January/February 2001
Western Wall

CAMERA Alert: Time Magazine Sanitizes Arafat

The lengthy Time magazine article (Feb. 26, 2001) about Yasser Arafat by Scott MacLeod was marred by factual error and omission of key information about the Palestinian leader. The four-page feature piece, entitled "Waiting for History to Happen," presented a sanitized image of Arafat by, for example, excluding mention of Arafat's own responsibility in the economic hardship of the Palestinian populace and by giving only perfunctory attention to his terrorist history, without any mention of specifics.


* MacLeod misrepresents what land constituted the "original land of Palestine." He writes:

"They [Palestinians] acknowledged the Jewish people's right to take 78% of the original land of Palestine, although Arabs still consider it theirs. Naturally, says [Mohammed] Dahlan, Palestinians expect to get back the full remaining 22%."

FACT: The Jews actually were allotted only 12% of the original Palestine. The original land of Palestine, as determined by the League of Nations, includes what is now Israel, Gaza, the West Bank AND the entire state of Jordan. In 1922, Britain disregarded its obligations under the Palestine Mandate and took 80% of the land to create the Arab state of Transjordan, with a majority Palestinian population and no Jews allowed. The 1947 UN Partition Plan divided the remaining 20% of Palestine into two states -- one Arab, one Jewish. The Jews got 59% of the land. So the Jews were allotted 12% (59% of the 20% of the original Palestine) of the original Palestine, not 78%. And 60% of this 12% is desert!
* About 1948, MacLeod writes: "To Palestinians, it is al-Naqba, the Catastrophe, in which Jewish forces -- among them thousands of immigrants facing persecution in Europe who had just pored into Palestine -- sent 800,000 Palestinians fleeing into Arab countries as refugees."
FACT: The number 800,000 is inflated. A report by the U.N. Mediator for Palestine determined that the number of Palestinians who fled or where driven out in 1948 is 472,000 [Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine, GA Official Records: Third Session, Supplement No. 11 (A648), Paris, p. 47 and Supplement No. 11A (A689, and A689Add.1, p.5) ].
In addition, Jewish forces "sent . . . Palestinians fleeing" in only a few isolated cases, such as Lod and Ramle. By and large, Palestinian Arabs fled at the behest of their own leaders who believed that the Arab world would be victorious in liquidating the nascent Jewish state.

Haled al Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister in 1948-49, acknowledged the Arab leadership's responsibility in creating a mass Arab exodus from Mandate Palestine: "Since 1948, we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return" (The Memoirs of Haled al Azm, p. 386-7).

Likewise, refugee Habib Issa recalled: "The Secretary General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade. . . . He pointed out that they were already on the frontiers and that all the millions that Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw Jews into the Mediterranean.. . . Brotherly advice was given to Arabs to leave their land, homes and property and to stay temporarily in neighboring fraternal states, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mow them down" (Al-Hoda, June 8, 1951).

[For more information on 1948 and the Palestinian refugees, visit the CAMERA website (www.camera.org), and go to "Backgrounders" to view the article "The Palestinian Claim to a 'Right of Return.'"]
* MacLeod speculates that Arafat grabbed a submachine gun from his bodyguard because he was "unnerved" "about Sharon's coming to power." He writes:

"Maybe the coming of the old warrior [Ariel Sharon] is what recently led a clearly unnerved Arafat to grab a machine gun from a bodyguard and leap out of his car when Jewish settlers in Gaza blocked the road."

FACT: Time's chronology of events is totally off here -- Arafat pulled the gun on Dec. 4, 2000. Yet, Sharon was not the Likud candidate for Prime Minister until Dec. 18, 2000, when the Knesset voted against dissolving itself and former Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu removed himself from the race. Thus, on Dec. 4, when Arafat pulled the machine gun, Netanyahu -- not Sharon -- was the likely candidate for the top position.


* Although the article goes into graphic detail about Arafat's consumption of hard-boiled eggs, vegetable soup and Arabic specialities at a particular meal, it gives scant attention to Arafat's career as a terrorist over a period that spanned decades. Readers get only a mere hint of this past in a dreamy passage about Arafat's "long march" and radical political models:

"He [Arafat] will tell you about his long march, starting in '48 salvaging World War II rifles in the Egyptian desert. Yet the allure of a knockout punch has always proved his undoing. He envies the F.L.N. triumph over the French in Algeria, Khomeini's thundering revolution in Iran. His Palestine Liberation Organization gambits to become the de facto leader in Jordan and later in Lebanon dragged both countries into civil war."

Absent in this portrait is a long list of atrocities committed by Fatah and PLO member groups under Arafat's helm. As with many other recent in-depth reports about Arafat, no mention is made, for example, of the 1970 attack on a school bus in Nahariya, the 1972 murder of civilians in Lod airport, the 1972 massacre of Israel's Olympic athletes, the 1974 massacres at Kiryat Shmona and Ma'alot, and the 1978 slaughter of civilians on Israel's coastal road. The report ignored PLO attempts to mail letter bombs to the U.S. president and other top officials, the murder of two U.S. diplomats in Sudan, and the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship which involved the murder of an elderly, wheelchair-bound American Jew.

All these crimes are summarily referred to at the end of the article: "There's always the old way, of course: the armed struggle, terrorism, intifadeh. But Arafat is getting a little old to lead another guerilla war." Absolutely zero detail is provided about any of the terrorism incidents listed above.

