Palestinian spokesmen Nabil Sha'ath, Hassan Abdel Rahman, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Ahmed Abdel Rahman and Saeb Erakat took the Western media for a ride last April in loudly proclaiming Israel had committed a “massacre” in Jenin. Yet, despite copious evidence of their blatant lying – the latest proof being United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's August 1, 2002 report refuting their fictitious “massacre”– the credibility of these spokesmen with the American press is apparently unaffected. They enjoy almost unlimited media access to propagate myths about Israel.
The fact that the American media (with a few exceptions) seem either unwilling to critically evaluate their facilitating of Palestinian misinformation or unaware of their complicity in the phenomenon underscores the importance of a serious presentation of the nature and scope of the problem. What follows is a survey of the blatant distortions of truth foisted on the public by Palestinian spokesmen in April and May of 2002.
A. Jenin – what was destroyed?
One of the false contentions repeated by Palestinian spokesmen between March 29 and April 21, 2002, dubbed Operation Defensive Shield, concerned the extent of the damage to the Jenin refugee camp that resulted from the battle in the camp between Israeli soldiers and armed Palestinian forces. During and immediately following the battle at Jenin, Palestinian spokesmen stated, again and again – falsely, each time – that Israel was about to destroy or had already destroyed the entire refugee camp:
a. At a meeting of the Arab League, Nabil Sha'ath declared that Israeli “soldiers had received orders from the Israeli army chief of staff Shaul Mofaz for the complete destruction of Jenin…”(Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 6)
b. Also on April 6, Hassan Abdel Rahman told CNN that Israel was performing “blanket bombing today of the cities of Nablus and Jenin, and it is on television.”
[The U.S. Department of Defense defines “carpet bombing” (synonymous with “blanket bombing”) as “The progressive distribution of a mass bomb load upon an area defined by designated boundaries, in such manner as to inflict damage to all portions thereof.”]
c. A few days later, Saeb Erekat told CNN’s Jim Clancy, “You know, the Jenin refugee camp is no longer in existence…”
d. Erekat repeated the charge one week later to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, stating: “There is no longer a refugee camp there. And maybe the [Israeli] defense minister and the prime minister of Israel want to deny what CNN is showing, that the camp was totally destroyed.” (April 17)
In response to these Palestinian allegations, Israeli officials contended that only a small percentage of the Jenin refugee camp had been destroyed. The Israelis later backed up their claim with a set of “before-and-after” satellite photographs of Jenin, which clearly demonstrated that only about ten percent of the refugee camp had been destroyed during Operation Defensive Shield. Since that time, Palestinian spokesmen have ceased their proclamations of Jenin’s total destruction, but they have yet to publicly acknowledge the falsity of their previous statements.
This abdication of responsibility by Palestinian spokesmen for their prior statements is not particularly surprising; it certainly does not serve their interests to admit that they had lied about the scope of the destruction in Jenin. More troubling, however, is the widespread media reluctance to challenge Palestinian spokesmen to account for the untruths they had previously circulated, a failure that will be evidenced repeatedly in this study. For instance, Hassan Abdel Rahman has never been confronted – in at least five CNN appearances since April 6 – regarding his patently false claim that Israel was involved in "blanket bombing" of the cities of Nablus and Jenin. Similarly, although Saeb Erekat told Wolf Blitzer on April 17 that the Jenin refugee camp had been totally destroyed, in four interviews with Erekat since that time, Blitzer has never once challenged Erekat with the transparent falsity of that April 17 statement.
B. Grave Lies
The first mention of mass burial appearing in the news in connection with Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield concerned the situation in Ramallah on April 2. It was reported at the time that Palestinians – not Israelis – had been using a “mass grave” to bury their dead, since the local morgue was full. CNN, the Associated Press and Agence France Presse, among other news agencies, each released similar reports regarding this Palestinian-dug mass grave.
