October 30, 2014

Mideast Media Sampler, David Gerstman, 11/4/12


Remembering Kalil al-Wazir

Last week Israel stopped officially denying that it had been behind the killing of Khalil al-Wazir, otherwise known as Abu Jihad. More precisely, the military censor allowed an Israeli newspaper to publish an interview with the commander of the mission. Meryl Yourish did an excellent job of critiquing a number of those news organizations reporting on this decision. Her bottom line?

It is utterly reprehensible that the focus is on the assassination of a Palestinian leader, instead of on the reason why he was assassinated. There was, for instance, the Coastal Road Massacre, in which 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were murdered and 71 wounded. Eleven Israelis were killed during the Savoy Hotel attack. Neither of these attacks found their way into the stories about Abu Jihad’s assassination.

Even when Abu Jihad was killed there was ambiguity about who he was. The Washington Post featured an editorial, The Killing of Khalil Wazir on April 19, 1988. (This editorial is available through the ProQuest database at many American libraries.)

As the No. 2 man in Yasser Arafat’s PLO and the head of its main military arm, he qualified as a terrorist, someone using violence indiscriminately , against civilians and for political effect. He believed armed struggle in this form was essential for Palestinians claiming nationhood. There can be no loose romanticizing about the man.

Yet the editorial continued:

Khalil Wazir was also something besides a terrorist. He had a second role. He had established himself as a respected leader of his people and as one who personified their dream of national redemption in a land of their own. This is the difficult but undeniable fact about the PLO. It uses terrorism and, at the same time, evidently seeing no contradiction, presumes to speak for a people’s dignity…. The sponsorship of and engagement in unspeakable acts of terror can only undermine the cause in which these acts are undertaken, while the cause itself and the eloquence with which some practitioners of terror defend it prompt people who should know better to fits of sentimental rationalization of what is going on.

If the editorial had stopped there, it would have been fine, but later on it continued:

Obviously the easiest way for Israel to deal with the ambiguities of Palestinian nationalism is to finesse the question of the Palestinians’ true political identity and simply go out and get the terrorists … Palestinians are outraged at the thought that not only does Israel refuse to acknowledge their leaders, it kills them when it can.

Even today, nineteen years after the Oslo Accords the Palestinian national identity is still intertwined with a belief that violence against Israel is justified. Moderates who speak out for coexistence may no longer have to fear for their lives, but have no real constituency.

If the Washington Post obfuscated the connection of violence to Palestinian nationalism, Jeane Kirkpatrick who weighed in with an op-ed in the Washington Post on April 25, 1988, Confusion at State Over The Killing of Abu Jihad, did not:

The PLO’s war against Israel is as public as it is unconventional. There are no reasonable grounds for anyone in the Security Council or the State Department to doubt the reality of this ongoing war. It is proclaimed. It is lived by “Palestinian commandos.”
Presumably Israel, like all other states, has the right to defend itself against this unconventional war – even though a majority in the U.N. has long since decided that force used against the Zionist state is “self defense” and force used by the Zionist state is “terrorism.”

About Barry Rubin

Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist for PajamasMedia at http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan)