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Jews, Arabs in U.S. Hail Historic Peace Agreement

September 13, 1993

Undated (AP) _ Jews and Arabs stood together Monday, watching PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shake hands. The White House lawn? No, a hotel in Los Angeles.

Around the United States, former enemies stood in front of televisions watching the Middle East’s Berlin Wall tumble as Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed an accord promising self-government for Palestinians.

″The fight for peace is just as important as the fight for war,″ said Joseph Bukiet of Clifton, N.J., a survivor of three concentration camps, including Auschwitz. ″It’s a wonderful first step to a better world.″

From her home in Ithaca, N.Y., Anat Shachan watched the televised signing with her 15-month-old daughter. Shachan said whenever the White House audience applauded during the ceremony, her daughter clapped as well.

″You have to believe in the agreement,″ said the Israeli native who moved to New York in 1989 with her husband, Yosi. ″And we do. We all do.″

The PLO-Israeli accords call for Palestinian self-government first in the West Bank town of Jericho and in the Gaza Strip, and later in other parts of the West Bank territory that Israel won in the 1967 war. The PLO, regarded for years by Israel and the United States as a terrorist organization, has renounced its commitment to the destruction of Israel.

At the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, a group of 30 Arab-and Jewish- Americans stood together in front of a large-screen television watching the ceremony with a sense of hope.

″There are more people who are in support of it than opposed and the shock is over and most people, most Arabs and Jews that I’ve observed, are still in a state of euphoria over this marvelous day,″ said Donald Bustany of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

″This is the beginning. We are all charged ... to complete this peace. It is an opening that will let all of us go in to achieve it,″ said Monier Deeb, a Palestinian activist in Los Angeles.

Also at the gathering, Rabbi Gary Greenbaum of the American Jewish Committee said he never imagined being able to see Rabin and Arafat shake hands: ″Not in my lifetime, not in my lifetime.″

Some of the 500 people watching the ceremony at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York celebrated by singing the Israeli national anthem, ″Hatikvah″ (hope), and some danced the hora on stage.

Michael Rand, a Columbia University student, likened the signing to seeing the flag of Egypt in Jerusalem when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat went there.

″It was like that, a sense of kidusha (holiness), a tremendous sense of hope and joy,″ he said.

At the Greater Hartford Jewish Federation in West Hartford, Conn., Murray Grant said he was moved by the handshake between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Arafat.

″I fully expected him to shake Rabin’s hand, but when he reached across to Peres, it caught Peres by surprise. I think, I hope I pray that it was a genuine gesture,″ he said.

Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, a Nazareth-born Arab and professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, interpreted Arafat’s reaching out as a sign of Palestinians accepting Israelis as neighbors.

″I’d like to see a Palestinian state. I’d like to go there and teach,″ he said.

There also were dissenting voices.

Yusif Barakat, 58, who was born in Haifa, was both hopeful and saddened by the agreement, which all but guarantees his birthplace would never rest on Palestinian land again since the city is within Israel’s pre-1967 border.

″I feel exactly like the American Indians must have felt,″ he said while watching the ceremony with about 40 people at an Arab-American community center in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. ″The issue is that they have taken land that never belonged to them.″

Howard Garber, chairman of the Orange County, Calif., chapter of Americans For Safe Israel, denounced the plan as endangering Israel’s security.

″History will record all of this and it will be a very simple conclusion: If Israel survives it will be a true miracle,″ he said.

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