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http://www.latimes.com/news/comment/20001009/t000096308.html Monday, October 9, 2000

Israel Must Submit to a Multinational Investigation

By Daoud Kuttab, LA Times, 01/09/2000

There are plenty of reasons why Palestinians insist on the need for an independent inquiry into the violence of the past two weeks that has resulted in the killing of more than 80 civilian Palestinians, many of them children. The United States should support this request, which will surely calm the situation on the ground.

Israel wants Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to act like its puppet and order his own people not to protest the illegal occupation of their land. But Arafat is under tremendous public pressure not to allow Israel to get away with this kind of criminal violence against civilians. He will have to produce concrete results before any thought of a return to a peace process can get a footing. An investigation and an effective mechanism to ensure the protection of the civilian Palestinians is not only necessary but it is the right of people under military occupation according to international law. If Israel is innocent, it should have no reason to worry about the results of such an independent inquiry.

The U.S. abstained Saturday when the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution condemning Israel's use of force and backing "a speedy and objective inquiry" into the fighting. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has not even sent her condolences to the innocent Palestinians who were killed by Israeli soldiers using U.S.-made machine guns.

The situation has been brewing for the past few months as Israeli negotiators have been refusing to accept any agreement in which they would have to give up sovereignty over the third-holiest mosque in Islam, Al Aqsa mosque. In recent negotiations at Camp David, Palestinians agreed to cede sovereignty over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem to Israel, as part of a peace agreement. U.N. Resolution 242, which is supposed to be the basis for the talks, calls on Israel to withdraw from areas it occupied in the 1967 war.

This holy hill called the Temple Mount by Jews is usually filled with thousands of Muslim worshipers every day. On special religious occasions the number of worshipers praying in the mosque and surrounding areas reaches more than a quarter of a million people. Muslims have been praying at this site continuously for more than a thousand years.

Palestinian leaders have been warning for some time that the situation is very tense. Aware of the sensitivities around this holy site, a senior Palestinian official a month ago called on Israel not to turn the political conflict into a religious one. Within days came the visit by Ariel Sharon, the right-wing Israeli leader, to Haram al Sharif. (Sharon is the general who was chastised by an Israeli inquiry for his role in the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982.) Instead of Israel's leaders admitting their present mistake, and attempting to calm their own soldiers who are using live ammunition, they brought in tanks and helicopters with the expressed aim of trying to crush the popular Palestinian revolt. Later they offered to withdraw the tanks if Arafat ordered the protests stopped. They have continuously refused any multinational scrutiny in the criminal actions of their own occupation.

This is not the first time that Israel used exaggerated force against Palestinian demonstrators and then turned around and blamed the victims. Ten years ago, Israeli soldiers killed 17 Palestinians at the Haram al Sharif compound. I helped a "60 Minutes" team determine what happened. Their results completely contradicted the Israeli version of events. Mike Wallace and his team found that the rabbi of the Western Wall had lied to the press when he claimed that loud speakers from the mosque were saying "idbah al yahood" (kill the Jews). An amateur video shot by an American tourist and later shown at the U.N. shows that all the Muslim leaders speaking on the public address system had been trying to calm the Palestinians by asking them to stop throwing stones and not to endanger their own lives.

The "60 Minutes" team also showed that Benjamin Netanyahu, then a senior official in the Likud government, had misled the press by showing huge rocks that he said had been thrown by Palestinians. A visit by "60 Minutes" to the mosque and a camera shot of the 20-foot-high wall belied the possibility of any person being able to throw such huge rocks. Months later, an Israeli government inquest backed up what the "60 Minutes" team had discovered.

The international community should not allow Israel once more to get away with murder. Israel has another choice--simply admit its mistakes, ask for forgiveness and come to the peace table with proposals that comply with international law and can become the basis for a true peace. - - - Daoud Kuttab Is the Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University. E-mail: [email protected]


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