The Palestinians have repeated one lie so many times that it almost does seem like history now. It is that Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount on September 28, 2000 started the "Al-Aqsa" Intifada, the wave of Palestinian violence that has become increasingly bloody over the past five years.
Here is what two Prebyterian missionaries have to say:
It is at the feet of the Palestinians that the US Congress has laid the blame for the current uprising, while the world knows that Ariel Sharon ignited the spark.(1)
Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, therefore Palestinians are blameless for nearly five years of terror including numerous bombing attacks on civilians. However irrational this may sound, it is the way many people have come to see it. It is amazing how the "world knows" something that simply isn't so.
Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount may have been politically unwise, but he did nothing illegal. The site is sacred to Jews as well as to Muslims. Sharon did not attempt to enter any mosque. Nevertheless, Palestinians call their violent movement the "Al-Aqsa Intifada," in honor of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is part of the Temple Mount complex.
Sharon's visit was followed by violent demonstrations as Palestinians threw stones at Israeli police and later at Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall. Over the years this violence has escalated to a full-scale war of terror against the Israeli population.
Is Sharon really responsible for starting it?
Palestinian leaders speaking to their own people in Arabic tell a much different story from the one meant for public consumption. Imad Al-Falouji, at that time the Palestinian Minister of Communication, admitted in the Palestinian press that the violence had been planned in advance of Sharon's visit:
On December 6, 2000, the semi-official Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported as follows:
"Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current Intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr. Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this Intifada as a culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount."(2)
Al-Falouji's statement was brought as evidence before the United Nations Security Council and is a matter of public record. In a meeting of the Security Council on December 18, 2000, the invited representative of Israel mentioned the significance of the statement and quoted the original Arabic text:
It now seems as if the leading role that the Palestinian leadership has played in the current spate of violence is finally being admitted. The Palestinian semi-official daily Al Ayyam reported on 6 December that the Palestinian Minister of Telecommunications, Imad Al Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, in accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr. Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this intifada as the culminating stage of "Palestinian steadfastness" in the negotiations, and not merely as a protest against Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. Here is the original Arabic.
(spoke in Arabic)
"Imad Al Falouji, the Telecommunications Minister, stressed that the Palestinian Authority began preparations for the outbreak of the current intifada after returning from the Camp David negotiations, on the order of President Yasser Arafat, who anticipated the outbreak of the intifada as the culminating stage of Palestinian steadfastness in the negotiations and not merely as a protest against Sharon's visit to Haram al-Sharif."(3)
This was not the only occasion on which al-Falouji admitted the violence was premeditated. A few months later, at a rally of supporters at the Palestinian refugee camp 'Ein Al-Hilweh in Lebanon, al-Falouji stated explicitly that the violence was planned as a way of extracting concessions, such as the right of return of Palestinian refugees into Israel, that were not forthcoming at the negotiation table. His comments were carried in the Lebanese al-Safir for March 3, 2001:
We emphasize that the Palestinian leadership will not sign a peace agreement without guaranteeing Palestinian rights, and first and foremost the Right of Return, the liberation of Jerusalem and its return to full Palestinian sovereignty. These are our fundamental Palestinian principles, to which we hold fast and for which we fight."
"The Al-Aqsa Intifada emphasizes these principles and axioms. Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people. This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat's return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton. [Arafat] remained steadfast and challenged [Clinton]. He rejected the American terms and he did it in the heart of the US."
"My visit here in South Lebanon is a clear message to the Zionist enemy. We say: Just as the national and Islamic Resistance in South Lebanon taught [Israel] a lesson and made it withdraw humiliated and battered, so shall [Israel] learn a lesson from the Palestinian Resistance in Palestine. The Palestinian Resistance will strike in Tel-Aviv, in Ashkelon, in Jerusalem, and in every inch of the land of natural Palestine. Israel will not have a single quiet night. There will be no security in the heart of Israel...."(4)
Note the phrase "natural Palestine" to denote all of Israel. Al-Falouji is telling his followers that the Palestinian delegation would not accept a solution that left a state of Israel intact.
The report was also carried in the Western press:
Palestinian cabinet minister Imad al-Falouji told a rally in Lebanon on Friday [March 2, 2001] that the uprising did not erupt only because of Mr. Sharon's visit "but was carefully planned since the return of (Palestinian President) Yasser Arafat from Camp David negotiations rejecting the U.S. conditions."
