April 18, 2002
Arafat’s Paper Trail
Trove of captured documents a "smoking gun" for the leader and the Palestinian Authority.
These battleground spoils cannot explode or kill, but Israel considers them important benefits of its military operation in the West Bank: Thousands of documents, pamphlets and posters that provide written evidence of the Palestinian Authority's massive involvement in terrorism. The documents were captured at places like Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah and other P.A. offices, offices of the P.A.'s Preventive Security Service and Arafat's Tanzim militia, Palestinian organizations throughout the West Bank and the Palestinian Liberation Organization's (PLO) Jerusalem headquarters at Orient House.
Israeli intelligence officers are just beginning to analyze the abundance of material, but the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) rushed to publicize parts to bolster Israel's argument that Arafat himself has been directly involved in terrorist operations and stands at the head of an enormous terror entity. Israeli officials were said to be shocked by the extent of P.A. complicity in terrorism.
"In the West Bank, the more we enter, the more we understand," an Israeli military official told the New York Times. "This is coming directly from Arafat personally."
Some of the documents were publicized by the IDF spokesman in their original form in Arabic. The Palestinians claim that the documents are part of an elaborate Israeli fabrication operation, pitting their word against the IDF's. The most important finding is that senior P.A. officers were actively involved in terrorism, providing logistical and financial assistance even to supposedly oppositionist elements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Within the more mainstream Palestinian organizations, Arafat oversees two parallel and competing structures, each with its own funding, chain of command and capability for directing bombing attacks, the IDF told the Times. The cells that carry out the attacks are located in eight regions -- Jenin, Tulkarm, Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, Kalkilya and Gaza. Both structures report to Arafat and receive his financial backing.
"One of the most telling revelations of the documents, is that the broadly accepted view that Arafat leaves the details to others is completely incorrect," said Michael Widlanski, a Hebrew University researcher who monitors the Palestinian press. "The documents repeatedly show that Arafat is in day-to-day control of the details of all his organizations, relaying the information for comment to the senior members of his military branches."
Arafat signed off on various operational invoices for the Tanzim, the militia of Arafat's Fatah Party that has been responsible for a large number of terrorist attacks, including the bombing near Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market April 12 that killed six. The IDF exposed documents showing that Arafat personally signed checks for Tanzim activists involved in terrorism. This, according to the IDF, contradicts Arafat's usual denial that he has any control over the Tanzim. Other documents show militants within Arafat's Fatah requesting money for bomb and weapons parts, itemizing the cost of each component and how many bombs per week the organization plans to use.
Moreover, evidence from documents and captured terrorists indicates, according to the IDF, that the P.A.'s West Bank intelligence chief, Tawfik Tirawi, helped recruit, arm and dispatch terrorists for attacks inside Israel.
When given lists of "Most Wanted" terrorists -- whom the Palestinian Authority is obligated to arrest, under its agreements with Israel -- Tirawi allegedly used the lists to warn the terrorists, so they could evade arrest. According to the IDF, Jamal Sawitat, the deputy head of the P.A.'s Preventive Security Service in Jenin, also constantly informed Islamic Jihad of the names of terrorists Israel was after.
Mortars and heavy machine guns, as well as kippot and other disguises for suicide bombers, were found even at the headquarters of Jibril Rajoub, the head of Preventive Security in the West Bank, who often is praised as a Palestinian moderate. However, Israeli military officials were careful not to assert that Rajoub himself had directed specific attacks. Prior to the recent escalation of the situation, Rajoub often was mentioned as a possible successor to Arafat. However, the fact that his security compound surrendered to Israeli soldiers -- and that Rajoub did not join Arafat in his besieged headquarters in Ramallah -- may have damaged his political prospects.
Some of the documents were found in the office of Fuad Shubaki, Arafat's financial aide. Shubaki allegedly masterminded the Palestinian attempt to smuggle arms from Iran on the Karine A weapons ship that Israel seized in January. Palestinians had claimed that Shubaki's was a rogue operation and that he was under investigation for his role, but he is currently believed to be holed up with Arafat in his headquarters, along with several of Arafat's closest aides and a host of wanted terrorists. The army charged that members of Palestinian security services were directly involved in planning, and in some cases even perpetrating, attacks against Israelis. Uzi Landau, Israel's minister of internal security, used the momentum to publish documents seized last year at Orient House, the Jerusalem headquarters of the PLO. Landau convened a press conference in early April at which he exposed documents reinforcing the link between Arafat and the Tanzim. The documents show that Faisal Husseini, the late PLO official in charge of Jerusalem, was updated by Tanzim leaders -- such as Atef Abayyat, who was later killed by the IDF -- on attacks against Jews, and was asked to intervene to get more money for Tanzim operations. Police confiscated a letter sent by Husseini to his lawyer on Sept. 28, 2000, the day Ariel Sharon made his controversial visit to the Temple Mount that the Palestinian Authority says provoked spontaneous riots that grew into the intifada. Husseini's letter, however, mentions the "Al-Aksa Intifada" -- before it had even begun. According to Landau, this proves that the intifada was preplanned. "These documents, many of them signed by Arafat, are more than a smoking gun," Landau said. "They are a smoking pen, a pen dripping blood held by Arafat."
Landau said the Palestinian leader "cannot deny these documents, that show he and his top aides planned and financed acts of terror."
But the Palestinians have done just that, challenging the documents' authenticity and hoping that the world will not take too much notice -- as, indeed, it hasn't.
"No one can say they are 100 percent authentic," Hassan Abdel Rahman, the Washington representative of the PLO told the Times. "And in the past, Israel was able to take many expressions out of context and distort their meaning."
The IDF has posted some of the documents on its Web site, www.idf.il. The documents and intelligence provided to the Bush administration are more comprehensive. Other major findings include:\n
• The Palestinian Authority was involved in the production of arms, such as rocket-propelled grenades, which they are specifically banned from having under the Oslo accords.\n
• The Palestinian Authority was directly involved in orchestrating anti-Israel incitement.
The Tanzim was deeply involved in daily Palestinian life, serving very much like a government within a government. Documents shed light on the scope of corruption within the Palestinian Authority, with large amounts of money directed to public figures for personal favors or bribery, without sufficient control over the allocation of funds. According to the documents, this trend has actually worsened since the reports of corruption in the Palestinian Authority caused a stir about five years ago. In addition, there was no direct division between the Palestinian Authority and local organizations, with a lot of inefficient duplication, resulting in waste of money and poor government. Most of these documents were handed over to the United States before Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in the region. The drive was intended to halt American pressure on Israel to abandon its West Bank incursion and to convince the Americans that Arafat was indeed deeply and actively involved in terrorism. However, it was quickly overshadowed by Powell's mission on the ground.