Israel’s ‘smoking gun’: A damp firecracker


“The big question at this hour: Do new documents point the finger at Arafat? Israel says it has found a smoking gun directly linking Yasser Arafat’s office to the suicide attacks, but Palestinian officials say it is only another Israeli fabrication.”

— Paula Zahn, American Morning on CNN, 7:02 AM ET, 3 April 2002.

The so-called “smoking gun”

Facing mounting international criticism of its deadly rampage in the Occupied Territories[1], Israel has launched a desperate misinformation campaign to try to link Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat with suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.

Yesterday, in a desperate attempt to justify Israel’s bizarre siege of President Yasser Arafat in the Ramallah Muqata’a (fig. District Headquarters), Israel has distributed what it claims are confiscated Palestinian documents, one of which allegedly demonstrates a direct link between the Palestinian Authority and suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians condicted by the Palestinian militant group, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade (AAMB).

Above: CNN’s story about the Israeli claims.

CNN was one network that covered the story. CNN’s Bill Hemmer interviewed Israeli Col. Miri Eisine, who claims that:
“…we are looking at a document which requests money for the families of the suicide bombers, the shahids [“martyrs”, in Arabic]”.

Col. Eisine also claims that:

“there is a specific request there for the money to buy bombs.”

Other Israeli officials went further, claiming that the documents prove that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat himself is behind suicide bombings. At a briefing in the National Media Center in Jerusalem on 3 April 2002, Israeli Ambassador Alan Baker, Foreign Minister Legal Advisor, stated:

“For instance, this letter that was discovered yesterday asking Arafat to finance the various components of the explosive belts for the suicide bombers, this is financing terror.”

Several Palestinian officials have dismissed the documents as “a forgery”.

Presumably one reason for the surfacing of the document, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has recently stated that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat could be permitted to leave his besieged West Bank headquarters on “a one-way ticket” to exile. Deporting the elected president of the Palestinians would require some explanation. This document is Israel’s ham-handed attempt.

Terrorists with stationery?

Above: The letterhead of the alleged Palestinian document.

Some people have suggested that the presence of English and a mispelling on the letterhead of the alleged Palestinian document undermines its potential authenticity. In fact, most Palestinian Authority documents have both English and Arabic titles, and spelling mistakes are not uncommon.

However, the Electronic Intifada is not going to speculate on whether these documents are genuine or not. This point is irrelevant for the simple reason that the documents do not prove what the Israelis say they prove.

CNN has commendably made the main document available in its original Arabic along with a translation into English on its website.

The document, allegedly a 16 September 2001 bill from the Al-Aqsa Martrys’ Brigades to Palestinian Authority finance chief Fouad Al-Shoubbaki, includes expenditure for posters and the memorial services for several individuals, the “suicide bombers” of Col. Eisine’s statement.

Not suicide bombers

On initial inspection, at least five of the names — Thabet Thabet, Yasser Badawi, Ahed Faris, Shadi Afuri, and Usama Jawabreh was also assassinated — were not suicide bombers, but rather people assassinated by Israeli death squads.

Thabet Thabet, for example, was assassinated by Israeli gunfire on 31 December 2000, while driving away from his house in Tulkarem.

Badawi died on 21 August 2001 from wounds he sustained a few days earlier when a bomb, apparently planted by Israeli agents, destroyed his car.

Similarly, Ahed Faris was killed in August 2001, while attempting to rescue Palestinians wounded in clashes. Israeli soldiers reportedly hit him and three other Palestinians with axes, then shot him dead.

Shadi Afuri was killed in an explosion in Nablus on 15 August 2001. Palestinians blamed Israeli agents.

Usama Jawabreh was also assassinated by Israel.

Although The Electronic Intifada has not tracked down every one of the seven names, the five we have so far managed to identify are patently not “suicide bombers” as claimed.

A legitimate use for the explosives?

The document also mentions chemicals for explosives, and ammunition, but says absolutely nothing about suicide bombings or to what use the explosives were intended:

Costs of electricity products and various chemical materials (for manufacture of explosive charges and bombs). This is the greatest expenditure (the cost of one ready explosive charge is 700 shekels at least). We require on a weekly basis 5-9 explosives charges for squads in various areas (addition in handwriting of 5,000 shekels per week x 4 = 20,000 shekels per month).

While it is true that the Kita’ab Shuhada Al-Aqsa (“Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades”) have claimed responsibility for several recent suicide bombings in 2002, it is not clear whether the explosives in this document from 16 September 2001 were intended for this use.

Arguably, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades “arrived” on the political map when they proved themselves capable of destroying Israeli tanks during widely feared Israeli raids on Palestinian refugee camps in early 2002, several months after the alleged requisition for explosives.

It should be recognised that there is a great difference between a people’s legitimate resistance against violent military invasions and the illegitimate attacks by militant groups against civilians.

Attacking military forces occupying your land is considered to be a legitimate form of resistance under international law. Writing in The Washinton Report on Middle East Affairs on 4 April 2002, Dina Khreino, a researcher on international law and Middle East conflicts, commented:

In a situation such as Palestine is in, where the people has been denied the right to self-determination by [Israeli] armed force, the right to regain it by armed struggle is considered permissible under Article 51 of the [UN] Charter concerning self-defence… Various UN resolutions have reaffirmed the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for liberation from colonial domination and alien subjection, “by all available means including armed struggle”.

No suicide bombings at the time of the alleged requisition

The point, of course, is that the allegedly damning document, dated 16 September 2001, with requests for explosives and ammunition was issued in a period when the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades did not carry out suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians.

