The following is chapter from David Meir-Levi's new book, History Upside Down: The Roots of Palestinian Fascism and the Myth of Israeli Aggression. The Terrorism Awareness Project previous printed his history of the "right-wing" influence on Islamic extremism, "The Nazi Roots of Palestinian Nationalism and Islamic Jihad." Taken together (with his entire book), these chapters show that Islamofascism is a political, not merely a religious force; and the potent and deadly offspring of the totalitarian ideologies of the past. -- The Editors.
Although 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 aggressively suppressed the Brotherhood. Saudi and Jordanian royalty watched the growth of radical Islam with suspicion. Syria and Lebanon, trying to move toward more open societies in the pre-Ba’athist era, feared the Brotherhood’s opposition to western-style civil rights and liberties and its fierce condemnation of westernized Arab societies.
More to the point, each of these states coveted some or all of what was formerly British Mandatory Palestine and were no more enthusiastic about the creation of a new Arab state there than they were about the creation of Israel. As a result of these complex national ambitions and antagonisms, no state for the Arabs of British Mandatory Palestine was created. Even though Israel offered the return of territories gained in the 1948 war at the Rhodes armistice conference of February 1949, the Arab leaders (among whom there were no representatives from the Arabs of the former Palestine) rejected Israel’s peace offers, declared jihad, and condemned the Arab refugees to eternal refugee status, while also illegally occupying the remaining areas that the United Nations had envisioned as a Palestinian state—as Arafat himself tells us in his authorized biography (Alan Hart, Arafat: Terrorist or Peace Maker?). Egypt herded Palestinian Arabs into refugee camps in its new fiefdom in the Gaza Strip, assassinated their leaders, and shot anyone who tried to leave. Jordan illegally annexed the west Bank and maintained martial law over it for the next nineteen years.
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 1950s, Nasser came to see that Palestinian nationalism, if carefully manipulated, could be an asset instead of just a threat and an annoyance. Although the fedayeen terrorism prompted Israel to invade the Sinai in 1956, the Egyptian leader saw the value in being able to deploy a force that did his bidding but was not part of Egypt’s formal military; which could make tactical strikes and then disappear into the amorphous demography of the west Bank or the Gaza Strip, giving Egypt plausible deniability for the mayhem it had created. 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 (PLO).
Brainchild of the KGB
As Ion Mihai Pacepa, onetime director of the Romanian espionage service (DIE), later explained, the PLO was conceived at a time when the KGB was creating “liberation front” organizations throughout the Third world. Others included the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, created in 1964 with help from Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and the National Liberation Army of Colombia, created in 1965 with help from Fidel Castro. But the PLO was the KGB’s most enduring achievement.
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 Ahmad Shukairy, the KGB’s agent of influence, the first PLO chairman. The Romanian intelligence service was given responsibility for providing the PLO with logistical support. Except for the arms, which were supplied by the KGB and the East German Stasi, everything, according to Ion Pacepa, “came from Bucharest. Even the PLO uniforms and the PLO stationery were manufactured in Romania free of charge, as a ‘comradely help.’ During those years, two Romanian cargo planes filled with goodies for the PLO landed in Beirut every week.”
The PLO came on the scene at a critical moment in Middle East history. At the Khartoum conference held shortly after the Six-Day war, the defeated and humiliated Arab states confronted the “new reality” of an Israel that seemed unbeatable in conventional warfare. The participants of the conference decided, among other things, to continue the war against Israel as what today would be called a “low intensity conflict.” The PLO’s Fatah forces were perfect to carry out this mission.
The Soviets not only armed and trained Palestinian terrorists but also used them to arm and train other professional terrorists by the thousands. The International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (CPSU), the Soviet Security Police (KGB), and Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU) all played major roles in this effort. From the late 1960s onwards, moreover, the PLO maintained contact with other terror groups—some of them neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing groups—offering them support and supplies, training and funding.
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. More specialized training in terrorism was provided at locations in Baku, Odessa, Simferopol, and
Tashkent. Mahmoud Abbas, later to succeed Yassir 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.
Cuba was also used as a base for terrorist training and Marxist indoctrination, part of a symbiotic relationship between its revolutionary cadre and the PLO. The Cuban intelligence service (DGI) was under the direct command of the KGB after 1968. Palestinian terrorists were identified in Havana as early as 1966; and in the 1970s DGI representatives were dispatched to PLO camps in Lebanon to assist terrorists being nurtured by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In late April 1979, an agreement was reached for the PFLP to have several hundred of its terrorists trained in Cuba, following a meeting between its chief George Habash and Cuban officials.
