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Athough many Nazis found new and ideologically welcoming homes in Egypt and Syria after World War II, the Grand Mufti’s Palestinian national movement itself, bereft of its Nazi patron, was an orphan. No sovereign state of any consequence supported it. On the contrary, most of the surrounding Arab states, all of them buoyed by postcolonial nationalism and looking for political stability, perceived the Palestinian cause, especially as embodied in the Muslim Brotherhood, as a threat.
Egypt was particularly conscious of the threat the Muslim Brotherhood posed to the Westernized and increasingly secularized society it was trying to build, and both King Farouk and later Gamal Abdel Nasser took brutal and effective steps to repress the movement. They also made sure that the 350,000 Palestinians whom the Egyptian army had herded into refugee camps in Gaza would develop no nationalist sentiments or activism.
Egyptian propaganda worked hard to redirect the Palestinians’ justifiable anti-Egypt sentiments toward an incendiary hatred of Israel. Its secret police engineered the creation and deployment of the fedayeen (terrorist infiltrators) movement, which between 1949 and 1956 carried out over nine thousand terror attacks against Israel, killing more than six hundred Israelis and wounding thousands. These fedayeen were mostly Arab refugees, trained and armed by Egypt.
As the conflict with Israel hardened throughout the 1950’s, Nasser came to see that Palestinian nationalism, if carefully manipulated, could be an asset instead of just a threat and an annoyance. But Nasser’s ability to support such a useful terrorist group was limited by the failed economy over which he presided; and so, in 1964, he was delighted to cooperate with the Soviet Union in the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In 1964, the first PLO Council, consisting of 422 Palestinian representatives handpicked by the KGB, approved the Soviet blueprint for a Palestinian National Charter – a document drafted in Moscow – and made Ahmed Shuqairy, the KGB’s agent of influence, the first PLO chairman. Romanian intelligence was given responsibility for providing the PLO with logistical support.
The Soviets not only armed and trained Palestinian terrorists but also used them to arm and train other professional terrorists by the thousands. The Soviets also built Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba People’s Friendship University to serve as a base of indoctrination and training of potential “freedom fighters” from the Third World. Mahmoud Abbas, later to succeed Yasir Arafat as head of the PLO, was a graduate of Patrice Lumumba U, where he received his Ph.D. in 1982 after completing a thesis partly based on Holocaust denial.
In the chaotic aftermath of the Six-Day War, Arafat had seen an opportunity for himself and his still embryonic Fatah terror organization in the rubble of the Arab nations’ war machines and the humiliation of the Arab world. He forged an alliance with Nasser, whom he won over to his belief that after traditional warfare had failed them yet again, the future of the conflict for the Arabs was in the realm of terrorism, not the confrontation of massed armies.
From September to December 1967, Nasser supported Arafat in his attempt to infiltrate the West Bank and to develop a grassroots foundation for a major terror war against Israel. These efforts were unsuccessful because local West Bank Palestinians cooperated with Israel and aided in the pursuit of Arafat and his Fatah operatives.
Arafat finally established a base for his force in the city of Salt, in southwestern Jordan. From there he executed terrorist raids across the Jordan River and began to establish clandestine contacts with officers in the Jordan Legion, almost half of whom were Palestinians.
The Israeli army launched a limited invasion of Jordan in March 1968 to stop Arafat’s raids. Its objective was the village of Karama, near the Jordan River, where most of Arafat’s men were encamped. The raid took a terrible toll of terrorist fighters. When Jordanian artillery forces, under the command of Palestinians, unexpectedly opened fire on the Israeli force, the Israelis retreated, not wishing to escalate the raid into a confrontation with Jordan.
Showing his brilliance as a propagandist, Arafat redefined Israel’s strategic retreat into a rout. Organizing his defeated and demoralized force into a cavalcade, he marched into Salt with guns firing victoriously in the air, claiming in effect that it was his force, rather than fear of a diplomatic incident, that had caused the Israelis to move back. It was pure fiction, but the Arabs believed it. Soon money and recruits were pouring in, and Arafat was able to reconstitute and equip his haggard Fatah force.
Shrewdly leveraging his “victory,” Arafat challenged Akhmed Shuqeiri as head of the PLO in February 1969. Acting through Nasser, the Soviets backed Arafat and he emerged as the unchallenged leader of the Arab terrorist war against Israel.
