Whitewashing the Palestinian Leadership - Part I

Like many intellectuals, I had adopted Arafat's cause, taking what I believed was a principled stand that blamed Israel for the conflict in the Middle East, and especially for the suffering of Palestinians.

Tags: Arafat
Francisco J. Gil-White

OpEds לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7

[Due to technical error, the footnotes to this article, as well as its full title, were omitted in its earlier publication, May 25, 2003. We present the corrected version below.]

'Palestine is Our Land and the Jews are Our Dogs'*
Anti-Semitism, Misinformation, and the Whitewashing of the Palestinian Leadership
"The [1929] riots [in Palestine] were accompanied by militant Arab slogans such as... 'Palestine is our land and the Jews our dogs..'  [and] brutal acts by Arabs... such as the killings in Hebron, where small children were tortured by their murderers before being murdered. ...[T]he Jewish community in Palestine found itself caught up in a wave of violent disturbances that swept with a fury through Jewish settlements and neighborhoods throughout the length and breadth of the country. The danger now appeared to threaten the very survival of the entire Jewish community." Shapira, A., Land and Power ( 1992, New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press (p.174))

Even anti-Zionists, such as Nathan Weinstock, recognize that this has been the tenor of the Palestinian movement:
"...the Palestinian anti-colonialist movement was deformed by racism. The distorted national struggle expressed itself in anti-Jewish slogans ('Palestine is our country and the Jews are our dogs'), followed up by attacks upon Jewish passers-by and store-owners, and eventually in mob violence akin to the all-too familiar pogrom." Nathan Weinstock, Zionism: False Messiah (1979, London: http://www.marxists.de/middleast/weinstock/09-arabnat.htm)

Until last spring, I held what people call a pro-Palestinian position.

Like many intellectuals, I had adopted Arafat's cause, taking what I believed was a principled stand that blamed Israel for the conflict in the Middle East, and especially for the suffering of Palestinians. Because I come from a Catholic background, and because there is a long and violent history of Catholic anti-Semitism (though not in my family), I always made clear that I supported the right of the State of Israel to exist, and that my position had nothing to do with animosity against Jews.

In April 2002, I noticed that media coverage of the fighting in Jenin was manifestly one-sided (against Israel). I began to look into this and also into the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This work made me realize that my sympathy for Mr. Arafat was based on false information.

Here is what I used to believe about the Middle East (all of these beliefs are quite popular):

1) That the media (at least the American media) has a uniformly pro-Israel bias;
2) That Arafat's Fatah is a secular nationalist organization trying to combat the fundamentalist influences of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Islamist terrorists;
3) That Palestinian terrorism is not anti-Semitic, but aims at national liberation;
4) That the Palestinian leadership has attempted to implement the Oslo accords in good faith, but the Israelis have sabotaged the process;
5) That Israel is a state overwhelmingly made up of European and American Jews who moved into Palestine and displaced Middle Eastern natives;
6) That historically, Jews were well-treated in the Arab world, and that current Arab hostility therefore stems from the current conflict.

Now, having spent time studying the historical record, I believe I was wrong about all six points.

In this and coming essays, I will explain why I changed my mind and provide some of the source material I have studied. I will also look at examples of media misinformation that earlier led me to mistaken conclusions.

What is the Nature of Fatah and the PLO?
Is Arafat's Fatah a secular nationalist organization? Or is it Islamist? Is Palestinian terrorism primarily aimed at national liberation? Or is it fascistic and anti-Semitic?

Most people's understanding of the Middle East comes from mainstream media sources. Time magazine is the epitome of mainstream print media, with unparalleled impact worldwide, so let's take a look at how it portrays Arafat and Co. This[1] is from the June 10th, 2002 issue:

In the current environment, Arafat's desires, whatever they may be, are not enough. His security forces were so battered by recent Israeli military incursions that they are almost completely ineffectual, according to Arafat?s senior aides. "Our capability is zero," Jibril Rajoub, head of preventive security in the West Bank, told TIME. "Our motivation is also zero. In today's climate, Palestinian commanders are loath to be seen doing the Israelis' bidding by arresting militants."

