How many people has Osama bin Laden killed? For these purposes, I mean that in the literal sense—how many people has he personally killed? I don’t have the answer to that question, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say very few, if any.
Does that make Osama bin Laden any less a murderer? Of course not! While he may not have pulled the triggers, set the fuses, or flown the planes, his moral and financial support for the people who actually performed the physical act of killing made him a killer all the same.
How about Mullah Omar, the leader of Afghanistan’s former Taliban government? Is he a killer too? Absolutely! He welcomed al Qaeda into his country, let them build terrorist training camps, and assisted them in their horrendous activities every step of the way. Mullah Omar may not have personally killed anybody either, but he is still a murderer.
How about Yasser Arafat?
The Arab/Israeli conflict in the middle east has been going on for decades, and—sadly—may go on for decades longer. The entire conflict is ludicrous and pointless, as I said in my 2002 Rant titled With Us, or With the Terrorists. “Palestinians believe wholeheartedly that the land today occupied by Israel was promised to them by their God. Likewise, Jews and Christians believe that land was given to them by theirs. I do not debate either of these points, as neither has any validity over the other. The land is land—it can be shared, it should be shared. This is my stance.”
What bothers me most about world perception of Arab/Israeli conflict is how much we have forgotten. Israel is demonized—’those horrible Jews are oppressing the Palestinian people,’ and such—while the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) are venerated as champions of a trampled people. Well, it’s painfully obvious that we as a species need to do a better job of teaching history.
From 1918 to 1948, Palestine (modern-day Israel and Palestine) was administered by the British government. (This, my friends, was called colonialism. What we are doing in Iraq is not.) Because of Russian anti-semitism and the holocaust under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in Europe, thousands upon thousands of Jews emigrated back to their ancient homeland and coexisted with the Islamic Arabs living in the area at the time.
In the 1940s, the United Nations formulated a plan to end the British administration of Palestine. Under this plan, the area would be split into independent Jewish and Palestinian states (the city of Jerusalem would fall under the direct control of the U.N.). While Jews in the region embraced the plan, the entire Arab world was in an irrational uproar over the specter of the Jewish people having their own country right next door. The U.N. plan went forward, and Israel was formed in 1948 only to be immediately attacked by a belligerent coalition of Arab states—Egypt, Transjordan (now called Jordan), Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Israel—already a tenacious little country—repelled the attack, against all odds. Violence flared up periodically for nearly twenty years, culminating in the Six-Day War of 1967. Again, Israel repelled the enemy invasion, and this time they annexed the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. These territories were taken in the course of fighting a foreign invasion, and Israel—the winner—had the right to dictate terms. That’s how war has worked throughout the entire history of the world: winner takes the spoils.
Amid all of this political nonsense and war, about 20 Palestinians in 1959 formed a group called Fatah and a man named Yasser Arafat emerged as that group’s leader. Under Arafat’s leadership, Fatah and its offshoots started killing Israelis wherever they could. In 1964, several Palestinian resistance groups (including Fatah) formed the PLO, and by 1968 Arafat was leading that group as well. In 1972, a Fatah offshoot called “Black September” kidnapped and later murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich, Germany. Yasser Arafat, in his capacity as the head of Fatah and the PLO, approved the operation.
Through the 1980s, Arafat and the PLO began to moderate their public statements in English (in an attempt to seem more legitimate). But when addressing his people in Arabic, Arafat’s rhetoric remained militant—as did his actions. In 1988, the PLO announced that it recognized Israel had a ‘right to exist’ and renounced terrorism as a prerequisite for participation in U.S. organized peace talks. The peace talks developed into the Oslo accords, which established what both sides were expected to do to move the middle east toward peace.
While the Oslo accords led to the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (the first Palestinian government, although its power was limited), ultimately little progress was made. Arafat, who had been more a terrorist and a murderer than a real leader since the late 1950s, would or could not change his ways now that he had become leader of a quasi-government. The man duped the world into recognizing him as a statesman—going as far as to give him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994—but he was never anything more than a close-minded killer and a war criminal who targeted civilians.
Last week, Yasser Arafat died of an unknown illness in a Paris hospital at the age of 75. I did not wish injury upon him, but do I have much sympathy for him? No. Arafat has spent his life presiding over the continued degradation of the quality of life in Palestine. He spent the last four years encouraging with money and rhetoric a string of attacks on innocent Israeli civilians—an ‘intifada’ perpetrated by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of his own Fatah movement. He has watched his own people fall into worse and worse squalor while padding his own Swiss bank accounts. He has led the people who revered him deeper into an irrational conflict that has hurt them much more than it has helped.
Arafat deserves no shrine, deserves no fanfare, and deserves no respect. I feel no different about his death than I would feel if I heard that Osama bin Laden had just died of kidney failure. Palestinians deserve their state, but the murder of civilians has never been the way to get it.
Israel has hardly behaved perfectly with regard to Palestine. It is time that the leadership of that country dismantle the settlements in Palestinian territories, accept that Jerusalem isn’t theirs to keep for their own purposes, and begin moving forward. But it is more important that the people and leadership of Palestine seize this opportunity to abandon the ignorant ideas that Arafat spent his life fighting for—the murder of innocents and the ejection of Jews from the middle east.
In 1948, the U.N. proposed splitting the region that is now Israel and Palestine into two independent countries; the Palestinian and Arab population throughout the middle east shortsightedly rejected the idea because they found the concept of Israel so distasteful. Under Arafat’s leadership, the Palestinian people have missed many renewed opportunities for getting their own homeland along side the Jewish one.
Yasser Arafat’s death presents the best opportunity yet for a Palestinian state and a peaceful middle east. The Palestinian people must now choose whether to pursue the failed policies of violence and corruption that has put them among the poorest peoples in the world, or to find a new path. It is my fervent hope that they will choose the new path, for it may well be the path to a lasting peace.