One of the most striking – and effective – strategies of the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat was its policy of presenting one message in English to the mainstream media while delivering a separate, often contradictory, message to the Palestinian people in Arabic.
In the aftermath of Friday night's terror attack on a beachfront Tel Aviv night club – the first since the tenure of Mahmoud Abbas began – it is clear that the Palestinian media under Abbas's control is continuing Arafat's standard policies.
While the foreign media accept at face value the PA's official condemnation of Friday's suicide bombing, the PA-controlled media are glorifying the bomber as a shahid (martyr who died for Allah) – the highest level of human achievement for a Muslim. By granting shahid status to the murderer, the PA media are portraying bombing as a positive religious act.
Within this context the official condemnations need to be understood not as deploring the act, but its consequences – damaging the Palestinian cause.
Sunday's front-page coverage of the story in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda features a giant color photo of the terrorist at the top of the page, with the caption: "The executor of the Tel Aviv operation, the shahid Abdullah Badran." Another photograph shows his mother holding a picture of her son, and is captioned: "The mother of the Shahid."
The daily newspaper Al-Ayyam refers to "the family of the Shahid."
Al-Quds refers to "the family of the shahid Abdullah," and to the arrest of "the shahid's two brothers" and to a "mourning tent in memory of the shahid."
An earlier story in Al-Ayyam refers to the bomber as Istish-hadi – a shahid who actively sought death for Allah and succeeded. To get a sense of the status the Palestinian media is granting Friday's terrorist by defining him as a shahid, here are the rewards awaiting the shahid, as described earlier by a Palestinian religious leader on Palestinian TV:
"When the Shahid meets his Maker, all his sins are forgiven from the first gush of blood, and he is exempted from the torments of the grave. He sees his place in Paradise. He is shielded from the Great Shock and marries 72 Dark-Eyed [Maidens]. He is a heavenly advocate for 70 members of his family. On his head is placed a crown of honor, one stone of which is worth more than all there is in this world." (Dr. Isma'il al-Raduan, PATV, August 17, 2001)
Accordingly, the use of the terms "shahid" and "Istish-hadi" for the terrorist leaves no question about the message the Palestinian media is sending its people about this terror attack: This murder and death for Allah, like those in recent years, is the supreme positive act for a Muslim.
Given this ultimate veneration of the act of murder, condemnations of the suicide attack within the Palestinian-controlled media have focused on the "poor timing" and the fact that the attack was a violation of the agreement between Abbas and Hamas to stop killing civilians during the cease-fire. The killings were detrimental to PA policy – nothing more. As in the Arafat years, the act itself was not portrayed as immoral or wrong.
On Monday, Hassan Asfour, a member of the PA parliament, put it this way on Palestinian TV: "This is the first action that no one is happy about. Everyone felt that the timing is not [right] and there is absolutely no need for it... It is not because the resistance against the occupation is a mistake, but because the nature, location and timing of the action are a mistake."
In his condemnation too, Abbas was careful not to criticize the action itself but the damage to the Palestinians:
"President Mahmoud Abbas described the operation... as a condemned sabotage attack, blaming a third party for the execution in order to jeopardize the peace process and to damage the reputation or the Palestinian people."
"Presidential adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh [said the PA] 'condemns this operation especially coming after the hudna and the calming, which were achieved with the factions... the Authority opposes any action, which targets civilians. This is a part of the hudna which was declared in Sharm e-Sheikh. We oppose any violation of this hudna.' He also clarified that this sort of action harms the supreme national interests of the Palestinian people."
Under the new leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, the message to Palestinian society remains essentially unchanged from that of the Arafat era. PA leaders condemn the timing and potentially negative ramifications of a terror attack, but not the act itself.
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