On the eve of the anniversary of one of the worst terrorist attacks in Israel’s history, advocates for terror victims are turning up the heat on Palestinian universities that host a group named in honor of the leader of the massacre.
Early in the morning on March 11, 1978, a Fatah terror squad led by 19-year-old Dalal Mughrabi landed on the Tel Aviv shore in rubber boats. There they encountered Gail Rubin, a nature photographer from New York City and the niece of U.S. Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut. Mughrabi shot her to death at point-blank range.
The terrorists then hijacked an Israeli civilian bus on the nearby Coastal Highway and murdered 37 passengers. Another 71 were wounded. Nine of the 11 terrorists, including Mughrabi, were killed in a shoot-out with Israeli police.
Each year on the anniversary of the massacre — and on Dec. 29, Mughrabi’s birthday — the Palestinian Authority sponsors public events to honor her. The P.A. has also named schools, summer camps and sports tournaments after Mughrabi.
“Dalal Mughrabi is a role model, like other heroic female martyrs in Palestine,” Madeline Manna, coordinator of Fatah’s “Sisters of Dalal” university committee,” said last month on the P.A. television program “Palestine This Morning.” She continued: “In the Palestinian universities, especially in the Fatah Shabiba [Student Movement], the female student committees were named after Martyr Dalal Mughrabi — ‘Sisters of Dalal’.”
Fatah, the largest Palestinian faction, is chaired by P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas.
In advance of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the attack, Stephen M. Flatow, a leader of the American Victims of Palestinian Terrorism organization, has contacted around two dozen American universities that have partnerships with Palestinian universities. Flatow, whose daughter Alisa was murdered in a Palestinian attack in 1995, asked the U.S. schools to press their Palestinian counterparts to disband the “Sisters of Dalal” groups.
“Imagine if students on your campus wanted to establish a group named after one of Pennsylvania’s most notorious murderers,” Flatow wrote to a senior administrator at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, which has a partnership with the Jenin-based Arab-American University of Palestine. “I cannot believe the IUP administration would authorize a ‘Brothers of Gary [Heidnik]’ or ‘Brothers of Mark [Spotz]’ organization.”
“By authorizing a ‘Sisters of Dalal’ group on its campus,” Flatow continued, “the Arab-American University of Palestine is glorifying a vicious murderer of an American citizen and encouraging young Palestinians to view such murderers as heroes.”
Flatow urged the Pennsylvania school to terminate its partnership with AAUP if the university refuses to disband the Sisters of Dalal chapter on campus.
In response, IUP Dean’s Associate and Professor Prashanth N. Bharadwaj raised the issue with AAUP president Ali Zedan AbuZuhri. He replied by claiming that the “Sisters of Dalal” group on his campus has not been active recently and, in any event: “We do not recognize or financially support any other group other than the Students’ Union.”
Palestinian Media Watch director Itamar Marcus regards AbuZuhri’s position as disingenuous.
“The university cannot deny responsibility,” Marcus told JNS. “It certainly recognizes and funds the Student Council, including all the different political movements that are part of the Student Council. Fatah’s movement that it definitely recognizes is Shabiba — Fatah’s student group in the Student Council. The Sisters of Dalal is a division of the Shabiba, and therefore the university, whether it acknowledges it or not, is giving it recognition and in all likelihood funding as well.”
Area Jewish leaders remain concerned. Joshua Sayles, director of the Community Relations Council of the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation, said “it’s troubling that any university—Palestinian or otherwise—would permit the existence of a group that celebrates terrorism and murder.”
AbuZuhri has not responded to JNS’s requests for comment.
Flatow also wrote to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, and the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Washington, which have partnerships with Al-Quds University, which has campuses in the Jerusalem area.
Dr. Jeffrey Akman, dean of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences and vice president for health affairs at George Washington, said last month that Flatow’s concerns will be “taken under advisement.” Bard dean Rebecca Thomas informed Flatow that she would be “gathering information” about the matter, and that “a fuller response will follow.” A month has now passed, and neither administrator has replied to Flatow’s additional emails or to inquiries from JNS.
Meanwhile, Bethlehem University spokesman George N. Rishmawi asserted in an email to JNS that “we do not have any group of such name operating at Bethlehem University.” However, he did not address whether or not the Fatah faction on his campus has a “Sisters of Dalal” division.
Dana Al-Ruweidi, president of Bethlehem’s student council, said on P.A. television in 2016: “My message to all the ‘Sisters of Dalal’ in all the universities is that you can make decisions. The woman Dalal Mughrabi led 11 men on a martyrdom-seeking operation. She waved the flag of Palestine and succeeded in liberating the land of Jaffa — even if just for a few hours — and established the Dalal Mughrabi Republic. Likewise, we are capable of leading a student council, capable of leading professional unions and capable of making decisions.”
Flatow’s initiative has since sparked an unanticipated controversy between the University of Washington and Bethlehem University.
Jeffrey Riedinger, vice provost for global affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle, told Flatow that contrary to claims made on Bethlehem University’s website, “there is no agreement for cooperation between U.W.’s School of Social Work and Bethlehem University.” Riedinger also said that he will contact the institution to correct information on its website.
Riedinger confirmed to JNS that he asked Bethlehem University to make the necessary correction in “early February.” However, Rishmawi told JNS on March 1 that “we have not received any communication from U.W. asking to remove anything from our website.” In response, Riedinger insisted that “we reached out to Bethlehem University and asked that it make corrections to its agreements website.”
As of press time, the website remains unchanged.
Local Jewish leaders in Washington state are troubled, but not surprised, by the controversy. Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers of Seattle’s Congregation Ezra Bessaroth told JNS that the fact “that a Palestinian institution honors those who murdered American citizens is far from surprising [since] the Palestinian Authority regularly honors and even subsidizes families of terrorists who murder innocents.”
Likewise, the rabbi said the fact that Bethlehem University “is exaggerating or misrepresenting a relationship with an American university is par for the course—twisting of facts and misrepresentation of history is normative in modern-day Palestinian public life, and is a phenomenon in the upper echelons of Palestinian political and academic life.”