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Fisking a Dishonest Storyteller: Charles Enderlin at Harvard, R. Landes


Sur le site Augean Stables

Charles Enderlin, whose reputation is shredding as his career winds down, came to Harvard’s Center for European Studies on Thursday, January 17, 2008 to speak about his new book, The Lost Years. He rambled on for about forty minutes, telling anecdotes whose major but unspoken thrust was that Israel and Clinton were responsible for the failure of Camp David and the perdurance of the Intifada. Part of what was so astonishing was that despite the fact that he was at Harvard and presumably speaking to a crowd that was not composed of dummies, he readily made remarks that any well-informed person would find astonishing to say the least. But overall, he’s a skillfull storyteller (most of his remarks are about how Rabin said this to me, Peres said that to me, Saeb Erakat and I used to talk over coffee at the American Colony Hotel, etc…) and he manages to get his dagger jabs very subtly.

He began with some remarks on how, as a reporter, he tries to get at not just what the big-wigs say, but the “feeling on the ground.” His first example was the following remark:

During the first months the Israeli army used a million bullets, that’s one per Israeli child.

Come again? What kind of a statistic is that? Are those bullets “protecting” Israeli children — certainly not. As far as Enderlin is concerned, the Palestinian violence represented little threat to Israeli society. So what’s the relationship? Why even bring up the number of children? Or is it a way to link those bullets to the 800+ Palestinian “children” that Israel [allegedly] killed, and who serve a wide range of Israeli “progressive” ideologues as a stick with which to flagellate their own government…? a stick Charles Enderlin would immediately pick up during the question and answer section when someone asked him about al Durah.

Having subtly if jarringly indicted Israel for their contribution to the violence, Enderlin immediately exonerated Arafat.

He did not foment or direct the Second Intifada. It was a spontaneous movement.

Now this, in itself is interesting. My personal view is that Arafat was the sorcerer’s apprentice to the really malevolent forces of Hamas. But there’s plenty of documented evidence that he and his croneys in Fatah did everything they could to stir the sh*t, including the following from PA Communications Minister, ‘Imad Al-Faluj in Lebanon March 3, 2001:

    “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.”

That it got away from him and spun out of control, hardly means that he “did not foment or direct” the Intifada.

But for Enderlin, the culprits are the Israelis and Arafat’s a befuddled old man whom events are passing by.

The IDF General staff decided we won’t go back to the first intifada, where their response was too weak. The army wanted “to recover its capacity of dissuasion” which they felt they had lost after Lebanon which “was considered a failure by many generals… To be seen fleeing was very bad.” There was “almost an Israeli military coup: orders given by Barak to calm down the army’s response were ignored. Ephraim Sneh negotiated with Palestinians, and agreed that Israel would open so-and-so checkpoint, but then the troops on the ground refused.

In Enderlin’s world, any time the Palestinians negociate, it’s in good faith, and any time the Israelis don’t make them happy, the resulting violence is Israel’s fault. He overflows with stories of people who are just on the verge of becoming (or better yet, already have, become) more moderate, and then the foolish/malicious Israelis go ahead and target them for assassination. If only the Israelis wouldn’t fight back, if only they were smarter… if only they followed my advice.

Suicide bombers hit the disco at Gaza, Sharon requests targets, they suggest Hamas’ Jamal Mansour and Jamal Salin, whom they killed with a missile in july 2001. Matti Steinberg started yelling. Mansour had published an article a week before against suicide bombing. “The results were catastrophic: the next day everyone was there for the funeral, two weeks later, the Sbarro pizza bombing… Israelis responded by taking over orient house. Repeatedly the Israelis targeted the PA in response to Hamas attacks, and Hamas rapidly learned the benefits of attacking the Israelis and having Fatah bear the brunt.

The “cycle of violence”, wherever it may start, is repeatedly renewed by Israeli actions. Indeed, the IDF changed its doctrine.

1) burn into the Palestinian consciousness: violence doesn’t pay. But it backfired. It made things worse because every effort to intimidate just intensified the hatred and desire to fight back.

