Just less than a year ago a delegation of Arab Knesset members and public figures visited Libya and returned with mostly positive impressions from the North African country. Now they are voicing decidedly different opinions, as evidence of brutal suppression of protest emerge.
"On the first day we met Gaddafi he described himself as a man of peace and one who treats his people in the best possible way," Mahmoud Muasi al-Gharbiyeh, a member of the delegation told Ynet.
Nevertheless, he noted warming signs were evident even then. "Personally, I felt he was concealing various important things, primarily anything to do with the Libyan people having virtually no rights. We felt those things on our tour there, especially when we saw the state of infrastructures. "
Muasi says the more time he spent in Libya the more he realized the extent of the gap between the country's abundant resources and the dire state of the citizens who live in abject poverty.
"We met only the state officials who are the ones responsible for the people's suffering. Libya is a very wealthy country.
"Today we witness the crimes and bloodbath perpetrated by Gaddafi's people. They should be punished and put in prison for the rest of their lives. These acts reveal Gaddafi's true inhumane face."
Arab-Israeli delegation and Gaddafi (Photo: Courtesy of Panet website)
Like many around the world, Muasi was not impressed by the Libyan leader's speech in which he declared he will not step down as president. "This man disrespects human life and I think he should resign. The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee has decided that even if the Libyan government should donate us millions of dollars we shall not visit Gaddafi again with all the killing that is going on there."
Unlike Muasi MK, Hanin Zoabi (Balad) says she did not notice anything during her visit which raised any red lights. "We didn't get to know Gaddafi well, as our visit was very brief. They denied us any contact with the man himself so as not to taint the picture they wanted to portray, as if it's a country that maintains equality and human rights."
Nevertheless, she pledged not to take any step which may be construed as a show of support for the Libyan dictator. "We didn't visit Gaddafi to support his positions and will not visit any other war criminal.
"We shall only visit Libya again in the case the people there get their wishes and after a democratic regime is established," she said.
Arab MKs on flight to Libya (Photo: Ali Abu Kamal)
Another member of the delegation, Wadi Awadi, a newspaper editor, says that the delegation was under tight security inspection of the local forces throughout the visit. "The whole meeting with Gaddafi was bizarre. It was very brief, and indeed we were prevented from meeting the people, despite our requests.
They didn't provide any explanations for this.
"We had to sneak into the city of Tripoli to see the real state of affairs with our own eyes and discovered the secret service had been following us. At first we thought it was for security reasons but we later found out they made a point of not letting us be exposed to the people's real social distress."
Awadi says that even Gaddafi's security guards were adversely treated. "We saw how they heated their food inside newsprint. If this is how they live it just goes to show how dire the commoners' state was."
Gaddafi and Ahmad Tibi (Photo: Hadis al-Nas)
'Delegation members were obsequious'
The delegation members also got a taste of Gaddafi's capricious behavior, despite being warmly welcomed by him. "We arrived in Libya at 10 am and were immediately taken to a park where we stayed until 4 pm. Only then did Gaddafi agree to meet us. Prior to that, we were subjected to a humiliating security inspection."
Awadi criticizes some of his colleagues saying "some of the Arab public figures were being obsequious and treated Gaddafi as the greatest and best leader. I think they should apologize to the Libyan people as they visited their country without meeting the locals and maybe created the impression that Israeli Arabs support Gaddafi's rule.
"Personally, I was convinced that we should have been critical and exposed the truth," he says, "and not come back and voice fake opinions and ignore Gaddafi was killing his own people."
One of the people Awadi is referring to is MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List Ta'al) who following recent turmoil has been criticized for supporting Gaddafi by visiting Libya. "I called him the president of presidents and kings as he was president of the Arab League," he said in defense in the Knesset.
Roni Sofer contributed to this report
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