Arrest of Activist Husseini Criticized in Israel and U.s

Israeli authorities, assuming they finally have a solid case against him, arrested Palestinian activist Faisal Husseini on Friday, at his East Jerusalem home.

But almost immediately they reaped a whirlwind of protests at home and abroad.

The Foreign Ministry here was flooded with angry objections from many of Israel’s friends, the sharpest rebuke coming from the United States.

The Israelis insist that the 49-ycar-old Husseini, who has addressed many Israeli peace groups and urged non-violent resistance by Palestinians, is the arch leader of the intifada.

Now they think they have proof of his direct involvement.

But U.S. Ambassador William Brown expressed his country’s “surprise and disappointment” to the government for detaining Husseini.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler quoted Brown as telling the Israelis on Friday that their action “sends precisely the wrong signal to the Palestinians at a time of intense efforts to establish a dialogue between them and the Israelis.”

Tutwiler said the State Department was “surprised and disturbed” by reports that Israel detained Husseini and other “prominent Palestinians” whom she did not name.

“Such actions discourage Palestinian confidence in the peace process and contribute to the prevailing atmosphere of distrust,” she said.

Husseini’s arrest has also polarized Israelis.

Critics of the government denounced it, accusing the authorities of surrendering to the vocal right wing. Dozens of Peace Now supporters gathered outside the Jerusalem house of detention Sunday to demand Husseini’s release.

Members of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s extreme right-wing Kach party shouted, “Traitors” at the peace advocates.

MONEY FOR FLAGS AND UNIFORMS

The conflict was played out at Sunday’s Cabinet session. Two Laborites, Communications Minister Gad Ya’acobi and Moshe Shahal, the minister of energy and infrastructure, questioned the wisdom of the arrest.

Shahal warned that if it turned out there was no legal basis to hold Husseini, it would prove a “grave mistake.”

But Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir rejected suggestions that Husseini’s detention was political. He insisted it was a juridical arrest.

Industry and Trade Minister Ariel Sharon of Likud proposed that Israel immediately arrest and deport “the entire group around Husseini.”

Husseini was arrested at the beginning of the intifada, more than two years ago, and spent a year in prison under administrative detention.

The authorities clearly would prefer substantive charges that they could make public and use to bring Husseini to trial.

They think they have them in the testimony of Braunik Zaitoon, 35, a member of a terrorist gang apprehended in the Silwad neighborhood of Jerusalem. He said that while he was doing repair work at Husseini’s home, he asked for money to buy uniforms for the gang.

The police say Husseini gave Zaitoon $450 for the uniforms and that later the repairman approached him for more money to buy Palestinian flags and paint to daub nationalist slogans. Husseini indicated he would help the gang with sabotage plans, Zaitoon said.

Husseini denied the charges. His lawyers said the arrest was political.

The judge allowed the police four days to complete their investigation. The police said they would ask the court Monday to extend the time.

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

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