There has been a resurgence of West Bank demonstrations, protests and hunger strikes by Arab prisoners in Israeli jails in recent weeks - all pointing toward a rising unrest in the occupied territories, now nearing their tenth anniversary under Israeli administration.
There appears to be an equal determination on the part of Israeli security forces to crack down hard in order to prevent escalation into the bloody riots that marked the coming of spring a year ago.
A recent State Department report on human rights in Israel said that "in quelling demonstrations and restoring order in the territories, the Israeli authorities in several instances have used excessive force. These actions have not reflected government policy and individuals found guilty of such excesses have been disciplined and occasionally jailed."
The excessive force, the deportation of Arabs in contravention of the Geneva convention, the blowing-up of houses belonging to suspected troublemakers and the "administrative detention" of persons whose crime may be as minor as writing anti-Israeli poetry are the dark side of what is, in many ways, a remarkably tolerant and lenient military occupation.
Israeli officials point out that a war is still on in the Middle East and that strict security measures are necessary until the Arabs recognize Israel's right to exist. But 10 years of military occupation has had a brutalizing effect on both the occupiers and the occupied.
A recent example came to light when 17 students of the United Nations-run teachers' training college in Ramallah, on the West Bank, were admitted to a Jerusalem hospital with broken bones, lacerations, brain concussions, missing teeth and other outward signs of severe beating.
According to Israeli military sources, on March 9 students demonstrated in Ramallah, blocking the road and throwing stones at cars. Israeli security forces moved in to break it up. Some students ran away and were chased by the security forces. Several students fell while fleeing and hurt themselves. Others scuffled with the security forces. Several soldiers were hurt by flying rocks.
The students, the doctors who examined them and witnesses tell a different story. An investigation indicate that although there was indeed a stone-throwing demonstration, not all the students later hospitalized were involved in it. According to eye witnesses, the Israeli security forces entered the U.N. schoolyard looking for demonstrators. Some of the students ran off into the hills and were chased. Seventeen were caught.
"Then they began to hit us with clubs and to kick us," Iyad Abdullah Husein Zahen, 20, said in an interview. The border police, many of whom can speak Arabic, continued to beat and kick the students on the ground, Zahen said. "They ordered us to curse Mohammed, he said, "and say 'thank you' after each blow." The students were led away with their own belts tied around their necks and given more beatings, Zahen said. Other students, who did not want to be mentioned by name, told basically the same story.
Antoine Dibsy, chief of internal medicine at Jerusalem's August Victoria hospital where the students were admitted, said he had never before seen such "crazy brutality." The welts on their backs and legs were a couple of inches wide, and crossed, as if they had been beaten by two men staanding on either side of the prostrate victims, Dibsy said. Many of them had broken bones in their hands, apparently from trying to ward off the blows. Two had brain concussions.
"Okay, you slap them around a bit," said Dr. Dibsy in an interview. "They are boys and they can take it. But to beat students this way . . ."
Except for a brief mention of the official Israeli version of these events, little was said in the Israeli press. Jerusalem's Arabic newspapers were prevented by the military censors from publishing pictures of the students. Thus the bulk of Israeli citizens have no idea of what happened.
Student demonstrations in Ramallah and elsewhere are expected to continue. Palestinian sources in Beirut have been telling reporters that they hope to increase activity in the occupied territories in the coming weeks.
Abu Daoud, the Palestinian who allegedly was involved in the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes, recently called for an uprising to mark the anniversary of "Land Day" on March 30. Last year on that date Israeli Arabs living in the Galilee demonstrated against land expropriations. Several were killed.
The injured students are all out of the hospital now and next year they will go off to other Arab countries to teach. "All we have in Palestine to export is trained personnel," said one Ramallah resident. "But what kind of hatred will they teach?"