But on April 4, Hassan Abdel Rahman made the following statement on CNN:
Tell me, how is your security served, Mr. Gissin [advisor to Israeli Prime Minister], by not allowing the Palestinians to bury their dead, and bury them in mass graves? Remember when the last time mass graves were used? They were used in Kosovo. And Milosevic today is tried as a war criminal. Mr. Sharon is doing exactly the same thing. (CNN – Wolf Blitzer Reports, April 4)
Note how carefully Abdel Rahman words his statements about mass graves. He never specifically identifies who dug the mass graves for Palestinians. He does compare Milosevic’s responsibility for the mass graves in Kosovo to Ariel Sharon’s responsibility for mass graves for Palestinians, clearly implying that it is the Israelis who are burying Palestinians in mass graves, but Abdel Rahman never actually comes right out and says it.
However, on April 10, the Palestinian News Agency, WAFA, posted the following, shocking accusation on its Arabic-language website:
The invasive Israeli tanks, planes and bulldozers are demolishing the Jenin refugee camp house by house over the heads of their remaining residents…the heroic resistance men are still holding out…while the Israeli invasion army bulldozers are burying the martyrs in mass graves in order to conceal the massacre. (Translation by BBC Worldwide Monitoring)
Here, the accusation is explicitly leveled that Israelis were digging mass graves for Palestinians. It was not long before this baseless accusation became gospel for Palestinian spokesmen appearing in the mainstream media:
a. On April 11, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather reported that “Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat told this reporter [David Hawkins] tonight that the Israeli operation has not inflicted heavy damage on the radical Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations. He also claims the Israelis have buried many Palestinians in mass graves. That has not been confirmed.”
b. On April 12, United Press International quoted the Secretary-General of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, as saying “[that] thousands of Palestinians were either killed and buried in massive graves or smashed under houses destroyed in Jenin and Nablus.”
c. Also on April 12, Hassan Abdel Rahman himself told CNN’s Bill Hemmer:
And I assume that the president of the United States has not seen the massacres and the mass graves that occurred yesterday, or the day before, or in the last two weeks in Jenin and other areas.
d. On April 13, Agence France Presse reported in the name of Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo “that Israeli bulldozers had dug mass graves for around 500 Palestinians he said had been killed there, half of them women and children, he said.”
e. On April 14, Nabil Sha'ath told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “There has been a cover-up, and bodies have been taken away to clean up. The six days since Jenin massacre have been just a clean-up attempt, to cover up the massacres.”
The next day, Sha’ath repeated his charge and amplified it, again to Blitzer on CNN, this time providing intricate details of how Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was attempting to hide the crime:
SHA'ATH: We don't know the exact number [of dead], because already a lot of the bodies have been snatched and buried elsewhere in unidentified graves that we learned about during the Jenin massacre. He [Sharon] took six days to perpetrate the massacre and six days for a cover-up. And he will not repeat what he has done in Sabra and Shatila. In Sabra and Shatila, the next morning the 4,000 bodies were still in view. And, therefore, the indictment was very clear. This time he, [sic] took six more days for a cleanup. He didn't allow anybody to come in. And he will only allow them after he has done the cover-up. We are facing a very, very serious crime.
f. At an April 16-17 United Nations convention concerning the “Question of Palestine,” Sha'ath delivered an address in which he asked about Israel, “Why did they take bodies away in refrigerated trucks?” (Paraphrased version of Sha'ath speech, in official UN Press Release, April 16)
As it turns out, of course, Israel neither dug any mass grave for Palestinian dead nor transported any Palestinian dead anywhere. The only mass graves for Palestinians actually dug during Operation Defensive Shield – one in Ramallah and one in Jenin dug on April 19 – were dug by Palestinians. The April 15 statement of Israeli Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer, “We did not bury a single body, certainly not in a mass grave,” has, by all accounts, been proven correct. Certainly, no evidence to the contrary has ever surfaced, despite the best efforts of Palestinians and concerned “humanitarian” organizations to locate just such evidence. As the Associated Press reported three weeks after Palestinians first accused Israel of transporting Palestinian dead in refrigerated trucks and burying them in mass graves, “No evidence has emerged to support either allegation.” (May 5)
Perhaps the only aspect of this story as outrageous as the fictitious Palestinian accusations of mass graves quoted above is the decision of the news media to ignore the fact that the accusations were ever leveled to begin with. Of all the spurious statements cited above, those of Nabil Sha'ath stand out as being particularly scandalous. Sha'ath falsely accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of planning the “snatch”-ing and hiding of Palestinian corpses. Yet, although Nabil Sha'ath has appeared on CNN as a guest of Wolf Blitzer four times since his April 15 statement, Blitzer has asked Sha'ath about his “body-snatching” accusation exactly zero times. The similarly false statements of Erekat, Abdel Rahman, and Abed Rabbo have also escaped media scrutiny.
