CAMERA Op-Ed: The Media and the Missing Abu Jihad

(Note: A version of the following appeared as an Op-Ed in The Washington Jewish Week on Oct. 4, 2017)
On Feb. 15, 2017, Fatah, the movement that dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA), announced the appointment of Mahmoud al-Aloul –a convicted and unrepentant terrorist whose nom de guerre is Abu Jihad (“Father of Jihad”)—as deputy to its chieftain Mahmoud Abbas. Although the PA is a significant beneficiary of U.S. aid, more than six months later many major U.S. news outlets have failed to report Abu Jihad’s ascension.

In his early years, Abu Jihad participated in numerous terrorist attacks as an operative for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was then a U.S.-designated terrorist group. His mentor was the arch terrorist and Fatah founding father Khalil al-Wazir, who also went by the name Abu Jihad. Among other atrocities, Al-Wazir oversaw the assassination of US diplomats in Khartoum, Sudan, in March 1973 and was also responsible for perpetrating and planning numerous terrorist attacks against Israelis, including the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which 38 civilians, including11 children, were murdered.

Israeli commandos killed al-Wazir on April 16, 1988 in Tunisia. Al-Aloul subsequently became his successor and, as a result of the 1990s Oslo process, entered politics, serving first as governor of the Nablus region and later joining the Palestinian Legislative Council and Fatah’s Central Committee.

One might expect the transition from terrorism to government—while common in Palestinian politics—to be uneven. Abu Jihad, however, has continued to vocally support terrorist attacks.

According to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a non-profit organization that monitors Arab media in eastern Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), al-Aloul has praised acts of anti-Jewish violence. Al-Aloul has referred to the establishment of Israel as the “greatest crime” and called Palestinian terrorism a “legal right.” He has met with the families of terrorists and called Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah operative who participated in the Coastal Road massacre, a “legend that will not die.”

Despite serving as deputy to a man, Abbas, who is frequently described by media outlets as “moderate” and a “peace partner,” al-Aloul exhorted in Nov. 2016: “When we talk about our enemies we talk about the occupation and the United States.” As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), has noted, the term “occupation” is frequently used to refer to the presence of the Jewish state of Israel on any land that was, at any point in history, ruled by Muslims.

Eight weeks before he was announced as Abbas’s deputy—the first such appointment in Fatah’s nearly sixty-year history—al-Aloul declared on official PA TV that the Oslo accords had “died a long time ago.” However, Oslo birthed the PA. And both the U.S. and European Union, among others, give copious aid to the authority based off Oslo’s promises, including then-PLO head Yasser Arafat’s claim to work for a “peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides” and “that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved by negotiation,” as he stated in a Sept. 9, 1993 letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Al-Aloul’s superior, Mahmoud Abbas, is an ailing octogenarian autocrat who has actively worked to suppress rivals to power and is currently in year twelve of a single elected four-year term.

Yet, his decision to elevate al-Aloul as a possible successor has been widely ignored by major media outlets. Indeed, despite numerous articles and Op-Eds on the future of the “peace process,” The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and others have failed to so much as offer a report on al-Aloul in the six-months since he was appointed. During this time, The Post’s Jerusalem bureau has filed dispatches on Palestinian pigeon ownership (“An old pastime thrives in a Palestinian enclave,” Aug. 13, 2017), a Palestinian winning an ‘Arab Idol’ song contest (Feb. 26, 2017) and the Palestinian used car market (“How junkyard cars from Israel have become deadly Palestinian treasures,” March 29, 2017)—along with numerous reports on Israeli political developments.

And it’s not as if the media is unaware of who Al-Aloul is. A March 15, 2011 Post dispatch (“Palestinians rally for unity in Gaza, West Bank”) described a gathering in which “Mahmoud al-Aloul, a senior Fatah official, threw his arm around Hussein Abu Kweik, a Hamas leader, in a show of brotherhood.” An Aug. 23, 2013 report by then-Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth even uncritically quoted Abu Jihad’s claims that Israelis “do not want a peace process.” The paper, describing al-Aloul as “the former governor of Nablus district,” omitted his record as a convicted terrorist. (“Fatal West Bank clash threatens peace talks, Palestinians say”). Similarly, The New York Times quoted al-Aloul in a Jan. 6, 2005 report entitled “As Abbas Runs, Skeptical Militants Wait and See.”

Those “skeptical militants”—the term “terrorist” is more apt—are now rising in Palestinian politics. As CAMERA detailed in a Sept. 5, 2017 report on the underreported group, al-Aloul is a member of the Tanzim faction of Fatah; a cadre of operatives that is a generation removed from the movements’ founders, with whom they hold a fractious history. During the Second Intifada, the Tanzim—at the behest of Palestinian leadership—played a key role in carrying out terrorist attacks.

Grant Rumley, an analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, noted in The American Interest that the three likeliest contenders to replace Abbas are “Marwan Barghouti, Jibril Rajoub and Mahmoud al-Aloul …all represent a significant shift of power back to the Palestinian street. And all three figures have connections to the Tanzim…”

In Palestinian politics, the ground is shifting to a newer caste of leadership. And much of the media is nowhere to be found.

The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. CAMERA’s new report on the Tanzim can be found here.

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