File spoon-archives/foucault.archive/foucault_2001/foucault.0108, message 71

Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2001 04:21:39 +0000

                                     The Terrible Arafat

        by Uri Avnery

July 7. 2001

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 (their
emphasis) to the security of Israel." And the answer: "The person (emphasis 
again theirs) 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

Up to now, four ways of solving the problem have been publicly announced by 
ministers and journalists: 1. To kill Arafat. 2. To put
him in prison. 3. To confine to where he is, either Ramallah or Gaza. 4. To 
prevent him from landing after one of his trips abroad.

And what will happen after that? To this, too, several answer are given: 1. 
We shall wait for a new Palestinian leader, who will be
more moderate and pragmatic (meaning: ready to capitulate to Israel.) 2. 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 fails.)

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 terrorism. Clearly somebody must be directing this terrorism. Who 
can that be? Arafat, of course.

If a person is stricken with paranoia, 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 counterproductive.

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 Palestine exiled 
the Arab leadership to the Seychelles and Yitzchak
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. It will not be 
soft-spoken westernized Palestinian who take over; it's 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, nobody does.

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 
Yitzchak 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 

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.

Uri Avnery's weekly articles, many of which appear in Ma'ariv, can also be 
read, in Hebrew and English, on the internet --

For a free sample copy of this issue of The Other Israel, please send us 
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