May 26, 1976, four unidentified settlers broke into Palestinian homes in Hebron, and beat their inhabitants and smashed their belongings.85 Also in Halhul, Jewish settlers from Kiryat Arba damaged dozens of cars in what became known as the 'night of hammers.' In addition to the many Palestinians who were shot dead by Israeli settlers during demonstrations.86

By the end of the year, in November 1979 to be exact, Israel jailed Shak'a and announced its decision to deport him. The action followed Shak'a's refusal to connect Nablus' water and electric systems with those of Israel, along with Israeli media allegations that the Mayor had endorsed killing Israeli civilians. Shak'a's detention prompted the resignation of Nablus' entire city council as well as a city-wide strike. 87

On the other hand, in Hebron on March 23, 1980, Israel approved of the 'reconstruction and development of Hebron's Jewish Quarter, despite various measures of resistance led by Mayor Milhem. Palestinians responded with a series of protests throughout the West Bank, since the event approximately coincided with the anniversaries of the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and Land Day. 88 Qawasmeh, Mayor of Hebron, responded by calling on Hebron residents to resist the action by every peaceful means, by asking them to 'declare a total boycott of the occupier and to start real actions against the authorities.'89

Nonetheless, settler-Palestinian violence in the Hebron vicinity increased, which at one point caused the death of six Jewish settlers. On May 2, 1980 Israel issued expulsion orders against Mayors Qawasmeh and Milhem, along with Hebron's Muslim Chief Qadi (religious judge), Sheikh Rajab Tamini. The three were taken from their homes and flown with black bags covering their heads to Lebanon. 90 General Rafael Verdi, ex-general commander of the West Bank, warned the Israeli government of such policies, saying, "…the dismissal of mayors would lead to the failure of the policy of encouraging moderation among the leadership and eventually would turn the moderates into radicals." 91

The Israeli settlers were not content with their government measures of controlling the Palestinian protest; they found them to be inadequate. Thus, within a week after the Hebron incident, Jewish settlers announced the formation of the 'Central Security Committee.' The group circulated fliers and notices asking Jews to "please report to us any act of rebellion, incitement, stone-throwing, or rioting, and any incident in which the security forces have refrained from acting efficiently." 92

Radical settler leader Meir Kahane of the Kach group campaigned for the formation of a 'Jewish terror group' that would 'throw bombs and grenades to kill Arabs'. He declared, "I am calling on the government to do this. I haven't the slightest doubt that there are Jews in this country at the moment who are planning things. I have no doubt that there are Jews who will do terrorist acts. Of course there will be bombs against Arabs—I haven't the slightest doubt." 93 Israeli security services later confirmed these claims, and later a large cache of explosives were discovered in Jerusalem's Old City. The Paris-based publication Israel and Palestine indicated that Kahane was discovered to have planned to blow up the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. 94

On June 2, 1980, the same day that marked the end of the thirty day mourning period for the Jews killed in Hebron, several bombs went off in Hebron, wounding seven Palestinians. It was also this day that car bombs in Nablus and Ramallah severely wounded Mayors Shak'a and Khalaf leaving them maimed. A similar assassination attempt was made on Ibrahim Taweel, who averted the attack with advanced warning. Further measures were taken against these Mayors, including restrictions placed on their movement outside the country, reduction of their rights to engage in political activities, and so forth. [For list of Palestinians assassinated by Israel, see Annex 2.]

Civil Administration and Village Leagues
On August 31, 1980, Israeli military order number 830 was issued, freezing the elections of municipal councils.95 Israel did not want to see the nationalist Palestinians rise to municipal power as was the case in 1976. The Israeli Likud government sought to hold complete power in the OPT in relation to both security and social affairs of the Palestinians. On March 5, 1978, the Likud administration issued military order number 752, stipulating the creation of village leagues.96 In August 1981, Ariel Sharon was appointed as Defense Minister and, consequently, became the de facto administrator of the OPT. Sharon appointed Menachem Milson, a professor of Arabic literature and former Hebrew University Dean, as its first Civil Administration leader on November 1, 1981.97 On November 8, 1981, the government issued its military order number 947 and declared the establishment of a civil administration in the OPT.98

For while the Labor government sought to have a minimal armed intervention in the Palestinian civil affairs, the Likud government sought to have total and direct armed control over these civil affairs and as a result entrusted itself with the right to run all domains of Palestinian civil life. This change in governments did not result in any fundamental changes in the source of legislation. Both governments retained the area commander as the final source of legislation. However, the head of the civil administration was empowered with the rights to issue secondary legislations in civil domains, and to appoint officials in the civil administration, whose purpose was to execute these laws.99 At first sight, one may get the impression of the existence of two different administrative authorities, however, the formation of the civil administration only constituted an internal reconstruction of the division of labor and powers within the military government.100