You are probably familiar with this theme, because the media has presented it quite often. The underlying view is that yes, Arafat is not the best, and terrorists (what Time calls militants) may be objectionable, but the Israelis are reaping what they sowed, because Palestinian terror is a direct consequence of Israeli behavior. Arafat the "moderate" has been pushed into a corner and prevented from restraining the radical terrorist groups, such as Hamas, for fear of being isolated.

Does this picture make sense? Well, consider what Time asserts in the next sentence:

"Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of Arafat's Fatah organization, has claimed responsibility for three of the nine fatal terrorist attacks on Israelis since Arafat was freed [from the Israeli siege on his headquarters]. Palestinian cabinet ministers say that Arafat has no incentive to stop paying the Brigades activists because they will only turn to new paymasters in the radical Islamic group Hamas, Fatah's rival."

So, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which launches terrorist attacks, is part of? what? Arafat's Fatah organization. And not only that - Arafat pays them wages!

What is Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades? According to Newsday it is "the deadliest Palestinian militia"[2] and a (London) Guardian article gives a list of the Brigades' operations under the heading,  "Trail of Blood.'" The full list is quite gruesome, but consider these two landmarks:

"Jan 27 - A female volunteer for Palestinian Red Crescent in Ramallah becomes first woman suicide bomber."


"March 2 - Al-Aqsa suicide bomber blows himself up in a crowd of mothers and babies in Jerusalem, killing nine."[3]

The Washington Post writes[4] that  "the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on soldiers and civilians. The attacks have been notable in their variety; although secular, the Brigades are named for the al-Aqsa mosque The Brigades are an offspring of Fatah, the main group in Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization Many members, like Abu Wadya, once worked in the myriad security forces of Arafat's Palestinian Authority."

In other words, a terrorist organization that sends suicide bombers to kill babies and other civilians, and which pioneered the use of women suicide bombers (launching this innovation with a Red Crescent volunteer, no less), is a salaried component of Mr. Arafat's Fatah. Indeed, this 'deadliest Palestinian militia' includes security officers from the Palestinian Authority - a creation of the Oslo "Peace" Process - who are supposed to be preventing deadly terrorists from attacking civilians.

Time portrays Hamas and Arafat's Fatah as being 'rivals'. Hamas supposedly represents violence and Arafat and Co. supposedly represent moderation. But if al-Aqsa Martyrs is part of Arafat's Fatah, and if it is  "the deadliest Palestinian militia," then in fact both Fatah and Hamas are promoting terrorism.

So if Fatah and Hamas are not rivals in that sense, are they at least political rivals? Well, consider that Hamas was established in 1978, long after the PLO became indistinguishable from Arafat's Fatah. This means that when Hamas, in article 27 of its founding Charter, describes the PLO as "a father, a brother, a relative, a friend," it is talking about Arafat's Fatah.[5]

These are rivals? Or is their supposed rivalry a show staged for the benefit of Western audiences and hyped by the Western media?

This image of Arafat's PLO as a moderate faction pushed into the corner by "more radical rivals" is one that Time magazine works hard to convey. In the same issue quoted above, columnist Michael Elliott distinguishes between what he calls political and millenarian terrorism. The first, he says, is primarily motivated by political objectives. The second is driven by hatred of a people and may have religious goals that render political objectives secondary.

He argues that[6] "wise nations try to keep the first [political terrorism] from transmuting into the second [millenarian terrorism]. Arguably, Israel has allowed that evolution to occur. In the 1970s, the [Arafat-led] Palestine Liberation Organization, murderous though it was, was rigorously secular and advanced a conventional agenda for national liberation."

So, according to Elliott, Israel?s lack of 'wisdom' forced Arafat?s PLO to abandon its 'rigorously secular' [and] conventional agenda for national liberation.?

I used to think precisely this when I relied on media such as Time magazine for my understanding of the Middle East. Elliot's accusation that Israel's policies have radicalized the Palestinian Liberation Organization cannot be fair unless he is right that, prior to the current troubles, the PLO (1) was secular and (2) espoused a 'conventional agenda for national liberation'.

What are the facts?

When it was first formed, The PLO's charter (the Palestine National Charter, or Covenant) set out the goals of the organization, which included the complete elimination of Israeli sovereignty in Palestine and the destruction of the State of Israel.[7]

Think about that: the destruction of the State of Israel?

It is worth looking at the actual language used in the PLO Charter or Covenant, as reported by the Associated Press (my emphases below):[8]

Article 9 said that "armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine."

