The US House international relations committee chairman Benjamin Gilman yesterday called the Palestinian Authority's death penalty edict for Arabs who sell land to Jews "racist" and urged PLO chairman Yasser Arafat to repudiate it.

Gilman said he was "dismayed" that Arafat had not condemned the policy, announced last week by his "Justice Minister", Freih Abu-Medein.

"To assert that an entire group of people is 'off limits' in transactions with another for any reason is exactly the kind of racist and religious bigotry that led to the Nazi extermination camps, and cannot be tolerated," he said.

Shortly after Medein's announcement, an elderly Arab merchant was allegedly abducted from east Jerusalem by Arafat's personal guard, Force 17, and later found dead in PA-controlled Ram'Allah. The head of the PA-appointed Islamic authority in Jerusalem issued a death edict against Farid el-Bashiti and refused to allow his family to bury him according to Muslim tradition.

Bashiti was reported to have been involved in the closing of a recent deal involving the sale of a property on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives to a Jewish businessman, who donated it to a Jewish seminary.

Following reports of the murder, Freih Abu-Medein said: "Palestinians will not accept traitors."

The US administration has thus far declined to demand of the PA a clarification of the policy.

In statements on Monday, US State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns fell short of condemning the PA policy, saying the US would decline to comment on Bashiti's killing until the official investigation was over.

Burns did not address the law in general, but said: "Israel and the Palestinians must be permitted to conduct their own lives in accordance with their own laws."

Asked to react to Gilman's statement, Burns said yesterday he would not criticise Arafat because he does not know whether or not Arafat has spoken out against the decision.

As far as can be ascertained, he has not.

Two Israeli lawmakers have asked the Attorney-General to open an investigation against Israeli Arab and key advisor to Arafat Ahmed Tibi. They claim that Tibi's remarks against Palestinians who sell land to Jews -- "They have sold their soul to the devil" -- constitute incitement to murder.

Al-Bashiti was murdered the day Tibi's remarks were broadcast.



(New York Times, May 9, The Jerusalem Post, May 13)

The Israeli Government announced today that Israeli Jews who sell land to Palestinians will face execution. "The death penalty will be imposed on anyone who is convicted of selling one inch to Palestinians," said the Israeli Justice Minister in an interview. "Even middlemen involved in such deals will face the same penalty."

Change a few words and that is a real dispatch from Jerusalem by the Associated Press. The warning of execution was made -- but by the Minister of Justice of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, Freih Abu Medein. It was a warning to all Palestinians, inside its present control or not. It should be taken as a different warning by Israel and those who wish it well.

Imagine the world-wide denunciation had it been a warning of execution to Jews from Israel, for selling land to Palestinians.

America and Europe erupt in justified fury. President Clinton is bombarded by press questions and does not conceal his shock.

Almost every newspaper and TV news program leads with it, carries editorials, columns, commentary, talk shows.

Imagine the meetings at the UN, the boycott demands of the Muslim countries, the mock horror of the budding China-Russia alliance. Christian church groups are publicly horrified, and so too the whole world of Jewish organisations.

And what happened after the real death warning was dispatched around the world? Why, nothing.

No government, including those financially holding up the Palestinian Authority, said anything.

Nothing from the American Friends Service Committee, the National Council of Churches and other church groups normally solicitous of Palestinian rights, no angry faxes flooding in from Jewish groups, except the alert Anti-Defamation League. From the UN: nothing.

US newspapers I saw printed it not at all, or barely. I saw one editorial of protest, in THE NEW YORK POST.

Though the world refused to witness, the death warning was probably the most important statement the Arafat people have made since the Oslo agreement for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 1993.

As David Bar-Illan, the Israeli spokesman, said, it recalls the Nazi Nuremberg race laws. But it is far more significant for what it tells us of the kind of regime that will rule the Palestine to be.

Whether or not a peace agreement is signed, the Palestinian Authority made possible by Israel under Rabin-Peres is headed toward world-wide recognition as an independent state, whatever Israel might call it. And it will be one more Mideast racist despotism on Israel's borders. Time and again, and purposefully, the Arafat Authority has shown where it is going.

It jails political critics, makes deals with terrorists, talks repeatedly in their language of incitement and jihad.

As I began writing this, I became aware of the UN's Geneva meeting and the NEW YORK TIMES article from Jerusalem on torture of Palestinians by Israeli interrogators.

Torture is wrong and unacceptable, any place, any time. Friends of Israel understand the terrorist danger in which it lives perpetually. They know that torture of Arabs by Arab governments is unspeakably worse. For these regimes, it is routine, always was. But Israel is different. Using torture demeans its most important asset next to its defence force -- civilised democratic decency.

But I will not allow the coincidence of the torture reports to prevent me from calling attention to the execution policy and what it should tell us all.

Before the execution policy was announced we knew that Mr Arafat was creating a Palestinian despotism. What we did not know, or did not want to believe, was how readily, how silently, the world would accept and welcome such a Palestine.

The world, including the West, cares nothing for Arab human rights unless violated by Israelis.

Nor does it care that every despotism on its borders is by nature and intent one more security threat to Israel. Now the silence informs those who do care.

So whatever the result of negotiations, Israel will have to remain at arms until Palestinians achieve democracy, while perfecting its own. That will not be easy for Israel, but then it never has been.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company

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