`TC Several local Arab-Americans welcomed the United Nations' unanimous decision to condemn Israel's deportation of Palestinians, but area Jewish leaders wondered if the United States voted for the measure just to satisfy Arab nations who are members of the anti-Iraq coalition.
Yesterday, the 15-member United Nations Security Council, including the U.S., approved a resolution denouncing Israel's deportation of Arabs from the Israeli-occupied territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The measure also asks the U.N. secretary-general to monitor Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
It was the third time in more than two months the U.S. chose not to side with its long-standing ally Israel amid international criticism, stemming from the mid-October attack of Israeli security forces who fired on Palestinians on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, killing 19. The Temple Mount is one of the most sacred sites in Islam.
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has linked his annexation of Kuwait to the Israeli-occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Local Arab-Americans, including Dr. Mohamed Z. Awad, founder the Islamic Society of Baltimore, approved of the anti-deportation measure.
"From the beginning, I believed that Palestinians belonged to Palestine and the land belonged to them," said Awad. "They shouldn't be deported, especially in the 20th century."
Similarly, Khalil Jahfhan, executive director of the 10,000-member National Association of Arab-Americans, welcomed the resolution but was concerned about the "double standard in which the administration looks at the occupation of Kuwait and the occupation in Palestine."
"We'd like to see a linkage of consistency regardless of the identity of the occupied and the occupier," Jahfhan said.
Nevertheless, he said, "We're happy about the resolution, but have been frustrated that the United States took so long to get a watered-down" resolution, which lacks "some biting" language against Israel.
Jewish leaders strongly disagreed with the U.N. measure.
Art Abramson, executive director for the Baltimore JewisCouncil, said he was surprised and upset by the decision.
"The basic problem is that Israel is being chastised for deporting individuals who have incited Palestinians to kill Israelis," Abramson said. "I think that's extremely troubling."
He said Israel was just protecting its own. Abramson said he would send a letter to the administration stating the group's objections.
Awad argued that there was no evidence the deported Palestinians were a part of the group inflaming the violence.
Furthermore, he said, "If they had committed a crime, then try them."
Also yesterday, the U.N. Security Council agreed in a separate non-binding statement that an international conference should be held to facilitate lasting peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Abramson and Kent E. Schiner, president of B'nai B'rith International, said they wondered if the resolution was connected to satisfying the Arabs who have sided with the U.S. against Saddam.
In the past, the U.S. has always supported Israel, they said.
If the Persian Gulf crisis had never occurred, Abramson said, the resolution would never have happened.
"We hope that the reasoning behind the United States' position has nothing to do with an attempt at appeasing those Arab states that feel they need this to stay firm against Saddam Hussein," Abramson said.
Schiner was more critical.
"United States' participation in this measure that is hostile to Israel is clearly shortsighted and ill-advised," Schiner said in a prepared statement.
"For the sake of a temporarily expedient alliance against Iraq . . . the United States is apparently willing to risk weakening and isolating its most reliable ally in the Middle East, the democratic state of Israel."
Jahfhan and other Palestinians painted a different picture of Israel.
While growing up there, Jahfhan said, he faced political, economic and educational discrimination on the part of the Israelis. The Arab-Israeli violence was a "daily experience," he said.
"Living in Israel as a Palestinian is basically living as a second or third class citizen at best," he said. He left in 1969 to attend college in the United States.
Jerome M. Segal, president of the Jewish Peace Lobby, said he also opposed the deportation. He said Israel is making a mistake in taking a harsh stance against the Palestinians who basically have no outlet of freedom of expression.
He also criticized the U.S.
Since the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait, the country has adopted a "negative linkage" by abandoning the Arab-Israel conflict and concentrating instead on Iraq, Segal said.
Meanwhile, the situation in Israel worsens, Segal said.
There needs to be serious negotiations on both sides, he said.
"A peaceful resolution is possible," said Jahfhan. "It will take some strong will and good will on the part of all parties concerned."