Harriet Sherwood’s polonium propaganda

Tawfik Tirawi

On September 29th the Guardian published an article by Harriet Sherwood in its ‘World News’ section entitled “Yasser Arafat’s exhumation may answer questions over his death“.

The article actually has no news value whatsoever: it consists of nothing more  than unfounded speculation and rumour of the kind already dismissed by more serious news outlets such as Le Figaro and the Jerusalem Post when Al Jazeera first ‘broke’ its Arafat-Polonium poisoning story back in July. 

But what Sherwood’s non-story does do is to allow the Guardian to present its main interviewee Tawfik Tirawi with a platform for unfettered propaganda. Thus Sherwood ends her piece with the following: [emphasis added]

“In the past, Tirawi has expressed scepticism over claims that Arafat’s food or water was poisoned. But, he insists, Israel’s siege of the Muqata contributed to Arafat’s death. “Regardless of how, of the way it happened, the Israelis killed Yasser Arafat. The situation that was around him, the living conditions. But it’s not an easy task to get at the truth. There’s a chance we might never know.”

So who is Tawfik Tirawi? Sherwood describes him as:

“…the head of the Palestinian committee investigating the death and one of those who was holed up with Arafat in the Muqata under Israeli siege for more than two years..”

But that is only part of the story. In fact, Tirawi has a very rich past as one of the people behind the organization and execution of the five-year terror war against Israeli civilians known as the second Intifada (barely mentioned by Sherwood in her article) which – a full eighteen months after it began, and immediately following the murders of 29 people in the Park Hotel suicide bombing – was the reason for the IDF’s entry into Ramallah. 

During the second Intifada, Tirawi was Head of the PA’s intelligence services in the West Bank. As such, he was directly involved in the organization of terror attacks against Israeli civilians and collaborated with the internationally recognised terror organisations Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

“In the course of Operation Defensive Shield the direct and acute involvement of Tawfik Tirawi, head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service in the West Bank, in orchestrating terrorist operation against Israel was revealed. Tirawi, who is a close confidant of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and has been with him in the Mukata’a since the IDF entered Ramallah, emerged as being directly involved in organizing attacks, providing financial aid to operatives involved in terrorist attacks and preparing them to carry out the attacks.

Tirawi’s men are also directly involved in terrorism and continue in the spirit of their commander. Thus, for example, on April 16, 2002 two explosive belts, one of them ready for use, were found in the home of Muhammad A’arj, a member of the General Intelligence Service and a resident of Kalandia refugee camp. Two suicide letters, battle vests, ammunition and red berets were also found.”

Tirawi is now a senior member of the Fatah Central Committee and as recently as last year was quoted as saying that Fatah has not abandoned armed conflict. In 2009, whilst in the role of Security Advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, he stated that “Jerusalem cannot be regained without thousands of martyrs”. 

“Tawfiq Tirawi: I am saying these things so that we understand that words are ineffective. Action is effective. Today, you have chosen to call [your course] “The Return [of the Refugees] and Jerusalem.” Believe me, brothers, whoever thinks that Israel will give us anything is deluding himself. And why would they give us anything? The Palestinians are divided, and the Arabs are weak. Any negotiations that are not based on a position of strength will not get you anything from the enemy. Indeed, why would they give us our rights as long as we are weak, divided, and dispersed?

Therefore, action [is what we need]. We do not have a position of strength on which negotiations can be based. However, as [former Israeli PM] Shamir said in 1993, if we want negotiations for the sake of negotiations, it can go on for decades.

But let me tell you, Jerusalem needs thousands of martyrs. If we live to see the day, and you become the leaders of the future, mark my words: It is impossible for Jerusalem to be restored to us without thousands of martyrs. Anyone who thinks that America will restore Jerusalem to us is mistaken. It will never restore Jerusalem to us. And if it does not give us Jerusalem, how can it possibly give us the Right of Return?

These are the two symbols that you have chosen as the title of this course. These two symbols require blood, action, efforts, resistance, and Palestinian unity.”

Such statements should, of course, be taken into account when trying to assess the end game of those intent upon rekindling the notion that Arafat was poisoned by Israel. 

“Suha Arafat said determining there had been a plot to kill her husband “will glorify more his legacy” and harden Palestinian resolve in any future negotiations with Israel.”

Tirawi’s committee is responsible for the collaboration with the Swiss laboratory which produced the information cited in the Al Jazeera report. The establishment of that ‘Investigatory Committee’ was a result of the second resolution passed at the Fatah conference in Bethlehem in 2009. The first resolution – agreed upon unanimously – stated that Israel was responsible for Arafat’s death.

One may therefore be justifiably sceptical of the impartiality of Tawfik Tirawi’s committee. 

Whatever the eventual scientific conclusions (if any) to the resurrection of the poisoning story by Al Jazeera and Suha Arafat,  one can be fairly sure of the fact that they will pale into insignificance next to the political hay which will be reaped as a consequence of Arafat’s exhumation. 

The Guardian, which recently gave an astounding display of its irresponsibility in the trigger-happy propagation of unfounded rumours of Israeli and Jewish involvement in the making of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video, appears – regrettably –  to have learned nothing from the ensuing events.

As one bout of cross continental rumour-fueled violence finally begins to subside, did Harriet Sherwood really think there was any journalistic merit in uncritically repeating the fact-free speculations and urban myths of a man with a rich terrorist past and self-professed violent intentions for the future?  

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