The heavy damage in the Jenin Palestinian refugee camp by Israeli forces has intensified the efforts of both Palestinians and Israelis to influence public opinion in the United States.
The word went out from the mosques all over America: come to Washington to show your support for the embattled Palestinians. And come they did last weekend, to cheer a series of impassioned speakers with the White House in the background.
A Palestinian said this was his first appearance at a demonstration. "We are angry, and we will be angry until our land comes back to us," he said.
Placards proclaimed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the chief villain. A woman from Dearborn, Michigan said President Bush should not have called him a man of peace. "Sharon needs to stop being aided by the United States. It needs to stop. I do not want to see any more kids dead on either side," he said.
A Palestinian American from Detroit, Michigan, recalled an episode from American history. "It is 'Give me liberty or give me death,' the call that Patrick Henry, the famous American revolutionary, once said. That is today the model for the Palestinian people," he said.
A woman from Chicago cited a more recent event. "I can tell our President that he can stand up to the Israelis. Dwight Eisenhower did it in 1956. He told [Israeli Prime Minister David] Ben-Gurion to withdraw from the Sinai desert. He did not do it. So he [Eisenhower] froze the aid to Israel, and sure enough, two months later, they withdrew," she said.
At the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, speakers were concerned about the Israeli image after the Israeli offensive in the West Bank.
Some members of the audience blamed the press. "Throw them out!" they shouted.
Better work with them, cautioned AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr. Though AIPAC is considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, he said more effort is needed.
He said the group must work more closely with the local as well as the national media since members of the U.S. Congress are careful readers of their hometown press. "We need to be as interested in that as we are in the Washington Post and the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal," said Mr. Kohr. "That means you, working with us, need to spend more time with them as well."
Take the editors and the publishers to Israel, urged Mr. Kohr. But as one listener commented, perhaps not to Jenin.
A woman in the audience complained that the local newspaper in Minneapolis does not describe suicide bombers as terrorists. So Jewish groups took out a full-page ad denouncing this omission. "Should not we all in every community," she said, "be doing this and actually calling the press on it and making them stop and look and reconsider every headline, every caption and everything they are doing? Is not that what we should be doing?"
The audience seemed to agree that is what they should be doing, and AIPAC, it is said, will see that it is done.