Wednesday, 12 September 2001

Palestinian leaders try to repair image

12 September 2001

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

JERUSALEM — Palestinian leaders moved Wednesday to repair the political damage done by news footage of Palestinians celebrating in the streets after hearing of Tuesday's terror strikes in the USA. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority's president, was filmed donating blood for the victims. Arab League spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi hastily organized a candlelight vigil at the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem nearly 24 hours after hundreds of Israelis flocked to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv in a spontaneous outpouring of grief. Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman used tougher measures to avoid an international backlash in response to apparent Palestinian jubilation. Abdel Rahman called international news agencies and said the safety of their staff could not be guaranteed unless they withdrew the embarrassing footage of Palestinian police firing joyfully in the air.

Such threats appeared to succeed in suppressing immediate release of video showing large street celebrations in Ramallah, Bethlehem and other West Bank towns.

Israelis, hundreds of whom lined up to donate blood and leave flowers at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, said Tuesday's strikes may have helped convey to Americans a little of what they have been feeling over the past year of violence. The Palestinian territories have been closed for most of that time to prevent attacks inside Israel, and the Israeli government has targeted and assassinated more than 50 suspected terrorists.

"Now that they are experiencing this horror, Americans and other foreign countries might begin to realize how we Israelis feel every day," said Shira Buchler, 23, a teacher in Jerusalem. "The only way to rid the world of terror is to hunt down these animals before they destroy us all. If we keep giving Arafat chance after chance, the terror groups he is giving sanctuary to will just grow and grow."

Former U.S. secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger hinted that the United States might have to adopt measures similar to Israel's. "This really is a war with terrorism, and we need to be prepared to act as if we are at war," Eagleburger told CNN on Tuesday. "And that does not necessarily mean that you have to strike back only at those that you know were the perpetrators of this thing."

Using Saudi financier Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan, where bin Laden has received safe haven, as a starting point, Eagleburger suggested a policy of targeting terrorists and the governments that support them. "We do know that the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan has mothered Osama Bin Laden for years," he said. "They need to be hit."

He added that the policy should not be limited to bin Laden: "There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this, and that is you have to kill some of them, even if they are not immediately, directly involved in this thing."

Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University in Israel said this sounds similar to Israeli policy towards Palestinian terrorism. "There are clear indications that the U.S. public and officials are suddenly aware of the Israeli situation," he said. "Potentially, it's a very fundamental shift, with the U.S. taking the lead rather than staying neutral and acting cautiously."

He said that Americans, armed with a new understanding of the "horrifying nature of terror" and the willingness of people to commit suicide in order to kill thousands, may understand the thinking in Israel. "Previously, it was not understandable from the perspective of America that this hatred could exist and that Israel was doing its best to protect itself from that," Steinberg said.

Israel intensified its hunt for Palestinian militants Wednesday. It raided a West Bank town and two nearby villages. Seven Palestinians, including three suspected Islamic militants and an 11-year-old girl, were killed.

Senior Palestinian officials accused Israel of exploiting the world's horror over the terror in the USA to step up its strikes against Palestinian targets. Ashrawi said Israel is "using this tremendous tragedy as a cover for an escalation against the Palestinians."

In Bethlehem's Dehaishe refugee camp, Palestinian community leaders condemned the strikes in the USA and said there had been no celebrations Tuesday. But even after much prompting in Arabic to stay on message, ordinary Palestinians were unable to stifle their pleasure at America's downfall.

"I've never been so happy in my life as when I heard the news," said Khalil Abu Laban, a father of seven. "The Americans are responsible for everything. 'The friend of your enemy is your enemy,' " he said, quoting from religious texts. "I am against killing of innocent civilians, but the Americans are bad. This is good for us, the Palestinians."

"The Jews are assassinating, destroying and wounding Palestinians every day," said his wife, Aisheh. "Let them feel the suffering we have been feeling for a long time."

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