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Palestinian landmark names stir controversy

Andrea Stone  |
Palestinian Landmark Names Stir Controversy

by Andrea Stone

If you think naming U.S. schools and highways after Confederate war heroes is controversial, then check out these places in the Palestinian territories:

• The Dalal Mughrabi Girls' High School, named for a 19-year-old woman who carried out the deadliest terrorist attack in Israeli history.

• Yihyeh Ayyash Street, the address of the future Palestinian presidential compound, named for the terrorist dubbed the "engineer" for a series of bombings that includes a bus attack in Tel Aviv that killed 20 people.

• The new Fathi Shaqaqi Gymnasium in Gaza, inaugurated two weeks ago in honor of the founder of Islamic Jihad, which has carried out more than 1,000 attacks that have killed and wounded more than 1,000 people.

And then there are the schools, streets, government offices and even a football tournament named for Saddam Hussein.

Of course, Palestinians are not the first to argue that one nation's freedom fighter is another nation's terrorist. They often note that prominent places in Israel are named for Jewish fighters they consider to be terrorists.

A report released this week by an Israeli watchdog group, Palestinian Media Watch, presents a litany of public Palestinian places that Israeli and U.S. officials say glorifies murderers and incites hatred, making it more difficult to restart peace talks between the perennially warring sides in the Middle East conflict.

"Terror glorification is highly visible in Palestinian society," the report said. "A Palestinian child can walk to school along a street named after the terrorist Abu Jihad, who planned a bus hijacking that killed 37, spend the day learning in a school named after Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin, in the afternoon play football in a tournament named after suicide terrorist Abd Al-Baset Odeh who killed 31, and end his day at a youth center named after terrorist Abu Iyad, responsible for killing the 11 Olympic athletes in Munich."

The group's director, Itamar Marcus, briefed members of Congress on Thursday. The message he brought to Capitol Hill: The Palestinian Authority may be publicly committed to fighting violence, but its message "can only be seen as insincere by their own people, when numerous terrorists who murdered Israelis are repeatedly glorified" by leaders.

Rep. Steven Rothman, D-N.J., said Marcus provided a valuable service in monitoring "the promotion of terrorism, the glorification of murdering innocents and intolerance," and urged Palestinians to stop making heroes of those who have killed civilians.

The 29-page report, which has the blessing of the Israeli government, compiles years of Arabic-language and other press reports to detail what it calls the "institutionalization of incitement" by the Palestinian Authority. But what may be most striking are examples not subject to revisionist history but as fresh as recent headlines. Of 100 examples cited, 25 are from 2010.

Ayyash Street got its name in April. The month before, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbasdedicated a public square in Ramallah to Mughrabi, the teenager who in 1978 killed 38 civilians -- 13 of them children. "We are all Dalal Mughrabi," Fatah party member Tawfiq Tirawi told The New York Times at the dedication ceremony. "For us she is not a terrorist," he said, but rather "a fighter who fought for the liberation of her own land."

The Palestinian Mission in Washington sent along talking points in rebuttal, saying that Israel's "occupation is the source of incitement" and that, "Israel used terrorist tactics against civilians before it became a state in 1948. It honors the Jewish underground militias."

Palestinians have long pointed to the Jews who fought the British Mandate before the United Nations declared Israel a state. Tel Aviv's Menachem Begin Boulevard, for instance, is named for the former Israeli prime minister who headed the Irgun when it bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946. Another street in that city is named for Avraham Stern, head of what the British dubbed the "Stern Gang" and what Israelis call "Fighters for Israel freedom."

In an interview with AOL News, Marcus said his group defines terrorists as "people who target civilians for the purpose of inflicting casualties on civilians for the purpose of terrorizing society." He said the Irgun and other Jewish groups during the Mandate period attacked "strategic military targets" and that, "as part of the unfortunate tragedy of warfare," accidentally killed civilians as well.

While Palestinians have pointed to other tragedies that belie what they say are one-sided accusations, President Barack Obama said last year that among Palestinians there "is still a tendency ... to engage in statements ... that incite a hatred of Israel or are not constructive to the peace process."

Other administration officials have also spoken out, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who recently said that renaming a public square in the West Bank after a terrorist who murdered innocent Israelis "glorifies violence" and "insults the families on both sides who have lost loved ones over the years in this conflict."