At this point, Soviet involvement became critical. Under Russian tutelage, Arafat signed the “Cairo Agreement” in November 1969, which allowed him, with overt Egyptian and Syrian backing and covert Russian support, to move a large part of his force into southern Lebanon. There they set up centers of operation to prepare for terror attacks against Israel’s northern border, while Arafat and the rest of his force remained in Jordan.
The three years of Arafat’s sojourn in Jordan were not without internal problems. Fatah terrorists routinely clashed with Jordanian soldiers. Arafat’s men used Mafia tactics to smuggle cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol, and to extort money from local Jordanians, setting up roadblocks to exact tolls and kidnapping notables for ransom to finance “the revolution.”
Jordan’s King Hussein was not eager for a confrontation. Faced with Arafat’s threats of civil war, he offered the PLO leader a position in the Jordanian parliament. Arafat refused, saying that his only goal in life was to destroy Israel.
In July 1970, Egypt and Jordan accepted U.S. secretary of state William Rogers’s plan for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for peace and recognition. But instead of embracing the plan and taking control of the West Bank and Gaza, Arafat denounced the Rogers proposal, reiterating his determination to reject any peace agreement. He then organized riots throughout Jordan in order to prevent a political solution.
Nasser was furious and let King Hussein know that he had withdrawn his support for Arafat. Blundering ahead, Arafat announced it was now time to overthrow King Hussein, and he launched an insurrection.
Throughout August 1970, fighting between Arafat’s forces and the Jordan Legion escalated. Arafat looked forward to support from Syria when he launched his final coup, but the Syrians had backed off because they had learned that the United States had given Israel a green light to intervene if they became involved.
The final straw came on September 6, 1970, when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), nominally under Arafat’s control, skyjacked one Swiss and two American airliners. Two of the planes landed in Jordan, where they were emptied of their passengers and then blown up. The passengers were held as hostages, to be released in exchange for PLO and other terrorists in Israeli jails. At this point, King Hussein declared martial law, and ordered Arafat and his men out of Jordan. Arafat responded by demanding a national unity government with himself at its head. Hussein then ordered his 55,000 soldiers and 300 tanks to attack PLO forces in Amman, Salt, Irbid, and all Palestinian refugee camps.
In eleven days it was over. Seeing his forces tottering on the brink of total defeat and perhaps annihilation, Arafat, having promptly fled to safety in Sudan, agreed to face a tribunal of Arab leaders who would adjudicate an end to the conflict. After six hours of deliberation, the rulers of Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan decided in favor of King Hussein. And to make matters worse, Arafat’s last patron, the dictator Nasser, died of a heart attack while seeing members of the tribunal off at the Cairo airport.
As Hussein forced the remaining PLO terrorists out of his cities, Arafat had no choice but to leave. By March 1971, he had made his way clandestinely to Lebanon, the only Arab country too weak to throw him out.
Arafat’s ability to stay at the top of Fatah and the PLO in Lebanon was the result, at least in part, of the support he received from the USSR. By 1973, Arafat was a Soviet puppet (and would remain such until the fall of the USSR). His adjutants, including Mahmoud Abbas, were being trained by the KGB in guerrilla warfare, espionage, and demolition; and his ideologues had gone to North Vietnam to learn the propaganda Tao of Ho Chi Minh.
Arafat was particularly struck by Ho’s success in mobilizing left-wing sympathizers in Europe and the United States, where activists on American campuses, enthusiastically following the line of North Vietnamese operatives, had succeeded in reframing the Vietnam War from a Communist assault on the south to a struggle for national liberation. Ho’s chief strategist, General Giap, made it clear to Arafat and his lieutenants that in order to succeed, they too needed to redefine the terms of theirstruggle.
Giap’s counsel was simple but profound: the PLO needed to work in a way that concealed its real goals, permitted strategic deception, and gave the appearance of moderation: “Stop talking about annihilating Israel and instead turn your terror war into a struggle for human rights. Then you will have the American people eating out of your hand.”
