REVISITING PALESTINIAN TERROR-PLANNING DOCUMENTS FROM THE ORIENT HOUSE
Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Michael Widlanski
“The Orient House – Beit al-Sharq (The House of the East) in Arabic – was the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s strategic and political base in Jerusalem. This compound of buildings was owned by Faisal Husseini and other members of the leading Arab family in Jerusalem. Turning this complex into a political, strategic and logistical center in the heart of Israel’s capital was a blatant violation of the agreements between Israel and the PLO collectively known as ‘The Oslo Accords.’
“Following the Oslo agreements, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were prohibited from operating inside Jerusalem. However, they immediately began to violate these provisions. Husseini, a member of the 13-member PLO Executive Committee, used the Orient House compound as a personal power base and put the buildings at the disposal of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.”
Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat.1 He teaches at Bar Ilan University and was Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security editing the Orient House Archives of the PLO.
“Activities in the Orient House became a thorn in the side of several Israeli governments. Israel refrained from acting against the Orient House, partly due to diplomatic pressure from the European Union and the United States.
“After the failed talks between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in mid-2000, Arafat began a terror war against Israel which he called ‘The Al-Aqsa Intifada.’ Ariel Sharon defeated Barak in the February 2001 elections. Sharon had the Israeli police seize the Orient House only after the August 2001 suicide bombing attack at a Jerusalem restaurant in which 14 people were murdered. More than 500,000 documents, tapes, hard drives, posters and films were confiscated from the complex.
“Public Security Minister Uzi Landau then took the initiative to study and reveal what had actually taken place in the Orient House compound. I was appointed head of the team which dealt with this. The seized documents
painted a grim picture. They included signed messages from Arafat and Husseini ordering or paying for murder – all of this taking place years after the PLO had sworn to disavow violence against Israel.
“The papers showed that Arafat planned the so-called ‘Al-Aqsa Intifada’ many months in advance. They also revealed that Fatah – the main component of the PLO – and Hamas shared strategic goals, particularly the destruction of Israel, differing only on tactical issues.
“We only had four translators working on 500,000 items which filled more than a huge caravan trailer. Despite the time and budget limits, we quickly found that the Orient House material was incredibly important, showing Arafat’s past pattern of behavior and future intentions. Some documents showed that Arafat worked hand in hand with Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, sending personal letters to the Hamas leader about coordinating attacks on Israel.
“Due to the fact that the documents were so politically explosive, Ariel Sharon did not provide much support to Minister Uzi Landau, most probably for political reasons. Sharon realized that the material found presented a devastating case against the Oslo Accords and the fundamental thinking guiding them. These documents showed that the PLO never had a real interest in peace with Israel. They also demonstrated that the PLO was much closer to Hamas regarding how to deal with Israel than Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin – architects of the Oslo Accords – would ever be willing to admit. However, this message, though never fully expressed in the Israeli press and certainly not in the American or European press, reached the Israeli electorate to some extent.
“It is impossible to sum up ten years of operations and 500,000 documents in a few words. Yet some examples from them will illustrate the true intentions of the Palestinians. For instance, an internal Palestinian General Intelligence document from 1996 urges all Palestinian officers to find the weapons wherever and whenever possible for use in final battle with Israel. This text was mass-produced for dissemination to Palestinian forces. Dated December 1996, it is a call for arms against Israel – five years before the start of the Palestinian-Israeli war of attrition known as the ‘Al-Aqsa Intifada.’
“Another document found was Arafat’s hand-signed confirmation and introduction to a speech by his secretary Taeb Abdel-Rahim in September 1999, endorsing violence as a way to defeat Israel.
“Several signed documents from 2001 show that Husseini – who was Arafat’s personal representative in Jerusalem – drilled his employees and prepared his lawyers carefully for the ‘Intifada’ with Israel that erupted in September of that year. Furthermore, a list of payments to Palestinian terrorists and assassins signed by Arafat was found. It included his hand-written changes as to the amounts to be paid to each murderer.
“We could not even cover half the documents because of lack of time and budget. Yet they created a serious indictment against many so-called Paelstinian ‘moderates’ like Faisal Husseini and Bassam Abu-Sharif. Husseini was a terror planner and paymaster, and Abu-Sharif in one document plans to cajole or extort reporters in Jerusalem the same way the PLO successfully did in Beirut in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
“Finally: It is no accident that TheNew York Times declined to publish the documents, even though I, a former reporter of theirs, offered them an exclusive scoop. Simply put, the documents would have undermined The New York Times’s reputation and editorial positions.”
1 Michael Widlanski, Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012).