It is not wholly clear what motivated the media to ignore false Palestinian accusations about (non-existent) Israeli-dug mass graves. But one thing is clear: if there was a cover-up regarding mass graves, it was not Ariel Sharon who orchestrated it.
C. The Victims of Jenin
One issue relating to Operation Defensive Shield that the media did attempt to cover exhaustively and in considerable detail was the question of how many Palestinians were killed in Jenin and other towns during the operation and under what circumstances they died. Soon after the battle at Jenin began on April 2, Palestinian reports of horrific massacres and summary executions of civilians began to surface. By mid-April, Palestinian spokesmen were regularly speaking of Jenin as a catastrophe on par with the 1982 massacres of Arab civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. In order to present a coherent account of the myriad Palestinian claims regarding the human casualties of Jenin, it is useful to divide the Palestinian pronouncements into two broad categories according to subject matter (though some overlap does exist): ‘number of casualties’ and ‘circumstances of death.’ We will examine each category individually, reviewing the Palestinian assertions, which had a tendency to change as more facts became available, and the media’s response to Palestinian claims.
1. The Number of Dead
No element of Operation Defensive Shield received as much attention as the number of people, or the presumed number of people, killed during the fighting at Jenin and other West Bank towns. To be sure, this focus was not in itself sinister; all civilized people value human life, and there is nothing dishonorable about reporting on alleged mass killing of innocents. However, the strategic media blitz launched by Palestinian spokesmen regarding the number of dead in Jenin was not a principled mobilization of public opinion in defense of civilian lives. Rather, as we will see, it was a slanderous campaign of libel – based solely on fabrications and unverified rumors – aimed at manipulating American foreign policy through generation of public sympathy on the basis of events that never happened.
It is difficult to say for certain who in the Palestinian camp initiated reports of Israeli mass killings of Palestinians, but the following appears to be the sequence in which the Palestinian myth evolved:
a. On April 4, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, complained in an interview on Palestinian television about “…world silence over the massacres being perpetrated against the Palestinian people.” (BBC Worldwide Monitoring)
b. On April 6, Nabil Sha'ath delivered a speech at a meeting of the Arab League, in which he charged that “a ‘massacre’ was underway in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin.” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur) He also “compared Israeli actions in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus to the 1982 massacres of hundreds of Palestinans…” (The Associated Press)
c. Also on April 6, Hassan Abdel Rahman complained on CNN about Israel’s “war of annihilation against the Palestinian people.” He later claimed, “There is a blanket bombing today of the cities of Nablus and Jenin, and it is on television. I'm not lying. Look at the reports coming from the region. There are hundreds of people killed…”
d. On April 7, Abdel Rahman told NBC’s Tim Russert, “The victims so far has been over 250 Palestinians killed, many of them are children and women.”
e. On April 10, Sha'ath claimed, “We have 300 martyrs in Jenin in the last few days.” (Agence France Presse)
f. April 10 was a particularly busy day for Saeb Erekat. He made four statements regarding casualties in Jenin and Nablus, all broadcast on CNN.
At 10 AM – “I think the real terror is being practiced against the Palestinians… When we were in the president's office it came to our knowledge that the numbers of people massacred in the refugee camp… they have committed a major crime today in the old city of Nablus and in the Jenin refugee camp. We believe the number of killed is more than 500 people there.”
At 5 PM – “…the numbers I am receiving today is that the numbers of killed could reach 500 since the Israeli offensive began.”
