Palestinian Authority and Fatah Continue Their Longtime Practice of ‘Glorifying’ Terrorists
“This is an outrageous glorification of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement responding to the news that Mahmoud Abbas’ P.A. will build its future presidential compound on a Ramallah street named after Yihye Ayyash.
The statement described Ayyash as “a terrorist who murdered hundreds of innocent Israeli men, women and children,” and said “the world must forcefully condemn this official Palestinian incitement for terrorism and against peace.”
Nicknamed “The Engineer” for his bomb-making skills, Ayyash masterminded a number of suicide bombings in the early 1990s before he was killed by a cell-phone packed with explosive, in what was believed to have been an operation by Israel’s Shin Bet security service.
Israel’s Channel 10 television footage shows a sign posted on the Ramallah street, identifying Ayyash as a member of Hamas’ Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades who “was linked by Israel to a number of bombings” and who “was assassinated by Israel in his Beit Lahia (Gaza Strip) home” in 1996.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. Gabriela Shalev urged the world body Thursday to condemn the P.A., saying in a letter cited by Israeli media that the action “fuels the future of terrorism as Palestinian children now walk down streets and through squares that honor terrorists.”
“Honoring terrorists who have murdered innocent civilians either by official statements or by the dedication of public places hurts peace efforts and must end,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a briefing Thursday, without specifying the Ayyash case. “We will continue to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for incitement,” he added.
In a brief report, the International Middle East Media Center, a Palestinian institution, said, “The Israeli army assassinated Ayyash in 1996 as Israel holds him responsible for several bombings that took place in Israel and led to several casualties.”
Ayyash topped Israel’s most wanted list for planning suicide bombings which cost scores of Israel lives over a three-year period. He also reportedly trained other bomb-makers.
At least one of those killed by bombs blamed on Ayyash was an American. Joan Davenny, a 46-year-old teacher from New Haven, Connecticut, was one of five people killed in an August 1995 bombing of a public bus in Jerusalem. She was the sister-in-law of the current Israeli ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren.
After evading capture on several occasions, Ayyash was killed in Gaza in January 1996, when a booby-trapped mobile telephone he was using exploded. Israel never officially confirmed the assassination.
His Hamas affiliation notwithstanding, the Fatah-dominated P.A. from the outset honored him as a national hero, with P.A. policemen even reportedly carrying his body at one point during a massive funeral rally.
Shortly after his death, the then P.A. and Fatah leader Yasser Arafat told supporters in Hebron that Ayyash was a “sacred martyr,” a term he repeated at a rally in Gaza later that year – when he named him as one of the “martyrs who died for the cause of Jerusalem” – and on other occasions.
A street in Ayyash’s Gaza home town Beit Lahia was named after him and on the first anniversary of the assassination, the P.A. approved a large Hamas rally to mark the occasion.
Arafat in 1996 named a public square in P.A.-controlled Jericho after Ayyash, a move the Israeli government cited in an Sept. 1997 document listing Palestinian violations of the Oslo peace accords. Israel said that under its Oslo commitment to cease “incitement to violence and terror” the P.A. should rename the square.
(There is also a Yihye Ayyash street in Jenin, another city under P.A. self-rule.)
The P.A. security services later employed two Hamas terrorists who served as assistants to Ayyash – Abdel Fatah Ahmed Halil al-Sitri and Bassam Subhi Shaaban Issa – according to a list of terrorists serving in P.A. security forces, drawn up by Israeli security officials in 1997.
In a 1997 interview, top Fatah official Marwan Barghouti told the Israeli news organization Independent Media Review and Analysis that Fatah was “politically” opposed to the actions of those like Ayyash, adding, “but of course we consider these people as martyrs.”
“If you remember how the Palestinian people dealt with the assassination of Yihye Ayyash – tens of thousands of people participated in the funeral in spite of the fact that we are against these kind of attacks politically and consider them as terrorist attacks,” he said. “But at the same time we appreciate these people as persons and individuals and consider them as martyrs.”
Barghouti is now serving five consecutive life sentences for the murder of five people in terror attacks. Elections during a Fatah congress last year confirmed his status as one of the most popular figures in the “moderate” organization led by Abbas.
Last month, one day after Vice President Joe Biden met with P.A. leaders in Ramallah, Fatah’s youth faction held a ceremony to rename a public square in the town in honor of another Palestinian terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi, who was involved in a 1978 attack in which 35 Israelis were killed.
Schools in the West Bank and Gaza have been named after Mughrabi, as have streets in several P.A. towns, including Jericho.