The Israeli Defence Forces own briefing document issued for the invasion of Ramallah, Background Information About Ramallah, itself notes the milestone at which the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades began targeting Israeli civilians within Israel:

“Following the death of local Tanzim [sic] leader Ra’ad Karmi on the 19th [sic: actually the 14th] of January 2002, the Fatah [sic] changed its modus operandi from shooting attacks on roads to suicide bombings in Israeli cities, and terrorist attacks against IDF checkpoints.”

What the IDF document fails to note is that Ra’ad Karmi did not just “die” on 14 January 2002, but was killed in what was widely presumed to be an assassination attempt. The previous September he had already survived one Israeli missile attack on his car in which two others were killed. On January 14th, while walking down a narrow street in Tulkarem, Karmi was killed by a bomb that Palestinians allege Israel planted beside a cemetery wall.

Mark Lavie, in “Israel Rethinking Targeted Killings”, Associated Press, 4 February 2002, noted that:

His death had been preceded by more than a month without Israeli civilian deaths - the longest such period since fighting erupted in September 2000 - and it swiftly put an end to the lull; 11 Israelis and an American died in a string of revenge attacks.

The discernable shift of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades away from legitimate forms of resistance and attacks against armed settler militias, towards suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians, appears to have taken place only after Israel killed West Bank militia leader Ra’ad Karmi.

Former Israeli Knesset member Shulamit Aloni, writing on 20 January 2002, noted:

In view of the developments of the past two days, it is hard to find in the government’s actions not only justification, but even a hint of intelligence.

After the destruction of the houses in Rafah and Jerusalem the Palestinians continued to act with restraint. Sharon and his army minister, who apparently feared that they would have to return to the negotiating table, decided to do something, and they liquidated Raad Karmi. They knew that there would be a response, and that we would pay the price in the blood of citizens.

No credible link

Israel has failed to prove a credible direct link between Arafat and acts of terrorism. It pursues and promotes this myth to delegitimise the Palestinian national cause and demonise the Palestinian people as a whole. In truth, this smear tactic is effective, as Arafat has no more capacity to prevent suicide attacks than the Israelis were able to when they controlled 100% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The continuing of suicide bombings by Islamic groups and secular groups such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade (AAMB) despite calls from Arafat in the past, such as the national address he gav on Palestinian television last Ramadan, should be viewed in the context of the power struggle between the Palestinian factions.

The Islamic movement has always sought to delegitimise Arafat, responsible for the humiliating Oslo accords. Similarly, the Tanziim and the AAMB are not the integral parts of Arafat’s Fatah faction that is often claimed. Tanziim leader Marwan Barghouti is not obedient to Arafat. The AAMB, itself a mixture of the Tanziim militia and other, non-Fatah militants, is similarly independent.

It is clear that suicide attacks against civilians by Palestinian militant groups are unjustifiable acts of indiscriminate violence and must stop. The Israeli invasions similarly violate the rights of innocent people, allow for unchecked abuses by troops, and represent an intensification of the 34-year-long unbroken military occupation rather than any credible attempt to address the roots of terrorism. One form of terror will not be conquered by another.

The supposed “smoking gun” produced by Israel yesterday was a pitiful attempt to justify Israel’s bizarre siege of Arafat and draw attention away from Israel’s widespread violence in the West Bank. Israel remains firmly committed to a doomed crusade to de-radicalise life-long victims of military occupation by heaping further repression on them. These invasions are an attempt by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to wipe out all forms of Palestinian resistance, even the legitimate Intifada, the “shaking-off” of Israeli military occupation.

Only an end to the military occupation — the primary wellspring of all violence in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict — will bring the de-escalation required for both sides to be able to resolve the issues that remain to be confronted head-on at the negotiating table.

If this document is the best “evidence” that Israel can muster after raiding the second most significant Palestinian Authority installation in the occupied territories and confiscating all the documents it could find, it is patently obvious that Israel is grasping at straws. The so-called “smoking gun” is, in fact, a damp firecracker.


[1] Israel’s war of terror

Israel is currently in grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law because of its brutal actions against the entire civilian populations and governing apparatus of several Palestinian towns in the West Bank.

In the past week, journalists, foreign observers and Red Cross/Red Crescent officials have been told they are not welcome in the Ramallah and Bethlehem areas, which have been designated “closed military areas”.

Journalists as well as international and Palestinian residents in the Ramallah area have lodged credible reports, confirmed by multiple sources, indicating a severe collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population, grave human rights abuses by the Israeli military, and many instances of lawlessness among Israeli troops. These include:

  • A 5-day curfew, resulting in Palestinians being trapped inside their homes with limited access to food, warmth, and medical supplies.
  • The cutting off of electricity for two days, which was later restored, then water, which remains cut off, by Israeli forces in Ramallah.
  • The broadcasting of pornography on Ramallah’s public airwaves by Israeli troops occupying local television stations.
  • Looting of local Ramallan shops by Israeli troops for food supplies and goods.
  • The extra-judicial executions of groups of Palestinian Authority forces by Israeli troops after the Palestinians had surrendered.
  • The use of civilian human shields by Israeli troops during the storming of Palestinian Authority buildings.
  • Mass arrests and detention in inhumane conditions without the announcement of formal charges.
  • The shooting of people in their homes and on the streets.
  • The use of heavy artillery in civilian areas in response to rifle fire.
  • The random shooting of Palestinian civilians attempting to shop during supposed suspensions of the Israeli curfews.
  • This special report/action item (#27, 3 APRIL 2002) was prepared by Ali Abunimah, Nigel Parry, and Laurie King-Irani, with additional material from Michael Brown.

    “From the man who could page the world”

    Good morning World!
    Peace to you!
    Last night,
    In my enemy’s bedroom
    In the pillow
    Under his wife’s head
    I found a secret document
    It proves he was responsible
    For breaking into my house.

    A poem by Saleh Abudayyeh
    Minneapolis, MN, 10 April 2002