Sept. 12, 2001 – Members of the Arab community on St. Thomas said Wednesday that they stand with other Americans in revulsion and disbelief at the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of people Tuesday in New York and Washington, D.C.
Several people of Palestinian descent, noting that it is not clear who carried out the attacks, said it is wrong to jump to the conclusion that Arab extremists were behind them. But even if Arab groups are shown to have carried out the attacks, that does not mean the people from Palestine and Jordan who have chosen to live on St. Thomas have anything to do with it, they said.
"This is dirty stuff, dirty things, this killing civilians. No one likes that to happen to anyone," said Zeyad Abuzead, a Palestinian who moved to St. Thomas several years ago and who now owns the Zima II Grocery on Kronprindsens Gade. "I don't know what is the brain, how you can think, to do something like that. We are all human beings, man, all human beings."
In the hours after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, U.S. officials said they believed Saudi Arabian exile Osama Bin Laden may have been the mastermind behind the highly coordinated terrorism. Other groups cited as possible culprits include extremist Palestinian organizations, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Iranian-backed groups that have been linked to previous terrorist attacks, according to news wire accounts.
But several people on St. Thomas noted Wednesday that after the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995, officials also initially pointed their fingers at Palestinian and other Arab groups. Those accusations were shown to have been unfounded when Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and others associated with American paramilitary movements were arrested in connection with attack.
"I'm hoping that the Palestinian community, the Arab community, has nothing to do with this. We're not proud of this at all," said Andy Garcia, the grandson of Palestinians who immigrated to Puerto Rico decades ago. "It wouldn't be fair to judge the whole Palestinian community as criminals. That wouldn't be fair."
Garcia, like many other people of Arab descent living on St. Thomas, said he is an American first and foremost, and that the attack Tuesday was an attack against his own country. "Whoever did this, they should be punished. Even if it's Palestinians, they should be punished," he said.
Others living on St. Thomas also said Wednesday that it would be wrong to single out the whole Arab community for blame. "This is a racism problem," Pepsi Lettsome, a West Indian, said. "You know, the Palestinians, the Iranians, they always get blamed. They're not responsible for everything. The problem is when we don't respect one another."
Sen. Lorraine Berry issued a release Wednesday saying the territory should not question the concerns expressed by members of the Arab community about the loss of American lives in Tuesday's attacks.
She said all public officials should speak out against "retaliatory measures against locally owned Arab businesses by boycotting," as some callers to radio talk shows have urged. She expressed trust "that sound reason and good judgment will prevail among all Virgin Islanders, whatever their ethnic background and culture."
Zaid Rasheed, the son of Palestinian parents who immigrated to Puerto Rico about 35 years ago, noted that Arabs have been living in the United States for more than a century. He said they have not been any more responsible for violent acts than members of other ethnic groups.
"In my heart, I feel I'm an American," Rasheed said Wednesday. "This hurts. When I see what happened yesterday, it hurt."
He said he does not believe the act was carried out by Palestinian groups but knows some people are going to blame the Arab community anyhow. "Everything that happens in the U.S., they say it's the Arabs," he said.


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