PROFILE: PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY OFFICIAL YASSER NAJJAR
Profile of Palestinian Peace Activist Yasser Najjar
Morning Edition: December 16, 2003
BOB EDWARDS, host:
Nearly every Palestinian and Israeli family has lost someone to the decades of violence between the two peoples. Yasser Najjar is a Palestinian Authority official who saw his parents gunned down by Israeli commandos when he was just 11. Thirty years later, Najjar has become a passionate advocate of peace. NPR's Linda Gradstein met him at his office in Gaza.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Yasser Najjar remembers that April night in Beirut in 1973 as if it were yesterday.
Mr. YASSER NAJJAR (Palestinian Authority Official): It was like any Hollywood movie. We were in a small apartment, 150 square meters, a three-bedroom apartment. I was 11, the youngest of six brothers and sisters. 1:00 after midnight a bomb blew off the door and between 10 and 12 commandos, professional Israeli commandos, rushed into the apartment and they were shooting everywhere.
GRADSTEIN: Najjar says his father fired a few shots from his pistol but was soon overwhelmed.
Mr. NAJJAR: While they were spraying him with bullets, my mother came and she tried to defend him. So she stood in front of him, which was really in vain because he already had some bullets, but he was still standing and trying to push with his hands. The whole thing took maybe three or four minutes.
GRADSTEIN: Najjar's father was a senior official in Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, and though his family didn't know it, he was also a leader of Black September, the Palestinian terrorist group that murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The Israeli commando squad that gunned down the elder Najjar and two other senior Palestinian officials to avenge the Munich massacre was led by Ehud Barak, who would later become Israel's prime minister. While he declined to be interviewed for this report, Barak has described the Beirut operation to Israeli media, saying he and his squad snuck into the Lebanese capital wearing women's clothes.
After his father's assassination, Yasser Najjar was adopted by the king of Morocco and sent to Egypt, where he was raised by his grandmother. In 1981 he moved to San Diego, where he earned an MBA and later opened three clothing boutiques. In 1994, when the Palestinian Authority was created and Yasser Arafat returned to Gaza, Najjar followed him. He says he wanted to fulfill his father's dream of returning to Palestine. Today, Najjar is the head of the European division in the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Planning and Cooperation. Married, with four children, Najjar says he spent years hating Israel, but now he says he's looking to the future.
Mr. NAJJAR: I can hate the Israelis or Ehud Barak forever, you know, and I'm entitled to. They took everything from me, my mother and my father. But at the end, for my children to live, I have to put my hatred aside. If I carry this hatred, my children will kill and end up being killed. And as their father, I don't want that.
GRADSTEIN: Najjar's parents were both Palestinian refugees who, he says, were forced from their homes during the 1948 war and the subsequent creation of Israel. His father was from Yavne, a town south of Tel Aviv, and his mother from Jaffa. Yasser Najjar says he's ready to give up the dream of returning to his ancestral home, provided there is a real peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr. NAJJAR: At the end if I get back most of my claim, Gaza and the West Bank, and maybe the right to go visit Yavne and to take my children and tell them, `This is where your grandfather was born and lived and your great-grandfather was buried.'
GRADSTEIN: Najjar was involved in negotiations on economic cooperation with Israel during the 1990s. And although those talks have long since collapsed in the face of the latest round of bloodletting, Najjar says both peoples have lost too much and it's time to build a future together.
Mr. NAJJAR: I've lived in nine countries and I've visited so many countries I can't remember how many. Palestine and Israel--this area is the most beautiful on Earth. Every year we are not building this country together, I mean, Israel and Palestine, every day we lose in conflict. It's a loss to us and to our children.
GRADSTEIN: Linda Gradstein, NPR News.
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