Former President Jimmy Carter, visiting Bethlehem today, encountered angry demonstrations by Palestinian youths but got a friendly reception from Mayor Elias Freij and other local dignitaries.
The Jerusalem-Bethlehem highway and streets in Bethlehem were littered with rocks that had been hurled throughout the day at passing Israeli vehicles from nearby hills. There was also rock-throwing earlier when Carter toured East Jerusalem escorted by Mayor Teddy Kollek, forcing the official party to change routes. (See separate story.)
Rock-throwing has become a daily occurrence in many parts of the West Bank recently. But today’s outbursts in and around Bethlehem reflected hostility toward Carter, a key figure in drafting the Camp David accords.
A crowd, estimated at about 1,000 people were gathered in Manger Square when the former President arrived at the City Hall. Security was tight, with several ranks of armed police and soldiers surrounding the visitor. There was one tense moment when Arab youngsters rolled a tire into the square. Carter met briefly with Mayor Freij in his office after which he attended a small reception.
CARTER SYMPATHETIC TO FREIJ’S STATEMENT
In a short speech, Freij noted that whereas the Palestinian people aspired to peace, they were deprived of their basic rights. “In this room we cannot even raise our own national flag,” he said.
Carter responded sympathetically. He observed that the Jewish people, who had suffered so much through the ages, and the Holocaust, should share the basic concern for human rights. He appeared to imply that those rights were not guaranteed Arabs in the occupied territories.
Carter said that after Israel and Egypt signed their peace treaty, he had hoped that Palestinian representatives would join in the peace talks and there would be no more bloodshed in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he said, the past year saw the loss of many innocent lives, particularly in Lebanon. But he still remained hopeful and was praying that progress can be made, the former President said.
After accepting a certificate of honorary citizenship in Bethlehem, Carter visited the Church of the Nativity. As he passed through the d square he was greeted by the only Arab demonstration allowed near him. It was by a small group of the Israel government-backed Village Leagues who support the Camp David accords and called for peace in the area, without the Palestine Liberation Organization.
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