Arafat and Sharon Reverse Roles in Newsweek Feature

In its December 17, 2001 issue, Newsweek featured a 100-word timeline highlighting the lives and careers of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Chairman Yasir Arafat, entitled “Arafat and Sharon: A Tale of Two Enemies.”

The summary portrayed Yasir Arafat as a freedom fighting revolutionary and the PLO as a liberation movement with no reference whatsoever to its bloody history of terrorism. The many atrocities committed by Fatah and PLO member groups under Arafat’s helm were ignored—there was nothing about bombings in public places or airplane hijackings claiming scores of victims, the 1972 murder of 27 civilians in Lod airport, the 1974 massacre of 16 in Kiryat Shmona, the 27 schoolchildren targeted for death in Ma’alot a month later, or the 1978 slaughter of 34 civilians on Israel’s coastal road; there was no mention of PLO attempts to mail letter bombs to the U.S. president and top officials or the murder of a U.S. ambassador and his deputy counsellor in Sudan; there was no hint of the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship and the killing of a wheelchair-bound elderly man dropped overboard or even of the infamous murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich carried out by Fatah’s Black September.

Instead, Arafat’s history was painted in a rosy hue – “Graduates as a civil engineer. Settles in Kuwait. Forms Al Fatah with friends…Leaves Kuwait to be a revolutionary. Fatah joins PLO, a new umbrella group created to liberate Palestine…Addresses U.N. General Assembly–the first time a non-head of states is invited…Holds secret peace talks…”

In sharp contrast to the gentle treatment afforded Arafat, there was no glossing over in Sharon’s profile. In fact, the events in Sharon’s life were selectively chosen, editorialized, and even, at times, misrepresented in order to portray Sharon as a ruthless militant, while ignoring Palestinian provocation for military actions:

Heads an infantry..fights in Sinai campaign and later in Six Day War; noticed for his military ability and ruthlessness…Heads Israel’s invasion of Lebanon…Speeds buildup of settlements in Palestinian territory(Emphasis added)

The biased editorializing (in bold)–-accepted as fact the Palestinian claim that settlements are built in Palestinian territory. Israel would dispute this. Furthermore, who noticed Sharon for ruthlessness?

In addition, there were outright errors in Sharon’s profile. For example:

1. 1981-82: …Heads Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that kills 2,000 Palestinian refugees.

Not only was the reason for Israel’s invasion ignored (the facts about Arafat and the PLO are whitewashed and the terrorist raids that necessitated Israel’s action is completely overlooked), the figure of 2,000 “refugees” has no basis.

The number of Palestinian refugees who were killed by Christian Phalangists in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp, the Lebanese police estimated as 460. Other estimates ranged between 300-800. However, no estimate begins to approach the number of 2,000 killed (although this is a well known propaganda claim that is oft repeated).

2. 2000: Visits Al Aqsa Mosque sparking the second Palestinian intifada.

This too is false. Sharon did not enter any mosque at all. He visited the Temple Mount, the site of Israel’s First and Second Temples and Judaism’s holiest area.

Contrary to the claim that the Sharon’s visit caused the Palestinian uprising, anti-Israel violence actually preceeded Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount with an increase in Palestinian attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians and an ambush of an Israeli convoy at the Netzarim junction in Gaza. While Sharon’s one-hour visit passed uneventfully, an Israeli soldier was murdered on a joint patrol with his Palestinian counterpart and riots erupted after Muslim prayers on the Temple Mount the following day.

Statements by Palestinian officials further substantiate the fact that Sharon’s visit was never the issue and that the intifada was “planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations [in July, 2000]…” (Palestinian Communications Minister al-Faluji, quoted in Al-Safir, March 3, 2001)

CAMERA contacted then-foreign editor Michael Hirsh to urge a careful review and correction of the biased and inaccurate timeline feature. However, Hirsh refused to discuss or consider the matter.

Below is the text of the erroneous and biased feature:


Dating from Arafat’s earliest days as a guerrilla fighter in the Palestinian movement and Sharon’s controversial history as an aggressive commander in a series of Israeli wars with the Arabs, the two leaders seem to have been heading for a final confrontation.

* * *


1929: Born in Egypt. At 16 he starts smuggling arms to Palestine for use against the British and the Jews.

1948: Leaves school briefly to fight in Gaza during Arab-Israeli conflict.

1956-58: Graduates as a civil engineer. Settles in Kuwait. Forms Al Fatah with friends.

1964: Leaves Kuwait to be a revolutionary. Fatah joins PLO, a new umbrella group created to liberate Palestine.

1969: Named PLO chairman.

1974: Addresses U.N. General Assembly-the first time a non-head of state is invited.

1993: Holds secret peace talks with Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo.

1996-2000: Continues talks with Israel, but turns down Clinton-Barak peace plan.

* * *


1928: Born in Palestine.

1948-49: Heads an infantry in Israel’s War of Independence.

1956-67: Fights in Sinai campaign and later in Six Day War; noticed for his military ability and ruthlessness.

1972-73: Leaves the Army for politics. Helps form Likud.

1981-82: Named Defense minister to Menachem Begin. Heads Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that kills 2,000 Palestinian refugees.

1990: Speeds buildup of settlements in Palestinian territory as minister of Construction and Housing.

1998: Holds peace talks with Arafat as foreign minister.

2000: Visits Al Aqsa Mosque, sparking the second Palestinian intifada (uprising).

2001: Elected prime minister.


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