The civil administration headed by Milson was installed to exercise the civil powers of the military administration. It attacked the nationalists Palestinians, dissolved the National Guidance Committee (NGC), which led the campaign against the civilian administration and the Village Leagues, dismissed elected and appointed officials, deported university faculty members, closed universities, shooting and consequently killing students, imposed house or town arrest and other collective punishments, banned newspapers, imposed broad restrictions on speech and assembly, and established the Village Leagues.101

In the fall of 1982 the Israeli Civil Administration required non-resident Palestinian college members to sign an anti-PLO statement, in order to obtain a permit to reside and work in the OPT. When these members refused to sign the pledge, the civil administration deported them. Approximately 100 of the 500 college staff who worked in Palestinian universities were affected by this measure. In addition to that, "the [Israeli] civil administration granted itself the right to annually license Palestinian universities, as well as the right to control the creation of additional departments, programs and colleges. No university was allowed to operate new departments, programs or colleges without permission granted by civil administration; in most cases, such permission was denied." 102 Further exerting its power, the civil administration also assumed strict watch over the universities' educational materials, and many books on subjects like philosophy, Palestinian history and politics, folklore, and more, were banned without explanation.103

Milson believed that a class of Palestinian collaborators could be developed in the OPT who would accept to participate in the autonomy talks planned at Camp David I, he believed that "a political infrastructure opposed to the PLO and ready to cooperate with Israel" should be created. 104 He assumed that 70% of the population in the West Bank who did not live in the main towns but in the small villages were more narrow-minded, conservative, less politicized and easier to manipulate, thus, came the idea of creating the village leagues system; a system of local councils managed by Palestinians who were hand-picked by Israel to run local city and village administrations.105 The Likud government sought to minimize the PLO's influence in the OPT by franchising some of the Civil Administration's powers to those who were ready to cooperate. These village leagues were funded and controlled by first Begin's government and later Shamir's. 106

To achieve his goal, Milson approached certain Palestinians whom he thought would accept de facto annexation of the West Bank under the cover of civil administration and autonomy. Being collaborators, these individuals earned jobs, salaries, military training and arms from Israel. "They succeeded to satisfy Milson's expectations by killing opponents. Their capabilities in their attempts to undermine society were, however, mostly limited to robberies and spread of fear." 107

The village leagues were at the beginning formed in 1978 by Mustafa Dudeen, an ex Jordanian minister, from a respectable family in Hebron area, who was assigned by the Israeli government to organize the rural population in some sort of village leagues. He was chosen as the head of all the village leagues and after he did as he was told, ten days later he was terminated from his position.108 He believed the Israelis have approved to set him and his colleagues as a self-governing authority that was stipulated in the Camp David I agreement between Egypt and Israel that excluded the Palestinians, and which the PLO and the Palestinian nationalist refused.

Among the main objectives of these leagues was the encouragement of rural cooperatives and social and charitable societies that would work for the benefit of all villagers.109 However, the Israeli Civil Administration found in these leagues a proper institution to counter and eradicate the PLO's social base in Palestinian villages and towns, and by time it started franchising them with some powers, powers and influences as to make them indispensable in the daily life of the civilian population in the OPT. These powers ranged from the provision of family reunion permits to issuing building permits, permits for the acquisition of driving licenses, and travel permits.110 Some of the Village League members had exceedingly shady criminal backgrounds.  The traditional village notables refused to join an organization, which had the declared aim of combating Palestinian nationalism. 111

In his viewpoint, Sharon saw that the only way to destroy the will of the Palestinians
in the West Bank was to strike at the heart of the PLO in Beirut, and that was how the war of 1982 started. One of the major objectives of the Israeli massive military operation in Lebanon was, as Sharon believed, the destruction of the PLO in Lebanon that would eventually break down their supporters in the OPT and would give more power and support to the Village Leagues and Israeli-style autonomy.112 After the Sabra and Shatella Massacres Milson resigned from his position as Head of the Civil Administration, 113 and was succeeded by Colonel Yigal Karmon with whom Sharon met on October 24, 1982, and agreed that the Village Leagues would receive 'massive support'.  However, their efforts to strengthen the Village Leagues were hopeless.114

The Begin government fell and with it Sharon. The government of Yitzhak Shamir, and his Minister of Defense, Moshe Arens, was no different that of their predecessors. Both were interested in annexation of the West Bank, but without its Palestinian population. The difference was limited to the tactics that has been applied by both governments. When Arens took control, he dismantled the Village Leagues in the summer of 1983,115 he felt that they could not continue to be effective politically without being rewarded in some way, and a reward was out of the question.116 The Village Leagues began to break up that year and some of the Leagues' leaders announced their opposition to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and their support for a Palestinian state. The very last to dismantle was the Hebron League that stayed until its head disbanded it in February 1988 after the outbreak of the First Intifada.
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