Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Americans bristled at the first images of the Palestinian reaction: uninhibited glee. Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority moved quickly to prevent coverage of Palestinian celebrations, issuing denials and confiscating videotape. A student protest in support of Osama bin Laden even precipitated a gun battle with Palestinian police, which left two dead and 76 injured at Islamic University in Gaza — the nastiest internal Palestinian conflict in years. Afterward, the PA closed universities in Gaza and banished foreign reporters from the Gaza Strip to prevent unsympathetic coverage of the Palestinians in the Western press.
Arafat has worked hard to establish Palestinian sympathy with the victims of terrorism. After the Trade Center attacks, the Palestinian Authority required its schoolchildren to observe a moment of silence, and organized a candlelight vigil outside the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. On September 12, Arafat donated blood for injured Americans at a Gaza hospital. The Palestinian Authority promoted coverage of the spectacle, which helped to deflect public attention from the revelry in the Palestinian street.
The whole episode testifies to a striking change in Arafat's persona. Just over a decade ago, the PLO was notable as a terrorist force, and Arafat was a criminal. In 1986, 47 U.S. senators — Al Gore among them — urged the Justice Department, in a formal letter to the attorney general, to indict Arafat for murder. Now, of course, Arafat is a Nobel laureate, enjoys a statesman's legitimacy, and presides over a national government and security force. Last year, Gore lauded Arafat as America's partner in creating world peace — and hosted him at the White House.
To be sure, the Palestinian Authority's newest media initiative masks popular support for terrorism, which is at least more widespread than Palestinian officials are willing to admit. But terrorist-turned-victim Arafat is primarily concerned with preserving his newer, more agreeable face in the West.
Arafat effected this dramatic shift in public opinion by recasting the image of the Palestinian national movement. The PLO stopped presenting itself as a guerilla army, aimed at wiping Israel off the map, and instead adopted the pose of a humanitarian effort aimed at protecting a beleaguered minority, the Palestinian Arabs, and establishing a homeland for a dispossessed people. In short, Arafat presented the Palestinians to the world as Jews.
Arafat's drive to project an appearance of Palestinian sympathy with the victims of terror in New York and Washington is part of his long-term strategy is for the Palestinians to imitate the Jews — not the Jews of historical record, but the sinister Jews of the Palestinian imagination, who fabricated a history of oppression and won global sympathy, and who arrived in a foreign land under a banner of peace and then dislocated its inhabitants by conquest. That is why Arafat has been preoccupied with a Palestinian right of return, modeled on the Jewish right of return — and why he is so eager to equate Zionism with racism in the public consciousness.
"We are the Jews of the 21st century," Faisal Husseini, the late PA minister and PLO representative, told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Arabi in June. "Meaning, we the Palestinians will be the Jews of the earlier century. They infiltrated our country using various methods, using all kinds of passports, and they suffered greatly in the process. They even had to face humiliation but they did it all for one goal: to enter our country and root themselves in it prior to our expulsion out of it. We must act in the same way they did. [We must] return [to the land], settle it, and develop new roots in our land from which we were expelled; whatever the price may be." In Husseini's version of history, the Israelis accepted the U.N. partition plan in 1947 in order to establish a territorial foothold, which they later enlarged through successive wars of conquest — the ultimate goal being a "Greater Israel" from the Nile to the Euphrates, even if the Israelis would never admit it.
"Similarly, if we agree to declare our state over what is now only 22 percent of Palestine, meaning the West Bank and Gaza — our ultimate goal is the liberation of all historical Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea, even if this means that the conflict will last for another thousand years or for many generations," Husseini explained. "In short, we are exactly like they are. We distinguish the strategic, long-term goals from the political phased goals, which we are compelled to temporarily accept due to international pressure. When we are asking all the Palestinian forces and factions to look at the Oslo Agreement and at other agreements as 'temporary' procedures, or phased goals, this means that we are ambushing the Israelis and cheating them."
After Palestinian intransigence at Camp David, and the subsequent launch of a new intifada, many commentators pointed to the policy of "phased goals" — the policy in which the Palestine National Council resolved to accept any plot of land through negotiation, to be used as a staging ground for the subsequent armed liberation of all Palestine — as describing Palestinian intentions all along. Indeed, PLO officials concede the point with a surprising frankness. Abu Iyad, as Arafat's deputy in the 1980s, greeted the prospect of peace talks thus: "The Palestinian people will achieve an independent Palestinian state which will be the start of the liberation of the entire homeland… The Palestinian state which shall arise will be the beginning of the end of Israel. The olive branch has no value unless it rests on the rifle."
