Western Media Looks Away as PA Venerates a Mass Murderer

The following column appeared in the Jewish Advocate (Boston) on May 6, 2011
Every culture has its icons, individuals who come to symbolize the aspirations and ideals of a people. The Palestinian Authority has in recent years elevated the19-year-old “martyr” Dalal Mughrabi to iconic status. Mughrabi is held out as a model to Palestinian youths. The Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam described her efforts as “the most glorious page of heroism in the history of the Palestinian struggle.” Over the past few years, schools, city squares, sports tournaments, summer camps, even folkdance troupes have been named after her. What did Mughrabi do to become the object of so much veneration? She took part in the most notorious Palestinian terrorist attack against Israel, known as the Coastal Road Massacre.

Here is what happened, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry:

During the Jewish Sabbath, March 11, 1978, 12 members (10 men, two women) of a Palestinian terrorist cell led by female terrorist Dalal Mughrabi landed on a beach near Ma’agan Michael, north of Tel Aviv, having departed from Lebanon with a stash of Kalashnikov rifles, RPG (rocketpropelled grenade) light mortars and high explosives. They walked less than a mile up to a four-lane highway, where they began a murderous rampage, opening fire at passing vehicles before hijacking a bus en route to Haifa. They murdered American photo-journalist Gail Rubin, who was taking nature photographs nearby.

The terrorists continued to fire and throw grenades at passing cars, while shooting at the passengers, and dumping at least one body out of the bus. At one point they commandeered another bus, and forced the passengers from the first bus to board the second one. The bus was finally stopped by a police roadblock.

Thirty-eight civilians were murdered in the attack, 13 of them children, and 71 were wounded. It was the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

Memory of Mughrabi and her horrific deed might have faded with time. But the Palestinian Authority had other plans.

When Vice President Joseph Biden visited Israel in March 2010, coverage focused on the controversy over Israel’s poorly timed announcement that it planned to build housing units in East Jerusalem. Less attention was paid to the Palestinian Authority’s plan to hold a ceremony naming a city square in the main West Bank city of Ramallah after Mughrabi on March 11. Because the timing coincided with Biden’s visit, Palestinian officials were pressured to cancel the ceremony. Nevertheless, a low-key ceremony took place under the auspices of a Fatah youth organization. Senior Fatah official Tawfiq Tirawi officiated, declaring “We are all Dalal Mughrabi.”

No doubt, many hoped that the square naming in Ramallah would prove to be the culmination of commemoration of the most famous Palestinian female terrorist and that the controversy would blow over. But that was not the case. In the ensuing months, more commemorations took place.

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), an Israeli monitoring group that highlights examples of anti-Israel incitement by Palestinians, keeps a list of events honoring Dalal Mughrabi: 1. On Aug. 5, 2010, Yousuf Al-Aref, the secretary of Fatah in Bethlehem officiated at the naming of a second summer camp after her. Seventy young girls participated in that event. 2. On Nov. 4, 2010, the newspaper Al-Quds reported that a group of youths in Nablus, with the approval of the district high school councils, named a main street in the city after her. 3. On Nov. 25, 2010, Palestinian Television, an arm of the Palestinian Authority, aired a program extolling “The Model Woman.” Mughrabi was given a place of honor alongside historical figures like Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility; and Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt. Mughrabi was said to symbolize “Martyrdom, victory over enmity.” 4. On Dec. 30, 2010, Palestinian Television memorialized Mughrabi with the first of two music videos. The lyrics proclaimed that “Dalal declared the birth of the [Palestinian] Republic, the birth of the Republic.” Another refrain waxed poetic over how “Mughrabi’s blood was shed, the color of coral on lemon flowers.”

As the anniversary of the Coastal Road Massacre approached, Mughrabi’s veneration was ratcheted up further. On March 10, 2011, Sabri Saidam, advisor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas and under-secretary of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, chastised Palestinian Arabs for not doing enough to honor the memories of martyrs like Mughrabi. According to PMW, “He emphasized that the weapons must be turned towards the main enemy [Israel] and that internal differences of opinion must be set aside.” He also urged naming a square after her in the city of El-Bireh.

The following day, March 11, on the 33rd anniversary of the Coastal Road Massacre, two Palestinian youths broke into the Jewish settlement of Itamar and slaughtered five members of the Fogel family, including two children, ages 11 and 4, and an infant.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted with outrage, asserting that “a society that permits such wild incitement is one that eventually brings about the murder of children.” The news media’s response tended to be more guarded and evasive.

The New York Times initially published Netanyahu’s statement verbatim, but apparently after some internal discussion, revised the article, muting Netanyahu’s declaration. The new report reads “Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pointed a finger at the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, blaming it for what he described as incitement in the schools, the mosques and the news media it controls.”

Apparently, the Times wasn’t willing to commit to the assertion that incitement really occurs. It was not even willing to describe the Itamar attack as a terrorist strike. Following a principal prescript of marketing – to stay on message – the Times’ coverage quickly reverted to its favored paradigm, which views the actions of the Israeli government as the chief obstacle to reaching an acceptable accord with the “moderate” Palestinian Authority. The Times wrote, “The new focus on incitement against Israel, together with Israeli dissatisfaction over the Palestinian response to the brutal attack, seemed to pose a question about the Israeli government’s readiness to deal with Mr. Abbas as a serious peace partner.” What followed was boilerplate about the “moderate” government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Much of the media coverage of the Itamar massacre followed suit. For the most part the news media glossed over the link between statements made by Palestinian officials urging Palestinian Arabs to do more to commemorate and model themselves after Mughrabi and other terrorists, and the subsequent murder of the Fogel family. Little noted was the coincidence that the Itamar massacre occurred on the anniversary of the Coastal Road Massacre or that the intentional slaughter of defenseless children figured prominently in both incidents.

Able to count on such uncritical coverage, the Palestinian Authority does not even feel the need to cloak anti-Is raeli incitement, although such incitement violates Palestinian commitments under the Oslo peace process. Since the Itamar massacre, PA honors for Dalal Mughrabi have continued unabated.

On March 15, 2011, Kamel Hamid, governor of the Hebron district in the West Bank, spoke on Palestinian TV of the special importance of the month of March because it included a day to commemorate Mughrabi’s deeds.

Six days later, her “heroism” was honored for the second year in a row by the PA as part of a celebration of International Women’s Day.

And so Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorists continues, largely discounted by the Western media until another “glorious page of heroism” can be written.

Steven Stotsky is a Bostonbased senior research analyst with CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. He monitors news coverage, academic studies and film documentaries dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Visit www.CAMERA.org.

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