Mr. Falouji was referring to failed peace talks in the United States between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He made his remarks in a speech at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon.(5)
Al-Falouji is not the only source revealing that the Palestinians planned their violence in advance of Sharon's visit.
In a revealing interview with the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat (September 29, 2001), Marwan Barghouti, head of the Tanzim, admitted his critical role in igniting the October 2000 intifada in both the West Bank and Gaza, as well as among the Israeli Arabs:
"I knew that the end of September was the last period (of time) before the explosion, but when Sharon reached the al-Aqsa Mosque, this was the most appropriate moment for the outbreak of the intifada....The night prior to Sharon's visit, I participated in a panel on a local television station and I seized the opportunity to call on the public to go to the al-Aqsa Mosque in the morning, for it was not possible that Sharon would reach al-Haram al-Sharif just so, and walk away peacefully. I finished and went to al-Aqsa in the morning....We tried to create clashes without success because of the differences of opinion that emerged with others in the al-Aqsa compound at the time....After Sharon left, I remained for two hours in the presence of other people, we discussed the manner of response and how it was possible to react in all the cities (bilad) and not just in Jerusalem. We contacted all (the Palestinian) factions."
In the evening of the same day, Barghouti traveled to the Arab Triangle inside Israel where he was to participate in a conference. He confessed:
"While we were in the car on the way to the Triangle, I prepared a leaflet in the name of the Higher Committee of Fatah, coordinated with the brothers (e.g., Hamas), in which we called for a reaction to what happened in Jerusalem."...
The intifada has little to do with Sharon's visit, and everything to do with the Palistinian Arabs' political agenda. Sakhr Habash, a member of the Fatah's Central Committee, gave an interview to the Palestinian Authority newspaper, including this comment on the outbreak:
"[The Intifada] did not break out in order to improve our bargaining ability in the negotiations, nor as a reaction to Sharon's provocative visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif: this was only the spark. It was accumulated in the depths of our people and was bound to explode in the face of Barak's government because of the political problem that was put off for more than a year and a half -- the problem of independence."(6)
Additional statements by Barghouti and others provide even more evidence of Palestinian intentions:
Marwan Bargouti, secretary-general of Arafat's Fatah movement in Judea and Samaria, told the Jerusalem Times last week, "the intifada did not start because of Sharon's visit," but that the violence "began because of the desire to put an end to occupation and because the Palestinians did not approve of the peace process in its previous form."
Other similar statements of the past few months (assembled by the ZOA):...
- Mustafa Bargouti, head of the PA's Palestinian Medical Relief Services, told the on-line "Palestine Report" (May 2, 2001) that large numbers of paramedics were given emergency medical training on the eve of the violence: "Some institutions, such as the Medical Relief Services, made prior plans for emergencies. Before the Intifada, we trained a first aid team of 11,500 paramedics. These people did an excellent job during the Intifada."
- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Edward Walker was asked at a March 2000 Congressional hearing if it is reasonable to conclude that the violence was planned well before Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. Walker replied: "They said as much. So I think a reasonable person could assume that." (Jerusalem Post, March 30, 2001)(7)
These previously-noted statements are matched by additional overwhelming evidence that the Intifada was planned in advance and was not a spontaneous popular response to the Sharon visit:
- Arafat began to call for a new Intifada in the first few months of the year 2000. Speaking before Fatah youth in Ramallah, Arafat "hinted that the Palestinian people are likely to turn to the Intifada option" (Al-Mujahid, April 3, 2000).
- Marwan Barguti, the head of Fatah in the West Bank, explained in early March 2000: "We must wage a battle in the field alongside of the negotiating battle... I mean confrontation" (Ahbar Al-Halil, March 8, 2000). During the summer of 2000, Fatah trained Palestinian youths for the upcoming violence in 40 training camps.
- The July 2000 edition of Al-Shuhada monthly, distributed among the Palestinian Security Services, states: "From the negotiating delegation led by the commander and symbol, Abu Amar (Yasser Arafat) to the brave Palestinian people, be ready. The Battle for Jerusalem has begun." One month later, the commander of the Palestinian police told the official Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida: "The Palestinian police will lead together with the noble sons of the Palestinian people, when the hour of confrontation arrives." Freih Abu Middein, the PA Justice Minister, warned that same month: "Violence is near and the Palestinian people are willing to sacrifice even 5,000 casualties." (Al-Hayat al-Jadida, August 24, 2000 - MEMRI).
