No Palestinian “Saison”
“You aren’t serious enough,” the Algerians told the PLO
leaders. ”You must kill your opponents!”
That was years ago. The PLO leaders had asked their
victorious brothers, the Algerian Liberation Front (FLN) veterans, for
advice. They tendered their counsel generously: “You can’t wage a war of
liberation when there are internal differences. There can only be
one party. There is no place for internal opposition. Opponents must be
As an example, they pointed out one of their facilities on
the Algerian-Tunisian border. It was a house of three rooms, to which
opponents of the leadership were brought. In the first room they stood
trial, in the second judgment was pronounced, in the third they were
executed. The whole process lasted but a few hours. The only way they
left the house was on a stretcher.
This story was told to me this week by a senior Palestinian
official. “We, the Palestinians, listened and said to ourselves: This
will never happen in our movement!”
And indeed, in order to understand what is happening now in
the Palestinian territories, one has to understand that this is a
unanimous national resolve: Avoid a civil war at any cost.
This resolve stems from a Palestinian trauma. In 1936 the
“Arab Rebellion” (in Zionists parlance: “The Events”) broke out. Jewish
immigration had been rising sharply after Hitler’s advent to power in
Germany, the Arabs felt that the land was being taken from under their
feet. In a desperate attempt to save their national existence, they
declared a General Strike, which turned into an armed rebellion. It was
led by Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
The mufti seized the opportunity in order to eliminate all
his domestic opponents. In the bloodbath, almost all the Palestinian
leaders who did not accept his leadership unconditionally were
assassinated. When the moment of truth came at the end of 1947 (after
the UN partition resolution), the Palestinian people had no national
leadership to speak of.
Now Ariel Sharon wants to compel Arafat to start a civil
war. That is the meaning of his demand that Arafat liquidate the Hamas
and Jihad leadership and destroy their institutions. He expects the
Hamas and Jihad will then take revenge and murder the Palestinian
Authority chiefs. The mutual killing will put an end to the Palestinian
struggle, perhaps forever.
Neither Arafat nor his opponents intend to fulfill this
hope of Sharon’s. In his address to the nation, Arafat declared that
continued attacks on Israelis are harmful to the national interests of
the Palestinian people. Most Palestinians understand that Arafat is
right. The Hamas and Jihad disagree, but do not want to be dragged into
a civil war. Therefore there is a ”dramatic decrease in the number of
attacks”, according to Israeli security officialsat in the last weeks of
All this reminds one of a similar phase in our own history.
After the assassination of Lord Moyne by the Lehi ( Hebrew initials of
“Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”, called by the British “Stern
Gang”) Ben-Gurion decided to turn the “dissidents” over to the British
police, who tortured them and then sent them to a prison camp in Africa.
Some of the Irgun fighters (Irgun – short for National Military
Organization, another underground) were kidnapped by Ben-Gurion’s Palmah
(“shock troops”) and turned over to the British, others were arrested by
the British themselves with the help of a list of 700 suspects,
submitted to them by Ben-Gurion. This episode was called “the saison”
(pronounced the French way), meaning the hunting season.
If at that time a bloody civil war did not erupt, it was
thanks to Menahem Begin, the Irgun commander, who was determined to
prevent a fratricidal war at any cost. Irgun fighters were ordered not
to fire on the Palmah members who came to kidnap them. (The leader of
the Lehi, Nathan Yellin-Mor, decided otherwise. As he told me years
later: “I went to a meeting with the Haganah chiefs. I put a loaded
pistol on the table in front of me. I said: ‘Every Lehi fighter will use
his gun to defend himself.’ As a result, not one man of ours was
Ben-Gurion played a complex game. At one time he ordered
the “saison”, at another he set up the “Hebrew Rebellion Movement”,
which coordinated the actions of his own Haganah, the Irgun and Lehi. He
used diplomacy and violence alternatively, in varying doses. Actually he
used the actions of the Irgun and Lehi for his own purposes.
Arafat is now doing exactly the same. When there is hope of
achieving a Palestinian state by peaceful means and a confrontation with
the Americans has to be averted, he prevents the actions of the
“dissidents”. When this hope fades, he gives them the green light.
All this is done by mutual understanding. Contrary to his
image created in Israel, Arafat is no brutal dictator. On the contrary,
some of his aides accuse him of being too forgiving, not taking revenge
on those who betrayed him and not punishing those who damage the
Palestinian cause. He adheres to an ancient Arab tradition: the “Ijmaa”,
decision by general agreement. (The elders of the tribe sit and discuss
a controversial issue until every single one of those present is
convinced and supports the proposed decision, making it unanimous.)
That is his way of stopping the violence. The Palestinian
people will not commit suicide by civil war. They will be persuaded to
stop the violent struggle only if they see that their national existence
can be assured by peaceful means. And in the meantime, they will collect
weapons, for any eventuality.
To discus this article:
M'ariw 05.01.02 / haGalil onLine 05-02-2001