But the Palestinians, imitating Zionism, have also concerned themselves with establishing historical rights to the land of Israel, and erasing Jewish history there. Abu Mazen, second in command to Arafat — and the chief Palestinian negotiator at the Oslo accords — is the author of a book entitled The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and the Zionist Movement, which maintains that "the Zionist movement was a partner in the slaughter of the Jews" and that, in any event, the Nazis really only killed fewer than one million people. Abu Mazen's fictitious history pervades the official Palestinian press, which embraces the equation of Zionism and Nazism, and the belittling of the Holocaust. History programs on PA Television explain that Dachau and Auschwitz were merely "disinfection sites." The official Palestinian Authority newspaper, Al Hayat Al Jadida, has editorialized, "The truth is that the persecution of the Jews is a deceitful myth which the Jews have labeled the Holocaust and have exploited to get sympathy. The most credible of historians have challenged the Jews to bring convincing evidence to prove it."
Arafat's Palestinian Authority has, in turn, been busy inventing myths of its own, charging Israel with outlandish atrocities, in order to win sympathy for the Palestinian cause. The most famous example, of course, is Suha Arafat's accusation that the Israeli government taints Palestinian air and drinking water with "chemical materials." Appearing at a 1999 press conference with Hilary Clinton, the Palestinian First Lady declared, "Our people have been submitted to the daily and intensive use of poisonous gas by the Israeli forces which has led to an increase in cancer cases among women and children." Other examples, however, abound. In 1997, Yasser Arafat alleged that Israel planned to demolish the Al-Aqsa mosque — a plot, explained Al Hayat Al Jadida, which would be accomplished via "the creation of artificial earthquakes that can be triggered from afar which will undermine its foundations and will destroy it." Nabil Ramlawi, the PLO representative in Geneva, has charged that Israel injected Palestinian children with AIDS during the first intifada. Other Palestinian officials have accused Israel of tainting Arab food with carcinogens, Mad Cow disease, and other contaminants.
This new history of victimization at the hands of a neo-Nazi Zionist regime informed the Palestinian response to September 11, which equated the terrorists with the Israeli state. "We, the Palestinian people, who suffered more than any other people from state terror, cannot but express our real and genuine solidarity with the victims of terror anywhere," announced Ahmad Qurei, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, in a special session of the PLC. "Our feelings are with those who are suffering in the United States because we are victims of state terror being exerted on us for a year now by the Israeli government," said Palestinian spokesman Hanan Ashrawi, also a member of the council. Still, in an official statement, the PLC maintained its right, in the face of recent events, to resort to armed violence; the council warned against "attempts to equate the legitimate struggle and resistance of the Palestinian people with the blind terrorism that struck innocent civilians without discrimination."
The neo-Zionist Palestinians have been sure to legitimate armed struggle with a revisionist history of the Jews as outside occupiers, without historical ties to the land. The Palestinian Authority's Information Ministry, for example, provides a list of the "most distinctive religious sites in Jerusalem." Fifth on the list is the "Al-Boraq Wall," which "is part of the exterior facade of the western wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque." As the ministry explains, the "'Al-Boraq' creature which carried Mohammad during his ascension to heaven was tied to this wall. Some Orthodox religious Jews consider it as a holy place for them, and claim that the wall is part of their temple," but "all historic studies and archeological excavations have failed to find any proof for such a claim."
The PA even suggests that Jewish reverence for the Western Wall is born of malicious intent: "In order to undermine the foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Israeli government has convert[ed] it into a religious shrine for Jews." In fact, claims the ministry, "there is no tangible evidence of any Jewish traces/remains in the old city of Jerusalem and its immediate vicinity." In 1996, Arafat himself remarked, "That is not the Western Wall at all, but a Muslim shrine." He further claimed, in an interview on Qatar television, that the Biblical patriarch "Abraham was neither Jewish nor a Hebrew, but was simply an Iraqi. The Jews have no right to claim part of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Abraham's resting place, as a synagogue. Rather, the whole building should be a mosque."
