Those who remember Israel’s desperate fight for survival in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, with the nation struggling at great cost to repel surprise attacks by Egypt and Syria, could only be astounded to learn that the assault “signified that the Arab states had given up opposing the existence of the state of Israel…” But this inventive spin was what listeners learned from Rashid Khalidi during the fifth installment of National Public Radio’s series on Middle East history. It was unexplained how the Arabs states managed to express their acceptance of Israel by launching an unprovoked war and killing more than 2500 Israelis, among them prisoners who were first cruelly tortured.
Almost as reassuring as Khalidi about the Arabs’ pacific intentions was the series host, Mike Shuster, who asserted “Israel’s attackers were not trying to destroy the country, they were fighting to regain territory they had lost in the 1967 Six Day War.” This parallels Shuster’s claim in the previous segment, that “After the 1967 Six Day War the Arab states could never again seek the eradication of Israel from the map.”
Perhaps if Shuster had been president of Syria or Egypt that would have been Arab policy. But unfortunately for Israel, Syria’s real President, Hafiz al-Assad, had a different view – addressing his nation in the middle of the 1973 war, Assad made his deadly intentions towards Israel as clear as could be:
Our forces continue to pursue the enemy and strike at him and will continue to strike at enemy forces until we regain our positions in our occupied land and continue then until we liberate the whole land. (Assad speech, October 15, 1973, as reprinted in The Israel-Arab Reader)
In a speech the following day Egypt’s President Sadat was only slightly less bellicose, claiming he was not an advocate of annihilation, but referring to Israel’s “usurping” of Palestine, and announcing that Egypt possessed rockets able to hit any target in Israel:
Our enemy has persisted in this arrogance and stupidity not only over the past six years, but throughout the past 25 years – that is since the Zionist state usurped Palestine.
… We are not advocates of annihilation, as they [Israel] claim. Our Zafir-type trans-Sinai rockets are now in their bases ready to be launched at the first signal to the deepest depth in Israel. (Sadat speech, October 16, 1973, as reprinted in The Israel-Arab Reader)
Sadat then offered Israel a cease-fire – not peace – on the condition that it withdraw to the pre-1967 lines and allow the return of Palestinian refugees, followed by negotiations at the United Nations. Quite naturally Sadat’s offer was viewed by the Israelis as suicidal, since if these negotiations failed, the Arabs could then resume the war against Israel from lines within minutes of major population centers, and with a million or more Palestinian refugees now inside the country and ready to act as a fifth column. Perhaps that is why even the then very dovish Jerusalem Post characterized Sadat’s speech as “clearly revealing his ultimate aim: the dismemberment of the Jewish state.” (Jerusalem Post, October 17, 1973)
Having deceptively portrayed Egypt and Syria as peacefully making war, Shuster and Khalidi, joined by Yezid Sayegh, then did the same for the Palestinians:
SHUSTER: And so the Palestinian movement, with Yasser Arafat at its head, adapted as well. The Palestine Liberation Organization shifted its goals, laying the groundwork for the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, implicitly abandoning the goal of destroying the state of Israel, says Yezid Sayigh, professor of Middle East history at Cambridge University.
YEZID SAYIGH: They couched it in certain language that was acceptable to militant ears. They talked about their right to set up a fighting national authority on any part of land evacuated of the Israeli occupation. This simply meant that they were willing to set up a governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza as long as Israel withdrew from them. And it was understood by everyone that this meant negotiating with Israel and living side-by-side with Israel.
Sayigh’s claim is a blatant falsehood – in no way did the Palestinians accept “living side- by-side with Israel.” In fact, the opposite is true: the political program adopted by the PLO after the war, the so-called “phased plan,” explicitly called for the destruction of Israel, through first creating a Palestinian state on whatever part of “Palestine” could be acquired, preferably through armed struggle, followed by the liberation of the rest of Palestine.