At 8 PM, Erekat sounded more certain of his number – “I'm afraid to say that the number of Palestinian dead in the Israeli attacks have reached more than 500 now. And I think the number may increase once we discover the extent of the damage and the massacres committed in -- particular in the Jenin refugee camp and in the whole city of Nablus.”
At 10 PM, Erekat filed a new accusation – “Some people called me from Jenin, the Israelis are having three major graveyards. They are burying more than 300 Palestinian in Jenin refugee camp alone.”
Erekat did tell the Associated Press on April 10 that he could not verify the number of Palestinian dead, but one wonders why he seldom, if ever, bothered to mention this fact in his many television appearances.
g. Erekat echoed his charges, though less specifically, on April 12, suggesting that American Secretary of State Colin Powell tour Jenin “to see the Israeli crimes and massacres that left hundreds of Palestinians dead…” (Agence France Presse)
h. Also on April 12, Abdel Rahman emphatically restated Palestinian reports of the number of dead in Jenin. He told CNN’s Aaron Brown that “…as a matter of principal [sic], everyone in this world knows that Israel committed a massacre in Jenin in the last week, 400 to 500 people, mostly civilians, that were killed by the Israeli army.” And later in the same interview, “I am saying that there were massacre committed against the Palestinians, 400 to 500 Palestinians, mainly civilians, children, men, and women killed by Israel.”
i. In the West Bank, a more drastic charge was being leveled. On April 12, as noted above, United Press International quoted the Secretary-General of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, as saying "[that] thousands of Palestinians were either killed and buried in massive graves or smashed under houses destroyed in Jenin and Nablus."
By April 14, Israel had begun to counter the Palestinian claims, and Palestinian spokesmen began to absorb some heat from the media concerning their figures of hundreds (or thousands) of dead in Jenin and other areas. At first, the Palestinians stuck to their claim.
j. On April 14, Zalman Shoval, foreign affairs advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister, told CNN regarding Jenin, “Obviously, there was no massacre. Probably about 60-65 people were killed.” In response, Hassan Abdel Rahman retorted, “Mr. Shoval is really perpetuating a lie when he says there is 65 people killed, only.”
k. Abdel Rahman was just as insistent the next evening with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren:
VAN SUSTEREN: Israelis say 100 terrorists were killed, and I’ve seen numbers from Palestinians saying as many as 500 women and children. Who is lying?
RAHMAN: Definitely, it is the Israelis who are lying.
l. On April 14, CNN’s Bill Hemmer challenged Saeb Erekat about his evidence for the number of dead in Jenin:
HEMMER: Where are you getting the evidence that shows 500 people were killed there?
EREKAT: I don't have evidence, I just really cannot be very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I said that.
But Erekat’s admitted lack of evidence did not deter him from telling Wolf Blitzer on April 17 that an international commission must be sent to Jenin “to decide how many people were massacred. And we say the number will not be less than 500.”
The Palestinian house of cards began to teeter after April 16, when Israel allowed international aid workers to enter the Jenin refugee camp. As witness after independent witness testified that there was no evidence whatsoever of widespread Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians, it was becoming apparent that Palestinian reports of hundreds of dead Palestinians were grossly inflated. Finally, on May 1, The Washington Times broke the story that exposed the Palestinian claims for the contrivance that they truly were:
Palestinian officials yesterday put the death toll at 56 in the two-week Israeli assault on Jenin, dropping claims of a massacre of 500 that had sparked demands for a U.N. investigation….The official Palestinian body count…was disclosed by Kadoura Mousa Kadoura, the director of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement for the northern West Bank, after a team of four Palestinian-appointed investigators reported to him in his Jenin office.
With these two sentences, one month’s-worth of statements delivered by official Palestinian spokesmen had been exposed – for anyone willing to look – as pure, unadulterated propaganda.
However, as we have already seen, the American media harbors a tendency to turn a blind eye to Palestinian fibbing. In the case of the false Palestinian death toll in Jenin, this predilection manifested itself once again.
m. On May 2, CNN’s Jim Clancy did his best impression of a “confrontation” with Hassan Abdel Rahman by reading a letter from a viewer in the television audience:
[CLANCY:] "How about an apology to Israel for the wildly exaggerated reports? Would that not be fair? How about describing it as the massacre that never was"? This was specifically aimed at the media, but it could also be asked of the Palestinians, like yourself, that went on television, and charged massacre?