2) leverage, pressuring PA (each time a suicide bombing, retaliation against PA, not Hamas. Hamas understood that suicide bombing was a win-win. They were the heroes who killed Jews. Negotiations working (a regular theme for Enderlin) so Hamas did the Park hotel suicide bombing and Israel went to war. This policy also backfired, since the Israelis systematically weakened the PA, “Hamas’ main enemy” and found out that their leverage backfired. By the time the PA finally began to respond to their pressure, it had become so weak that it’s cooperation meant nothing. And, Enderlin noted, “All of this was done with the blessing of the US administration.”

This is a particularly telling critique. The Israelis are working along the lines of conventional rationality. People respond to pressure. Be firm enough and you’ll make your point. But the Palestinians operate on a different frequency. They are fed with hatred, and driven by dreams of Israel’s annihilation. And when it comes to events with catastrophic impact on the ability to compromise, I’d put al Durah’s effect on the Palestinians right up at the top of the list. Strange message. The man is an encyclopedia of examples of Israeli “mistakes” if not malicious acts which “inflame the situation” against a backdrop of Palestinian good intentions marred by extremists whom Israel empowers with their stupidity and brutality. He is either ignorant of, or unwilling to discuss the culture of hatred that permeates Palestinian culture, including the “moderate” Fatah.

Indeed for Charles, Arafat is something of a bumbling fool.

“He didn’t understand what was going on, fell into every trap laid out for him, especially after 9-11 when he failed to understand that the world had changed… When 9-11 happened, the Israelis rushed to get videos of Palestinians rejoicing and show it to the Americans to win over American public opinion: “see! The Palestinians like al Qaeda!” So a Reuters cameraman “found half a dozen people in Ramallah” who were cheering and the Israelis tried to make a big deal of it.” Arafat was stunned. One of his advisors said, “donate your blood.” But “Arafat hated needles and wouldn’t do it, so they staged it. With a fake bag of someone else’s blood and a needle resting on his arm.”

This riff is so densely packed with misrepresentation and dishonesty that it’s hard to know where to begin.

1) When Enderlin tells us that Arafat didn’t know what was happening and that the world had changed he’s appealing to our cognitive egocentrism: for us 9-11 was “bad” and anyone who did it was “bad,” and anyone who cheered it was suspicious if not bad. But in Arafat’s world of Jihad, 9-11 was good. Of course his people cheered. Even non-Muslim Arabs cheered. From the perspective of global Jihad, 9-11 was a spectacular success. Arafat and his people — imams, media, public figures — are firmly in that camp.

2) What had Arafat befuddled then was not, “oh he got caught by surprise,” but, he suddenly realized that he was in danger of having his real face shown to the West at a time of rare unity. So he did everything he could to hide the evidence, calling in the extensive network of control and intimidation Palestinians have over the Western media, confiscating footage, making it clear he did not want this footage shown even once, much less repeatedly. Enderlin, in not mentioning this, blinds his listeners to dynamics of central importance.

3) The anecdote about faking the “blood donation” footage, which has already made the rounds, came as just another example of Charles’ “inside track.” If he had known that there were foes in the room, I doubt he would have mentioned it. (He did not recognize me at first; at the end, when I confronted him, I saw the recognition come.) I guess I’m so used to this kind of stuff, it didn’t surprise me. But it does illustrate eloquently both the ease with which the Palestinians resort to staging, and the ease with which they get the Western media to cooperate.

Deftly combining gossipy news his own special version of events that minimizes negative evidence and distorts what he does tell, Enderlin shows us a bewildered man surpassed by events he didn’t understand. In so doing he works as Arafat’s assistant: the PA confiscated tapes of Palestinians celebrating because they revealed what Palestinians did not want the West to know, because if people had a clue as to how deep and pathological the hatred among Palestinians for Americans as well as Israelis, Westerners might be less receptive to the “progressive” narrative in which Israeli concessions will lead to peace. And since Enderlin advocates precisely this approach, he helps Arafat clean up his act.

