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Palestinians Honor a Figure Reviled in Israel as a Terrorist

EL BIREH, West Bank — Dozens of Palestinian students from the youth division of Fatah, the mainstream party led by President Mahmoud Abbas, gathered here on Thursday to dedicate a public square to the memory of a woman who in 1978 helped carry out the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

Though one senior Fatah leader and a Palestinian Authority security official joined the gathering in this town abutting Ramallah, the administrative center of the authority, the relatively low key nature of the event, timed to the 32nd anniversary of the attack, was a kind of compromise. An official ceremony was put off by the Palestinian Authority as a result of Israeli protests and to avoid an unnecessary embarrassment during a visit to the region by the American vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., who came partly to promote new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The woman being honored, Dalal Mughrabi, was the 19-year-old leader of a Palestinian squad that sailed from Lebanon and landed on a beach between Haifa and Tel Aviv. They killed an American photojournalist, hijacked a bus and commandeered another, embarking on a bloody rampage that left 38 Israeli civilians dead, 13 of them children, according to official Israeli figures. Ms. Mughrabi and several other attackers were killed.

To Israelis, hailing Ms. Mughrabi as a heroine and a martyr is an act that glorifies terrorism.

But, underscoring the chasm between Israeli and Palestinian perceptions, the Fatah representatives described Ms. Mughrabi as a courageous fighter who held a proud place in Palestinian history. Defiant, they insisted that they would not let Israel dictate the names of Palestinian streets and squares.

“We are all Dalal Mughrabi,” declared Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, the party’s main decision-making body, who came to join the students. “For us she is not a terrorist,” he said, but rather “a fighter who fought for the liberation of her own land.”

Yara Daik, 22, said she did not come to the square to support terrorism. Rather, she said, “Dalal sacrificed for her country and is a symbol for every Palestinian girl.”

The square, planted with greenery and flowers, is outside the Palestinian Authority’s National Political Guidance headquarters, a body responsible for morale in the Palestinian security forces, according to the political guidance chief, Gen. Adnan Damiri.

General Damiri came out of his headquarters to express support for the crowd, but he stayed on the sidelines and refused to be photographed with the students holding up huge banners honoring Ms. Mughrabi in the center of the square.

“This is part of our heritage that led to the peace process and agreements,” General Damiri said. “There are not enough squares for all the martyrs we have.”

General Damiri said there was a time for fighting and a time for negotiations. Today, he said, the Palestinians were “seeking peace” based on a state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

A statue of Ms. Mughrabi to be erected in the square did not materialize on Thursday due to the cancellation of the official ceremony. General Damiri said he was confident that sooner or later the statue would go up and the square would be officially named.

Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli monitoring group that highlights examples of anti-Israel incitement by Palestinians, has been tracking the plans to name the square for months. The group says that the Palestinians also named two girls high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.

Under a 2003 American-backed peace plan known as the road map, Israel was required to halt all settlement construction while the Palestinians were committed to efforts to prevent all violence against Israelis and to end incitement.

In November, Israel announced a partial, 10-month settlement freeze, though it exempted East Jerusalem and this week announced plans to add 1,600 units. Israel has continued to note the Palestinian obligation to end incitement.

At a cabinet meeting in January, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said “Whoever sponsors and supports naming a square in Ramallah after a terrorist who murdered dozens of Israelis on the coastal road encourages terrorism.”

Addressing the Palestinian president he added: “Stop the incitement. This is not how peace is made.”

The Israeli government is in the process of establishing a mechanism for monitoring Palestinian incitement and plans to issue periodic reports.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, said that turning Ms. Mughrabi “from a murderer into a martyr” and “putting her on a pedestal as a role model for young Palestinians is a message that is problematic in the extreme.”