By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
Outraged by the Israeli helicopter attacks on Palestinian civilian centers Thursday, the Arab American community mobilized in angry protests in front of the White House, the State Department and the Israeli embassy. More demonstrations are taking place across the country, including Michigan, California, Chicago, New York and other cities in coalition with other American groups.
On Friday, October 13, Washington-area mosques and Islamic centers will hold the Friday prayers outside the White House as a demonstration of Muslim outrage over ongoing Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians and holy sites.
Representatives of several American Muslim and Arab-American groups discussed the current crisis in Palestine with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a conference call and challenged her recent statement that the "Palestinians in many ways are putting the Israelis under siege."
According to those attending the meeting, Albright asserted that the US remains an honest broker in the Middle East, pointing to her criticism of Israel's use of excessive force and to public statements calling Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa compound a "mistake" and "counterproductive." Albright also claimed that it was US pressure that brought about Barak's extension of a deadline imposed on the Palestinians.
Khalil Jahshan, Vice President of American Arab Anti discrimination Committee (ADC) told Albawaba.com the meeting with Albright was a very blunt and very frank meeting. He said that the Arab American leaders warned Albright before that Israel was actually preparing to strike against Palestinian offices and civilian targets. She expressed her concern that this may turn into a regional conflict, he said.
Jahshan said Albright called the community leadership to brief them about the US efforts to control the situation. She urged the community to rally behind her and behind the President. “Our response was that the effort has not been sufficient and failed because the administration has been too biased and just blaming one side. Your policy has to be evenhanded and fair. You have to show your head clearly in times of crisis like this,” he stressed.
Jahshan said the Arab American community is very concerned about the escalation of violence. “The US has to put its foot down,” he added, “and tell Israel that it cannot use live ammunition, tanks, and helicopters against civilian targets. Part of this explosion is the fact that the Palestinians felt that the ideas pushed down Arafat’s throat do not serve the Palestinian national interest.”
Jim Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute told Albawaba.com that the United States position “is regrettably one-sided.” He added that “the gap between Albright’s understanding and our feelings is so great that it is troubling.” She was told that her comments on television about the situation were wrong. He believes that Clinton and Albright maintain they are being fair in their public statement on the situation, “but it is certainly not reflected that way and in the reality that is unfolding in the region.”
Zogby said the situation is very volatile and dangerous in the region right now. “Frankly, I hope that we would pay attention to that and make every effort to help end this confrontation and achieve a lasting peace so we could focus on the broader regional issues that have to be addressed. But I am afraid that the US is so focused in this election season on other concerns, not on protecting peace and protecting our national security interests.”
Zogby said his organization is calling for demonstrations in every American city because the community is outraged and people are very frustrated with what is going in their homeland.
Khaled Turaani, Director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, said in an interview with Albawaba.com that American diplomacy has become the PR firm for the Israeli government.
“While they are trying to give the perception of evenhandedness, they are being callas in their statements, and from the beginning they started to shift the blame against the Palestinians,” he said.
Turaani added that the US blame for Arafat is really racist in nature. “It leaves the Palestinians faceless, nameless, and remote controlled by Arafat. They don’t recognize this as an expression of a population that has grown very tired by the Israeli oppression,” he stressed.
Turaani said we should not call it a declaration of war by Israel, “but an assault on the Palestinian people because it is an attack from one army against civilian population. It is a massacre, and I have to be a fool to believe that the Palestinians are capable of fighting the Israeli army with only guns against Apache helicopters. I have one question to the Israelis: Have they heard of water cannons? Why they have to use heavy weaponry against civilian population?” he asked.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)