In contrast to MacLeod's failure to include specifics about terrorism carried out under Arafat's leadership, MacLeod does find the space to point out specific negative findings about Prime Minister elect Ariel Sharon, even when Sharon is only "indirectly" responsible. Thus, we learn: "Here is the former general [Sharon] who tried to kill him [Arafat] with air strikes on his Beirut bunker, who was found by an official Israeli report 18 years ago to bear 'indirect responsibility' for the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon."

Similarly, Sharon is labeled a "warrior" and Netanyahu is identified as "hard-liner," but no such pejorative adjectives are attached to Arafat. Likewise, Mohammed Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti, who headed the violence of the first and second intifadehs, respectively, are simply identified respectively as "Arafat's security chief' and "Tanzim leader."

* The article deals with the issue of the crippled Palestinian economy, but only in passing mentions the egregious corruption on the part of Arafat and his aides.

Thus, MacLeod reports: "Money is near the top of Arafat's worries. He bitterly complains that Barak's government has frozen $320 million in Palestinian tax remittances. He doesn't say so, but Arab states, concerned about corruption, are also holding up $327 million in support. Half a billion dollars would keep some discontent at bay."

Although MacLeod doesn't explain, Arab states do have good reason to be concerned about corruption. In December, 1999, Palestinian dissidents opposed to Arafat's corruption hacked into PLO computers in Tunis and found that Arafat had secretly maintained bank accounts in Zurich, Geneva and New York, among other locations. The dissidents also discovered that the Palestinian Authority, under Arafat's rule, owned shares on the Frankfurt, Paris and Tokyo stock exchanges, including stock in Mercedes Benz, and properties in luxury neighborhoods of European capitals (London Telegraph, Dec. 5, 1999).

The Telegraph quoted one dissident: "Why is he [Arafat] sitting on a mountain of gold, while there is a desperate lack of jobs and medical supplies here?"

* MacLeod virtually ignores Arafat's autocratic regime and the lack of democracy in the Palestinian areas. Although Palestinian and other human rights groups are frequently critical of Arafat's government, the only hint that readers learn of Arafat's widespread human rights abuses is the following statement and quotation: "Many Palestinians believe their fortunes will improve only when Arafat's domination of their affairs ends. 'Democracy is needed,' says Haider Abdel Shafi."

Aside from this terse nod to Arafat's atrocious human rights record, there is virtually no mention of any of a number of Palestinian Authority abuses: a state-controlled press, extrajudicial murders of "collaborators with Israel," tolerance of "honor killings" by men who believe their female relatives dishonored the family, torture, and imprisonment without trial of critics of the regime. In December, 1999, for example, Palestinian legislator and physician Muawiya Masri was shot after signing a petition denouncing the Palestinian Authority.

*Given this record of abuse and corruption, it is difficult to understand MacLeod's assertion that Arafat's "dream" is "for a prosperous, free Palestine..."


* MacLeod repeats the media's chronic misrepresentation of Ariel Sharon's controversial Sept. 28, 2000 visit to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. He writes:

"Sharon's showy tour of the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, one of Islam's holiest places, home of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is what sparked off the intifadeh."

While the Temple Mount is the third holiest site in Islam, it is the holiest site in Judaism, where the First and Second Temples once stood and the location of the Holy of Holies. It is simply irresponsible when writing of the site's importance to Islam to exclude mention that the Mount is of paramount importance in Judaism. Also, by excluding mention here of the site's special Jewish connection, uninformed readers would be led to believe that Sharon was intruding upon a strictly Muslim site.

Furthermore, it is prejudicial language to state that Sharon's visit to the Mount "sparked off the intifadeh," when in the preceding months it was the Palestinians, through the official media, who were issuing a drumbeat of incitement and calls to war. As Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian leader of the uprising on the West Bank, acknowledged: "The explosion would have happened anyway. It was necessary in order to protect Palestinian rights. But Sharon provided a good excuse." (New Yorker, January 29, 2001)

* About U.N. Resolution 194, MacLeod writes that it "stipulated that the refugees who fled during Israel's war of independence 'should be permitted' to return to their former homes. . . " What MacLeod doesn't say is that the resolution placed repatriation, resettlement and payment on the same footing as return, stating: "[R]epatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation [should be facilitated]." Furthermore, the resolution specified that only those refugees wishing to "live at peace with their neighbors," should be allowed to return, which is a key qualification given that even today few refugees seem willing to accept this condition.

*MacLeod misleads readers about the meaning of UN Resolutions 242 and 338: "Like most Palestinians, he insists that the talks center on how, not whether, Israel should evacuate the territories it conquered in 1967. UN Resolutions 242 and 338 stipulated a 'land-for-peace' formula, a principle that had formed the basis for the ...Oslo accords." Implied here is that the resolutions require Israel to evacuate all the land gained in the 1967 War, which they don't.

To read the entire Time article by Scott MacLeod, go to www.time.com. Look on right side column and click on the article description under "Mideast."

CAMERA - Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
TAKE ACTION: Protest the shoddy reporting in this puff piece by Scott MacLeod. Pick one or two of the points listed above, and in your own words, write a short (250 words or less) letter-to-the-editor. Be sure to provide specific examples.
e-mail: letters@time.com

Additonally, you can call, fax or send by postal mail:

Time Magazine Letters
Time & Life Bldg.
Rockefeller Center
New York, NY 10020
Tel#: 1-212-522-1212
Fax#: 1-212-522-8949
Thanks to Tamar Sternthal, CAMERA Senior Researcher, for the above alert.

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