For Israeli Arabs, Turmoil in Libya Means Farewell to Big Investment

Israeli Arab leaders yesterday assailed the actions of Libya's embattled leader Muammar Gadhafi, as they shrugged off the inevitable end to a planned multi-million dollar investment by the regime in their communities.

Mohammed Zidan, chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, told Haaretz yesterday that he has been working on details of a 6 million euro investment since last April, when an Israeli Arab delegation returned from a visit to Libya. During the visit, the delegation had met with Gadhafi, who expressed interest in assisting the Arab community in Israel.

Zidan then prepared a request for the funding, which was submitted to the Libyan ambassador in Amman, Jordan.

According to the request, the sum was to have been donated to a friends association of the committee, which would then use them to construct a new office complex, complete with a library and a conference center. The money was also meant to be used to support cultural and social projects catering to the Arab community in Israel.

Zidan, who on Tuesday condemned the actions of the Gadhafi regime, told Haaretz the reason Libya was involved in the project of was because it was the rotating president of the Arab League. He stressed that the request was his own initiative and not supported by all the committee members. He said the request had not yet been approved by the Libyans.

"I don't know whether we would have obtained the funding, but recent events in Libya and Gadhafi's massacre of his own people is unacceptable to anyone," Zidan told Haaretz. "If they offer the money now, we'll obviously refuse. One drop of a Libyan's child blood is worth more than all the money. As far as we're concerned, Gadhafi and his regime need to resign immediately. Our position has always been to support freedom, human rights and democracy in all of the Arab world."

The committee delegation that visited Libya last year was strongly criticized by Arab politicians and intellectuals in Israel. The same critics called on the committee this week to apologize. Hadash chairman MK Mohammed Barakeh, who was part of the delegation, told Haaretz yesterday: "We didn't go to Libya to demonstrate support and loyalty for the regime. Gadhafi chaired the Arab League and was hosting most of the other Arab leaders, and what we said in the tent was the same as what we said in the Knesset - that our struggle for equality and justice focuses on our country and on a joint Arab-Jewish struggle."

Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka called Gadhafi's actions a "crimes against humanity," noting the Libyan ruler had no reason to fear sanctions, since the international community has in recent years failed to bring other war criminals to justice.