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                             ISRAEL
                              FAXX

Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Jan. 18, 1996 V4, #9
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Voting 101 Takes Over Zatara Village

By Al Pessin (VOA-Zatara Village, West Bank)

With Palestinians scheduled to go to the polls in their first elections Saturday, and candidates bombarding voters with campaign material, efforts are intensifying to teach Palestinians the proper procedures to ensure their votes are counted. Al Pessin attended a voter training workshop in Zatara near Bethlehem.

Ibrahim Rahal works for the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports. But in recent weeks, he has been an election worker. Rahal and a small team have conducted more than 30 seminars for voters in the Bethlehem area, using sample ballots, and instructing his audience to put an "X" in the box next to the name of each candidate of their choice, and to be sure each "X" does not touch any other boxes.

During a simulation -- a volunteer steps forward, shows his voter registration card, receives his election material and goes behind a partition to mark, in private, his ballots -- a red one for president, a white one for the Palestinian Council. Bethlehem area voters will choose four candidates to the council.

Seminar leaders report they have had a lot of women at their training sessions. But on this particular day, the audience is all male -- about 50 residents of Zatara, including two clan leaders, or sheikhs, who sit in the front row and pepper the young presenters with questions. One asks whether an illiterate person can bring someone to help them -- the answer is yes. The other asks how he can make sure he is on the voter list -- he is told where to find the local election office.

One member of the audience in Zatara was local teacher Mohammed abu Amariha. He says the people will come out to vote Saturday, despite a call for a boycott by militant groups, because it is an important moment for the Palestinian people.

The election workshop is grass roots democracy at its most basic, and one high-level visitor is impressed. He is Brian Atwood, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, which has provided some of the funding for such election workshops throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

As with any political process, there has been a fair amount of cynicism connected with the Palestinian election, with complaints about changes in procedures, restrictions by Israeli authorities, and a shortage of candidates whose views are sharply different from the palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat. But there is also a considerable amount of interest in the election, which Atwood found somewhat inspiring. "This is a possibility for a real beachhead for democracy in the Arab world. If anyone can do it, the Palestinians can."

Demonstration Calls for End of Human Rights Abuse

By Art Chimes (VOA-Washington)

More than 300 clergy and other members of a number of religious denominations in the US have signed a petitions urging an end to violations of Palestinians' human rights. The petition is not directed solely at Israel, but calls on Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders to work to end the violation of Palestinians' human rights.

The human rights petition cites continuing violations by Israel, including torture, arbitrary detention and confiscation of property. The Palestinian Authority is charged with secret trials, torture, and intimidation of Yasir Arafat's political opponents. The signers of the petition urge the US government to withhold aid payments until both sides stop the violations.

Perhaps the best-known names on the petition are veteran peace activists Daniel and Philip Berrigan. The petition has Jewish and Muslim signers, though the vast majority are affiliated with various Christian denominations.

Copies of the human rights petition have been delivered to Palestinian and Israeli offices, as well as to the White House and the State Department. But the Rev. Paul Wee, a Lutheran minister, admits the petition itself is unlikely by itself to change policy.

"Well, petitions don't usually accomplish a great deal, to be honest. At the same time we hope to raise consciousness. It has to be seen as a statement that represents a lot of public opinion in this country."

The petition was organized by "Search," a Boston-area group that promotes peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The human rights violations cited in the petition are based in reports from organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.




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