Uri Avnery / 7.7.01
The Terrible Arafat
All the existential problems of the State of Israel are now merging
into one question: What to do with Yasser Arafat?
Who doesn’t deal with this? Ministers and taxi-drivers,
professors and fruit vendors, reserve generals and flight attendants,
members of the Knesset and top models, settlers and TV entertainers,
columnists and owners of market stands. Everybody who thinks that he is
somebody contributes his bit to the national debate about the right way
to get rid of this obstacle.
Ma’ariv newspaper, for example, published yesterday in
its weekly supplement a cover-story containing a real scoop. A document
titled "State of Israel / General Security Service / Top Secret" begins
with the words: "Following the events in the ‘territories’, the question
arises anew: Is Arafat a factor that helps in the solution of the
historic conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people or is he a
leader who constitutes an obstacle to this solution, and his policy and
actions create a serious threat (emphasized) to the security of Israel."
And the answer: "The person (emphasized) Arafat is a severe threat to
the security of the state. The damage caused by his disappearing will be
small compared to the damage caused by his being there."
Up to now, four ways of solving the problem have been
publicly announced by ministers and journalists:
1. To kill Arafat.
- To put him in prison.
- To confine to where he is, either Ramallah or Gaza.
- To prevent him from landing after one of his trips
And what will happen after that? To this, too, several
answer are given:
- We shall wait for a new Palestinian leader, who will
be more moderate and pragmatic (meaning: ready to capitulate to Israel.)
- We shall ourselves appoint a new Palestinian
leadership. (Somebody said on TV: We shall appoint an administrative
committee, as the Ministry of the Interior does when a local council
Indeed, one is astonished by such an outpouring of
wisdom and pure reason.
There is a mental illness called "paranoia vera". A
person victim to it takes a totally unreal assumption ("The world is a
cube" or "Everybody is out to kill me") and builds on it a perfectly
logical system. The very perfection of the logic is a symptom of the
disease. The more encompassing the system, the more severe the disease.
The crazy assumption that lies at the base of our
special paranoia is the denial of the occupation. If there is no
occupation, there is no war of liberation of the occupied. If there is
no war of liberation, there is no national uprising. And if there is no
national uprising, then it must be terror. Clearly somebody must be
directing this terror. Who can that be? Arafat, of course.
If a person is stricken with paranopia, he has to be
helped to fight it. After all, he is not to blame. But if this
particular patient has a mighty army, and if he infects it with his
illness, he is dangerous to himself and to others. A responsible
psychiatrist would commit him to an institution.
But here, the whole political establishment (including
the opposition), the General Staff of the army, the Mossad and the
Security Service have all been infected with this illness. It affects
their reasoning processes and creates a perfect – oh, how perfect! –
system of conclusions.
It is enough to look at the annals of liberation
struggles in the last hundred years in order to see that all the means
used against them were useless, and that many of them were
In the Congo, Belgian agents killed Lumumba, and in
Palestine the British killed Abraham Stern. The French in Algeria
imprisoned Ben Bella; the British in India did the same to Ghandi, in
Palestine to Moshe Sharett and his colleagues, in Kenya to Kenyatta; the
whites in South Africa imprisoned Mandela. The British in Palestinian
exiled the Arab leadership to the Seychelles and Yitzhaq Shamir to
Kenya; the French in Morocco exiled Muhammad V. The list is long. Well,
did it help?
The government and the army need a lot of arrogance,
stupidity and ignorance in order to believe that an occupied people will
change its leadership by orders of the occupier. The natural inclination
of a people fighting for their liberty is to unite behind the attacked
leader. The more the occupier vilifies and persecutes the leader, the
more popular he becomes with his own people. See: Arafat.
If Israel murders Arafat, directly or through agents, he
will become a romantic legend, rather like Che Gevara. The Palestinians
will react, of course, by electing a more extreme fighter. Neither Nabil
Sha’ath nor Abu Ala will take over; its far more likely to be tough
fighters from the ranks. In the name of the murdered leader, who will
become a symbol for generations to come, they will do things compared to
which everything that has been done until now will pale.
(Obviously, some of the inventors of this idea do not
ignore this possibility, but, on the contrary, hope that it will be the
outcome. They believe that the hostilities will reach such atrocious
levels that it will finally make the mass-expulsion of the Palestinians
from the whole country possible. The result will be Armageddon.)
Experience shows that an imprisoned leader does not lose
his influence, rather, the opposite is true. He becomes the center of
all his people’s aspirations. He directs the struggle from prison. This
is even truer for an exiled leader. Not to mention the Arab, Muslim and
international reaction. Throughout the world, the popularity of the
exiled leader will rise.
Like every secret political police, our Security Service
adapts it assessments to the presumed wishes of the political boss.
Probably it bases them on reports of collaborators and the stories of
tortured prisoners. Not a good basis for political assessments.
But why go far? Our own experience is enough. It was
Ariel Sharon (yes, the same) who once found a patent medicine for all
our ills in the occupied territories: he appointed a new Palestinian
leadership, called "village leagues". They were so ridiculous that the
Palestinians did not even bother to kill them. They were laughed out of
court and disappeared.
After that, Sharon (yes, yes, the very same) appointed a
leadership for Lebanon. He took a local ruffian, Bashir Jumayel, and
made him President of Lebanon. When he was killed, Sharon elected his
brother instead and made an official peace treaty with him, with a lot
of articles and sub-articles, that established an official peace between
Israel and Lebanon for generations. You don’t remember? Don’t be upset,
I don’t know how to cure this paranoia. To do so, our
patient has to recognize basic facts: That there is a historic conflict
between two peoples, that there is an occupation and a war of
liberation. The Palestinian people are led, now more than ever, by
Yasser Arafat. He is there, and one might say: fortunately for us.
One can respect or hate Arafat – it does not change the
fact that he is the only person - now and in the foreseeable future -
capable of both making a decision and convincing his people to accept
it. For that, one has to be a leader with moral and political authority
in the eyes of his people. Arafat has it, and nobody else has.
In today’s Israel, hating Arafat has become a fad,
common to both right and left. It’s easier to hate Arafat than to come
to grips with the basic facts of the conflict. Everything is dragged
down to the personal level. If so, let’s have a look at the man.
Arafat decided at the end of 1973 that the Palestinian
national interest demands a peace agreement with Israel. I know this,
because at the time I maintained, together with others, the first
contacts with the PLO leadership. At that time, Shimon Peres was still
busy with establishing settlements in the middle of the West Bank
(Kedumim), and Yitzhaq Rabin in deepening the occupation. Arafat
prepared his people, step by step, cautiously and resolutely, for the
change that led to Oslo. He was several steps in advance of his people,
and was always compelled (like Ben Gurion with us) to take the
courageous decisions alone. But he never wished (or could) impose them
on his people. His way of doing it was by the old Arab method of Idjmah
– the discussion goes on until the last person in the tent is convinced.
Of course, he used all the means in the arsenal of a
weak and oppressed people: diplomacy, violence, ruses, propaganda,
plots. Much like us. That was his duty, as a leader of a people on the
way to liberation.
A leading Egyptian thinker once told me: "If there were
no Arafat, it would have been necessary to invent him." Fortunately, he
is there. We shall find no other.
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hagalil.com / 22-07-2001