RAHMAN: …we never said that 3,000 were killed...Even today, no one knows the exact number of people who were killed…The question of massacre is, how many people do you need to kill in order to call it a massacre? Israel calls the killing of 27 people a massacre, and they are right. I call the killing of 20 Palestinians a massacre also. And I am right…The problem is not the number. I am talking here about the methods. The methods that were used by Israel in the refugee camp and elsewhere…
And that was it. Abdel Rahman had performed his penance and was absolved. Clancy did not find it relevant to mention, among other points:
- that, contrary to Abdel Rahman’s claim, Palestinian representatives had claimed that Israel had killed “thousands” in Jenin (as quoted twice above).
- Abdel Rahman’s bogus assertion – aired on CNN on April 12 – that “as a matter of principal [sic], everyone in this world knows that Israel committed a massacre in Jenin in the last week, 400 to 500 people…”
- that on April 12, contrary to his current statement, Abdel Rahman did believe that “the number” of dead in Jenin was the problem, and not “the methods” of the Israeli army.
- Abdel Rahman’s April 14 claim – aired on CNN – that Israeli representative Zalman Shoval “is really perpetuating a lie when he says there is 65 people killed, only.”
What was the next question Clancy posed to Abdel Rahman? Ironically enough – Are the Palestinians ready “to get a government together based not on terrorism or corruption”?
Abdel Rahman faced similarly impotent questioning on CNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, although Matthews tried a bit harder – but equally ineffectively – to challenge Abdel Rahman about previous statements. CNN’s Paula Zahn and Wolf Blitzer fared no better, with Abdel Rahman or any other Palestinian spokesman. Most newscasters simply excused the Palestinian spokesmen for the wholesale invention of hundreds of massacred Palestinians or – like Jim Clancy – administered a gentle tap on the wrist.
2. The Circumstances of Death
The corollary to Palestinian claims throughout the month of April that Israel had killed hundreds of Palestinians in Operation Defensive Shield was the notion that the hundreds of Palestinians killed were mostly defenseless civilians who were not involved in any sort of military conflict with Israeli forces. This was the implicit message of the ubiquitous Palestinian declaration that Israel had committed a “massacre” in Jenin. It was also the implicit meaning of the constant comparisons drawn by Palestinian spokesmen between the events in Jenin and the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Arab civilians in Lebanon. But we need not rely solely on implications; on numerous occasions, Palestinian spokesmen explicitly charged that the hundreds of Palestinians massacred by Israel at Jenin were largely civilians, killed not in a battlefield but, as Saeb Erekat put it, in “the killing fields.” (CNN April 10)
a. On April 6, Hassan Abdel Rahman declared on CNN that “Israel is waging a war of annihilation against the Palestinian people.”
b. On April 7, Abdel Rahman told CNN, “So what you have here is an all-out war directed against every single Palestinian man, woman and child, and it is not a police operation to arrest a few people as Mr. Lancry or Israeli spokesmen want us to believe.”
c. Also on April 7, Abdel Rahman told NBC’s Tim Russert, “This is a war conducted by the largest military in the Middle East and probably one of the largest in the world. The victims so far has been over 250 Palestinians killed, many of them are children and women.”
d. On April 7, Betsy Pisik of The Washington Times quoted Saeb Erekat as saying, “This is not fighting between armies, but a massacre in Jenin camp.”
e. On April 10, Abdel Rahman informed CNN, “You know, there were tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers against civilian population. We do not have an army there. The most that any one Palestinian has, probably, a gun…”
f. On April 12, Agence France Presse quoted Erekat as requesting that Colin Powell visit Jenin “to see the Israeli crimes and massacres that left hundreds of Palestinians dead, including children, women and old people.”
