Arab-Americans are optimistic, a bit wary about proposed Mideast accord

September 08, 1993|By New York Times News Service

CHICAGO -- On his first trip to the West Bank two years ago to visit relatives, Ray Hanania, a Palestinian-American writer and political consultant from Chicago, said he had been strip-searched by the Israeli army before he could even enter the area, then stopped twice more by the Israeli police as he walked through the streets where his father had grown up.

A gun was pressed into the small of his back. He flashed his passport and was allowed to leave. Just routine, the police said.

Mr. Hanania says that despite being slammed against the thick walls of mistrust and hate that separate Israeli from Palestinian, he supports the proposed peace agreement in his family's troubled homeland. If the accord is signed and if it is sincere, he says, it may help to chase away the ghosts.

"I want to walk through the West Bank the next time," he said, "and not feel hate everywhere I go."

"I support the plan 100 percent," Mr. Hanania said. "But I'm not looking at this as a final agreement. I see this as a door opening, as two people going into a room and shaking hands and saying, 'You're a fellow human being. Let's talk. We have a lot more in common than we don't.' This accord is the first step."

For Arab-Americans across the country, in places like Yorktown, Va., and Los Angeles, in a mosque in Tampa and along the bustling avenues of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the quiet suburbs of Chicago, there is a sense that the shroud of sorrow that has covered the Mideast for so long may be slowly lifting.

But there also is anger and a belief among many Arab-Americans that the Palestine Liberation Organization is accepting too little and the Israelis are giving even less, that self-rule in Gaza and Jericho is not nearly enough for their nationless brothers and sisters, and that Jerusalem must, at the very least, be redivided into Jewish and Arab parts.

"All the Muslims in the whole world will never give up this piece of land," Jamil Mohammed, a 32-year-old Palestinian who owns three delis in Manhattan, said of Jerusalem. "I would accept half and half, but Israel won't give even one centimeter."

Still, Mr. Mohammed said he was hopeful that the talk of peace was more than hollow words.

"This is good for the whole world," he said. "If Palestine has a

government, people there can work again. No one wants to invest there now. They are afraid. Arabs themselves don't want to build there. Maybe now they can invest there. To go back would be perfect for me. I miss my family."

Edward Said, a Palestinian-American expert on the Middle East said there was joy among Arab-Americans.

"The thought that the Israeli army would lay off a bit is enough to trigger this euphoria," he said. But echoing a skepticism rushing across the country and the Arab world, he described the draft accord as "a very flawed agreement."

"Israel remains in control," he said. "There is still a dominant and a subordinate relationship."

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