Two Palestinian Arab mayors, who were expelled last month from the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan, appealed for peace last night at an open meeting at Temple Sinai in Northwest Washington.
But the two-hour "dialogue" as it was billed repeatedly, threatened to turn into an open battle as fervent Zionists and pacifists within the Jewish community screamed at each other and the speakers.
Massive police presence both inside and outside the temple's auditorium, supported by a corps of volunteer marshals from the D.C. Non-violent Collective, prevented serious violence.
But early in the meeting, a man threw a smoke bomb that fouled a small part of the room. Several other persons jumped on the stage, shouting anti-Arab slogans in an attempt to disrupt the meeting. The hecklers were quickly subdued and escorted out of the hall by some of the 30 D.C. special operations police on hand. No arrests were made.
During a question-and-answer period at the end of the program, tensions ran high as angry, pro-Israeli spectators shouted slogans and responses at the mayors as they attempted to answer written questions.
And through much of the evening the speakers, who included representatives of the American Jewish community as well as an Israeli political activist had to speak against a counterpoint of hoots, catcalls and shouts of "murderers", "Nazis," "down with the PLO," and "shut up."
One woman who was hustled from the room of her frenetic heckling, shouted over her shoulder, "I hope you're all fire-bombed."
Author Milton Viorst, who chaired the meeting, repeatedly appealed for order. But Viorst had not spoken two sentences to launch the meeting before a young man jumped onto the platform and screamed into the microphone, "They (the Palestinian mayors) said the death of a yeshiva (school) boy was justified. What do you people say to that!"
Some in the audience shouted support for the intruder. Others screamed at him to be silent.
As television cameras recorded the pandemonium, a white-haired man screamed over and over to the struggling knot on the platform and the unruly congregation: "Don't let the news get a false picture of the Jewish community of Washington! You're giving a bad name to the Jewish community of Washington!"
The two Palestinians who addressed the meeting were Mayor Mohammed Milhem of the city of Halhoul and Mayor Fahd Kawasme of Hebron. Both men spoke of atrocities and provocations they said they had experienced at the hands of the militant Israeli settlers in the West Bank known as the Gush Emunin.
Mayor Milhem challenged Jews, Christians and Arabs to work together for peace. "Let us work together to preserve the world for Arabs and Jews and for the world at large," he said. "The present policy leads to nowhere . . . it leads to bloodshed."
One of the most dramatic moments came in the tumultuous question period after the speeches when the mayors were asked if they approved of the PLO terrorists' killing Israeli children and civilians.
Milhem reported "99 percent of the Israeli children are killed by Israeli bullets!" The answer drew catcalls and protests from the audience.
Earlier, Rabbi Al AxeIrad of Brandeis University challenged the mayors, whom he referred to as "my cousins," to denounce the PLO. "You could be agents of peace" in doing that he said.