- Another official publication of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Sabah, dated September 11, 2000 - more than two weeks before the Sharon visit - declared: "We will advance and declare a general Intifada for Jerusalem. The time for the Intifada has arrived, the time for Intifada has arrived, the time for Jihad has arrived."
- Arafat advisor Mamduh Nufal told the French Nouvel Observateur (March 1, 2001): "A few days before the Sharon visit to the Mosque, when Arafat requested that we be ready to initiate a clash, I supported mass demonstrations and opposed the use of firearms." Of course, Arafat ultimately adopted the use of firearms and bomb attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel. On September 30, 2001, Nufal detailed in al-Ayyam that Arafat actually issued orders to field commanders for violent confrontations with Israel on September 28, 2000.(8)
Speaking on 23 July 2000, even before the failure of the Camp David Summit, a member of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Ali Mustafa, hinted at the coming violence:
"The issues of Jerusalem, the refugees, and sovereignty will be decided on the ground and not in negotiations. At this point it is important to prepare Palestinian society for the next step because we will undoubtedly find ourselves in confrontation with Israel in order to create new facts on the ground.... I believe that the situation in the future will be more violent than the Intifada."(9)
Indeed, one of the Palestinian negotiators at Camp David, Hasan al-Kashif, Director General of the Ministry of Information and Culture, addressed the Palestinians on the West Bank in an article published in the Ramallah daily Al-Ayyam for July 24, 2000. The article mentioned that the negotiations were in a critical stage and in order to win the battle the Palestinian people faced two important tasks:
Al-Kashif then exhorted the Palestinians to return "to our natural instincts as a fighting people that are expert in the art of the intifadah.... Every house in the homeland is open and ready to become a command center."(10)
So even before the conclusion of the summit the Palestinian negotiating team was preparing for the next violent uprising. There is a clear and calculated difference between propaganda the Palestinians put out for Western consumption and the real message transmitted through their own media.
Finally, the Mitchell Fact-Finding Committee also discredited efforts to blame Sharon's visit for the violence. It states: "The Sharon visit did not cause the 'Al-Aqsa Intifada.'"(11)
Clearly, the evidence is overwhelming that the "Al-Aqsa" Intifada was not a "spontaneous uprising" in response to Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. Rather, it was a strategy designed to gain by violence what could not be won at the negotiating table. While in this writer's opinion Sharon's visit was ill-advised and poorly timed, he had the right to make that visit and he respectfully kept his distance from the mosques. The nearly five years of terror that have elapsed cannot be blamed on Ariel Sharon.
Nevertheless, the facts don't seem to matter to the Palestinians and their supporters. At one time I was debating this issue with a Presbyterian minister. It didn't matter to him that I had references to back me up. According to him, just my daring to question the Palestinian version was proof that I was a partisan of Israel who could not be trusted.
1. Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders, "The Power of the Weak," Saltfilms.net, March 29, 2001.
2. "Israel - the Conflict and Peace - Answers to Frequently Asked Questions," Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 5, 2003.
3. United Nations Security Council, "Security Council: 4248th Meeting," United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine, December 18, 2000.
4. "PA Minister: The Intifada Was Planned from the Day Arafat Returned from Camp David," Middle East Media Research Institute, Special Dispatch No. 194, March 9, 2001.
5. Reuters News Agency, "Israel Must Step Up Military Action: Army Chief," Toronto Globe and Mail, Saturday, March 03, 2001.
6. "What Started the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000?," Palestine Facts.
7. "Bargouti: Sharon's Temple Mount Visit Didn't Cause War," Israel National News, June 13, 2001.
8. "Jerusalem Issue Brief," Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, October 2001.
9. "Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee - First Statement of the Government of Israel - Opening Statement," Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, December 28, 2000.
10. Arthur Bierman, "Why Camp David Failed I: Palestinian Intransigence," Focus on Israel.
11. "Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee Report," U.S. Department of State, April 30, 2001.
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