Peace group members mourn one of best, brightest | COX NEWS
Palestinian died in clash with Israelis; relatives say he was aiding fallen friend
BY LARRY KAPLOW | JERUSALEM Friends say Asel Asleh was “the bridge” and that it’s hard to imagine peace without him.
In the prominent youth group Seeds of Peace, Asleh’s wide smile, dark political humor and bilingual skills helped Jews and Arabs talk to each other.
“He was the most fun. He was the smartest. He was the most intense. He was the most caring,” said Jared Fishman, a Seeds of Peace staff member from Atlanta. “Unfortunately, it was the reality that took his life.”
Asel Asleh, 17, was shot and killed by Israeli police in northern Israel on Monday during the week’s wave of rioting. He was the first Seeds of Peace staffer to be killed in conflict.
If Mohammed Aldura, the 12-year-old Palestinian who was shot to death as he crouched against a wall with his father, was the emblem of the week’s brutality, Asleh is the emblem of the damage done to hopes for peace.
Many Israelis say the violence proves the need for a peace deal. But the violence is making it difficult for those activists who have tried to convince others of the need for tolerance.
The well-funded Seeds of Peace is one such group, and it has had its successes. Formed early in the Oslo peace process in 1993, it holds annual conferences in Maine that bring together Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians.
The group has caught on, holding more “coexistence” encounters and being featured on American newsmagazine shows. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright both have appeared before the group.
But black flags flew from the roof of the headquarters here Wednesday. A memorial candle, in keeping with Jewish custom, burned within.
The group has canceled a trip to Jordan, and other events are in doubt.
Mai Abu Emara, 16, has been a “Seed” for more than a year. This week, a good friend of hers was shot to death in her West Bank city, Ramallah. He had been one of thousands throwing rocks at armed Israeli soldiers.
Then she saw Asleh’s mother on television, holding his Seeds of Peace shirt and decrying his death.
“That was enough for me to decide I needed a break,” she said. “I can’t go talk about peace right now.”
She still takes calls from her Israeli friends. But she wishes they would do more to protest the actions of their government.
“They’re just saying, ‘I really care and I’m really sorry,’ but they’re not doing anything to change it,” she said. “Words are not enough anymore. People are dying.”
Seeds of Peace members said they were unsure of the circumstances of Asleh’s death. They said relatives told them he was shot at close range while trying to help a wounded friend during a violent protest in northern Israel.
The protests in Israel have been led by Israeli Arabs, who live not in the occupied territories but within Israel’s borders. Many prefer to be called Palestinian Israelis.
Asleh struggled with his identity. He held Israeli citizenship but, like almost all Israeli Arabs, felt that he was treated as second class in the Jewish state.
Friends doubt he was participating in the clashes with Israeli police. Most said they could not imagine that from a boy who never even raised his voice.
“Even if I found out that he was in a moment of rage when all these violent things were going on around him … I can’t think he really wanted to hurt anybody because I knew him as a person,” said Efrat Oppenheimer, 16.
“There are a few Seeds that are the living spirit of the organization,” said Iddo Felsenthal, 17. “He was definitely one.”