[Note: Despite the PCP narrative that the Palestinians (and more broadly, the Muslims) hate America because they support Israelis (something the Palestinians reinforce all the time) since the hatred is also directed at Europe, which supports the Palestinians overwhelmingly.

The hatred goes much deeper, and Charles doesn’t want (you) to know about it.]

There’s a level of astounding naivete in Enderlin’s remarks, as if he missed all of the story that didn’t fit into his framework. For all his “inside talk,” it’s as if he lives in a time warp in which all subsequent revelations that don’t fit his image of the conflict doesn’t make it into his consciousness. His Arafat is a sweet old man, a revolutionary ascetic who was not personally corrupt, but acted like a Sheikh handing out money to exercise influence, someone who missed opportunities, and woke up too late to exercise any real authority.

Occasionally Enderlin includes some honest comments, but swiftly covers over the revelations.

Arafat “had the ability at the beginning to calm down the Intifada, but by the time he wanted to, he was too weak.” Jabril and gang didn’t participate in the Intifada. The al Aqsa brigade? – not serious: “clans, disorder, can’t trust any of them, you can’t know when a Palestinian officer will flip and start shooting.” Was Arafat engaged in the violence, especially the terrorism? In 2001 GW Bush was to give speech on vision of peace which Cheney opposed, so he asked the Israelis for proof that Arafat is a terrorist. “Dan Meridor (Likud) told me: ‘They couldn’t come up with anything but a conversation between a nephew and some other guys in which the nephew said, “I got 20K from the old man to do an attack.”’” Arafat wasn’t corrupt. He may have used the money to establish his authority, the way a Saudi sheikh might, but he didn’t steal any money.”

Interesting that Enderlin admits Arafat could have calmed down the intifada, which contradicts his previous remarks about it being “spontaneous” and out of his control. The obvious question, is, why did he wait so long? What motivated his reluctance to oppose the violence? Could it have anything to do with the immense support Arafat received, not only from the Arab/Muslim press, but also that of the Western world? Of course the last thing Enderlin would admit is that the Western media’s favorable coverage played a key role in sustaining the violence:

    One of Arafat’s cabinet members later explained that Arafat didn’t want to stop the conflict because “he thought that the world was on our side and the continuation of the armed struggle would only serve us. At that time Arafat believed that he could control the violence and to use it against Israel.”

    Those close to Arafat describe his mood in the first months of the conflict as high, nearly euphoric. The intifada was described in the international media in romantic colors; the international community supported the Palestinian’s struggle; in Arab countries demonstrations of support were held… the Sharm Summit in the middle of October returned Arafat to the center of the world stage after the isolation that was forced upon him when he was blamed for the failure of Camp David. Also, on the internal political front, the FATAH was the one still setting the agenda in the Palestinian street, and the Hamas and the Jihad had not yet accumulated sufficient power. The gatherings and processions that were organized on FATAH day, January 1, 2001 were one of the largest and most impressive displays of power by the movement in recent years. None of the officials in the PA, with the exception of Abu Mazen dared speak out against the violence. “We saw this [objecting] as political suicide.”

As for the rest of his remarks, they also mislead the audience profoundly: If one took Enderlin seriously, one would not imagine this Israeli report from a year later documenting extensive Arafat and Fatah involvement in terrorism. Nor would one imagine that in the period before he finally, alas belatedly, decided to calm the Intifada, he had done everything to incite the violence, including urging Israeli Arabs to prepare for the day of their liberation with Israel’s destruction. As for Arafat’s not stealing any money, when he died he had an estimated several billion dollars in Swiss accounts that even his close Fatah associates didn’t have access to. That’s thousands of dollars for each Palestinian child.

He finished his comments with a classic, rambling, and self-contradictory, appeal to how time is running out.

