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PMW op-ed: The Proper Timing of Terror (Published under: Saboteur and Shahid)

Itamar Marcus & Barbara Crook  |
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 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 under the tenure of Mahmoud Abbas - it is clear that the Palestinian media under Abbas's control are 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 suicide terror as a positive religious act.

The official condemnations of the bombing, therefore, focus not on deploring the act but on lamenting the consequences: damage to the Palestinian cause.

Sunday's front-page coverage of the story in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida 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."
Caption: "Executor of the Tel-Aviv operation, the Shahid Abdallah Badran"
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Feb. 27, 2005]

Another photograph shows his mother holding the terrorist's picture, 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 PA-controlled media are 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 PA-controlled media are sending Palestinians 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 PA-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 criticized because they were detrimental to PA policy - nothing more. As in the Arafat years, the act of killing Israeli citizens was not portrayed as immoral or wrong.

On Monday, Hassan Asfour, a member of the PA Parliament, put it this way on PA 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."

Both Abbas and his adviser Nabil Abu Rudeina criticize not the morality of 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 Rudeina [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 el-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:

Killing Israeli civilians is positive. Just be sure the timing's right.