To make sure they followed this advice, the KGB put Arafat and his adjutants into the hands of a master of propaganda: Nicolai Ceausescu, president-for-life of Romania. For the next few years, Ceausescu hosted Arafat frequently. Arafat’s personal “handler,” Ion Mihai Pacepa, head of Romanian military intelligence, had to work hard on his sometimes unruly protégé.
But while Arafat was finally absorbing and applying the lessons he learned from his Romanian and North Vietnamese hosts and handlers, as Pacepa describes it in Red Horizons, the Soviets still questioned his dependability. So, with Pacepa’s help, they created a highly specialized “insurance policy.” Using the good offices of the Romanian ambassador to Egypt, they secretly taped Arafat’s almost nightly homosexual interactions with his bodyguards and with the unfortunate preteen orphan boys whom Ceausescu provided for him as part of “Romanian hospitality.”
With videotapes of Arafat’s voracious pedophilia in their vault, and knowing the traditional attitude toward homosexuality in Islam, the KGB felt that Arafat would continue to be a reliable asset for the Kremlin.
Arafat gradually saw the wisdom of jettisoning his fulminations about “throwing the Jews into the sea” and in its place he developed the images of the “illegal occupation” and “Palestinian national self-determination,” both of which lent his terrorism the mantle of a legitimate people’s resistance.
Of course, there was one ingredient missing in this imaginative reconfiguration of the struggle: There had never been a “Palestinian people,” or a “Palestinian nation,” or a sovereign state known as “Palestine.”
The term Palestine (Falastin in Arabic) was an ancient name for the general geographic region that is more or less today’s Israel. The name derives from the Philistines, who originated from the Eastern Mediterranean and invaded the region in the eleventh and twelfth centuries B.C.E. The Philistines were apparently from Greece, or perhaps Crete, or the Aegean Islands, or Ionia. The Romans corrupted the name to “Palestina,” and the area under the sovereignty of their littoral city-states became known as “Philistia.”
Throughout all subsequent history, the name remained only a vague geographical entity. There was never a nation of “Palestine,” never a people known as the “Palestinians,” nor any notion of “historic Palestine.”
During the British Mandate period, the Arabs of the area had their own designation for the region: balad esh-Sham (the country, or province, of Damascus). In early 1947, in fact, when the UN was exploring the possibility of the partition of British Mandatory Palestine into two states, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs, various Arab political and academic spokespersons vociferously protested against such a division because, they argued, the region was really a part of southern Syria.
During the nineteen years from Israel’s victory in 1948 to its victory in the Six-Day War, all that remained of the territory initially set aside for the Arabs of British Mandatory Palestine under the conditions of the UN partition was the West Bank, under illegal Jordanian sovereignty, and the Gaza Strip, under illegal Egyptian rule. Never during these nineteen years did any Arab leader anywhere in the world argue for the right of national self-determination for the Arabs of these territories.
In the PLO’s original founding Covenant, Article 24 states: “. . . this Organization does not exercise any regional sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in the Gaza Strip or the Himmah area.” For Arafat, “Palestine” was not the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, which after 1948 belonged to other Arab states. The only “homeland” for the PLO in 1964 was the State of Israel. However, in response to the Six-Day War and Arafat’s mentoring by the Soviets and their allies, the PLO revised its Covenant on July 17, 1968, to remove the language of Article 24, thereby newly asserting a “Palestinian” claim of sovereignty to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Part of the reframing of the conflict, along with adopting the identity of an “oppressed people” and “victim of colonialism,” then, was the creation, ex nihilo, of “historic Palestine” and the ancient “Palestinian people” who had lived in their “homeland” from “time immemorial,” who could trace their “heritage” back to the Canaanites, who were forced from their homeland by the Zionists, and who had the inalienable right granted by international law and universal justice to use terror to reclaim their national identity and political self-determination.
Within the space of a few years, the Middle East conflict with Israel was radically reframed. No longer was little Israel the vulnerable David standing against the massive Goliath of the Arab world. As the PLO’s Communist-trained leaders saw the inroads that Vietnam, Cuba, and other “liberation struggles” had made in the West, Arafat promoted the same script for the Palestinians. Now it was Israel who was the bullying Goliath, a colonial power in the Middle East oppressing the impoverished, unarmed, helpless, hapless, and hopeless Palestinians.
David Meir-Levi Jewish Press
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