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In Arafat's Footsteps By: Michael Widlanski
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 08, 2005


As the Bush Administration moves to host Palestinian leaders this month and to give them much more money ($390-Million), and as the Israeli government is fighting an immense internal battle to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians have escalated their anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric and diplomacy.

The U.S. and Israel have given credit and money to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for restraining violence and incitement, but official Palestinian media still call terrorists "martyrs," never refer to Arab violence as "terror," and still send coded calls for violence while intermittently trimming some of the cruder forms of incitement.

Eager not to be seen as obstacles to peace, Israeli officials have downplayed the Palestinian incitement, eased security restrictions and released convicted terrorists from jail, but these actions have hardly mollified the Palestinians.

"We're talking about the Judaization of Jerusalem," asserted PA Prime Minister Qreia in comments were broadcast on PA official Television Thursday (March 24), and he repeated them again on March 28 and March 29.

"This is aggression with a capital 'A,.'" Qreia added, using a term which has special significance because "Israeli aggression" would be a cause for the Palestinians to resume full-scale warfare against Israel, according to the internal Palestinian summit in Cairo last week between.

"O ye faithful, We have said in more than one sermon that Syria and Iran are the next two targets of Zionist-American aggression," asserted Sheikh Youssef Abu-Sneina, in a recent fiery sermon from Jerusalem broadcast over "Sawt Felasteen" (Voice of Palestine) official Palestinian radio (March 18).

What is the non-Arab observer to make of these comments, this harsh tone, when Palestinian officials publicly tell the West -in English-how much they want peace and want democratization? How is one to make sense of the fact that regular Palestinian leadership and the official media new shows regularly intersperse words like "salaam"-peace-and "jihad"-holy war?

For the typical Arabic-speaking Palestinian who understands the nuances, the messages are clear, including:

--Violence against Israel is still an option, though it is against Palestinian interests to use it flagrantly right now, because it would be counterproductive militarily and diplomatically;

--The Palestinians are not in the pocket of the United States or the West, but they will take Western money and invite Western intervention when it suits Palestinian interests;

--There is no message of "compromise" with Israel, and there will be no Arab or Islamic or Palestinian normalization of relations with Israel until all Palestinian demands are met.

Prime Minister Qreia and PLO Chairman Abbas are offering a sophisticated but clear message to the Arabic-speaking Palestinian public, and it is on display in the regular afternoon tv news broadcasts, the hourly radio bulletins, and in the weekly mosque sermons by Palestinian clerics paid by Abbas and Qreia broadcast by official Palestinian media.

These messages come also at a time that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has reached out to the extremist Islamic groups-HAMAS and Islamic Jihad-not to give up their weapons, but to become part of the PA and the PLO-both formerly headed by Yasser Arafat and now by Mahmoud Abbas.

In a tempestuous official sermon on Palestinian State Television Friday (March 18, 2005), Palestinian preacher Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris declared that "the Jewish government" was hatching plots together with "extremist religious Jews" to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem or to "invade the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque" with "thousands of extremists, Jews."

Mudeiris and Abu-Sneina were supposed to have been taken off the air, but they and their messages have now been adopted by the PA.

In fact, rather than rein-in charismatic and highly anti-Western mosque speakers, reputedly moderate Palestinian leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmad Qreia, the chairman and prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA), respectively, have actually echoed their views.

Qreia has actually been making serious charges against Israel for the last few weeks, recycling charges,  first made in January by Muslim clerics, that Israel was cooperating with or turning a blind eye towards the efforts of  "Jewish extremists" intent on destroying Islamic holy places. The charges refer especially to reported plans to attack the silver-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque built on top of the ancient Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish temples.

Israeli officials have dramatically increased protection of the Islamic holy places, tremendously increasing the presence of uniformed police and plain-clothes security personnel on the Temple Mount, while sharply curtailing the access of Jewish worshipers suspected to be politically militant.

But that has not mollified the Palestinian leadership, which has traditionally used "threats on Al-Aqsa" as a potent political tool to distract attention from its own shortcomings and to unite the sometimes divided Palestinian community, including:

--The current Palestinian-Israeli war that erupted in September 2000 (in which several thousand have already died), which is still called the  "Al-Aqsa Intifada," began after Ariel Sharon visited the area, supposedly profaning the holy site;

--The Temple Mount mini-war of September 1996 began similarly after Yasser Arafat used the re-opening of a small side tunnel near the site as an excuse to attack Israelis, even though the opening had been negotiated with Muslim authorities earlier;

--Haj Amin al-Husseini, the late Palestinian Mufti and political leader, used similar tactics to spark deadly riots in 1920, 1922, 1929 and 1936-the latter of which became its own full-scale war at the time.