Arafat has always maintained that "The claim of a historical or spiritual tie between Jews and Palestine does not tally with the historical realities," as the PLO charter puts it. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, however, he has put himself to the heady task of inventing those historical realities. One of the first acts of the PA's Ministry of Culture, in August 1996, was a festival in the West Bank town of Sebastia, celebrating the history of the "Palestinian-Canaanite people." Palestinian children donned Canaanite dress, rode horse-drawn chariots, and saw a play depicting the dramatic story of Baal, the Canaanite god of the heavens. The story's narrator explained that the Palestinian-Canaanite nations — the Amorites, Girgashites, Jebusites, and Perizzites — fought alongside Baal to repel the Hebrew invaders from across the Jordan River.
The narrative is clearly nonsense, but it receives official sanction from Arafat's Palestinian Authority. The PA Information Ministry's "Historical Facts" on Jerusalem explain that the "Jebusite Arabs" settled Jerusalem in 4500 BC: "The Jebusites descended from the first Arab tribesmen in the Arab Peninsula. During their rule, the Arab Canaanites flooded into the city during the year 2500 BC" — only to be displaced "when the city was conquered by King David in the Year 1000 BC." The year 636 AD, says the ministry, witnessed "the Arab Islamic Liberation of the City."
The Muslims who invaded Judea in 636, to be sure, were not the Jebusites of Biblical history. And the Palestinian Arabs are about as closely related to the Canaanites, who in any event disappeared 2,500 years ago, as they are to the Hebrew "invaders" — to whom the Palestinians also claim kinship at times. Both Arafat and Ashrawi have publicly claimed that Jesus, in fact, was "Palestinian." In July 2000, under the headline "Nazareth: The City Where the Jews Murdered the First Palestinian of Her Sons," Al Hayat Al Jadida opined, "The forces of the Zionist occupation did not succeed in altering the face of the Palestinian Nazareth, and she did not forget and will not forget her first son who the Jews betrayed and handed over to the Roman emperor, and persisted until he was taken out to be killed."
Informed observers can easily dismiss Arafat's counterfeit history, and they do. But the emergent Palestinian memory — composed mostly of myth and demagoguery — is precisely the sort of monumental history on which national movements rest. The Zionists understood the motivating power and symbolism of history, even if their account could claim more resemblance to actual facts — and Arafat now follows their lead.
Already, Arafat has transformed "the Palestinian people" from a subset of the Arab nation (remember that neither Egypt nor Jordan felt compelled to grant Palestinian autonomy in the parts of Palestine they conquered in 1948) to an independent nation in its own right. And he has converted his terrorist organization into a national government.
The irony of all this is that the Palestinians are adopting Zionism just as Israelis are abandoning it. "Our people has long since tired of bearing Zionism on its shoulders generation after generation," Israeli columnist Yoel Marcus wrote in 1995. "While the Arabs have remained faithful to their ideology of the holiness of the land . . . Israel is ready to withdraw lightly from the lands that were the cradle of Judaism." On the heels of the Oslo Accords, Shimon Peres announced that Israel should seek membership in the Arab League — signaling an important break on the part of Israel's leaders with the very idea of a Jewish state. "A new type of citizenship is catching on," Peres wrote in his The New Middle East. "Particularist nationalism is fading and the idea of a 'citizen of the world' is taking hold."
Of course, this post-Zionist universalism is nothing new. The German-Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen opposed Zionism in the early 20th century on precisely this basis. For Cohen, the destruction of the ancient Jewish state in Israel was a welcome development, for it permitted the Jews to transcend nationalism and spread a universal message. He even wrote that the Jews owed Germany "a debt of filial piety," for German nationalism was the secular embodiment of Jewish religious values, based on "the spirit of classical humanism and true universalism." The shocking divergence of the destinies of the Jews and Germany undermined that universalist outlook. The lesson of World War II was that "loss of national rights was identical with loss of human rights, that the former inevitably entailed the latter," as Hannah Arendt observed after the war. Not only that, but "the restoration of human rights," as the establishment of Israel itself proved, "has been achieved so far only through the restoration or the establishment of national rights."
But if some in the Israeli leadership have forgotten the lessons of their own history, Arafat has taken them to heart, creating the Palestinian national ethos that animates his movement. The Oslo Accords, then, represent an Israeli retreat from Zionism as well as a Palestinian embrace of Zionist ideals. Nowadays, it's the Palestinian Arabs who are talking about an historical birthright to the Holy Land. And Yasser Arafat has become the world's leading Zionist.
©2001 - National Review Online