The Israeli occupation government on the West Bank of the Jordan River is attempting to suppress outspoken criticism of the Camp David accords and has arrested 15 vocal opponents of the autonomy plan in recent days, according to Palestinians interviewed here.
The arrests, couple with Palestinian complaints of other forms of harassment of West Bank residents opposed all the Egyptian-Israeli peace plan, appears to signify a departure from Israel's policy since Camp David of permitting Palestinians to vent their views on the autonomy proposal without interference by the military authorities.
The debate so far has produced no endorsement from any West Bank leader of note and has been largely devoted to condemnation of the Camp David accords on the future of the territory.
Six Arabs active in a civic club here, which has a reputation for moderation and is affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Church, were arrested in their homes late last week and early today. They, along with the brother of one of them are being held without charges because they have spoken out against the autonomy plan, their relatives said.
At nearby Bir Zeit University, eight students were arrested, allegedly because of their anti-camp David views. Four still are being held under administrative detention by the Israeli Army.
Some of the other four, who have been released, said they were interrogated at length about acquaintances' attitudes toward the West Bank autonomy plan, and physically mistreated when they refused to support the Camp David treaty proposals.
The students said the interrogations did not focus on the usual suspicions of their belonging to Fatah or other illegal organizations, but dwelled instead on West Bank attitudes toward the Camp David accords.
A spokesman for the military government today denied the arrests had anything to do with political beliefs and said the Palestinians were arrested on suspicion of terrorist activity. Since the arrests were made on "security grounds," the spokesman said; the Army could not discuss what terrorist activity is alleged.
Under occupation law, persons suspected of being security risks can be held indefinitely without being formally charged.
Faculty members at Bir Zeit University complained that an annual "Palestine week" scheduled this week at the campus was all but ruined because several prominent guest lecturers who had planned to discuss West Bank autonomy were told by Israeli authorities they could not participate.
They (the occupying officials) seem single-mindedly interested in the reactions of the students to the autonomy plan. We're used to harassment, but there seems to be a new motivation for it now," said Wasif Abboushi, a Bir Zeit professor.
Bir Zeith with an enrollment of 1,200 Palestinian students, has long been regarded by Israeli authorities as a breeding ground of radical West Bank Arabs and a staging area for terrorist activities.
By contrast, the Orthodox Club of Ramallah, while well known as a discussion center for West Bank nationalists, has not been associated with terrorist activity. Its imprisoned members, according to relatives and friends, do not have records of terrorist activity.
The club members arrested generally are middle-class and business-oriented, with the common denominator seeming to be vocal opposition to autonomy during recent meetings of the club
They are: Mahfouz Yousef Kahwaush 28. an employe of the Israeli Ministry of Health who works nights as an insurance broker; Ghattas Bousheh, 30, an accountant; Nicola Dabit, a high school teacher; Sami Simaan, a self-employed electrician of a Ramallah bookstore. All were arrested Thursday and Friday.
Arrested at 2:30 a.m. today was Adel Samara, 34, owner of another Ramallah bookstore and the author of several recently published booklets condemning the Camp David treaty. According to friends, Samara was vocal in his criticism of the autonomy plan, but had severed his relations with all Palestinan organizations. He was an occasional lecturer at the Orthodox club.
His brother, Omar Samara, 22, was arrested at the same time.
Wives and other relatives of the five talked in interviews about early-morning raids by Israeli soldiers who searched the houses for anti-Camp David literature and then led the suspects away blinfolded.
"He would speak frankly his opinions about Camp David autonomy, but he was never arrested before. he leads a very normal, conventional life," said Mary Kahwaush of her husband.
Other members of the Orthodox Club said the group's recent meetings had included considerable discussion about Camp David and that they assumed military authorities had informants at the sessions.
The arrests have not been reported in Hebrew or Arabic newspapers in Israel or the West Bank and the Ramallah correspondent for Al Fajar, Karuel Jebail, said the military censor excised reports of the arrests from his newspaper.
Immediately after the Camp David accords were signed Sept. 15, military authorities noticeably eased restrictions against West Bank political meetings and even appeared to encourage a dialogue among Palestinians.
East Jerusalem Arabic newspapers, which over a period of 11 years had become accustomed to printing political news in obscure poems to avoid censorship, suddenly found themselves free to publish photographs of meetings at which the Camp David accords were denounced and to advertise political gatherings in advance.
Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, according to government sources, personally approved free West Bank expression on autonomy and ordered public meetings to be permitted.
Thefirst hint of renewed restrictions came Nov. 18, when Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori publicly warned that the government would not countenance meetings that could arouse "unattainable expectations . . . and encourage feelings in lsrael which will not contribute to peaceful coexistence."
Five days later, the occupying government announced that political rallies would be permitted only if their organizers obtained permits. The organizers complained that they were required to submit in advance an outline of what was to be said and that if the program included antiautonomy speeches, permits were denied.
"During the immediate post-summit period," people got up, perhaps rather naively, and expressed their opinions. It would be easy to draw paranoid conclusions about the motive for that permissive period, but we do know that a lot of people who wouldn't get up and talk before did then, and they have come to regret it," said Hugh Harcourt, a professor at Bir Zeit.