Adopted on June 8, 1974 at the close of the 12th session of the Palestine National Council (the Palestinian “parliament in exile”), the program began by affirming that the Palestinian people must:
… recover all their national rights and, first and foremost, their rights to return and to self-determination on the whole of the soil of their homeland.
Palestinian “self-determination” on what they consider the “whole of the soil of their homeland” clearly leaves no room for Israel. Underscoring this, the PLO’s program then explicitly rejected Resolution 242 and any recognition of – or negotiations with – Israel, and called for the “liberation of all Palestinian territory” through the creation of a “combatant national authority”:
Article 1) … the Palestine Liberation Organization [reaffirms] its previous attitude to Resolution 242, which obliterates the national right of our people and deals with the cause of our people as a problem of refugees…
Article 2) The [PLO] will employ all means, and first and foremost armed struggle, to liberate Palestinian territory and to establish the independent combatant national authority for the people over every part of Palestinian territory that is liberated. This will require further changes being effected in the balance of power in favor of our people and their struggle.
Article 3) The [PLO] will struggle against any proposal for a Palestinian entity the price of which is recognition, peace, secure frontiers, renunciation of national rights and the deprival of our people of their right to return and their right to self-determination on the soil of their homeland.
Article 8) Once it is established, the Palestinian national authority will strive to achieve a union of the confrontation countries, with the aim of completing the liberation of all Palestinian territory … (from Documents on Palest ine, V1, p 225-6, Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA))
A few days later, in a speech broadcast on Palestinian radio, Arafat once again stressed Palestinian plans to destroy Israel:
The road is still long. Just as the Hattin campaign was only the beginning of the Crusaders’ defeat, the Ramadan campaign [the 1973 war] is only the beginning of the advance of the Arab nation. This advance will cease only in Tel-Aviv. (Quoted in Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Martin Gilbert, p 99)
Only on NPR could these explicit Palestinian calls for the destruction of Israel be portrayed as a willingness to “live side-by-side with Israel.”
Shuster followed up the “live side-by-side” invention with another one, claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin “under pressure from President Jimmy Carter, [agreed] to negotiate with Egypt’s Sadat.” In fact, the policy of every Israeli government since the first days of the state has been to seek face-to-face negotiations with neighboring Arab countries in order to reach a full peace agreement, and it has been the Arab states that had long refused even to meet with Israel, much less to negotiate peace. Just after the Six Day War in 1967, for example, the Arab states met in Khartoum at the Arab League Summit and adopted as their collective policy:
… no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence of the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country. (Documents on Palestine, V1, p 209, PASSIA)
This bellicose statement, as with so many others by the Arab side, was simply ignored by NPR, as was any recognition of Israel’s very accommodating pro-peace position.
Prime Minister Begin, portrayed by NPR as being forced to meet with Sadat, actually invited such negotiations. Indeed the official “Basic Guidelines” of Mr. Begin’s government affirmed that Israel:
… will invite Israel’s neighbors, jointly and severally, either directly or through a friendly state, to conduct direct negotiations towards the signing of a peace treaty, without prior conditions on the part of anyone and without formulation of a solution drawn up from outside. (Israel’s Foreign Relations, Selected Documents, V4, p4)
Arab intransigence and Israel’s desire for negotiations and peace was recognized even by an ABC questioner during an interview with Mr. Begin’s Foreign Minister, Moshe Dayan:
ABC Interviewer: Mr. Begin, the new Prime Minister, has asked the three Arab leaders – Assad, Sadat, Hussein, to meet to discuss a real peace in the Mideast, as [have] all Prime Ministers before Mr. Begin. The Arabs have refused to meet under these circumstances in the past. If they do not meet now with you, how will you then try to find a peace, if they won’t meet with you?
