Arab C'tee Now Praises Or Report

In a reversal of its initial response, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee yesterday praised the report issued by the Or Commission which looked into the deaths of 13 Arab citizens in October 2000. The group, however, did not accept the report's claims about the role of Arab leaders in inciting violence.

In an official response, the committee described it yesterday as "an important historical turnaround in the relations between the state and its Arab citizens and between the Arab and Jewish citizens of the country." It called on the government to follow the commission's recommendations for greater equality between Jews and Arabs.

The response followed a prolonged debate on Saturday in which most of the Arab MKs, a number of local council heads, representatives of the families of the deceased and lawyers from the Adalah civil rights group which represented them before the commission, participated.

The Arab leaders' response notes that the report has "opened up before us several new horizons" including the recommendations to initiate and implement as soon as possible a program "to close the gaps," and to change the hostile attitude among policemen toward the Arab population.

At the same time, the committee says that the commission "failed" in that it did not resolve "certain substantive questions such as, Who was the murderer? Who is responsible for this crime? What is their punishment?"

The Arab leadership also criticizes the "diffidence" with which the commission made personal recommendations with regard to senior government and police officials which the commission found responsible for the results of the events.

The commission found that three Arab public figures - MKs Azmi Bishara and Abdulmalik Dehamshe, and Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, leader of the Northern Islamic Movement - were responsible for inflaming the violence.

In a chapter devoted to the leadership, the commission recommended that it show greater responsibility in its messages and actions, noting that a strategy of threats of violence was not fitting for a responsible leadership in a country where law and order prevails.

Immediately after the publication of the report last week, the Arab leaders had accused the commission of "political considerations" and said it was angry at the contents. Yesterday the leaders said they "wished to stress the positive aspects." They said the families also shared these feelings.