Article 15 said it is "a national duty to repulse the Zionist imperialist invasion from the great Arab homeland and to purge the Zionist presence from Palestine."

Article 22 declared that "the liberation of Palestine will liquidate the Zionist and imperialist presence and bring about the stabilization of peace in the Middle East."

The talk of purging and liquidating a "presence" and the insistence on violence as the "only way to liberate Palestine" (!) certainly sounds like the PLO's founding goal was genocide. And the Associated Press is using a translation that is more faithful to the original Arabic than the slightly watered-down version the PLO has posted at the website of their Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.[9]

Is this what Michael Elliot means by "a conventional agenda for national liberation"?

And consider this: The PLO was created at an Arab summit meeting in 1964.[10] The date is quite significant. In 1964, Israel did not control the disputed Judea-Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza territories. Not a single Jewish settlement existed in those areas. So, we can ask the question: in its original, 1964 founding Charter, what was the position of the PLO towards those territories?

"Article 24: This Organization does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or in the Himmah Area."[11]

In other words, when Egypt and Jordan owned, respectively, Gaza and the West Bank, the PLO stated that these countries were the rightful owners of those two territories. This means either (1) that the PLO did not consider these lands to be Palestinian lands, or (2) that it did not mind foreigners ruling Palestinian lands.

It is only after 1967 that the PLO 'discovered' that these territories were supposedly Palestinian. The Charter was amended in 1968, as Arafat's forces were taking control of it (Arafat was elected PLO chairman in 1969).[12]

What happened? In 1967, Israel's Arab neighbors provoked a war that had the goal of genocide against the Jews,[13] but they lost, which resulted in Israeli control of the Gaza strip and the West Bank. In a spectacular move, unprecedented in history, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, though victorious against a genocidal provocation, offered to return those territories in exchange for a mere promise of peace. The Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, however, refused to talk.[14] Israel was left with no choice but to keep those territories. And it was then that the PLO decided these had now become Palestinian lands, which needed to be liberated.

Conventional wisdom has it that a Palestinian state must be created out of the West Bank and Gaza. Such a state, formed from precisely these areas, is presented as a response to long-established Palestinian demands. But then, why didn't Palestinian leaders, before 1967, demand that Egypt and Jordan set up a Palestinian state in these lands? Why did they, even then, use the Judea-Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza areas, as well as Syrian territory, to launch terrorist attacks on Israel?

Could it be that the PLO, which was created at an Arab summit meeting in 1964,[15] and which is entirely dependent on money from Saudi Arabia and other rich Arab states (most of them closely allied with the NATO countries!), is really a tool of a wider Arab policy? A policy that has, as its central focus, the destruction of the State of Israel?

Is that why, when you go to the Palestinian Authority?s official Website (the PA is an offspring of the PLO), you see a map of the Levant in which Israel simply does not exist. That is, a map in which the area of Israel, plus Gaza and the West Bank are simply and jointly labeled Palestine.

[This column is a slightly revised version of an essay originally published by The Emperor's New Clothes.

Part II of this series can be read at /article.php3?id=2405]

