Yassir Arafat, 1929-2004
HonestReporting.com | November 11, 2004
It's ironic that the man who personified the
Palestinian movement was neither born in the region it claims, nor conforms to
his own organization’s definition of Palestinian identity. Yassir Arafat, whose
real name is Abdel-Rahman Abdel-Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini, was born in
August 1929 in Cairo, son of an Egyptian textile merchant.
He was sent to Jerusalem as a small child
after his mother died, then returned to Egypt via Gaza.
Throughout his career, Arafat's Egyptian
background was a political impediment and source of personal embarrassment. One
biographer notes that upon first meeting him in 1967, 'West Bankers did not like
his Egyptian accent and ways and found them alien,' and to the very end Arafat
employed an aide to translate his Egyptian dialect into Palestinian Arabic for
conversing with his West Bank and Gaza subjects.
As a young man, Arafat took no part in the
formative experience of the Palestinian movement, the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, but
he would nonetheless claim refugee status throughout his life: 'I am a refugee,'
he cried out in a 1969 interview, 'Do you know what it means to be a refugee? I
am a poor and helpless man. I have nothing, for I was expelled and dispossessed
of my homeland.' (Arafat's congenital lying would continue for decades.)
FATAH AND THE PLO
In the mid-1950s, Arafat joined the Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt, then rose to the head of the Palestine Student Union at the University of
Cairo. In the late 1950s Arafat moved to Kuwait,
where he co-founded Fatah ('Palestine National
Liberation Movement,' an acronym meaning 'conquest'), the faction that would
later gain control over the entire Palestinian movement. Fatah's motley
ranks of Islamists, communists and pan-Arabists expanded via brute violence.
'People aren't attracted to speeches, but rather to bullets,' Arafat quipped at
this stage. (At right: Fatah logo of rifles and grenades over Israel)
Fatah began military-style training in Syria
and Algeria in 1964, and the following year tried unsuccessfully to blow up a
major Israeli water pump. Fatah's stated goal was the obliteration of the State
of Israel, and well before the 1967 war would supply a pretext, Arafat's
organization repeatedly attacked Israeli buses, homes, villages and rail lines.
This violence against Israeli civilians was a
pillar of the Palestinian National Covenant (the foundational charter of the
Palestinian Liberation Organization - PLO), which states that 'the liberation of
Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence' and that 'armed
struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine and is therefore a strategy and
not a tactic.' (Despite repeated Palestinian commitments in the late 1990s to
annul these sections of the covenant, it was never officially changed.)
Arafat's public profile got a boost in 1968,
when the IDF raided a Fatah terrorist stronghold in the Jordanian village of al
Karameh. The uniformed, keffiyah-clad Arafat took this opportunity to
project himself as a fearless Arab leader who, despite the post-Six Day War
gloom, dared to confront the Israelis. The image stuck, and Fatah's numbers
swelled with new recruits.
Arafat and Fatah consolidated power through
bribery, extortion and murder, and at the Palestinian National Congress in Cairo
in February 1969, Arafat was appointed head of the PLO, a position he would
JORDAN, LEBANON AND TUNISIA
By the late 1960s, heavily-armed, Arafat-led
Palestinians had formed a terrorist 'state within a state' in Jordan, not only
attacking Israeli civilian targets, but also seizing control of Jordanian
The tension reached a height during late 1970,
when Jordan's King Hussein cracked down on the Palestinian factions. During this
bloody conflict, known as Black September, Palestinians hijacked four Western
airliners and blew one up on a Cairo runway to both
embarrass the Egyptians and Jordanians and, in their words, 'teach the Americans
a lesson for their long-standing support of Israel.' With the broad publicity
this generated, Arafat had hit the world stage.
When King Hussein drove Arafat's faction out
of his Jordanian kingdom (causing thousands of civilian deaths), they relocated
in Lebanon. As in Jordan, Arafat soon triggered a bloody civil war in his
previously stable host country. Simultaneously, the PLO launched intermittent
attacks on Israeli towns from southern Lebanese positions.
Yassir Arafat then brought the high-profile
terrorist act to western soil. In Sept. 1972, Fatah-backed terrorists kidnapped
and murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic games. And in 1973,
Arafat ordered his operatives in the Khartoum, Sudan office of Fatah to abduct
and murder US Ambassador Cleo Noel and two other diplomats. (In 2004, the FBI
finally opened an official investigation against Arafat for the Khartoum
The wanton violence fueled Arafat's political
goals, as his presence on the world stage grew: In 1974, he became the
first representative of a nongovernmental organization to address a plenary
session of the UN General Assembly In the speech,
with a gun holster strapped to his hip, Arafat compared himself to George
Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Arab heads of states
declared the PLO the sole legitimate representative of all Palestinians, the PLO
was granted full membership in the Arab League in 1976, and by 1980 was fully
recognized by European nations. Appearing at the UN, Arafat, wearing his holster
and pistol, said, “I come bearing a freedom fighters gun and an olive branch, do
not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” His remark was a blatant threat of
terrorism, if he did not receive his demands!