g. Also on April 12, Erekat told the Associated Press that Israel was hiding the bodies of civilians killed in Jenin. In his own words, “They want to hide their crimes, the bodies of the little children and women.”
h. As quoted above, Abdel Rahman told CNN’s Aaron Brown on April 12, “But as a matter of principal [sic], everyone in this world knows that Israel committed a massacre in Jenin in the last week, 400 to 500 people, mostly civilians, that were killed by the Israeli army…” He later stated, “I am saying that there were massacre committed against the Palestinians, 400 to 500 Palestinians, mainly civilians, children, men and women killed by Israel.”
i. On April 13, Erekat, on CNN, endorsed a Palestinian Authority statement released earlier that day. Part of that statement reads as follows:
We firmly condemn the crimes and massacres committed by the Israeli occupation forces against civilians and Palestinian refugees in Nablus, the Jenin camp, the church in Bethlehem and other Palestinian zones in the past two weeks. (Agence France Presse)
j. On April 14, Nabil Sha'ath remarked to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “But you’ve just asked Mr. Peres about the cover-up of the massacres of mostly women and children, and not only fighters, as the Israelis claim.”
Now, at first glance, it might seem a tad trivial to harp on the manner in which Palestinian spokesmen fabricated the defenselessness of those killed in a massacre that was fictitious to begin with. After all, once we already know that there was no slaughter of hundreds of Palestinians in Jenin, what difference does it make who the people were who weren’t slaughtered? The answer is – quite a bit. As we have seen in Section C1, once it became apparent that Israel had not murdered hundreds of Palestinians, the Palestinian spokesmen began to change the story. It wasn’t the number of people killed that constituted the “massacre,” the Palestinians now claimed (despite their previous reliance on the number of dead to prove their claims of a “massacre”), it was the methods that Israel used, the “indiscriminate killing,” as Abdel Rahman told CNN on April 16.
At this point, it becomes very important indeed to examine exactly what took place in Jenin. Were the Palestinian deaths – true, not hundreds of deaths, but deaths nonetheless – the result of a wanton Israeli killing spree? Had the Israelis slaughtered even fifty Palestinian civilians? Or could it be that, as the Israelis claimed all along, Jenin was the site of a fierce battle between heavily armed combatants? As shown above, the Palestinian position was very clear. There was no battle. Israel was recklessly mowing down Palestinians, mostly civilians.
k. When Israeli foreign affairs advisor Danny Ayalon dared suggest to CNN on April 13 that Jenin was heavily booby-trapped with bombs and explosives, making it difficult for Israel to allow international observers into the area, Hassan Abdel Rahman was understandably incensed. Civilians, after all, generally do not plant explosives:
[RAHMAN:] What Danny Ayalon said about Jenin is an outright lie. How can he say that there are booby traps in the refugee camp of Jenin when the people in the refugee camp are still there? This is absolute nonsense.
l. Abdel Rahman was equally insistent with CNN’s Larry King the following evening, maligning Israeli consul general in New York Alon Pinkas for suggesting that Jenin was booby-trapped:
[PINKAS:] What's been stopping them from getting in until now is the fact that the Palestinians booby-trapped many buildings, including buildings incidentally in which families, whole families, entire families were still in rooms.
They have booby-trapped the entrances to allies. They have booby- trapped garbage cans. They have booby-trapped an ambulance. So it's going to take -- it took us time before we could clear those buildings and those access roads, in order to allow for the humanitarian aid to pass…
KING: Mr. Rahman, you want to respond to the statement about Jenin.
RAHMAN: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I have heard liars in the past, but like Mr. Pinkas I have never seen, because he is accusing us of killing our own people for heaven's sake… RAHMAN: You are an absolute liar, and I don't hesitate to tell you this on television, because you are telling...