[1] Time Magazine, June 10, 2002, NOTEBOOK; Pg. 18, 323 words, Arafat's Zero Motivation, Matt Rees/Ramallah, with Jamil Hamad/Bethlehem and Aharon Klein/Jerusalem.
[2] Newsday (New York, NY), September 8, 2002 Sunday, NASSAU AND SUFFOLK EDITION, Pg. A05, 1333 words, WEST BANK; Inside the Crucible; An occasional series on the Israel-Palestine conflict; Militia Goes More Quietly; Al-Aqsa changes tactics after losses, by Matthew McAllester, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT.
- Jan 14 Al-Aqsa says it shot dead an Israeli near Nablus
- Jan 17 Member of al-Aqsa kills six at a bat mitzvah in Hadera, northern Israel
- Jan 22 Al-Aqsa gunman opens fire on a bus queue in Jerusalem, injuring 16 people
- Jan 27 A female volunteer for Palestinian Red Crescent in Ramallah becomes first woman suicide bomber
- Feb 19 Al-Aqsa claims joint responsibility for a raid on a West Bank checkpoint, killing six Israeli soldiers
- Feb 25 Al-Aqsa gunman injures eight Israelis at a bus stop in Jerusalem
- March 3 Ten Israelis shot dead by al-Aqsa sniper at a West Bank checkpoint
- March 2 Al-Aqsa suicide bomber blows himself up in a crowd of mothers and babies in Jerusalem, killing nine
- March 14 Al-Aqsa gunmen kill two suspected informers in Bethlehem, dragging their bodies through the streets
- March 21 Al-Aqsa suicide bomber kills three Israelis and wounds dozens more in Jewish west Jerusalem
The Guardian (London), March 23, 2002, Guardian Foreign Pages, Pg. 15, 913 words, Killers revel in kudos of a US terrorism designation: Relentless atrocities attain dubious form of distinction for al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Suzanne Goldenberg in Balata.
[4] The Washington Post, March 07, 2002, Thursday, Final Edition, A SECTION; Pg. A01, 1530 words, A Magnet for Palestinian 'Martyrs'; Al-Aqsa Brigades Lead New Wave of Attacks on Israeli Civilians, Daniel Williams, Washington Post Foreign Service, BETHLEHEM, West Bank.
[5] You may read the full text of the Hamas Charter at http://www.palestinecenter.org/cpap/documents/charter.html
[6] Time, June 10, 2002, Essay; Pg. 76, 786 words, Not All Terrorists Are Alike; Some can actually be reasoned with, and India should test that theory in Kashmir, Michael Elliott.
[7] ?Palestine Liberation Organization Encyclopedia Britannica; http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article?eu=59547 [Accessed September 20, 2002].
[8] The Associated Press, December 15, 1998, Tuesday, AM cycle, International News, 1070 words, Clinton meets with Netanyahu, Arafat, appeals for progress, By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent, EREZ CROSSING, Gaza Strip.
[9] Readers may consult the two charters of the PLO (1964 and 1968) at the website for the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations. http://www.palestine-un.org/plo/
In the watered-down version posted there, for example, the words "purge the Zionist presence",  with their clearly genocidal ring, have been changed to "the elimination of Zionism in Palestine".
[10] "Palestine Liberation Organization" Encyclopedia Britannica; http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article?eu=59547 [Accessed September 20, 2002].
[11] Readers may consult the two charters of the PLO (1964 and 1968) at the website for the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations. http://www.palestine-un.org/plo/
[12] ?After Suez, Arafat went to Kuwait, where he worked as an engineer and set up his own contracting firm. In Kuwait he helped found Fatah, which was to become the leading military component of the PLO. After being named chairman of the PLO in 1969, he became commander in chief of the Palestinian Revolutionary Forces in 1971 and, two years later, head of the PLO?s political department. Arafat, Yasir, Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved May 23, 2003, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online. http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article?eu=9277
[13] To get an idea of Nasser?s mood and intentions immediately prior to the 1967 war, consider this excerpt, from a speech that the Egyptian President gave to the Arab Trade Unionists on May 26, 1967:
"If Israel embarks on an aggression against Syria or Egypt, the battle against Israel will be a general one and not confined to one spot on the Syrian or Egyptian borders. The battle will be a general one and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel. I probably could not have said such things five or even three years ago. If I had said such things and had been unable to carry them out my words would have been empty and worthless. Today, some eleven years after 1956, I say such things because I am confident. I know what we have here in Egypt and what Syria has. I also know that other States Iraq, for instance, has sent its troops to Syria; Algeria will send troops; Kuwait also will send troops. They will send armoured and infantry units. This is Arab power. This is the true resurrection of the Arab nation, which at one time was probably in despair."
[End Quote From Nasser To Arab Trade Unionists]

[14] It was not clear how military victory could be turned into peace. Shortly after the war?s end Israel began that quest, but it would take more than a decade and involve yet another war before yielding any results. Eshkol?s secret offer to trade much of the newly won territory for peace agreements with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria was rejected by Nasser, who, supported by an emergency resupply of Soviet arms, led the Arabs at the Khartoum Arab Summit in The Sudan in August 1967 in a refusal to negotiate directly with Israel. - Israel, Encyclopedia Britannica http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article?eu=109507 [Accessed October 27, 2002].
[15] Palestine Liberation Organization Encyclopedia Britannica; http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article?eu=59547 [Accessed September 20, 2002].