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Spain's gesture to the PLO -- a dream vacation for Palestinian orphans

By Ana Martinez-SolerSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 13, 1982



Madrid

When Hasan Arar grows up, he wants to be a pilot - ''in a plane with the Palestinian emblem.''

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Today he is in Spain, one of 228 Palestinian orphans spending a six-week vacation far from the reminders of war in Lebanon.

''I only have one more dream,'' he adds wistfully, ''and that's to visit Brazil and meet the Brazilian soccer team.''

The Palestinian orphans, aged six to 16, were invited by the Spanish government with the collaboration of the International Red Cross. When they arrived exhausted at Madrid's international airport just over a week ago, there was hardly a dry eye among the many Spaniards who had waited for hours to greet them.

Television interviews promptly relayed to a wider audience their accounts of life in war-torn Lebanon. ''I always covered my ears tightly and lowered my head ,'' said 11-year-old Hasan Arar, ''that way I didn't hear how the women cried.''

Spain, mindful of its own Arabic heritage, is one of the first non-Arabic countries to organize a special goodwill program for Palestinian children caught up in the Lebanon war.

''The Spanish government has set up these vacations with the exclusive goal of helping these children to forget, as much as possible, the drama that they have been living,'' said a Red Cross spokesperson.

The central Red Cross switchboard has been jammed with calls of people who would like to help in any way in the program. Adoption is not an option, Red Cross officials insist, complying with the wishes of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which selected the children. They are to return to Damascus, Syria , where the PLO is preparing a special scholastic and rehabilitation center.

''It's a matter of trying to show these children some happiness in their tragic lives,'' said another Red Cross worker.

The vacation program involves a mixture of tourism, sand castle contests, visits to museums, zoos (the Madrid panda family), soccer, and other sports. And the visitors will have plenty of contact with Spanish children as they travel around several provinces.

Spain has maintained good relations with Arabic countries. It is one of the few Western countries that has not recognized Israel. Former Premier Adolfo Suarez caused a diplomatic uproar by giving full diplomatic honors to PLO leader Yasser Arafat when he visited Spain in 1979.