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Middle East tension comes home

The crisis in the Middle East spilled into Pioneer Courthouse Square last week with dueling demonstrations over Israel's recent crackdown on Palestinian militants.

Hundreds of local Palestinians and their supporters attended the scheduled demonstration sponsored by a coalition of Arab, peace and socialist organizations.

The Palestinian supporters accused the Israeli military of indiscriminately killing civilians, including children. They demanded that Israel immediately pull out of the occupied territories and that the U.S. government stop all foreign and military aid payments to the Israeli government.

'We are here to say these massacres must stop,' said Mazen Malik, a spokesman for the Palestine Arab-American Association.

Then a small number of members of the Jewish Federation of Portland and their supporters arrived to defend Israel. They held up signs accusing Yasser Arafat of being a terrorist and occasionally argued with the other demonstrators.

'Nobody is talking about the suicide bombers that are killing Israeli men, women and children,' said federation President Robert Shlachter. 'Some of the people here are simply anti-Semitic and don't believe Israel has a right to exist.'

The confrontations between the two groups occasionally grew heated, especially when Israel supporters argued with a group carrying a large Palestinian flag. Several Portland police officers were on hand to keep the peace, however.

Ñ Jim Redden