The PLO and the Arab States
In the chaotic aftermath of the Six-Day war, Yassir 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 President 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.
Despite such setbacks, Arafat later described this era in his authorized biography as the time of his most successful statecraft. When word reached him of Israel’s post-Six- Day-war peace overtures to the recently defeated Arab countries, he and his adjutants understood at once that if there were ever peace between Israel and Jordan, for instance, there would be no hope for a Palestinian state. So he set off on a grueling exercise in shuttle diplomacy throughout the major Arab countries, preaching the need to reject unconditionally any peace agreement with the Jewish state.
Arafat later claimed credit for the results of the Khartoum conference (August–September 1967), in which all the Arab dictators unanimously voted to reject Israel’s offer to return much of the land it had occupied as a result of the war in exchange for peace. Had he not intervened, Israel might conceivably have made peace with Jordan, and the west Bank would have reverted to Jordanian sovereignty, leaving his dream of leading a state there stillborn.
But while Arafat’s proposals to engage in a continuing terror war might be enthusiastically received by Arab leaders, there was no support to speak of among the Arabs of the west Bank, who readily gave him up to Israeli authorities. Arafat was forced to flee with the Israel Defense Forces hot on his trail, and 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 set up clandestine contacts with officers in the Jordan Legion, almost half of whom were Palestinians.
The Israeli army, under the direction of Moshe Dayan, 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. Arafat claimed that he had liberated both Palestinian and Jordanian karameh (“dignity” in Palestinian Arabic) by smashing the Israeli force and driving it back across the Jordan river in shame and disarray. 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 Ahmad Shukairy 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. while remaining distinct organizations, the PLO and Fatah were unified beneath the umbrella of his leadership.
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 (more than nine hundred armed encounters between 1967 and 1970). 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.” when Jordanian forces tried to keep order, Fatah engaged and in some cases killed them. 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. When the U.S. assistant secretary of state, Joseph Cisco, came to Jordan in April 1970, Arafat organized massive anti-American riots throughout the country, during which one American military attaché was murdered and another kidnapped. Humiliated before his most important ally, Hussein did nothing.
In July 1970, Egypt and Jordan accepted U.S. secretary of state William Rogers’ 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. The liberated Palestine he sought would stretch from the Jordan river to the sea, with no Israel, and could only be achieved through fire and blood. All peace agreements that left Israel intact were in his view betrayals of the Palestinian cause.
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.
Once in Lebanon, he sought to take control of the PLO forces, but he discovered that his chief surviving officers quite correctly blamed him for the Jordan debacle, which had become known as “Black September.” Their resentment for the great and senseless loss of life in Jordan led to two attempts on his life.
Arafat not only survived, but was able to use his ample diplomatic skills to turn the tables on his opponents inside Fatah and the PLO. He argued that in the few short years that he had led his liberation army, he had awakened Palestinian nationalism (in fact, he had virtually invented it), recruited and armed a substantial terror army (the PLO forces in Lebanon were unscathed by the Black September catastrophe), initiated war against Israel, rebuffed efforts by Egypt and Syria to control the PLO, made his organization into a state within a state in both Jordan and Lebanon, and raised substantial support from a growing number of rich expatriate Palestinians and supporters throughout the Arab world. By early 1971, despite the animosity that his debacle in Jordan had engendered, he successfully reestablished himself as the unchallenged PLO military and political leader.
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. Soviet interest in Arafat was motivated largely by his success in organizing and motivating his terrorist followers. The Soviet Union’s Cold war agenda required someone with just those talents to expand and develop the terror arm of Soviet activity in the Third world, and especially in the Muslim world. Within a few years, Russian-trained PLO operatives were manning a dozen terror-training camps in Syria and Lebanon, and deploying terror cells across the globe from Germany to Nicaragua, Turkey to Iran.
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.
The PLO Discovers “Wars of National Liberation”
As early as 1964, Arafat had sent Abu Jihad (later the leader of the PLO’s military operations) to North Vietnam to study the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare as waged by Ho Chi Minh. At this time, Fatah also translated the writings of North Vietnam’s General Nguyen Giap, as well as the works of Mao and Che Guevara, into Arabic.
Arafat was particularly struck by Ho Chi Minh’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 their struggle. 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.”
