CAMERA Op-Ed: Remembering Pierre Van Passen

A 1939 account of Arab terror against the Jews of Mandate Palestine, and of Western journalists largely credulous endorsement of Arab self-justification, stunningly echoes events of today.

In his book Days of Our Years, Dutch-Canadian journalist Pierre Van Passen described the violence ruthlessly incited by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el- Husseini – an ally of Hitler – and his agents:

The Arab Higher Committee, the Mufti’s political creation, sent out its bands of terrorists to ravage the land. This campaign of organized violence and destruction, which started in 1936, and which went on almost uninterruptedly for two years, was declared to be a spontaneous emanation of an exasperated Arabic national sentiment.

Murderers and bandits who threw bombs into Jewish hospitals and orphan asylums, who killed from ambush and tore up young orange plantations in the night, were elevated to the rank of national heroes. Commentators compared the wave of Arab terrorism in Palestine with the civil-disobedience movement in India, and the criminal Mufti of Jerusalem was put on a level with the holy personality of Gandhi, as if the Mahatma had not always insisted on nonviolence as an essential condition in passive resistance. A section of the British and of the American press began to speak of “an Arabic general strike conducted with an amazing display of discipline.” Liberal journals of opinion hinted that no other result could have been expected from the Jewish policy of usurpation in the Holy Land, but it was left to the Communists to utter the weird absurdity that the wave of banditry was “a struggle on the part of the Arab people for full democratic freedom.” When in the course of history has a class of feudalist landlords fought for democracy?

Then as now, unprovoked Arab violence was transmuted by much of the media and other commentators into understandable and spontaneous expressions of frustration. ABC’s Peter Jennings might have felt at home there, just as today he routinely omits, inverts and minimizes terrorism against Israelis while giving sympathetic coverage to such Palestinian suicide killers as Wafa Idris.

CNN’s Sheila MacVicar, the New York Times’s Joel Greenberg and National Public Radio’s Linda Gradstein are only a few others who share the same mindless journalistic tendency, deplored by Van Passen, to amplify Arab grievances with little or no reference to Arab responsibility.

Striking as well in the Van Passen memoir is the challenge to Western journalists in penetrating the lies proffered by some Arab speakers. Like the best of today’s interviewers, he confronted lies directly, as in an exchange in which Husseini tearfully lamented that Palestinian Arabs had just “shaken off the Turkish yoke and turned up the road of freedom.” When the reporter asked, “Did your eminence not serve as a volunteer in the Turkish army?” Husseini got up and left the room.

So, too, journalists in 2002 have the sometimes difficult role of confronting lies and liars.

Should reporters not make clear, as they interview Palestinian spokespersons, that although Yasser Arafat has pleaded innocent to involvement in the bloodbath against Israelis his signature appears on documents allocating payment to terrorists, and that truckloads of documentation seized by Israel implicate his regime in the wholesale promotion of terror?

Should reporters not consider, as they interview Palestinian spokespersons, that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority denied – until they could no longer dodge the truth – any connection with the Karine A, the arms- smuggling ship commissioned and captained by Palestinians?

Should reporters not note as they interview Arafat that he has charged, ludicrously, that Israel uses depleted uranium against Palestinians?

Should reporters not remind the public as they interview Palestinian officials such as Saeb Erakat, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Nabil Shaath that they loudly insisted there had been a “massacre” of at least 500 Palestinians in Jenin – until they could no longer sustain this invention? Should reporters not remember that every vehicle of Palestinian indoctrination – television, radio, newspapers, mosques, rallies – has been employed to slander Israel and the Jewish people?

The fabricated charges purveyed are as terrible today as they were when Pierre Van Passen revealed the Mufti’s distribution of bogus photos of the Omar Mosque showing the Muslim shrine on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount supposedly in ruins, destroyed by the Jews. They are as much a fraud and abomination as the Mufti’s dissemination of photographs of slaughtered Jews in Hebron in 1929 with the claim that the dead were Arabs killed by Jews.

Yet, it must also be said that Pierre Van Passen, a courageous and independent-minded journalist, does have modern counterparts in the voices of many American columnists and commentators who have exposed the calumnies against Israel and brought respect to their profession.


Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on this date

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