251. Airgram From the Consulate General in Jerusalem to the Department of State1


  • Israeli Detention on the West Bank


  • Jerusalem’s 423, 429, 431 and Amman’s 47112



Virtually all Arab contacts of the Consulate General believe that the Israeli detention of some 350 West Bank Arabs and 100 from Gaza over the weekend of September 11–14 was closely linked to the PFLP airplane hijackings and to their continued holding of upwards of 50 hostages believed to be largely Israeli citizens. Many apparently believe that the Israeli Government intends to use the detainees as bargaining counters in a more or less direct swap for the PFLP prisoners. None believe that the arrests had anything to do with a specific or even general security threat to Israel.

As of this writing the official Israeli explanation is that the arrests were for security reasons and that they were in no way connected with the PFLP hijack prisoners.

The Consulate General believes Israeli motives were probably mixed and somewhat more complicated than either explanation offered above. We think that a blend of domestic political considerations, and a desire to demonstrate to terrorists, particularly the PFLP that Israel can play it tough, too, were probably the central motives for the arrests.

With the notable exception of East Jerusalem itself, the Israeli arrests last weekend affected Arabs in most West Bank towns and many villages from Qalquiylia in the Northwest through Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron in the South-center. Although we have been able to obtain only a few specific names of detainees, a wide sampling of information among our Arab contacts has made the pattern of the arrests clear enough to hint at the motives behind them. We have first [Page 696] hand or reliable second hand descriptions of four specific series of arrests in different communities, including two in suburbs of Ramallah, one in Bethlehem and one in the village of Battir near Hebron. In each case the pattern is similar. Two or more members of the same family or closely related families were arrested. The arrestees were fairly well-known and fairly prominent citizens; the brother of a secondary school principal, the politically active wife of an UNRWA official, a middle class merchant. Apparently young women were frequently included. The Jerusalem Post quoted security circles on September 14 as stating that 80 women were included in the total of 450 prisoners.

In every case described to Consulate General officers in detail, the people actually held were described by our Arab informants as respectable, above suspicion of personal involvement in terrorist activities. In every case, however, there was a son or reasonably close relative who is at present in prison or who had in the past been detained in connection with or suspicion of terrorist activities. Not all of these cases were identified as PFLP involved, merely Fedayeen. We have heard that a number of people named Habbash have been detained, mostly from the Ramallah area.

The official line to date, enunciated by Foreign Minister Eban at a press conference earlier this week, given to Consul General Campbell by a senior government official, and attributed to security authorities by the press is that the detentions are for security reasons and are unconnected with the PFLP hostages in Jordan. Special security foot patrols have indeed been highly visible in Jerusalem, particularly at and near the various gates to the old walled city since last weekend.

There have been persistent press reports that Israel has sent Arab emissaries to PFLP in Amman in recent days to warn the PFLP of Israeli reprisals against relatives and others connected with them if the Israeli prisoners of the PFLP are not released. Kol Israel’s English language broadcast on Monday evening September 14 carried an interview with a Dr. Zahi Kamhawi of Nablus in which he stated that he had been rebuffed by PFLP leaders when he went to Amman over last weekend to deliver a warning on behalf of Israeli authorities. His mission, he said, had been to warn that Israel would jail all known relatives in Israeli controlled territory of PFLP leaders, houses of known activists would be blown up, and the death penalty would be reinstated for captured terrorists. Kamhawi said that he had been dismissed by PFLP leaders after only a few minutes interview.

Press reports quoting Israeli Security sources indicate that as of September 16, about 125 of the original 450 detainees from the West Bank and Gaza had been released after questioning, leaving some 325 in custody.

Comment: It is widely believed, we think correctly, that these measures were initiated by General Dayan and the Defense Ministry.

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Despite the official line and visibly stepped up security measures in Jerusalem, we do not believe that the majority of those who have been arrested can be under serious suspicion of terrorist activity or even of active collaboration with terrorist elements.

Neither do we believe, as some Arab contacts claim, that Israeli Security Forces are naive enough to be adding fringe elements to their already sizable bag of hard core terrorist detainees simply with a view to having more bodies available to exchange against PFLP held Israeli prisoners.

Rather we think that these arrests are designed to show terrorists in Jordan and elsewhere, particularly the PFLP, that Israel can be ruthless, too. Probably it is hoped that these detentions will make the PFLP more careful in its treatment of Israeli detainees, and that they may even help in bringing about the ultimate release of these prisoners. For domestic Israeli consumption it shows the public that its security forces are alert and able to take prompt and effective counter-measures against Arab hijackers and terrorists.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Confidential. Drafted by John T. Wheelock (POL); cleared in ECON and POL; and approved in draft by Consul General Stephen J. Campbell. It was repeated to Amman, Beirut, and Tel Aviv.
  2. These telegrams are Consulate reports of arrests of Palestinians. Telegram 423 from Jerusalem, September 12; telegram 429 from Jerusalem, September 14; and telegram 431 from Jerusalem, September 15 are ibid. Telegram 4711 from Amman, September 14, is ibid., AV 12.