The military governor of the Israeli-occupied West Bank today ordered two prominent Palestinian mayors deported again following a denial of their appeal of expulsion orders issued May 3.
Maj. Gen. Binyamin Ben-Eliezer accepted the recommendation of a military appeals tribunal that Hebron Mayor Fahd Kawasme and Halhoul Mayor Mohammed Milhem be refused reentry into the West Bank because they made allegedly inflamatory statements against Israel.
Kawasme and Milhem, who have been held in a detention room in the frontier terminal at the Jordan River's Allenby Bridge since they returned last Tuesday to press their appeal, were given two days to make another appeal to Israel's highest civil court. The mayors' attorney, Felicia Langer, said she would present an appeal to that court.
Meanwhile, Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij and Gaza Mayor Rashid Shawa are scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Menachem Begin tomorrow to urge him to allow Kawasme and Milhem to resume residence in the West Bank. The meeting will be Begin's first with any West Bank mayors. Freij said tonight, "We are going to explain the seriousness of the situation and the humanitarian aspects of the case."
On Wednesday and Thursday, Milhem and Kawasme testified for a total of 18 hours in a VIP lounge converted into a courtroom at the Allenby frontier terminal, reportedly arguing that they continue to oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and support a Palestinian state, but think that goal should be achieved through political means, not violence.
The proceedings were closed to the public and reporters were barred from the area, but it was understood that Kawasme and Milhem also said they had no direct link with the Palestine Liberation Organization and were not involved in any way in a rash of violence in the West Bank last spring.
The mayors were deported into Lebanon in the early morning hours of May 3 following an Arab ambush attack in Hebron, in which six Israeli settlers from the nearby Kiryat Arba complex were machine-gunned as they walked back from Sabbath prayers. Ten suspects have been arrested and charged in connection with the attack.
Israel had maintained that before the attack, Kawasme and Milhem had made inflamatory nationalistic statements that created the climate for the Hebron attack.
On Friday, the military appeals board presented its recommendation to Ben-Eliezer to redeport the mayors, but did not make the recommendation public. Ben-Eliezer today called Langer to the West Bank military headquarters and informed her of his decision.
Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zippori said tonight on Israeli radio that Israeli authorities had made efforts "above and beyond requirements" to give the mayors a chance to present their case. He said the political level of the government was not involved in the decision, although the military would abide by any eventual high court ruling.