By Michael Widlanski, September 11, 2002
Michael Widlanski is Senior Analyst at The Media Line Ltd., and lecturer
at The Rothberg School of the Hebrew University. Mr. Widlanski’s analyses
appear regularly at www.themedialine.org
Barely one day after Yassir Arafat ostensibly called for ending terror attacks on
Israeli civilians, his official Palestinian television station broadcast ten minutes
of films expressly calling for attacking the Israeli “enemy.”
The films, which immediately followed the major three o’clock afternoon news
show, left no doubt as to Palestinian intentions, and they featured footage of
Arafat himself and other Palestinian leaders carrying weapons during attacks on
Israel. (See accompanying video footage on www.themedialine.org)
“Ya-jamaheer ard-al muhtallah, yallah al-thawra dhid-al’uduo.” [“Oh, masses of
the occupied land, go forward with the revolution making against the enemy.”]
This verse was repeated tens of times in a song that featured a mixture of
celebratory martial music that played over pictures of Palestinian youths
throwing burning gasoline bombs, rocks and firing rifles.
Arafat himself and his late aide Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) — in footage
taken more than two decades ago — were shown carrying weapons and even in
the midst of attacking Israeli targets. Arafat, wearing sunglasses, and al-Wazir
(Abu Jihad) are seen directing forces to cross into Israel, skirting landmines and
“Oh masses of the occupied land, give of your blood. Forward our martyrs,
forward our suns,” sang another verse in the song that was repeated several
Arafat has been deliberately offering a mixture of messages — one aimed largely
at Western audiences, and one aimed mostly at his own Palestinian
In his speech in Ramallah on Monday (Sept. 9), he offered only some general
calls for not attacking ‘Israeli civilians inside Israel’ while steadfastly refusing to
condemn any of the terrorists — Islamic Jihad, HAMAS and his own Fatah
organization — that have carried out the attacks.
It appears that Arafat’s main message to his own people was a call for unity
and an almost plaintive attempt to say “I am still here, alive and kicking.”
All of the Palestinian newspapers carried front-page pictures of Arafat
flashing his now-famous “V-for-victory” sign to the crowds.
There are signs, however, that Arafat’s two-tiered public relations approach and
his corruption-riddled regime are losing their hold on Palestinians, and not just
on Israeli and American critics. For several days, Arafat has held off a vote in
the Palestinian legislature because it was likely his cabinet would not have been
Inside his own Fatah movement, there are growing calls for Arafat to step
aside, in practical if not symbolic terms, by appointing a prime minister. Fatah’s
Central Committee urged Arafat three weeks ago to name Mahmoud Abbas
(known widely by his nickname Abu Mazen) as prime minister, but Arafat has
so far refused to do so.
Even Arafat’s own Al-Hayat Al-Jadida newspaper published a cartoon
several weeks ago showing a tombstone over the Palestinian legislature–as if to
say that it was being railroaded by the high-handed tactics of Arafat. Such a
cartoon would have been unthinkable a year ago.
“We reserve the right to fight against the occupation and to defend ourselves,”
declared Hussein al-Sheikh, a leader of Arafat’s Fatah Tanzim in the West Bank,
only a few hours after Arafat’s speech. It was the kind of bold comment that he
perhaps would not have made even one year ago.
“We need an election law that strengthens the parties and not the families,”
said another Fatah member, Qadura Fares. His comment was further testimony
that blind faith in Arafat has apparently ended.
However, the dismay with Arafat does not mean that the Palestinian
community as a whole is now ready to admit that it has lost the two-year-long
war of attrition and terror waged against Israel. Polls inside the Palestinian
community show that “al-muqawama”–the resistance–is still very popular.
Even as he has sent messages to the Israeli media and to Western European
diplomats insisting that his Fatah units are ready to end attacks on Israeli
civilians, Arafat has been working hard to show his Palestinian supporters that
he will not surrender to Israel.
At least 25 Palestinian gunmen, bombers and terror planners have holed
up in Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah, according to a report released
yesterday by Israeli security officials.