Eye on the Media: Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of November 26, 1999


By David Bar-Illan

An article of faith shared by virtually all the media is that the Palestinian body politic is divided: The majority are pro-peace moderates, supporters of Yasser Arafat and the PLO, opposed by anti-peace extremists, followers of the Islamist Hamas. And since most journalists seem to feel their mission in life is not just to report the news but to help the cause of peace, the result is inevitable. They minimize or ignore news that may harm Arafat and the PLO, and bash their opponents. Like all Western governments, they are convinced that if Arafat is weakened the extremists will prevail, and the hope for peace will vanish.

The only trouble is that the premise of this theory is false. The simplistic good guys-bad guys division is divorced from reality. A study soon to be published by the Palestinian Media Watch confirms what observers of the Palestinian scene have known for a long time: The differences between the PA and Hamas are over the role of religious law in society and government, and over who should be in power.

There are no differences on issues related to Israel. Both the PA and Hamas deny Israel's legitimacy, both define Israel as the occupying power of "all of Palestine," including the area currently known as the State of Israel, and both want the elimination of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state.

Nor do they attempt to conceal the commonality of their purpose. True, the Islamists believe that the Oslo agreement retards and inhibits Palestinian mobilization against Israel, and that only a relentless armed struggle can achieve Israel's destruction. And the more pragmatic Arafat views Oslo as the first stage in "the plan of stages" formulated by the PLO in 1974, which advocates the use of diplomacy as well as violence in an incremental war against Israel. But the ramifications of these disagreements are strictly tactical.

AS THE Palestinian Media Watch study demonstrates, the similarity between Hamas doctrine and PA rhetoric is striking. PA Communications Minister Immad Falouji, himself a Hamas member, summed up the common goal only last week in the PA official newspaper Al Hayat Al Jadida (November 18).

"Our nation is full of hope for the future. The occupying power will not continue to exist, no matter how powerful and arrogant it maybe," he said. Four days before, Chief of Preventive Security in Gaza Muhammad Dahlan made clear that the argument with the Hamas was solely over tactics. "We believe that military action at this stage definitely does not serve the national interest, which is why we shall not permit action motivated by emotion." (Al Hayat Al Jadida, November 14.)

It is instructive to compare the formulations of the Hamas covenant with the language used in sermons by PA-appointed imams. The covenant states that "Palestine is Islamic Wakf (sacred) land, for all generations of Moslems until Judgment Day." It declares that "the liberation of Palestine is the duty of every Moslem wherever he may be," and that no one is permitted to "abandon or concede any part of Palestine - the robbery of Palestine by the Jews makes Jihad imperative."

In his sermon on April 30, Yusef Abu Sneineh, the PA's imam whose sermons are broadcast on The Voice of Palestine, made identical assertions: "The land of Palestine is Wakf land for all Moslems, east and west. The liberation of Palestine is the duty of all the peoples of Islam, not only the Palestinian people. The land of Moslem Palestine is one unit, indivisible. There is no difference between Haifa and Nablus, Lod and Ramallah, Jerusalem and Nazareth. There is no religious sanction for dividing Palestine into districts and recognizing the occupation. No one is allowed to give it up or divide it."

Arafat himself has often emphasized the inevitability of Jihad. He told his newspaper Al Hayat Al Jadida in January, "The agreements will not liberate the land. Every centimeter demands a struggle, the land demands blood." Nor does the PA lag behind the Hamas in expressions of classic antisemitism. The Hamas covenant decries "the Nazi Zionist practices against our people."

Al Hayat Al Jadida editor Hafez Bargouti refers to "Israeli attempts to perform Nazi massacres on us." The Hamas charges that "[The Jews] have used their money to dominate the international media, the news agencies, press, broadcasting and publishing houses." The official PA newspaper states, "The Jews' success is no accident. It is a result of long years of planning and huge efforts to achieve control of the world's news media."

SUCH SIMILARITIES are hardly accidental. Article 27 of the Hamas covenant explicitly describes the relationship between the Islamic organization and the PLO: "The PLO is among the closest to the Hamas, for it constitutes a father, brother, relative, friend. Can a Moslem turn away from his father, brother, relative or friend? Our homeland is one, our calamity is one, our destiny is one and our enemy is common to both of us."

Nor is the feeling unrequited. Arafat, who in his youth belonged to the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, has made no secret of his filial relationship with the Hamas. He embraces and kisses its leaders, declares that all Palestinians must aspire to follow the footsteps of the martyr Yihye Ayyash (the notorious "Engineer" responsible for 50 Israeli deaths who was assassinated in 1995). He shelters Ayyash's successor Muhammad Deif, and refers to Hamas's spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin as "my brother."

Israel's intelligence agencies repeatedly assert that Arafat has no intention of confronting the Hamas or its military wing. His activity against terrorism is restricted to preventing actions that can be traced to PA territory, and even these restrictions apply only "at this stage," according to Dahlan. Fatah central committee member Hani Hassan put it aptly two years ago: "Our unity is like a building, and we must distribute the work among the builders." (Al Ayyam, August 31, 1997.)

All this makes the media treatment of the Arafat story one of the great puzzles of our time. In the past 30 years Arafat has allied himself with every anti-Western and anti-American regime and organization on earth: the USSR, East Germany, Cuba, the Red Brigades, Bader Meinhof, the Japanese Red Army, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and the Iranian ayatollahs.

He has ordered the murder of children, the kidnaping and killing of athletes, and the execution of American and other Western diplomats taken hostage by his gunmen. Now he is a certifiably corrupt tyrant who tortures and executes real and imagined opponents at will. He identifies with Hamas, an extremist, antisemitic, anti-Western organization sworn to Israel's destruction, and he matches the virulence of its rhetoric by heaping medieval blood libels on Israel.

Yet he is celebrated and lionized throughout the world, hailed by governments and the media as an astute and moderate leader, the world's best hope for peace in the Middle East. Just to keep him happy, the government of Israel gives him a personal grant of close to $100 million a year, and the US, Europe and Japan make huge contributions to his regime. If he declares a Palestinian state next year, he will have the support of almost all the world's governments.

There must be a story here somewhere?

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