PLO leader Issam Sartawi, a moderate who was among the first to meet with Israelis to discuss peace in the 1970s and the first to call for recognition of Israel by the Palestinian movement, was assassinated on this date in 1983, presumably by members of the Abu Nidal terrorist group. Sartawi, 48, was a cardiologist, trained in Iraq and the United States, and a founder of the Palestine Red Crescent Society. He and Lova Eliav of the Israel-Palestine Peace Council jointly received the Austrian Kreisky prize in 1979 for the meetings they organized between PLO and Israeli activists, which were detailed in the book My Friend, the Enemy by Uri Avnery. A close adviser to Yassir Arafat and a member of the Palestine National Council, Sartawi was highly critical of Palestinian rejectionism and doubtful about advancing the struggle through arms: “Another ‘victory’ like this,” he said of the PLO’s defeat in Lebanon in 1982, “and the PLO will find itself in the Fiji Islands.” He was shot down in a hotel while representing the PLO as an observer at the Socialist International in Portugal, where members of the Israeli Labor Party were to be present. The Dr. Issam Sartawi Center for the Advancement of Peace and Democracy is hosted at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem.
“Sartawi was not only the chief Palestinian official in charge of these contacts, but also a consistent and outspoken proponent of the PLO peace line. A man of incredible courage, he took over from Said Hamami, who started these contacts in 1974, and who was assassinated by the same terrorist group.”—The Other Israel, newsletter of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, July, 1983, issue #1
by Alan Elsner
Pro-Israel advocates are coming to realize that we have a growing problem in reaching out to progressives and liberals in the United States.
Polling data has for some time revealed a growing gap between the support for Israel among Republicans and among Democrats. Although overall support for Israel among Americans remains high, some of the details hidden within the data are quite worrying. “There is a large partisan divide in the U.S. over Israel,” said CNN polling director Keating Holland, commenting on the results of a poll he conducted in March. “Sixty-three percent of Republicans call Israel an ally of the U.S., compared to only 33 percent of Democrats.”
That’s not so much a gap as a chasm, and it spells trouble for Israel over the longer term. The danger, of course, is that if grassroots sympathy for Israel among Democrats continues to wither, it will be increasingly difficult over time to maintain bipartisan support in Congress. [click to continue…]
Juliano Mer-Khamis, a film and television actor and director who was a co-founder of the Freedom Theater in Jenin, was gunned down by a masked assassin in that town on this date in 2011. Mer-Khamis’ father, an Israeli Arab, had been a leader of the Israeli Communist Party in the 1950s; his mother Arna, an Israeli Jew, had founded with Mer-Khamis the Stone Theater for Palestinian youth in 1989, as portrayed in his film, Arna’s Children (2003). In 2006, he established the Freedom Theater along with Zakaria Zubeidi, a former military leader of the Jenin Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and two Swedish-Israeli artists. The theater mobilized young people in the Jenin refugee camp to use art as a tool of social change. It was widely criticized in the Palestinian community for mixing young men and women together on stage, advocating for Palestinian women’s rights, questioning the fetishism of violence, and airing issues that are rarely discussed publicly in Palestinian society. No one has been tried for killing Mer-Khamis, who described himself as “100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish.” His wife, Jenny Nyman, was pregnant with twins at the time of his assassination.
“He was aware of the danger and, although he joked about it, he was sometimes afraid. But he always said that he would rather die on his feet than live on his knees.” —Jenny Nyman
The Arab League Peace Initiative, a comprehensive Mideast peace plan sponsored by Saudi Arabia, was published at the Arab League Summit on this date in 2002. The Initiative proposed a normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world if Israel would withdraw from the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, and work out a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee situation based on UN Resolution 194. Diplomacy, however, was overshadowed by a Hamas-sponsored terrorist attack the day before. That bombing of a Passover seder in a hotel in Netanya, Israel killed 30 civilians, injured 140, and horrified the Israeli public. In 2007, the same Initiative was again proffered at the Riyadh Summit of the Arab League, with all 22 member states as well as the Palestinian Authority backing it. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the initiative outright, however, declaring that “the withdrawal from Gaza two years ago proved that any Israeli withdrawal – particularly a unilateral one – does not advance peace, but rather establishes a terror base for radical Islam.”
“This initiative simply says to Israel, ‘Leave the occupied territories and you will live in a sea of peace that begins in Nouakchott and ends in Indonesia.’” —Mahmoud Abbas