“As soon as you have the chance for peace, you’ll have terrorist attacks… Time is not a commodity in the ME. If only the US administration understood how urgent it is to have an agreement. Then do it… I’m 62 years old, since 68 I’ve seen two generations of Palestinians, the fathers knew Israel. This is finished. Since 96 the territories are closed. All the new generation knows is from Arab TV. You can imagine what they’re looking at. [Very true: it’s the worst kind of hate mongering with Pallywood footage in the background.] They grow up with economic hardship… women die in Gaza cause they can’t get treated for breast cancer. This new generation is closing the window of opportunity. Abbas can’t lose. If peace fails he’ll retire to Qatar. Olmert nothing to lose. He might resign soon. [Not coherent, but so what.] Abbas doesn’t have strength of will to do it. Olmert won’t lift checkpoints because as soon as they lift checkpoints, suicide bombers will get through. Hamas won. They have Gaza, they succeeded. [As if that’s their real goal and now they’ll settle down.] But the game of negotiations was off from the start. Arafat never built the institutions for a new state… no judicial system… just people in long lines waiting for the sheikhs favor… “Give 2000 to abu so and so.”

Again, in the cracks, real information. Why did Arafat not build institutions for a new state? Could it have something to do with his never engaging in real negotiations but treating them as a Trojan horse? Could this “failure” (from our point of view) and its motivations have had more to do with the failure of the Oslo Process than Israel’s settlement policies? All questions Enderlin would answer, “no.”

Questions and answers followed. Here, Enderlin made some interesting points about Hamas, but all, implicitly in contrast with the “moderate” PLO. Asked if Hamas should be a partner in negotiations, he answered with a resounding “no.”

“Absolutely not: until they say they’re ready to make peace in Arabic on their stations, nothing can come of including them. Hamas TV is pure incitement [has he been watching PA TV?]… They present themselves as pragmatists but they don’t want an agreement, they’ll take a cease fire which is protection for them, but other groups can continue. They’re against a two-state solution. They have a beautiful well-done media plan. At one point I confronted them: ‘If you get your state, you’ll kick me out…’ ‘No,’ they answered, ‘for you we’ll make an exception.’

I believe in the reality on the ground. With back channels: you have always proof on the ground that something’s going on when it’s serious. I don’t believe that Hamas is serious.

Of course all of this can be said about the PA. But, if I had to take a guess, Enderlin has lots of “friends” in the PA (including Talal), and that part of his hostility to Hamas is just part of his siding with the PA.

Asked if with Hillary, maybe the Clinton approach will come back and succeed this time.

No, Clinton mismanaged and the Bush administration made it worse.

“That says it all,” said someone in the audience with a knowing chuckle. Ah, it’s so comforting to think that if only we weren’t so incompetent, all this could work out.

East Jerusalem was the deal breaker. The Arabs wanted any neighborhood where there was an Arab majority to be part of Palestinian municipal sovereignty. On security the Palestinians accepted anything. They knew they couldn’t demand things that put Israel in danger. In mid September negotiations almost restarted, but then came the Intifada.

The man serves as a conduit for Journal of Palestine Studies.

Then things warmed up. Hillel Stavis asked Enderlin about two of his more bizarre claims: 1) that there was no terrorism
before Sharon and 2) that there was no real intimidation of journalists by the Palestinians.

No suicide bombings… and the Palestinians only intimidate when it’s about infighting between Hamas and Fatah, not when it’s between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The first claim is just wrong. There were eight terror attacks by the time Sharon become prime minister on March 7, 2001, five of them suicide bombings before Sharon took office in February 2001: Oct. 26: Israeli outpost in Gaza; no Israelis killed. Oct. 26: Israeli outpost in Gaza; Dec. 22: Restaurant in Jordan River Valley; Jan. 1, 2001: Netanya; March 1: Mei Ami; March 4: Netanya. But what lies behind Enderlin’s false claim is a classic misrepresentation that news networks like NPR regularly indulge in — Palestinian suicide bombing is a response to Israeli behavior. All of these attacks were planned long before Sharon came to power; indeed he came to power because of Palestinian violence. What Charles didn’t mention was that these first suicide bombers all invoked revenge for the murder of al Durah as their motivation.

