April 18, 2002

April 18, 2002 | Commentary on Middle East

Jenin: The Big Lie

As the Israelis were busy hosing pools of blood off the streets after the latest murder-suicide bombing at Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market, the Palestinian propaganda machine was busy churning out yet another Big Lie: the "massacre of Jenin."

Palestinian mouthpieces claim that the Israeli military killed as many as 500 civilians in Jenin, a stronghold of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. When the Israelis cleared the booby traps and allowed Western media into the city, the reality was different: a difficult door-to-door infantry fight; 23 Israeli soldiers fallen in battle; dozens of terrorists killed. No massacre.

When Israeli troops surrounded Jenin, it was widely reported by the Western and Arab media that the local terrorist commanders swore to fight to the death. Yasser Arafat, holed up in Ramallah but still pushing for more violence, had called for a "million martyrs" to march to Jerusalem -- and Jenin looked like a good place to start.

There were important assets to be protected in the refugee camp: arsenals of machine guns and anti-tank weapons, a cadre of would-be murder-suicide bombers, and several dozen chemical labs where explosives for suicide-bomber belts were being manufactured.

The fighting went on for days. Many houses were booby-trapped by the terrorists who hoped to blow Israelis to smithereens. The Israelis repeatedly ceased fire and demanded that all civilians leave the area, but the top Palestinian terrorists, true to form, were using them as human shields.

If this action had taken place in Afghanistan, U.S. troops would have called in the "vitamin B": B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers. If it had happened in Chechnya, the Russian generals would have called in artillery and flattened Jenin, just as they did Grozny. Israeli tanks were there, and they could have shot straight into town and the refugee camp.

Instead, Israelis fought on foot, placing themselves at risk while trying to protect Palestinian lives. One fighter, reportedly a young boy, detonated a booby trap in a building already taken by the Israeli reservists; 13 were killed on the spot.

After the city fell, 1,000 Palestinian fighters surrendered. In any other place, in any other war, there would be no one left to surrender.

The Israeli army put the number of Palestinians killed in a five-day battle at about 200. The Palestinian and Arab media, meanwhile, cried foul in English while praising the "martyrs" in Arabic. Saudi TV raised close to $100 million in a Jerry Lewis-style telethon to pay off the families.

The Jenin "massacre" that never was is yet another Big Lie in the Palestinian PR campaign -- a campaign that would have made Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler's propaganda chief, proud. And with good reason. Goebbels's legacy lives today -- from Damascus to Ramallah to Cairo.

According to a prominent Egyptian writer, the Egyptian press ministry was set up in the early 1950s by the East Germans who learned the trade under Josef Stalin, but before that, under Hitler and Goebbels. And communist archives in Moscow demonstrate that many Palestinian leaders were trained at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow and KGB camps in the Crimea, both temples of Soviet propaganda and subversion.

One of Goebbels's contributions to the world of "black" PR was the concept of the Big Lie -- repeating something so loudly and persistently that people begin believing it. Arafat, for example, often blames Israelis for using "uranium" shells against Palestinians, implying radioactive damage. President Bashar Assad of Syria accused Israel at the recent Arab League summit of killing "thousands of Palestinians a day."

Arafat's strategy is to turn Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into a war criminal, and to turn the West against Israel. Arafat wants to preside over his sheikdom of terror from behind a human shield of international observers. Then Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim and the Al Aqsa brigades will be free to continue killing Israelis while Arafat himself can issue periodic denunciations and maintain (im)plausible deniability.

To achieve this, Arafat needs the world to ignore the mountains of documented evidence connecting him beyond reasonable doubt with the terror campaigns of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Tanzim and Al Aqsa. He needs the U.S. government and the Western media to shut their eyes to his close links with Iran and Iraq. He needs them to overlook where the real massacres are taking place: in Netanya, Haifa and Jerusalem.

This is why Arafat invented the Jenin "massacre." Why the Arab and European media hastily reported it is another question.

Ariel Cohenis a research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy institute. A longer version of this article originally appeared in National Review Online.

About the Author

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

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