 

The comments by Qreia, who is also known by his nickname Abu 'Ala, was referring to the purchase of two buildings inside the Old City of Jerusalem by Jewish investors, called "Israeli colonizers" in the Palestinian press, as well as Israeli plans to add new apartments to two Israeli communities, Ma'alei Adumim and Gush Etzion, well east and south of Jerusalem, respectively.

The Palestinian TV afternoon news program is no longer introduced by the infamously gory film montages of staged Israeli murders of Palestinian children playing football killed by sadistic Israeli soldiers after the ball falls into Israeli hands. Nor does one see any more the films of beautiful women calling young boys to join them in martyrs' paradise.

But this Thursday (March 24) the 3PM news show was again introduced with film montages showing "martyrs" in their bloody shrouds, and it still included pictures of martyred children lying in their open caskets. It also included children holding placards with signs for peace in English and Hebrew.

However, anyone who watches or listens to the Palestinian official broadcast media does not come away with a message of peace or "cooperation with Israel."

Indeed, the term "cooperation with Israel" [Arabic: ta'awun ma'a Isra'il] is usually a synonym for betrayal, a capital offense for which Abbas and his deputies have re-affirmed death sentences for at least 15 Palestinians.

More significantly, Qreia, who is often depicted as a "moderate" in the Western and Israeli press, has continued to hammer at Israel in every available forum for "war crimes," "assaults on holy Jerusalem," and "aggression."

In the last three weeks, speeches by top Palestinian political and spiritual leaders warn of "Israeli war crimes," "assaults on holy Jerusalem" and "Zionist-American," plots against Islam in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership basically aligned itself with Syria, and against America and Israel, at this week's Arab League summit, working hard to torpedo international calls for Syria's pull-back from Lebanon, torpedoing Jordanian efforts at increased Arab-Israeli normalization, and preventing any real discussion of internal Arab democratic reform.

In his stormy Friday sermon at the Al-Aqsa mosque (March 18), Sheikh Youssef Abu-Sneina extolled the virtues of the after-life for Islamic "martyrs," while other preachers have called for a Palestinian return by force of arms to Jaffa (Tel Aviv), the Galilee and Haifa.

Prime Minister Qreia and his paid mosque speakers even threaten Israel and the West openly.
 
Sheikh Mudeiris, who spoke in a mosque in Gaza, warned Israel that "millions of Muslims would come to the defense of Al-Aqsa," and similar comments came in the other official mosque address on Voice of Palestine radio from Sheikh Youssef Abu-Sneina at the Aqsa mosque itself in Jerusalem.

Both addresses featured anti-American elements, too, comparing Palestinian "martyrs" with those in fighting the U.S. in Iraq.

The speeches themselves were only the latest signs that the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Mahmoud Abbas had not really carried out its promise to stop all violence and incitement to violence against Israel, while Israeli officials have actually downplayed or hidden obvious Palestinian violations.

"All official mosque speeches are being censored," asserted Maj. Gen. Youssef Mishlab, the head of Israel's coordination team with the Palestinians, last week.

But General Mishlab's remarks were belied by Sheikh Mudeiris as he periodically jabbed the air with his finger and readjusted the white skullcap on his head which had been jarred loose by his emotions.

In his speech in Gaza, Sheikh Muderis, asserted that the plots against Al-Aqsa, the silver-domed holy mosque that sits on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, had come to light a month ago but were part of an ongoing and "organized plan" that was still liable to be carried out.

"We add our voices here. We say to all Muslims. We say that we here in Palestine, that we have tolerated many things, but we will not tolerate this," warned Sheikh Mudeiris, a past known supporter of Osama Bin-Laden's Al-Qaeda organization.

"We have suffered poverty and we have suffered destruction, martyrdom, and we have suffered assassinations of individuals and groups," asserted Sheikh Mudiris who draws a salary from the Palestinian National Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas which had promised Israeli officials and reporters that Mudeiris would be taken off the air and that other mosque speeches would be censored.

"We have suffered martyrdom and the destruction of our houses, but we will not tolerate two things but we will not abide the taking of our land and the destruction of our holy sites--ever," proclaimed the young mosque speaker.  

 

"We have suffered five thousand martyrs and a hundred thousand wounded to stop Sharon enering our mosque," declared Mudeiris, referring to the visit by Ariel Sharon (now prime minister but then leader of the Israeli opposition) to the Temple Mount area in September 2000.

The Sharon visit was seized on by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died last year, and Muslim extremists, to launch a four-year-long war of attrition which the Palestinian have nicknamed the "Intifada of Al-Aqsa."

Intifada, which means "shaking-off" in Arabic, was also the name given by Palestinians to the widely televised anti-Israeli riots and demonstrations that began in December 1987 and lasted more than a year before they also turned into isolated incidents of terror and thuggery.