As for the second point, is equally dishonest. As with his denunciation of Hamas, he gives real information while taking away even more important information. Palestinian intimidation is pervasive. Maybe Charles (and Alan Johnston the rest of the MSM) doesn’t notice because he never does anything to call down Palestinian wrath when covering the Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s harder not to offend somebody on the Palestinian side when covering the internicene conflict. Which explains why Palestinians killing Palestinians doesn’t get much attention in the MSM.

Then Joel Pollack asked the first bomb: “If the Palestinians could stage Arafat’s giving blood, why not al Durah?” Enderlin’s answer was rambling and (for those who have heard him before) repetitive. First he tried to give his version of “it corresponded to the situation on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

The day after Sharon visited the Temple mount there were riots and the Israelis killed 4 worshipers [sic, actually rioters]. The whole area went on fire… We had riots everywhere… My cameraman (since 88) went to Netzarim expecting a riot… He filmed this kid dying… his video footage is authentic… we had witnesses… We broadcast all the relevant reactions… then in November I heard the Israelis were reconstructing an event… and they concluded that the probability was higher of a Palestinian bullet than Israeli one… We gave two prime-time stories to the investigation [I’ve seent them, far from fair representations of the Israeli position they were completely inappropriate self-defense by a self-interested journalist]… Then 2002 the campaign started: “The event was staged.” But the video is authentic time code
If it were staged the father is not injured, then doctors were in on the staging – lots of staging… indeed King Abdullah of Jordan who visited him in the hospital was also in on the conspiracy. Some say the scars of the father are old, but we have medical reports and Xrays… When the libel became unbearable, we took those seeking to defame us to court. We presented the rushes. Talal has the impression that he filmed 24 minutes, but we just copied his feed onto a cassette on which there was already material. I didn’t check the original cassette [why not?]. We presented to the court 18 minutes of the original cassette [cutting footage from the day itself]… Now the story is that the kid is alive. [Said sarcastically, followed by knowing chuckles from the audience]. The father said to Israeli TV that he’s willing to exume child for DNA. We will cooperate only in inquiry with international standards. But right now, people who never stepped foot in Gaza, who never saw what is fighting, what is the Intifada are pretending they know better than I do [maybe because we haven’t stepped foot in Gaza, we’re not afraid of a Palestinian backlash if we say something they don’t like]… I know the crossroads where it happened [so why did he do a picture of it in which he misplaced the Israeli position?],

enderlin’s map

Then I got to ask my question. I tried to discuss not the staging hypothesis, but the accusation that in saying the boy was “the target of fire coming from the Israeli position.” “You essentially accused the Israelis of murdering the child, and that was what poured fuel on the fire, creating the kind of catastrophic event that you accuse the Israelis of doing with their misplaced targeted killings of just recently turned moderates. It got nasty pretty quickly, and I regret having been as aggressive as I was because I alienated much of the audience who felt I had mistreated their guest. But Enderlin did offer an interesting remark that, if true, does serve as a mitigating circumstance:

“One of the soldiers there admitted that they thought there were Tanzim behind the barrel and that’s why they targeted the spot.”

I have never heard this before, and I’ve asked Esther Schapira, who interviewed the soldiers if they said anything like this. As far as I know, Enderlin never interviewed them. She has replied that she doesn’t remember anything like that from her extensive interviews, but wants to check before going on record. On the other hand, she writes:

    I really doubt Enderlin ever spoke to the soldiers. At least when I interviewed him he had not spoken to them and told me it was irrelevant to interview them because you couldn’t be sure to talk to the right soldiers anyhow and it was clear that they would not be open enough.

Would Charles Enderlin make this up in order to save face? Would he lie outright just to get out of a spot?

In any case, I kept coming back at him with his various misdeeds, and then he shifted to ad hominem.

I know what you people are about. Your saying this because you have a political agenda. I don’t have an agenda, I just want the truth. I have offered to do polygraphs with Talal but also all the soldiers who were there.

The truth? Anything like this version of the truth?

But I’m all for polygraphs for Enderlin, Talal, Jamal, and all the soldiers.

Richard Landes

© Augean Stables 



[Texte aimablement signalé par R.R., Bruxelles.]


Mis en ligne le 21 janvier 2008, par M.
Macina, sur le site