Dayan: Well, Mr. Begin did say that in case they don’t want to talk to us directly, then we shall do it through a mediator … that is your people, the administration of the United States of America. (ABC, June 22, 1977 as reprinted in Israel’s Foreign Relations, V4, p6)
In accord with this longstanding policy of seeking negotiations with the Arabs, Israel immediately reciprocated when on November 9, 1977, President Sadat told the Egyptian parliament that to avoid war he was even prepared to travel to the Knesset. On November 11 Prime Minister Begin replied in a televised speech addressed to the Egyptian people:
Your president said, two days ago, that he is ready to come to Jerusalem, to our Parliament – the Knesset – in order to prevent one Egyptian soldier from being wounded. It is a good statement. I have already welcomed it, and it will be a pleasure to welcome and receive your President with the traditional hospitality you and we have inherited from our common father Abraham. And I, for my part, will of course be ready to come to your capital, Cairo, for the same purpose: No more wars – peace – a real peace and forever.
Only on NPR could Sadat finally accepting Israel’s longstanding offer of face-to-face negotiations, and Begin’s immediate positive response, be portrayed as the Israeli grudgingly agreeing under pressure from President Carter.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of Shuster’s fabrications. Referring for example, to the Palestinian autonomy plan agreed to at Camp David by Begin and Sadat, Shuster claimed that “Begin never carried it out.”
In fact the Israelis tried to get Palestinian agreement to autonomy plans, even before they were formalized at Camp David, but all such attempts were thwarted by murderous PLO attacks against any Palestinians who were willing to cooperate. The PLO press agency WAFA, for example, announced on December 26, 1977 that orders had been given to “liquidate a number of agents,” and on that very day the PLO announced in Beirut its responsibility for the murder of Hamdi Kadi, a Palestinian resident of Ramallah who was in charge of education for the city. Kadi’s crime was simply that he was willing to work with the Israelis. According to the Washington Post, “The announcement of Kadi’s assassination followed a PLO statement rejecting Israel’s latest proposals for limited Arab self-rule on the West Bank.” (December 27, 1977) The New York Times termed the assassination of Kadi, and that a month earlier of another Palestinian, Salim al-Asmar, “gangland-style” shootings. (December 27, 1977)
A few days before these killings the New York Times told its readers of a courageous Christian Palestinian from Ramallah who had publicly rejected the PLO in favor of seeking peace via the path of Begin and Sadat. “Defying the PLO,” written by the Times’ senior editor, John Oakes, recounted the story of Abdel-nur Khalil Janho, who was said to be:
… typical of those Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank who have no use for the PLO’s extreme position and terrorist tactics, who fear its radicalism and who do not accept the dogma that it is in fact the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people.
… this position, rarely expressed openly by Arabs in the occupied territories prior to the Sadat peace initiative, has suddenly come alive not only with Mr. Sadat’s downgrading of the PLO, but especially since President Carter stated that “moderate Palestinians” now must be “included in the discussions” at the Cairo conference, which the PLO has rejected.
[According to Mr. Janho] “… the Sadat-Begin approach now gives a unique opportuni ty for the 750,000 West Bank Arabs to be liberated from the occupation and at the same time help along in the process of reconciliation by holding out a friendly hand to the Israelis. And if this opportunity isn’t made the most of by the Arabs who live inside the West Bank, the PLO outside will again seize the initiative, the whole peace effort will collapse and the radicals will take over.”
[Questioned by Mr. Oakes about the many West Bank mayors who supported the PLO, Janho replied] “… they were elected at a time when West Bank Arabs could see no possibilities of a peaceful settlement with the Israelis … but all that’s changed now, as a result of Sadat. There is an alternative to [the] PLO; we have a chance to regain our identity and our dignity without war.”
Petitions in support of Mr. Sadat’s moves, signed by 9,000 Arab citizens of Nablus, the West Bank’s largest city and center of PLO sentiment, would seem to bear him out. (December 21, 1977)
A few weeks later a PLO hit-squad gunned down Mr. Janho.
