JERUSALEM (Mar. 21)
If ever there were a poster boy for the tragically blurred borders of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, George Khouri is it.
Palestinian terrorists gunned down the 20-year-old student as he jogged through the dark streets of Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood on Friday night. The Al-Aksa Brigade, the terrorist wing of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, boasted that it had killed a Jewish “settler.”
But the claim quickly turned to shame when it became clear that the victim was in fact Arab, the scion of an Israeli Christian Arab family long linked with Palestinian nationalism.
“Mistakes happen. We consider George a martyr for the cause,” a spokesman from the Al-Aksa Brigade told Israel’s Channel 10 television station on Sunday.
Arafat aides phoned the victim’s father, civil-rights lawyer Elias Khouri, to apologize.
It wasn’t the first time the family, despite its support for the Palestinian cause, has suffered from Palestinian terrorism. The dead man’s grandfather was killed in 1975 by a bomb that terrorists planted in downtown Jerusalem.
Though he reiterated his support for the Palestinian cause, Elias Khouri had harsh words for Palestinian terrorist groups and, indirectly, for Arafat.
“The Al-Aksa Brigade are individuals who are trying to impose their way on everyone,” Elias Khouri said, according to Ha’aretz. “This act was carried out by a group that undermines the issue of Palestinian justice, and harms the Palestinian interest and takes it back years.”
In veiled criticism of Arafat, Khouri added, “Fatah today is a crumbling movement that has no leader. The chaos in the movement does not help the Palestinian cause. I hope that this case will awaken the Palestinian public from its tranquillity to say its word.”
There was political argumentation of a different sort in Jerusalem on Sunday, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened fellow Likud Party ministers in a bid to win their support for his plan for Israeli disengagement from the Palestinians.
Likud endorsement of the plan, which entails removal of most Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and some in the West Bank, is important for Sharon’s credibility ahead of an upcoming visit to Washington to seek the support of President Bush.
But Sharon will have to do some last-minute maneuvering, given that seven Likud ministers are opposed to the unilateral disengagement plan and another two are undecided.
Media reports in Israel said that Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is second only to Sharon among conservative leaders in Israel, wants Washington to rule out any Palestinian “right of return” to Israel — barring Palestinian refugees and their descendants from automatically becoming citizens of the Jewish state — in exchange for the Israeli withdrawal.
But the Bush administration is unlikely to place too many demands on the Palestinian Authority at this stage: U.S. officials fear that the authority might collapse in the wake of an Israeli troop withdrawal from Palestinian-populated territory, paving the way for a takeover of those areas by radical Palestinian Islamic groups.
Already, Hamas and other radical groups are staking claims in Gaza, prompting frequent Israeli anti-terror sweeps.
On Sunday, three terrorists and two bystanders were killed in an Israeli army raid outside the Khan Yunis refugee camp. One of the bystanders was the wife of a local Hamas chief, who was killed along with her husband when he set off a suicide bomb-belt as troops closed in.
“We have become blinded by hate,” veteran Palestinian politician Ziyyad Abu Ziyyad told Israel Radio. “Who knows where it will lead.”