In 1978-82, the IDF invaded Lebanon to root
out PLO groups that had continually the northern Israeli populace. The
U.S. brokered a cease-fire deal in which Arafat and the PLO were allowed to
leave Lebanon; Arafat and the PLO leadership eventually settled in Tunisia,
which remained his center of operations until 1993.
During the 1980s, Arafat received financial assistance from
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, which allowed him to rebuild the battered PLO.
This was particularly useful during the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987,
Arafat took control of the violence from afar, and it was mainly due to Fatah
forces in the West Bank that the anti-Israel terror and civil unrest could be
maintained. Arafat would then become nearly the only world leader to support
Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War. (Saddam would later repay this loyalty by
sending $25,000 to families of Palestinian suicide bombers.)
THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
In the early 1990s, the U.S. led Israel and
the PLO to negotiations that spawned the 1993 Oslo Accords, an agreement that
called for the implementation of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip over a five-year period. The following year Arafat was awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.
In 1994, Arafat moved his headquarters to the West Bank and Gaza to run the
Palestinian Authority, an entity created by the Oslo Accords. Arafat brought
with him from Tunisia an aging PLO leadership that would bolster his ongoing
monopoly over all Palestinian funds, power and authority. Elections in 1996
extended Arafat's control over the PA, but under the Oslo agreement, the term of
that candidacy ended in 1999. Arafat never allowed new elections to take place.
While Israel went about implementing its side
of the Oslo agreements, removing troops from nearly all Palestinian areas,
recognizing the PA, and educating for peace, the PA utterly failed to live up to
its commitment to renounce and uproot anti-Israel terrorism. Instead,
unprecedented incitement from Arafat's official PA media and school textbooks,
and active and passive PA support for terrorist groups led to a string of
suicide bombings in the mid-1990s that killed scores of Israeli civilians. In
October, 1996, at the height of the Oslo years, Arafat cried out to a Bethlehem
crowd, 'We know only one word - jihad! Jihad, jihad, jihad! Whoever does not
like it can drink from the Dead Sea or from the Sea of Gaza.' In July 2000, U.S.
president Bill Clinton attempted to keep the Oslo Accords viable by convening a
summit at Camp David between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
There, Barak offered Arafat a Palestinian state in Gaza and 92% of the West
Bank, and a capital in East Jerusalem, the most generous offer ever from an
Israeli government. Yassir Arafat rejected the offer and ended negotiations
without a counteroffer. As American envoy Dennis Ross concluded, 'Arafat could
not accept Camp David... because when the conflict ends, the cause that defines
Arafat also ends.'
Immediately following this breakdown, the PA
under Arafat's control ramped up the was rhetoric, and preparations were made
for riots that were unleashed following Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple
Mount. The Arafat-supported ‘al Aqsa intifada’ would continue for four years.
This unprecedented wave of anti-Israel terrorism, which would result in over
1,000 Israeli deaths, was marked by over 120 Palestinian suicide bombers and the
growth of an Islamic martyrdom cult.
This stage of violence revealed that Arafat
and the PA had never abandoned their longstanding plans to liquidate the Jewish
state. Arafat had told an Arab audience in Stockholm in 1996, 'We plan to
eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state. We will
make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion.
We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem.'
Likewise, Arafat explained to a South African crowd in 1994 that the Oslo
agreement was merely a tactical ruse in the larger battle to destroy the Jewish
state, a modern version of the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s trickery against the
ancient tribe of Quraysh. Arafat's colleague Faisal al-Husseini was even more
explicit, describing the Oslo process as a 'Trojan Horse' designed to promote
the strategic goal of 'Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the
[Mediterranean] sea,' that is, a Palestine in place of Israel.
A TERRORIST TO THE END
The final phase in Arafat's life-long
commitment to organized terror was channeled through the al-Aqsa Martyrs
Brigade, a Fatah group that was responsible for many of the most deadly attacks
against Israeli civilians between 2000-2004. Though many media outlets described
a mere loose affiliation between Arafat and this terrorist group, the evidence
clearly indicated a direct financial and organizational bond between the two:
▪ In November, 2003 a BBC investigation found
that up to $50,000 a month was funneled by Fatah, with Arafat's approval, directly to the
Al Aqsa Brigades, for the purpose of organizing bombings, snipings and ambushes
against Israeli civilians.