His prediction almost 25 years ago that if the opportunity opened by the Begin-Sadat initiative were missed, radicals would take over and make peace impossible, has been sadly borne out by history.
Who else but NPR would ignore this history, would ignore the PLO’s assassinations of Palestinians who were willing to try to reach a peaceful agreement with Israel, and would instead blame Israel for the failure of the autonomy talks, which Israel had itself proposed?
NPR’s coverage of terror attacks also exhibited the network’s characteristic bias. While NPR covered in previous segments incidents that could be portrayed as Jewish terror attacks, such as Deir Yassin and the bombing of the King David Hotel, it studiously avoided mention of any specific Palestinian terror attacks. Covering the post-1967 period, for example, there was no mention of the 1972 Munich Massacre, in which Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics, no mention of the savage Palestinian terror attacks in 1974, on the school house in Ma’alot, in which 21 children were killed, and in Kiryat Shimona, in which 18 Israelis were killed, including 8 children. All this, plus literally hundreds of other Palestinian terror attacks, was entirely ignored.
Instead, Shuster simply skipped up to 1982, informing listeners that Israel made “war on the PLO in Lebanon” in that year, while neglecting to mention the very instructive story of how the PLO came to be in Lebanon, and just what they did when they got there.
The PLO had been firmly entrenched in Jordan, with its majority Palestinian population, since the organization was founded in the 1960s. As the PLO’s military power grew, however, it became a state within a state, challenging King Hussein’s rule and clashing repeatedly with the Jordanian army and security forces.
King Hussein blamed Arafat and the PLO for their attacks on Israel that provoked damaging retaliation. His attempts to prevent such PLO attacks were met by a number of assassination attempts. Finally, in September 1970 a PLO group hijacked three Western airliners to Jordan and blew them up after evacuating the passengers. On September 15, seemingly not in control of his country, or his capital, which was dotted with PLO checkpoints, King Hussein appointed an emergency cabinet composed of loyal generals and declared martial law. The stage was set for a showdown with Yasir Arafat and the PLO. (Jordan’s Palestinian Challenge, 1948-1983, Clinton Bailey; Israel: the Embattled Ally, Nadav Safran)
The following day the Jordanian army:
… trained its artillery on fedayeen headquarters and other targets in the al-Wahdat and Husayni refugee camps adjacent to the capital. On the next day, ruthless mop-up operations began in Amman itself to dislodge Palestinian fighters from bunkers and rooftops. These operations, which lasted for ten days, were heavy-handed, causing great loss of life and damage to property. The two refugee camps were almost razed to the ground and buildings were destroyed on top of their occupants. In Amman, most buildings harboring fedayeen nests were summarily shelled. (Bailey, p 57)
The Palestinian death toll in 11 days of fighting was estimated at 3400, though Arafat claimed that 20,000 had been killed. (Bailey, p 59; The Making of a War, John Bulloch, p 67) After a cease fire lasting until July 1971, fighting resumed and the remaining PLO forces were defeated and expelled from Jordan. Some 200 fedayeen, seeing their comrades butchered by Hussein’s troops, fled across the Jordan River to Israel. Most PLO personnel and their families resettled in Lebanon, where Mr. Arafat and the PLO repeated their Jordanian experience, setting up a state within a state, threatening Lebanese sovereignty and sparking a civil war in which over 150,000 Lebanese were killed. All the while the PLO continued to launch terror attacks in Israel, and against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world.
The PLO’s legacy of death and destruction in Jordan and Lebanon, and what this might portend for Israel’s own attempts to coexist with the PLO, should be key chapters in any history of the modern Middle East. That these chapters were entirely omitted by NPR is a measure of the network’s always tendentious approach to reporting the Middle East.
That even without the pressure of breaking news, and with virtually unlimited time to research, fact-check, write and edit, NPR’s anti-Israel bias still overpowers any other journalistic impulse is a telling indictment of the publicly-funded network.
For more of CAMERA’s critique on the series, click here.