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FIRST-PERSON: Tributes to Arafat short on truth

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–“Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends,” Christopher C. Harmon writes in his book “Terrorism Today.” He continues, “That definition, proffered by analysts in 1979, has never been surpassed for clarity and concision.”

Next to the aforementioned definition of terrorism belongs the picture of the recently deceased Yasser Arafat. The enigmatic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Palestinian Authority and Fatah was the embodiment of modern terrorism.

Harmon writes, “His [Arafat’s] power grew mainly from the barrel of a gun, a gun which was pointed at Israeli soldiers less often than it was at school busses, shoppers in Israeli public markets, innocent Arabs, foreign diplomats and international travelers.”

The following are but a few of the murderous exploits inspired by Arafat.

— The Nahariya/Avivim school bus attack, May 1970. Palestinian terrorists crossed the border from Lebanon, ambushed the bus with a barrage of gunfire, murdered 12 children and three adults, and left several others crippled.

— The Munich Olympics slaughter, in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed in September 1972.

— The brutal murder of three U.S. diplomats held hostage in Khartoum, Sudan, in March 1973. The terrorists demanded the release of Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian assassin of Robert F. Kennedy. Arafat was recorded as having given the execution orders.

— The Maalot massacre in May 1974. A school building was taken over while children from Tzfat on a school trip were sleeping there. Three teachers and 22 schoolchildren were killed.

— The Coastal Road bus hijacking of March 1978. Eleven Fatah terrorists, who infiltrated by sea, killed a photographer and a taxi driver and hijacked a bus filled with adults and many children. The terrorists fired on passing cars from the bus, and when they were finally stopped, they began firing missiles. The massacre left 35 people dead and 100 injured.

— The Achille Lauro hijacking of a cruise ship in October 1985, in which wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, 69, was shot and thrown overboard. Israeli intelligence later showed that the terrorists had been in contact with a Palestinian operative in Genoa, who in turn was in touch with PLO headquarters, then located in Tunis, for final instructions.

— The suicide bombers who routinely attack innocent Israelis.

While Arafat refused responsibility for the terrorism committed by his underlings, only the most naive observers accepted his denials. Arafat shrewdly created fronts and clandestine sub-organizations in order to escape the international pressures his tactics created.

Interestingly enough, many reflecting on Arafat’s memory have chosen to ignore his terrorist tendencies. The United Nations is even flying flags at half-mast in tribute to his passing.

Among the world leaders who have offered fond recollections of Arafat:

— President Jacques Chirac of France: “With him disappears the man of courage and conviction….”

— Former South African President Nelson Mandela: He “was one of the outstanding freedom fighters of this generation….”

— U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan: A U.N. statement noted that he was “deeply moved” by the death of Arafat, who “symbolized the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

— Chinese President Hu Jintao: He described Arafat as “a brilliant leader” and “a great friend” of China.

— Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: He said Arafat was “a powerful human symbol and forceful advocate” who brought unity to the Palestinian pursuit of a homeland.

The numerous remembrances offered of Arafat show that author Henry David Thoreau was right when he observed, “The rarest quality in an epitaph is truth.”

Israeli cabinet minister Ehud Olmert offered the most honest words concerning Arafat’s death: “The Palestinian people’s mourning is not ours — we cannot grieve for someone who killed us and spilled our blood. But we respect our mourning neighbors….”

It seems the most poignant remembrance of Arafat was unintended. His funeral service ended with a military procession, his wooden coffin borne on a horse-drawn gun carriage. While a military carriage is a common element of state funerals, it seemed to provide a particularly fitting and symbolic final transport for Arafat, the embodiment of modern terrorism.
Kelly Boggs’ column appears each Friday in Baptist Press. He is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore.

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