Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan, already under fire from the findings of the investigation into the Beirut massacre of Palestinian refugees, acknowledged today that he issued orders last spring for the Army to "harass" Palestinian Arabs considered to be troublemakers in the occupied West Bank.
Eitan, testifying in the military trial of seven soldiers who are accused of beating and otherwise mistreating Palestinians during last spring's disturbances in the West Bank, said his order did not allow indiscriminate beating of the Arab population of the occupied territory.
Eitan was called to testify in the Army's central command military court in Jaffa by defense lawyers for the seven soldiers. The defense is attempting to establish before the three-member military tribunal that all of the actions taken by the soldiers during the West Bank disturbances conformed to the orders and guidelines laid down by their superiors.
Earlier in the trial, the lawyer for the highest ranking defendant, Maj. David Mofaz, introduced into evidence two documents signed by Eitan last spring during the disturbances. Urging the Army to "harass" known troublemakers, Eitan said "instigators" should be imprisoned without formal charges, as allowed by Israeli law in the occupied territory, released for a few days and then imprisoned again.
He also advocated the punishment of parents of students who participate in demonstrations, expulsion from the West Bank of demonstration leaders and the "economic punishment" of whole villages by denying them the right to purchase certain commodities.
Eitan today confirmed that he issued the documents. "With the Arabs," he said, such measures as punishing the parents of stone-throwing children "work." But he said his instructions to the Army, while involving "strong action," did not include a policy of beating civilians.
The disturbances that swept the West Bank followed the firing of several elected Arab mayors by the Israeli occupation authorities. Ten Palestinians were killed and 90 others wounded during the incidents. Two soldiers were killed and 33 others wounded.
The court appearance added to the troubles of the beleaguered chief of staff, who was accused yesterday of "breach of duty and dereliction of duty" by the Israeli commission that investigated the Beirut massacre. The commission said it did not recommend Eitan's dismissal as chief of staff only because his term will expire in April.
Eitan has not commented publicly on the findings of the investigation, but Hirsh Goodman, the military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, reported today that the general may resign before his term expires. "Raful Eitan's nickname is not one to accept charity," Goodman quoted a senior Army officer as saying.
The seven soldiers on trial in Jaffa are accused of beating, kicking and clubbing students at the Islamic University in Hebron during the spring disturbances. A verdict is expected later this month.