Arab-Americans Protest Seeds of Peace Award to Peres

DEARBORN, Michigan - Arab-American protesters picketed a dinner honoring former prime minister Shimon Peres on Monday, calling him a war criminal who is unworthy of such awards.

About 100 people carrying signs with slogans such as "Peres baby killer," "Yes to peace, no to Peres," and "Peres killed my brother" stood on the grass opposite a hotel where Peres, the head of the Labor Party, and Palestinian peace advocate Sari Nusseibeh were being honored Monday night by Seeds of Peace, a New York-based group that promotes Middle East peace.

In a news release announcing the award, Seeds of Peace President Aaron Miller said, "The presence of Shimon Peres and Sari Nusseibeh in Detroit is a powerful statement about the importance of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and a commitment to the value of the work of Seeds of Peace in equipping young people with the skills to promote coexistence."

When he was foreign minister in 1994, Peres shared the Nobel Peace Prize with then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat for their work in bringing about the Oslo peace accords.

The protesters Monday focused not on Peres' peacemaking, but on his role as prime minister in authorizing Israeli attacks in southern Lebanon in 1996, in which more than 90 Lebanese civilians were killed in the bombing of a United Nations shelter during an Israeli offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas.

The victims of that bombing included the sons of Haidar Bitar of Dearborn. The boys were visiting her mother in Lebanon at the time.

"Shimon Peres is a war criminal, not a peacemaker," Bitar said.

Dearborn is the center of southeastern Michigan's 300,000-member Arab community. About a third of its 100,000 people are of Middle Eastern descent.

"This is an insult," said Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News and an organizer of the protest. "Honoring a man such as Peres in the middle of our city would be a slap in the face of the Arab community."

A message was left with Miller seeking comment.

Asked about the protest, one of the guests at Monday's dinner, Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy, said forgiveness is needed to end the Middle East conflict.

"There have been five wars, two intifadas - uprisings. There are a lot of hard feelings on both sides about this conflict. The only hope for peace is to begin the process of forgiveness," he said.