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Israeli Arabs Supporting Deportees at the Risk of Further Alienation

Israel’s 700,000 Arab citizens are continuing to show support for the 415 Palestinians expelled by Israel from the administered territories — at the risk of further alienating themselves from the Jewish population.

Their demonstrations of solidarity came as Lebanon announced it would not allow a U.N. envoy to travel through its territory to visit the deportees at their encampment on a strip of land between Israeli and Lebanese army checkpoints.

The Beirut government said U.N. Undersecretary-General James Jonah would have to reach the deportees through Israeli lines.

Jonah met Monday in East Jerusalem with Palestinian leaders Faisal Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi, who called on him to press Israel to allow humanitarian aid to reach the deportees.

The Israeli Cabinet voted last Friday to bar the Red Cross and other relief agencies from sending food and medicine to the deportees through its border security zone in southern Lebanon, saying the Palestinians were now Lebanon’s responsibility.

Lebanon has similarly refused, insisting that its territory cannot become a dumping ground for Israel’s undesirables.

The U.N. envoy, who was sent here at the request of the U.N. Security Council, also met Monday with families of the deportees and joined a rally on their behalf in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Israeli Arab leaders made a futile effort Monday to transmit food, medical supplies, clothes and heaters to the deportees in Lebanon, in defiance of the Israeli Cabinet’s decision.

The Arab delegation was stopped at the border by Israeli police and instead staged a demonstrative noon prayer at the border crossing. At an improvised news conference, Arab officials pledged to continue efforts on behalf of the deportees.

Just as the issue of the deportees has blurred longstanding differences between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, to which many of the deportees belong, so it has softened divergences between Israeli Arabs and Palestinian residents of the administered territories.

“The issue is not Hamas,” said Tarek Abdul Hai, mayor of Tira, an Arab town north of Kfar Sava. “The issue is transfer” of Arabs out of the country. Israeli Arabs fear that they, too, could become subject to deportation, he said.

The most dramatic expression of Israeli Arab discontent was voiced last week by an Arab Knesset member at a rally in Gaza. Hashem Mahmid of the formerly Communist Hadash party urged Palestinians to step up the intifada by “all possible means.”

The call, documented by Israel Television, stirred anger among Jewish Knesset members, who said it was tantamount to incitement to armed revolt against Israel. They urged that the Knesset member’s parliamentary immunity be waived.

The Knesset House Committee could not reach a decision after several hours of discussion Monday, although it appeared most of its members, including coalition representatives, supported a removal of his immunity.

Opposition Knesset members charged that the committee chairman, Haggai Merom of Labor, deliberately stretched out deliberations so that Hadash would vote with the government when the state budget came up for a vote later in the week.

Mahmid, for his part, refused to retract his statement, except for saying he did not mean to encourage residents of the territories to use force in the intifada.

Attorney General Yosef Harish launched an investigation against Mahmid for allegedly violating a law banning terror activity when he spoke in Gaza. If Mahmid’s Knesset immunity is removed and he is found guilty of encouraging terrorism, he could face up to five years in jail.

The sense of alienation between Israeli Arabs and Jews was reinforced in a violent parliamentary exchange Monday involving another member of the Hadash party and the leader of the right-wing Moledet party.

Parliamentary ushers tussled with Tawfik Ziad but failed to remove him from the rostrum as he exchanged heated epithets with Rehavam Ze’evi of Moledet. Ziad stepped down only with the persuasion of fellow Arab members after a recess was called.

Frustration among Israeli Arabs was expressed by a general strike last week and a demonstration earlier this week outside the Prime Minister’s Officer in Jerusalem.

At the political level, Arab unhappiness was expressed in a decision by the five members of the two Arab parties — Hadash and the Arab Democratic Party – – to withdraw their tacit parliamentary support of the government.

Neither party is a member of the coalition, but both have supported the government to help form an anti-Likud bloc. Both parties maintained that support until the deportations took place.

The decision to withdraw it has no immediate dramatic implication for the government, which enjoys a majority of 62 in the 120-member Knesset, even without the support of the Arab parties.

At a meeting Sunday between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arab Knesset members, Rabin initially first refused to shake Mahmid’s hand, prompting a threat by Ziad to walk out of the meeting. Rabin finally put out his hand and forced a smile after Mahmid said he had not urged violence.

But the bad feelings remained and so did the question of whether the Arab parties would continue to support the government.

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