- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

FARA’A, West Bank — Feras Ahmed Al Ghul, 23, gazed across the freshly cut grass of a new soccer field toward the concrete bleachers built with half a million dollars from U.S. taxpayers.

The opening ceremony took place a few weeks ago, to the sounds of a marching band and speeches from Palestinian officials.

“We know why they built it,” Mr. Feras said. “America helps the Palestinian people with football to make them forget … what’s happening to our brothers, our homes and worse.”

Alongside the sign showing the logos of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S.-based Save the Children, another Palestinian youth chimed in with some basic but clear English. “America no no no good,” said Muhammad Abdallah, 19.

“We like [soccer]. We don’t like America — for many reasons,” added Mr. Feras.

The exterior walls of the soccer field bear testimony to an angry mind-set.

Mr. Muhammad poses with two freshly made Molotov cocktails — small bottles filled with gasoline — for pictures in front of a painting of a hand grenade, demonstrating how these are thrown. He also points to a sign equating a Star of David with a swastika. Slogans on the wall pledge Palestinian blood and martyrdom until “victory” against Israel and America. Palestine is depicted here, as in most of the West Bank, as comprising all of the West Bank, Gaza and pre-1967 Israel.

Each youngster can point to specific pictures to explain his hatred for Israel and its American benefactors.

Inside the sports center, Mr. Feras walks up to larger-than-life portraits of seven men painted on long iron strips tilted against a wall. “This is my brother Marwan. And that’s my uncle Maher,” he said.

“My brother died fighting the Israelis when hit by [a canister of] tear gas. My uncle died with these other five in an action.”

Mr. Muhammad simply displays a brown leather pendant around his neck to “my dead brother.” The words beneath a picture of a man, wearing the Arab kaffiyeh headdress and carrying a gun, proclaim the wearer to be a fighter in the Falcons of the Martyr-Commander Raeed Karmi — named for the much-lionized local leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

His unit, an offshoot of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, carried out several deadly shootings and bombings until he was blown up by an Israeli booby trap during the Palestinian uprising, provoking more killings inside Israel.

Both young men grew up in the Fara’a refugee camp, where the blue U.N. flag flutters and a new school building, alongside a mosque, glistens with fresh paint in the afternoon sun.

The camp, home to about 8,000 people since the 1948 conflict over the birth of Israel, overlooks the soccer field and recreation center — the main buildings, recently upgraded inside by USAID, were donated by Sweden, and Spain donated an indoor basketball court.

USAID, through Save the Children, also constructed playgrounds, improved the wastewater collection system, and provided a program of support activities and training for young people, youth leaders, parents and the staff.

Signs proclaiming the U.S. funding show that the sports center is named for Salah Khalaf, who is widely recognized as the head of the Black September group.

That group, set up by Fatah after Palestinians were defeated in Jordan with the loss of 14,000 men, women and children, was held responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre, and for the cold-blooded kidnapping and killing of two U.S. diplomats in Sudan the following year. Khalaf, also known as Abu Iyad, was assassinated in an inter-Palestinian feud in 1979.

In the current Israel-Palestinian conflict, human-rights activists and media-monitoring and research groups such as Palestinian Media Watch argue that some names convey potent messages, fueling more conflict by creating a youth culture of hero worship for men of violence.

Alerted to the name of the sports center, U.S. lawmakers last week urged new legislation to prevent such use of American money. A senior USAID official said the agency would demand that the name be changed.

Larry Garber, the head of USAID in the West Bank and Gaza, said: “We are having a dialogue with the appropriate Palestinian officials on the subject.”

“Why should we change the name?” asked Mr. Feras. “Martyr Salah Khalaf was a hero of the Palestinian resistance.”

The Palestinians’ dwindling finances make them increasingly reliant on American gifts. USAID disbursed $174 million in grants and loans for aid projects last year, and the United States is also the biggest donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which supports Palestinian refugees and their descendants in camps on the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

But that aid is in peril after the Palestinian legislative assembly, dominated by supporters of Mr. Arafat’s Fatah faction, rejected an antiterrorism pledge the United States requires before handing over USAID money.

The document that is supposed to be signed by nongovernmental organizations promises that the recipient will not provide funds to a long list of people and groups deemed to be terrorists by the United States or the United Nations. On the list are Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

The Palestinian legislature has warned nongovernmental organizations not to sign the pledge — telling them to reject U.S. aid, just as the Palestinians spurned U.S. corn and food shipments to refugees in Jenin in 2002. Palestinian NGOs have endorsed this approach despite the loss of money it entails.

“From our experience with USAID, it emerges that we are talking about a destructive institution,” said Dr. Rabah Mohana, whose federation runs sanitation activities. He told the Palestinian press that NGOs receiving the aid were falling into a U.S. plot to “turn” them.

“In actual fact, [USAID] executes American policy in order to damage civic institutions,” he reportedly said.

Issam Yunes, who represents a human-rights group, said, “These [Palestinian refugee] institutions should reject this document completely, as it puts them in great danger.”

A government minister said he was expecting a compromise, but a USAID official said: “If they don’t sign, we have plenty of projects worldwide … [eager for] our money and expertise.”

However, the U.S. antiterrorism pledge would not have stopped USAID giving money for a project named after a terrorist or terrorist group.

U.S. grants to the Gaza municipality for sewerage, road or building construction and repair did not prevent the municipality, also Fatah-controlled, from proudly declaring this year that it had named 300 streets in the city after “martyrs.”

The municipality recently honored Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the paralyzed Hamas leader assassinated by Israel in March as he emerged from a mosque, with a vitriolic front-page advertisement vowing to continue the fight against the Jewish state “until the resurrection.”

USAID also provides hundreds of grants to carefully vetted students, who pay them to Palestinian Authority-controlled universities, which provide facilities for their student unions, though these are dominated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Some universities whose students receive U.S. grants have allowed virulently anti-American rallies in support of the September 11 hijackers.

“Hamas and Islamic Jihad student branches at the PA universities have historically been breeding grounds for terrorists, as campus structures are used to promote terror and to recruit and plan terrorist activities,” a Palestinian Media Watch report said.

However, the scope and impact of USAID projects in the West Bank and Gaza is extensive, and receives near-universal praise among Palestinians and those wanting tighter rules to prevent “wrong messages” or glorification of terrorists.

An American-Palestinian Friendship Park still exists in Gaza City. Major engineering projects have brought clean water to the Gaza Strip, and desalination projects are planned. Olive farmers have found new markets through a USAID-sponsored project. Wetlands have been saved. Disabled people have found new hope in friendship clubs funded by USAID.

The impact is most obvious in small villages, a focus of the agency. Entire villages have turned out when schools have been built or refurbished, and when USAID carried out repairs to nearly 45 miles of rural roads, all the municipalities involved took out ads in local newspapers naming and thanking each American official who helped.

“It would be a disaster for us if this row stops all USAID, which has been excellent,” said a Palestinian Cabinet minister. “We have to find a compromise solution.”

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