By Alan M. Dershowitz, September 3, 2002
The writer is a professor of law at Harvard University and the author of
numerous books, most recently “Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the
Threat, Responding to the Challenge” (Yale University Press, September 2002).
The rule of law requires that murderers be brought to justice. Yasser Arafat is a
cold-blooded, premeditated murderer. It would seem to follow that he should be
brought to trial. The incontrovertible evidence of Arafat’s complicity in murder
goes back to 1973, when Palestinian terrorists invaded a diplomatic reception
at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan and kidnapped two American
diplomats and a Belgian diplomat.
The U.S. National Security Agency intercepted a communication between
Yasser Arafat in Beirut and Khalil al-Wazir in the Khartoum office of Fatah.
According to James Welch, an American security agent who overheard the
intercept, Arafat was directly involved in the operation, which was code-named
Nahr al-Bard, or Cold River.
The U.S. government has hard evidence that when the Americans refused the
demands of the Palestinian terrorists – to free Sirhan Sirhan, the murderer of
Robert Kennedy – Yasser Arafat personally ordered the murder of the three
diplomats, one of whom was then the highest ranking African-American in the
foreign service. The diplomats were taken to the basement of the embassy and
tortured to death so brutally that “authorities couldn’t tell which was black and
which was white.”
Arafat took credit for these murders during a private dinner with Romanian
dictator Nicolae Ceausescu two months later. The dinner was attended by
General Ion Mihai Pacepa, a high-ranking Romanian intelligence officer who later
defected to the United States. Pacepa wrote an article for the Wall Street
Journal earlier this year in which he stated that “Arafat excitedly bragged about
his Khartoum operation.” According to General Pacepa, Arafat also claimed
credit for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
These are just some of the thousands of victims – American, Israeli, and others –
of the godfather of Palestinian terrorism. Arafat, like Osama bin Laden, has also
targeted Jews, just because they are Jews. These targets have included people
at prayer in synagogues throughout Europe as well as children in nurseries and
school buses. His killing continues up to the present time, as do his false
One can only imagine how many innocent civilians would have been killed by
the boatload of Iranian arms captured by the Israelis earlier this year.
As General Pacepa wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Yasser Arafat
remains the same bloody terrorist I knew so well during my years at the top of
Romania’s Foreign Intelligence Service.”
This conclusion has been confirmed by many documents discovered by
the Israel Defense Forces during Operation Defensive Shield.
Any experienced prosecutor, given access to the evidence – some of which is
currently secreted in American, Israeli, and European intelligence files – could
present an open-and-shut first-degree murder case against Yasser Arafat.
In considering the various options available to Israel – exile of Arafat,
continued negotiation with him, and even targeted assassination – scant
consideration has been given to the most obvious legal option: arresting Arafat
for murder and placing him on trial in a public courtroom with lawyers and
witnesses of his choice.
The reason this option has not been seriously considered is the practical fear
that a trial of Arafat would cause more terrorism and more hostage-taking by
Palestinians determined to free him. In addition, putting him on trial could make
him a martyr among Palestinians, and perhaps even among some Europeans.
In the end, the Israeli government must make the tough decision whether or not
to bring Arafat to trial, weighing the claims of public accountability against the
practical difficulties of achieving justice.
Were I an Israeli, I would recommend a public trial, despite the risks. The
world should see the hard evidence that terrorism has become the tactic of
choice for the Palestinian Authority and that Yasser Arafat is personally
responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians. This is especially
important today, when so many Europeans and American academics seem
unwilling to see Arafat as a racist murderer.
Whether or not Israel chooses this option, one conclusion remains crystal clear:
a fair and open trial of Yasser Arafat on charges of first-degree murder would
definitely produce a verdict of guilty.