In the aftermath of the bombs that blew up in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehudah open air market today in Jerusalem, our news agency, which covers the peace process and the fledgling Palestine Authority, listened intently to the official Palestine Authority radio news network in the four hours that followed the blasts. PBC radio news, the official voice of the Palestine Authority, which operates out of Yassir Arafat’s office in Gaza, reported the news of the bombs…as a “military operation”, even though the bombs had killed or wounded one hundred and fifty shoppers and shopkeepers – Jews and Arabs, old and young alike, in the one place that you are bound to find every kind of person in Jerusalem.
On each newscast that followed the attack, PBC radio repeated the theme – an “operation” has been carried out, not a terror attack. And Arafat, who had been quoted widely on the Israeli and foreign newsreels that he had condemned the attack, would not allow himself to be quoted in Arabic as condemning the “operation”. Meeting the Arab media in Jericho, as he descended from his helicopter, Arafat was tightlipped, saying nothing to his people that would discourage anything but praise for the attack. Meanwhile, PBC played victory music, military marches, and joyous music. And then PBC TV came on the air, televising a play which showed Arabs shooting at Israelis. No subliminal message there.
Our agency has monitored the Arabic language PBC radio and TV for since their inception at the genesis of the Oslo peace process four years ago.
The PBC, funded under grants from the US AID foreign assistance program, has conveyed a consistent message: The war with Israel must proceed, and all means to that end remain justified. At one point, in September 1995, I was asked to bring PBC videos of Arafat’s televised speeches for a special showing at the US House International Relations Committee. Congresspeople were surprised to learn that Arafat had yet to make a single statement in Arabic at any time that called for peace with Israel and that clearly condemned terror attacks.
Last November, I had the opportunity to have a personal session with Yassir Arafat in Bethlehem. Arafat was in in a pleasant mood, as he spoke of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Arafat went out of his way during our talk to attack those who would conduct terror activity, calling them enemies of peace. Yet one month before meeting Arafat, our Palestinian TV crew had filmed Arafat at a Bethlehem area Arab refugee camp, when he called for “Jihad” – holy war – and the continuation of the armed struggle against Israel. So I asked Arafat when he would repeat the calls for peace in Arabic to his own people that he so eloquently says in English. Arafat responded by saying that he “always” speaks of peace in Arabic. Many Israelis are waiting for such proclamations of peace in Arabic from the lips of Arafat, let alone condemnation of terror bombs in a crowded marketplace.