The remarks of General Mishlab, an Arabic-speaking member of Israel's Druze community, whose members serve in the Israeli army, were widely aired on Israeli radio and television, and they were quoted in the Israeli press.

Other Israeli security officials, including Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, have told reporters that PA leader Abbas was trying hard to crack down on terror even after Abbas declared earlier last week that he was going to release two notorious Palestinian terror leaders from British custody in Jericho:

--Ahmad Sa'adat, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) which assassinated Israeli Tourism Minister Rehav'am Zeevi in a Jerusalem hotel in October 2001;

--Fuad Shoubaki, the man who organized many of the secret weapons transfers for Yasser Arafat including the "Karinne A" weapons ship captured by Israel in early 2002.

Abbas's comments, which were carried by the Palestinian newspapers in Arabic, led to an outcry from Israeli parliamentarians-even on the Left-not to hand over Jericho to Palestinian control, and it, in fact, was only turned over to the PA after Abbas recanted his public pledge.

At the same time, however, there is evidence that Abbas and his prime minister, Ahmad Qreia (nicknamed Abu 'Ala) have actually stepped up demands on Israel, calling for the total release of all Palestinian security prisoners, including those convicted of murder.

As a gesture to Abbas, Israel released 500 such convicts on promises of good behavior, and within several weeks, at least three of them had been caught by Israel as they prepared materials for home-made "Qassam" rocket attacks in the West Bank-something which has taken place only in Gaza until now.

Israeli Defense Minister Mofaz, who had been complimenting Abbas regularly, privately warned the Israeli cabinet that Abbas and the PA had not stopped the smuggling of SAM-7 missiles into Gaza, and he charged that the PA's own security forces were actually involved in the smuggling.

The escalating PA diplomatic demands and the worsening security situation have been matched by escalating rhetoric.

Indeed, there are signs that the fiery Friday mosque speeches actually reflect PA policy at the highest levels-a real fear that Israel is involved in plotting against Al-Aqsa or that such charges help solidify the Abbas-Qreia regime that has succeeded the long-time leadership of Arafat.

Less than three hours later Sheikh Mudeiris's mosque speech, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister essentially reiterated the same warnings against Israel.

Qreia remarks, Abbas's desire to release the Jericho terrorists, and the airing of the Sheikh Mudeiris sermon were clear indications that the Abbas-Qreia regime is playing a much tougher line than the Sharon Government has been telling the Israeli public.

Israeli officials have told the public that PA incitement has declined sharply, but for weeks, the Palestinian media have continued to refer to Palestinian terror attacks on Israel-such as the recent bombing in Tel Aviv-as "explosive operations," calling the suicide bombers "heroic bombers"-"mustash-heedeen" in Arabic.

Israeli officials, and intelligence specialists vetted by the Israeli government, have contended that Chairman Abbas had unequivocally condemned anti-Israeli violence and the continuation of the "Intifada," but Abbas's interviews in the Arab press show that he actually "reserves the right" to resume attacks if Israel does not make concessions fast enough.

Indeed, a close examination of Abbas's general criticism of the recent Tel Aviv bombing attack shows that the language was almost identical to the kind used by Arafat when he said he condemned attacks that were "counter to Palestinian interests."

Israeli officials and reporters have also been telling the Israeli public that official Palestinian state television would not allow Mudeiris, the charismatic young and somewhat rotund bearded cleric, back on the air.

 

Indeed, the mosque address in Gaza came only hours after a much-heralded meeting in Cairo Egypt calling for a pseudo-ceasefire against Israeli targets, known in Arabic as a "tahdiyya" or "cooling-off."

The term "tahdiyya," which has become a bit of a buzz-word in Israel has rarely if ever been heard in diplomatic parlance, and it apparently came into use because the HAMAS and Islamic Jihad terror groups were unwilling to agree even to use the term "hudna" an Arabic term for a temporary cease-fire between a Muslim and a non-Muslim.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon publicly applauded the Cairo conference as a step forward, but there are many signs that it was actually a hardening of Palestinian positions, that the HAMAS-Jihad view of perpetual "Jihad" (holy war) and "muqawwima" (resistance).

During that week, Israeli broadcast reporters blitzed viewers and listeners with reports that PA leader Abbas was going to table a proposal for Palestinian compromise on the highly controversial issue of Palestinian refugees-the "right of return"-but this has not materialized as well.

Indeed, at the Cairo conference last week on the "Palestinian national dialogue" between the Abbas-led PLO and PA and the rest of the Palestinian groups, a statement emerged reinforcing the Palestinian demand for refugees to "return to their homes" in the current State of Israel.

Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post. He has also served as a special advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991-1992 and as Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, editing secret PLO Archives captured in Jerusalem.


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