At the same time that he was getting advice from General Giap, Arafat was also being tutored by Muhammad Yazid, who had been minister of information in two Algerian wartime governments (1958–1962): wipe out the argument that Israel is a small state whose existence is threatened by the Arab states, or the reduction of the Palestinian problem to a question of refugees; instead, present the Palestinian struggle as a struggle for liberation like the others. Wipe out the impression that in the struggle between the Palestinians and the Zionists, the Zionist is the underdog. Now it is the Arab who is oppressed and victimized in his existence because he is not only facing the Zionists but also world imperialism.
To make sure that 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 and gave him lessons on how to apply the advice of Giap, Yazid, and others in the Soviet orbit. Arafat’s personal “handler,” Ion Mihai Pacepa, the head of the Romanian military intelligence, had to work hard on his sometimes unruly protégé. Pacepa later recorded a number of sessions during which Arafat railed against Ceausescu’s injunctions that the PLO should present itself as a people’s revolutionary army striving to right wrongs and free the oppressed: he wanted only to obliterate Israel. Gradually, though, Ceausescu’s lessons in Machiavellian statecraft sank in. During his early Lebanon years, Arafat developed propaganda tactics that would allow him to create the image of a homeless people oppressed by a colonial power. This makeover would serve him well in the west for decades to come.
Although Arafat was pioneering the use of skyjacking during this time and setting off a wave of copycat airborne terrorism, he discovered that even the flimsiest and most transparent excuses sufficed for the western media to exonerate him and blame Israel for its retaliatory or preventive attacks, and to accept his insistence that he was a statesman who could not control the terrorists he was in fact orchestrating.
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.
Whether or not Arafat’s homosexuality was the key to the Soviets’ control over him, it is clear that by the early 1970s the PLO had joined the ranks of other socialist anti-colonial “liberation” movements, both in its culture and in its politics; and had reframed its terror war as a “people’s war” similar to those of the other Marxist-Leninist terrorist guerrillas in China, Cuba, and Vietnam. Thanks to input from Ceausescu, General Giap, and the Algerians, 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 ( 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. The Philistines were apparently from Greece, or perhaps Crete, or the Aegean Islands, or Ionia. They seem to be related to the Bronze Age Greeks, and they spoke a language akin to Mycenaean Greek.
Their descendants were still living on the shores of the Mediterranean when roman invaders arrived a thousand years later. The Romans corrupted the name to “Palestina,” and the area under the sovereignty of their littoral city states became known as “Philistia.” Six hundred years later, the Arab invaders called the region “Falastin.”
Throughout all subsequent history, the name designated 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.” The region never enjoyed any sovereign autonomy, but instead remained under successive foreign sovereign domains, from the Umayyads and Abbasids to the Fatimids, Ottomans and British.
During the British Mandate period (1922–1948), 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. Because no such people as “Palestinians” had ever existed, it would be an injustice to Syria to create a state ex nihilo at the expense of Syrian sovereign territory.
During the nineteen years from Israel’s victory in 1948 to Israel’s 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. Even Yassir Arafat, from his earliest terrorist days until 1967, used the term “Palestinians” only to refer to the Arabs who lived under, or had fled from, Israeli sovereignty; and the term “Palestine” only to refer to Israel in its pre-1967 borders.
In the PLO’s original founding Charter (or 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-Daywar and Arafat’s mentoring by the Soviets and their allies, the PLO revised its Charter 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
That this was a political confection was, perhaps inadvertently, revealed to the West by Zahir Muhse’in, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, in a 1977 interview with the Amsterdam-based newspaper Trouw:
“The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. [Emphasis added.]
Arafat himself asserted the same principle on many occasions. In his authorized biography he says, “The Palestinian people have no national identity. I, Yasir Arafat, man of destiny, will give them that identity through conflict with Israel.”
But even these admissions—that the concept of a “Palestinian people” and a “Palestinian homeland” were invented for political purposes to justify and legitimize terrorism and genocide—could not stem the enthusiasm of western leaders. 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.
Despite the changing imagery, however, one thing remained constant. From his earliest days, Arafat was clear that the PLO’s aim was “not to impose our will on [Israel], but to destroy it in order to take its place . . . not to subjugate the enemy but to destroy him.” The Palestinian nationalism that he and his Communist advisers created would be the only national movement for political self-determination in the entire world, and across all of world history, to have the destruction of a sovereign state and the genocide of a people as its only raison d’etre.