The car bomb that exploded in Jerusalem’s bustling Machane Yehudah marketplace on Friday morning found me in the city of Hebron, now under the rule of the Palestine Authority, only an hour south of Jerusalem, where I was standing with a Palestinian journalist colleague, covering a military parade of the Islamic Hamas movement.
We watched masked Arabs, brandishing automatic weapons, marched though on the streets of downtown Hebron, in a demonstration that was licensed by the Palestine Authority, with weapons that were licensed by the Palestine Authority since May, 1995.
The Hamas demonstrators chanted “death to the Jews”. “liberate Jerusalem”, and “We shall return our lands from 1948”, “down with Zionism”. These are the slogans that you would expect. They also burned American and Israeli flags. All under the watchful eyes of the Palestinian police.
Yet only two weeks ago, I covered the Wye plantation talks, where the Palestine Authority committed itself to disarming the weapons of Hamas and other groups opposed to the peace process.
Unless these guns paraded by Hamas were manufactured by Mattel or Hasboro, it would seem that these weapons were supposed to have confiscated by Arafat’s police.
Returning to Jerusalem, I visited the media lab of Palestine Media Watch, a professional media office that follows the official Palestinian media.
I was curious to see how the car bomb in Machaneh Yehudah was being reported on official Palestine Authority Television, especially since the US government had recently issued stinging criticism of what the American consulate in Jerusalem had described to the Palestine Report, a local Palestinian weekly, as “a network of incitement that was harming the peace process”.
While I waited to hear the Palestine Authority TV news, Official Palestinian TV featured an interview with Imjad Fallouji, the elected leader of Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinian minister of communications, and a member of Arafat’s inner cabinet. Imjad Fallouiji was not asked about Hamas military parades or about Hamas car bombs. What the Palestine Authority TV announcer did ask Fallouji was for him to explain the implications of “970”, the new area code that the Palestine Authority telephone system received this week at the International Communications conference that was recently held in Minneapolis.
When the PBC newsreel finally came on the air, the announcer mentioned the “explosions” that took place in the Machane Yehudah marketplace, mentioning that terrorists indeed had carried out the act, with no sound of regret, yet with a perfunctory condemnation of the attack, as the Palestinian Minister of Justice Freich Abu Medein simply saying that the “attack does not serve Palestinian interests”, yet without any specific criticism of any particular Palestinian group.
I recalled that during the Wye summit, an Arab threw a grenade at a bus in Beersheva, resulting in the Palestine Authority radio spokesman also saying that “the attack does not serve Palestinian interests”… yet blaming Israeli nationalists for throwing the grenade.
In today’s newscast, however, the Palestine Authority TV announcer went on to declare that the real crime was the continuing Israeli policy of adding Jewish homes in an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem, Ras Al Amud, an area that lies contiguous to one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Israel, on the hill known as the Mount of Olives.
Calling the Palestine Authority office in Ramallah, I asked the PA spokesman if there was any plan to disarm the Hamas marchers whom I had watched that morning.
The PA spokesman was surprised by my question. “They weren’t firing their guns, were they?”
This reminds me of the statement made only a week ago by Arafat’s aide, Saeb Erakat, who assured Palestinians in an interview with an official newspaper of the Palestine Authority that all of the Hamas leaders who had been arrested during the widely publicized round-up of Hamas after an attack on an Israeli school bus the previous day would indeed be released, if they could prove that they had no direct involvement in the attack on the bus.
At the end of my Friday work day at the press center, I received another call.
An American Israeli citizen of Jerusalem, Joyce Boim, the mother of a teenage boy, David, who was gunned down by a young Palestinian Hamas member, Amjad Hanawi, back in May, 1996, called to inform me that the Israeli government has issued an official statement that the Palestine Authority has released Amjad Hanawi, despite the fact that Hanawi was convicted of her son’s murder in a Palestinian court back in February, after Joyce had lobbied members of Congress to demand that her son’s killer be brought to justice.
After President Clinton made a personal call to Arafat, Amjad was indeed arrested.
I have requested a response from the American consulate press spokesman for the past two months to the rumor that Amjad Hanawi was set free by the Palestine Authority. I have received only one response from the American consulate spokesman: “To the best of our knowledge. Amjad Hanawi is in prison”. To the question as to whether the American consul or a representative of the American consulate has visited the Palestine Authority jail where Amjad is supposed to be in prison, the answer that I have received is: “no”. Joyce Boim has received the same answer.
At the Wye summit, an idea was mentioned that the US would judge as to whether the Palestine Authority was keeping its commitments on matters concerning the disarming of terror groups and the incarceration of terrorists.
In this regard, the US state department officially announced that, as far as the US was concerned, the Palestine Authority had fulfilled the security promises that Arafat had made to Israel and the US at the Wye River summit.
Yet the US knows full well that the PA allows the Hamas to operate openly and flaunt its weapons in Hebron and elsewhere in the Palestine Authority under its jurisdiction. The US knows full well that the PA arrests and releases convicted killers like Amjad Hanawi. And the US knows full well that the PA condemnations of killings are half-hearted, to say the least.
In less than one month, US President Clinton will arrive in Gaza, to address a gathering of the Palestine Authority, in which he is expected to attest to Palestinian compliance with Israel’s security needs.
How people in Israel will respond to President Clinton’s “Palestine Authority security assurances” remains unclear at this time.