The Palestinian Authority expects the swap to include the remains of Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah fighter revered by many Arabs for her role in one of the deadliest attacks in Israel’s history, 30 years ago.
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, Fahmi Zaarir, earlier this month thanked Hezbollah for including Mughrabi’s corpse and those of four fellow “martyrs” in the negotiated prisoner-swap arrangement.
But early Wednesday it remained uncertain whether this would happen. Palestinian and Lebanese news agencies reported overnight that Mughrabi’s remains would not be included after all. No reasons were given.
The P.A. said earlier it wished to honor Mughrabi with a big funeral ceremony in Ramallah – whether her body was handed to the P.A. for burial in the West Bank or to Hezbollah for burial in Lebanon.
“We want to turn Dalal’s funeral into a national wedding, a major celebration,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Azzam al-Ahmed, a top Fatah official close to Abbas, as saying.
Ahmed called the terrorist attack “heroic and exemplary” and said Mughrabi “will always be remembered as a symbol for the Palestinian women’s struggle.”
The pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat said Fatah had been preparing “solemn funerary processions for Dalal and her companions throughout all the Palestinian cities.”
Mughrabi was one of 11 Fatah terrorists who infiltrated northern Israel by boat on March 11, 1978. They commandeered a bus of day trippers and carried out a shooting spree along a coastal highway that culminated with the explosion of the bus near Tel Aviv. Thirty-five Israelis were killed, as were Mughrabi and eight other terrorists. The remaining two were captured.
In the run up to Wednesday’s exchange, Arab media have been painting glowing tributes to the Lebanese-born Mughrabi.
“Three decades after her death, Dalal is still seen by Palestinians and Arabs as a hero and an outstanding fighter,” said Dubai’s Gulf News. “She inspired thousands of young Palestinian and Lebanese women to follow in her footsteps.”
“Many Palestinians and Arabs regard her as an icon of the resistance and as one of Palestine’s first famous female fighters,” said Beirut’s Daily Star.
It quoted Mughrabi’s brother, Ahmad, as saying, “We will have a big wedding for her when she returns. Although she was never married, Dalal had thousands of children.”
The Lebanese paper said this was “a reference to the children of Palestine and to fighters who have been martyred in the name of the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance.”
The official P.A. mouthpiece Al-Hayat Al-Jadida said the remains of Mughrabi, “a living legend and a wonderful example for all women,” should not be buried in Lebanon but alongside those of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
Al-Jazeera television aired a discussion on Mughrabi earlier this month during which an essay by a Syrian poet was read, describing the hijacked bus as “the temporary capital of the state of Palestine,” with Mughrabi as “its first president.”
According to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), the essay called Mughrabi’s decision to carry out the attack the realization of “her true maternal nature.”
“Heroism transcends the gender divide,” it said. “Arab men should realize that they do not have a monopoly over the glory of either life or death. A woman can love much more nobly than they, and she can die more magnificently than they.”
After reading the essay, the al-Jazeera host concluded, “This is what the great poet Nizar Qabbani said about the great fidaai [fighter], the martyr Dalal al-Mughrabi. We have nothing to add.”
‘He was 14 years old, and played the clarinet’
Some of the recent reports on Mughrabi describe the victims of the attack as Israeli soldiers, echoing Fatah’s claim in 1978, when in a statement of responsibility issued from its base in Lebanon it said the group had killed at least 33 Israeli troops.
“They hijacked an Israeli military bus and took its passengers, some three dozen soldiers, as hostages,” said Gulf News on Tuesday. “The group was killed in the fighting, so were the majority of the Israeli soldiers on the bus.”
In fact, those killed were civilians, many of them children, as reported in numerous contemporaneous media accounts.
“Most of the passengers were Israeli sightseers on a trip to a limestone cave,” reported the Associated Press on March 11, 1978, while a report in the Economist magazine said, “Of the Israelis killed, half were less than 10 years old.”
The Washington Post said the 71 hostages were Sabbath day tourists and included “about 30 children.”
Newsweek said the seized bus was “loaded with 32 adults and 31 children on their way home from the cave,” and described one of the few identifiable victims after the bus was blown up as “a girl of about 5, who had died clutching a toothbrush in her hand.”
Among the victims were a U.S.-born wildlife photographer who was shot dead on the beach where the terrorists landed their boats; the passengers of a taxi flagged down by the group; and passing motorists who came under fire from the bus.
Five days after the attack, writer Cynthia Ozick wrote an article in The New York Times in the form of an open letter to the Fatah spokesman who had taken responsibility for the attack.
“When you say that your friends killed 33 Israeli soldiers in last weekend’s terror attack on the road near Haifa, do you mean my cousin Imri [Tel-Oren]?” Ozick asked.
“Your friends shot him in the throat. He was not a soldier. He was 14 years old, and played the clarinet.”
‘Neither moderate nor peace partners’
Mughrabi has long been revered among Palestinians. Institutions in the self-rule territories including a girls’ school in Hebron are named for her, and she is frequently extolled in Palestinian media.
A Fatah-affiliated “Dalal al-Mughrabi brigades” has claimed responsibility for attacks against Israelis – most recently on Monday when it said it fired at a military checkpoint near Jenin.
The Zionist Organization of America noted this week that the P.A. frequently honors terrorists who killed Israeli civilians as “heroes” and “martyrs.”
“Mahmoud Abbas and the P.A. have a long and shocking record of glorification of terror and terrorists which demonstrates, as little else can, why he and his Fatah-backed P.A. are neither moderate nor peace partners,” said ZOA national president Morton Klein.
“The record shows that within the P.A., few opportunities are missed to glorify a terrorist, celebrate a suicide bomber, or inculcate Palestinian youth into worshipping cold-blooded murderers.”
Klein urged the Bush administration to insist in its dealings with Abbas that the P.A. acts to end what he called “hate propaganda.”
“Only when Palestinians reject the idea that it is a religious and national duty to murder Jews will there be any prospect of peace.”