YASSER ARAFAT, once again to evidently be viewed as a partner in future peace negotiations, has emerged from his compound after the Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah, and made his position clear. It is not exactly what one would expect from a statesman who is thinking ahead about strategy before future negotiations. Israelis, he proclaimed, are "terrorists, Nazis and racists." Referring to the gunfight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists holding forth in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Arafat asked, "How can we tolerate [the Israelis] after committing this crime?" The man who walked out of the Oslo peace talks after being offered an independent state in 98 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, half of Jerusalem and the start to an end of settlements, simply got up and walked away. Now, with his highly inflammatory rhetoric, he adds to his persona the obscenity of condemning the Israelis as Nazis.
In his fascinating interview with Sari Nusseibeh, the PLO’s representative in Jerusalem, and perhaps the only true Palestinian moderate, New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick (May 6 issue) concludes his article by quoting a metaphor used by Nusseibeh, who asks that Palestinians try to "resurrect the spirit of Christ" and realize that an act "of violence does not serve their interest." It is, Remnick writes, a call about "the need for a new culture of peace." And that, precisely, is the problem. The political tactics favored by Arafat and the PLO, not to speak of the ultra-radical groups like Hamas, is one of violence and death, and it is preached regularly in the schools the youngest children attend. By the time they become young adults that is the only lessons they have ever learned. Those who have dissented—and dissent of a public nature is not permitted since there is no free press or free speech in the PLO held areasare often accused of being "collaborators," and paramilitary units attached to Arafat’s Fatah execute them on the streets and hang their dead bodies on public squares so that the regular population gets the message.
Last week, I wrote about the fiction of an Israeli massacre that the Palestinian propaganda apparatus had claimed took place in Jenin. Now, as journalist Paul Martin reported in the Washington Times, (May l) Palestinian officials announced that the entire death toll during the two-week assault on Jenin was that of 56 Palestinian deaths not the supposed 500 we all heard had been massacred by the IDF. Two weeks ago, when the European press was reporting these claims, Israeli sources had said they thought perhaps 45 to 55 Palestinians had been killed during the fighting. Now the Palestinian authorities themselves have confirmed the accuracy of the early Israeli assessment.
But having now admitted that no massacre took place after benefiting from the propaganda value of the charge for two long weeks in which thousands marched in our nation’s capital in the largest nationwide pro-Palestinian demonstration ever held-the Palestinian spinmeisters have now come out with a new take on Jenin. It was not a massacre, but rather, a major victory for the Palestinian resistance forces. Thus did Tawfik Tirawi, director of intelligence for the West Bank, explain to the press that Jenin was "a victory for the steadfastness of the Palestinian people." Similarly, Kadoura Mousa Kadoura, director of Fatah for the northern West Bank, said that Jenin was where "the Israelis, who tried to break the Palestinian willpower, have been taught a lesson." Israel, he claimed, tried to destroy all of Jenin, but only managed to hit that one area of the refugee camp.
The world already learned that the relatively small area of the refugee camp destroyed in the fighting was that area in which IDF forces engaged in house to house fighting, as they attacked the center of the terrorist infrastructure in the camp. The destruction took place in the precise areas of Jenin in which houses were bulldozed, because this area is where the Palestinian terrorists were ensconced and firing from. It was an area that made up a mere ten percent of the refugee camp, and a small part of the city’s entire housing. Had Israel sought to destroy Jenin, of course, it could have easily been accomplished by mass attacks, tanks and air power. The Israelis could have emulated the tactics used by the British in Jenin in 1938, when in an effort to combat Palestinian Arab terrorism, they demolished homes of civilians, shot handcuffed prisoners, and forced local Arab civilians to test areas where terrorists were suspected to have planted mines. Indeed, after a British district commissioner was assassinated that summer, the British responded by deciding "a large portion of the town should be blown up" as punishment. The British Mandate government acted in as tough a manner as possible. As one Mandate official put it, "When we thought that a village was harboring rebels…we’d go there and mark one of the large houses. Then…we’d blow up the house we’d marked." Britain’s High Commissioner for Palestine admitted they used "drastic" tactics, but he explained that "the situation has demanded drastic powers." As historian Rafael Medoff has written, (Jerusalem Post, April 18) "the British, faced with a level of Palestinian Arab terrorism considerably less lethal than that which Israel faces today, utilized anti-terror methods considerably harsher than those used by Israeli forces."
Israel, clearly being careful not to imitate the methods of the old European colonial powers in the era of Mandates, has chosen to act slowly, carefully and responsibly. What the Palestinian leadership has sought to do is to try and make Israel’s attempt to fight a clean war one waged against the dirtiest of terrorist fighters into a political defeat in which Israel can be shown not to have wiped out the Palestinian "resistance" but only strengthened it. It is similar to what Ho Chi Minh and his government did at the time of the famed Tet Offensive battle at the city of Hue in February 1968. A North Vietnamese and Viet Cong defeat was turned into a propaganda victory by their government, and the slaughter of thousands of civilians killed by local Communist cadre was blamed on the American government and the South Vietnamese, a charge regularly repeated by the Western left and the anti-war movement. A South Vietnamese and US victory became grist for the Communist propaganda mill, which turned an actual military victory- the North Vietnamese were driven out of the city into a political defeat, as the portrayal of Tet was seen in the West as an example of the impossibility of defeating Ho’s troops, and the false stories of a massacre resulting from the defeat of North Vietnam was constantly used by the antiwar movement to build up strength at home.
In fact, if Arafat and his forces really wanted peace, they could use this moment to show the Palestinian people, as well as the world, that recognition of Israel is the only course to permanent peace, and then negotiations could begin again. But as the report in the May 2 New York Times puts it, "many Palestinian militants, already persuaded that violence is their surest route to statehood, are enraged by Israel’s recent offensive." One might comment that what enrages them is that Israel has not sat back and allowed the terrorist offensive to continue, and has shown the world that this time around, Jews will fight for the right to live in a free nation of their own.