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Every time I am attacked by a supporter or ally of Hamas, Arab and Muslim leaders around me urge me not to respond.

Last week, a spokesman for American Muslims for Jerusalem in Washington D.C. and longtime activist with the extremist group the Islamic Association for Palestine in Richardson, Texas attacked me for criticizing Muslim extremism.

What he was really attacking me for was my long-standing denunciation of Hamas, a terrorist organization that has hijacked not only Islam but also Palestinian suffering under occupation.

He was also attacking me because I am Christian, a growing minority in the Arab World often held-up as evidence of “tolerance” when in fact the Muslim World is part of the cause for the deterioration of the Christian presence. They always blame it on Israel, and while Israel’s policies are clearly a part of the problem, intolerance of Christians among Muslims is too common.

So when I responded to the attacks against me, many Arab and Palestinian leaders said we needed to “resolve” this problem. We needed to “come together.” We needed to “put our differences behind us.”

None of them criticized the attacker, a Muslim activist who believes Palestine should be an Islamic country yet frequently attacks Israel for being a religious state. Go figure.

It’s typical of the problem in the Middle East. We, Arabs, have made it easy for the religious fanatics to not only hijack out causes but also undermine those who are good.

Saudi Arabia, for example, had a longtime problem with fanaticism. But rather than face it, simply paid Osama Bin Laden off with contracts and power and clout in the hopes that he would take his fanaticism abroad.

Only when Americans were attacked and threatened to take out any government that coddled the al-Qaeda killers did Saudi Arabia finally start doing something. Of course, they’re deep in business with the foundations of President George W. Bush’s administration, so they have to do something.

Today in Palestine, Hamas popularity is growing and it threatens the future of Palestine and Israel. Hamas was nurtured into existence, ironically by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon back in the late 1970s. Sharon and his extremist party allies hoped to encourage a religious alternative to the secular Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Sharon believed that a religious Palestinian movement would not seek to establish a state and definitely would not compromise with Israel. But he never expected that the founder, Sheik Yassin would use his group to launch today’s reign of suicide bombings.

But most Palestinians don’t really support suicide bombings. They are just driven to emotional extremes by the unending suffering caused by Sharon’s government policies that have given them no other choices.

Sharon’s government is responsible for some of the most gruesome acts of violence and has been criticized by Amnesty International of committing “war crimes.” It’s something that has haunted his entire career. His supporters say that the critics are unfair and “hate” him, but the truth is Sharon is wrong.

Most Palestinians do support compromise and peace, but a compromise that is fair. Since 1948, they have given up nearly 78 percent of Palestine, left only with a small swatch of land called the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It’s barely enough for a country. But still, they have accepted the idea.

They want Israel to also allow them to share Jerusalem, a city that today has been closed by Israel to most Christian and Muslim Palestinians. And, they want Israel to acknowledge its role in creating the refugee problem. That’s why they insist in the Palestinian Right of Return (covering the past 57 years) which really is no different in principle to the Jewish Right of Return whichc overs the past 2,057 years).

Because it is so difficult and because Israel is so stingy in compromise, it’s easy for the fanatics to argue that Israel does not want to make peace, that Palestinians should not criticize Hamas when Sharn is committing acts of “war crimes” and state terrorism, too.

But I know that if Hamas succeeds in achieving what Sharon has always wanted, by undermining and destroying Palestinian secular leadership, he future is bleak for everyone. Christians. Muslims. And Jews. Palestine and Israel.

So instead of cowering under the intimidation of Muslim American fanatics, we should be spending as much time criticizing them as we do Israel’s government.

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Ray Hanania is a nationally syndicated Palestinian American columnist.He is memberof Scholars for Peace in the Middle East spme.org.


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