The Israeli military commander of the West Bank, Maj. Gen. David Hagoel, was removed from office yesterday and two of his subordinates will be put on trial for allegedly "exceeding their authority" in an incident involving the tear gassing of Arab students, the government announced.
The incident, which was widely reported in the foreign press late in March, involved an Arab school in the West Bank town of Beit Jalia, about five miles south of Jerusalem. Israeli troops, the foreign press reported, entered the school and, after telling the students to close the windows, hurled tear gas grenades into a classroom. Many of the students lept from the second story window in panic and at least 12 were injured.
Israeli military spokesman vehemently denied the original allegations reported in the Western press and the Hebrew-language daily Maariv printed a story under the headline: "Biased Foreign Correspondents Tell West Bank Horror Stories."
The Maariv reporter went on to write that the Time Magazine correspondent in Jerusalem and simply "accepted as self-evident everything he was told by local pupils and public figures. He did not even imagine that the truth might be different."
Other Israeli papers, notably Haaretz, were less inclined to take the military's word at face value, however, and questions were asked in the Israeli Parliament.
The truth, an official investigation has now revealed, was basically as orginally reported.
It appears that the officer in charge of the operation, Maj. Nissim Cohen, told his superior officer, Col. Nathan Rom, that Israeli soldiers had neither entered the classroom nor thrown tear gas into the classroom.
Both officers are now reportedly suspected of having deliberately mislead the original inquiry and Gen. Hagoel has been removed from his office for not having investigated the matter fully, sources said.
Defense Minister Ezir Weizman, after consulting with chief of staff Raphael Eitan, personally ordered that disciplinary action be taken after an investigation revealed that that the original official denial was false.