▪ Documents captured by the IDF in 2002
indicated Fatah's 'systematic, institutionalized and ongoing financing' of the
Al Aqsa Brigades.
▪ The leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades in
Tulkarm told USA Today on March 14, 2002: 'The truth is, we are Fatah, but we
didn't operate under the name of Fatah...We are the armed wing of the
organization. We receive our instructions from Fatah. Our commander is Yasser
An ammunition bill for the terrorist Al Aqsa Brigade,
signed by Yassir Arafat
In addition, Arafat granted free rein to the radical Islamic
terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad to perpetrate dozens of horrific acts
of civilian murder between 2000-2004. [At left: Arafat with Hamas founder Ahmed
In January 2002, the Israeli Navy seized a
Gaza-bound, PA-owned freighter, the Karine A, that was loaded with more than
fifty tons of Iranian ammunition and weapons, including dozens of
surface-to-surface Katyusha rockets. In June 2002, upon recognizing
Arafat's ongoing financing and abetting of terrorism, US President Bush called
for Arafat's removal from power. Progress toward peace required,
according to Bush, 'a new and different Palestinian leadership...not compromised
by terror.' Release of a US-backed peace roadmap for settling the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict was therefore delayed until such a new Palestinian
leader emerged. On its part, the Israeli government chose to isolate Arafat in
his Ramallah compound, the 'Muqata', where he would remain from early 2002 until
his final days, and where his burial is expected to occur.
In April 2003, hours after Mahmoud Abbas
assumed the role of Palestinian prime minister, the official road
map was released and diplomatic progress began. But Arafat consistently undercut
the authority of Abbas, leading to Abbas' resignation and the halting of the
road map peace process.
CORRUPTION, AUTOCRACY, JIHAD
Over the course of his 'revolutionary' career, Arafat siphoned
off hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid money intended to reach
the Palestinian people.
Estimates of the degree of Arafat's wealth
differ, but are all staggering: In 2003, Forbes magazine listed Arafat in its
annual list of the wealthiest 'Kings, Queens and Despots,' with a fortune of 'at
least $300 million.' Israeli and US officials estimate Arafat's personal
holdings between $1-3 billion.
And while the average Palestinian barely
subsisted, Arafat's wife Suha (at left) in Paris received $100,000 each
month from PA sources as reported on CBS 60 Minutes program. That CBS report
also noted that Arafat maintained secret investments in a Ramallah-based Coca
Cola plant, a Tunisian cell-phone company, and venture capital funds in the US
and the Cayman Islands.
Arafat also used foreign aid funds to pay off cronies who
bolstered his autocracy: An International Monetary Fund report indicated that
upwards of 8% ($135 million) of the PA's annual budget was handed out by Arafat
'at his sole discretion.' And Arafat's select PA policemen, far from keeping the
peace, were repeatedly among the suicide bombers and snipers.
Money was just one method of strengthening
Arafat's power apparatus. Critics of his PA government were routinely
imprisoned, tortured or beaten. One example: In 1999, Muawiya Al-Masri, a member
of the Palestinian Legislative Council, described Arafat's corruption to a
Jordanian newspaper. For this, he was attacked by a gang of masked men and shot
three times. Al-Masri survived the ordeal and described Arafat's grip on PA
power: 'There is no institutional process. There is only one institution, the
Presidency, which has no law and order and is based on bribing top officials.'
From 2000-2004, Arafat permitted Muslim imams
to incite unprecedented anti-Israel and anti-American violence from their
mosques and through official PA media. Arafat's Religious Affairs Ministry
employed preachers who regularly called for children to 'martyr themselves', and
PA television glamorized the act of suicide bombing.
Under Arafat, the Palestinian Authority school textbooks
denied Israel's very existence, and jihad was presented to Palestinian children
as an admirable course of action. The Jewish people, meanwhile, was represented
to schoolchildren as a tricky, greedy and barbarous nation.
Freedom of the press was virtually
non-existent during Arafat's reign in Gaza, Jericho and Ramallah. If it didn't
speak favorably of Arafat, it didn't get printed in the PA-controlled media.
Moreover, the PA enacted a systematic policy of intimidation of foreign
journalists. One case among many: When an AP cameraman captured footage of
Palestinian street celebrations following the 9/11 attacks, he was kidnapped,
brought to a PA security office, and Arafat's cabinet secretary threatened that
the PA 'cannot guarantee [his] life' if the footage was broadcast.
Yet beyond the terrorism, extortion, embezzlement and
intimidation lies Arafat's most unfortunate ongoing impact: The inculcation of
murderous values in an entire generation of Palestinians, who have been
educated, under Arafat's direction, to continue the fight of jihad against
Israel, rather than compromise to end the decades-long conflict.
How many generations will it take to undo Arafat's dark