Despite such protestations by Palestinians, evidence began to pile up confirming the Israeli contention that Jenin had indeed been the site of a desperate battle between heavily armed fighters among booby-trapped buildings. The most persuasive evidence were numerous Arabic-press interviews with Palestinians who had fought in Jenin. The following are excerpts from two such interviews (quotes and translation by MEMRI, April 23):
m. Sheikh Jamal Abu Al-Hija, a Hamas commander in Jenin, told Qatari television channel Al-Jazeera, “[We placed] explosive devices on the roads and in the houses; surprises [await] the occupation forces...The truth is that the fighting is being conducted from neighborhood to neighborhood, like guerilla warfare. The Mujahideen are using automatic rifles, explosive devices, and hand grenades…”
n. “Omar,” an Islamic Jihad bomb maker, discussed Palestinian tactics in Jenin with Al- Ahram Weekly, an Egyptian government-sponsored newspaper:
“Of all the fighters in the West Bank we were the best prepared…We started working on our plan: to trap the invading soldiers and blow them up from the moment the Israeli tanks pulled out of Jenin last month…We had more than 50 houses booby-trapped around the camp…We cut off lengths of main water pipes and packed them with explosives and nails. Then we placed them about four meters apart throughout the houses – in cupboards, under sinks, in sofas.”
These Palestinian accounts – and there were many of them – labeling Jenin as the site of an intense battle were further corroborated when international aid organizations and diplomats who visited Jenin uniformly declined to classify what took place in Jenin as a “massacre” of civilians.
Under the weight of actual evidence, the Palestinian version of events was exposed, once again, to be entirely imaginary. And, once again, the media declined to hold the Palestinians accountable. No tough questions concerning Palestinian allegations that Israel had deliberately killed civilians. No repercussions for Hassan Abdel Rahman, who falsely branded two Israeli diplomats as unscrupulous prevaricators. And no scrutiny of Saeb Erekat’s outrageous revisionism on April 25, when, after firsthand accounts of the battle in Jenin began to surface, he claimed, “Nobody said there wasn’t fighting…We said that because the people decided to stand up and fight the massacres occurred.” (Global News Wire)
On June 24, President Bush spoke hopefully about his vision for the future, in which Israel and a Palestinian state will be “living side by side in peace and security.” But the President also called for specific Palestinian reforms that must be instituted prior to the creation of a Palestinian state, reforms meant to ensure that the eventual Palestinian state will be “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty.” One phrase that the President used neatly encapsulates the essence of all the recommendations he advised the Palestinians to implement; that phrase is “honest government.” All of Bush’s prerequisites to a Palestinian state – his call for a Palestinian leadership that rejects terror, respects the law, organizes free elections, respects an independent judiciary, spends its money transparently, encourages private enterprise, etc. – basically come down to that single element, the notion that Palestinian self-government must reflect the values of public service and accountability that all democratic countries demand their elected leaders to uphold.
President Bush’s counsel to the Palestinians stands in stark contrast to the rather odious status quo in which corrupt, unaccountable Palestinian government officials autocratically rule, rob, and lie to the public. The official Palestinian spokesmen fall squarely into this category of culprits. As we have demonstrated at length, Palestinian spokesmen – Saeb Erekat, Nabil Sha’ath, and Hassan Abdel Rahman in particular – will spin any lie, deny any fact, and denounce any person in order to protect the public image of the Palestinian Authority, a government that, as President Bush rather diplomatically termed it, is “compromised by terror” and rife with “official corruption.”
The American media does honest Palestinians and the American public a fundamental disservice by providing a platform upon which these unctuous – if eloquent – Palestinian spokesmen broadcast their litany of inane and spurious rhetoric. Put slightly differently: The same individuals who falsely accused Israel of imprisoning Palestinians in concentrations camps, massacring hundreds of Palestinian civilians, and fabricating evidence of PA involvement in terrorism cannot possibly be trusted for material information regarding Palestinian government reforms, a PA-crackdown on terror, or any other significant issue in which a lie might better serve the current Palestinian government than would the truth.
Now is the time for more responsible Palestinian leadership to assert itself. The fate of proven Palestinian liars should be no different than that of Kenneth Lay, John Rigas, Bernard Ebbers, and the other corporate gangsters whose reputations have been dashed by their betrayal of public trust. The current cast of Palestinian characters is plagued by corruption and deceit. It’s time for them to be swept aside. Surely the best face of Palestinian aspirations lies elsewhere.