Remembering Paul Findley and Yasser Arafat

Nov 14 2017 / 11:50 pm
Yasser Arafat before he was flown to a French hospital for treatment 17 days into his illness. (Photo: Via BBC)

By James M. Wall

On the day Yasser Arafat died, November 9, 2004, former Illinois Republican Congressman Paul Findley wrote an article to describe the relationship he had with the Palestinian leader.

Paul Findley knew then, and he knows now, that if enough members of Congress had joined with him in favor of talking with Yasser Arafat, Israel’s control over American policy might well have shifted in a different direction.

His article was published in the Daily Star, a Beirut, Lebanon, publication, on the occasion of Arafat’s death, 75, in a Paris hospital. Arafat had been under essential house arrest in his Ramallah headquarters. When he became ill, Israel moved him to Paris.

The failure of Finley’s news-worthy piece to find significant American exposure was further evidence of just how much Israel and its American allies fear an influential man like Paul Findley.

It is an article that reveals the irenic spirit and courageous political strength of Paul Findley. A political figure who has refused to yield power to non-American forces, frightens Israel. They need total control to keep Congress in check.

That is why BDS is such a threat to conservative Israeli governments. When people recognize deception as a false narrative, and are offered a way to take nonviolent action, that action must be put down by Israel and its loyal American allies.

Memo to Congress from Tel Aviv: BDS is a danger, shoot it down. Don’t ask why, just do it.

Findley was that rare member of the U.S. Congress who ignored memos from foreign governments.. He understood the danger of allowing the state of Israel to control American foreign policy in the Middle East.

At great political and personal cost, Paul Findley acted on that understanding while his congressional colleagues absorbed the narrative myth of “brave little Israel”, and pocketed the money, votes, and favorable media coverage that was their reward.

Paul Findley wanted to enlighten an American public which was ill-informed about Israel’s unholy alliance with American decision-makers.

In 1982, Paul Findley lost what had been a safe Republican seat in Congress, ending a political career that began when he was elected in 1960. His victorious opponent was Richard Durbin, now a U.S. Senator from Illinois.

The New York Times reported that Findley “narrowly lost his bid for re-election for a number of reasons: a competent opponent, redistricting, the economic recession, and pro-Israel groups support to his challenger.”

As Findley wrote in 2004:

“During my years in Congress, Yasser Arafat’s name was often mentioned in committee meetings and on the floor of the House of Representatives but rarely without an ugly prefix. “Terrorist” Arafat led the “terrorist” PLO consisting of “terrorist” Palestinians. Observers unfamiliar with the Arab-Israeli conflict might have mistakenly assumed that the adjective “terrorist” was actually a proper part of these names.”

The loss of his political platform did not deter Paul Findley. It inspired him to continue to expose and resist that unholy alliance.

Now 96, and living in his hometown of Jacksonville, Illinois, Paul Findley is no longer as active as he once had been.

He has, fortunately, left us a rich legacy of books, articles recorded interviews and memories from a career of service.

Years before Arafat’s death, as Israel was driving forward with its plan to conquer all of the land from the sea to the Jordan River–still the plan, by the way–I interviewed  a member of Israel’s foreign ministry in Tel Aviv.

The ministry official conspiratorially told me at the end of the interview, “You should watch this Hamas organization. They are doing good things for the Palestinians”. This was, of course, in the months before Hamas emerged as a political force. To Israel, Hamas was a pawn, a movement that could be used to challenge Arafat’s PLO.

This is standard colonial-invader 101: Divide the people against themselves and then conquer them.

Finley’s article, in the Daily Star, should be read in full. Here, in a single
paragraph, Findley explains why:

“One evening years ago, during one of my periodic open discussions with citizens in my hometown, Jacksonville, Illinois, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce wondered out loud about my willingness to associate with Arafat, a “person widely considered more evil than Genghis Khan.” My answer: “Arafat is a powerful leader in the Middle East, and a major power, like the United States, should have the best possible communication with him.”

For a member of Congress to communication with Arafat, and see him as a man with his own non-violent plan, is not in Israel’s “best interest”.

With the assistance of Jewish organizations like AIPAC, Israel maintained a steady propaganda campaign that tied “terrorist” with “Arafat”. American media bought into Israel’s plan, because Israel wanted it to.

Labels drove the plan and labels become fixed in the public’s collective mind. Remember when Native Americans were called “savages”?  And how about those “Redskins” now playing football in the nation’s capital city?

And don’t get me started on the language white Americans hang on Muslims.

Empires are built and thrive on deception and the manufactured fear of “others”. The U.S. and its mini-empire, Israel, did not want American political leaders to see the “other” as capable of negotiating in good faith.

Any hint that Yasser Arafat was an admired leader of an oppressed people, was a danger to Israeli’s false narrative. For Findley to treat Arafat  with respect, and do so as a member of the U.S. Congress, was anathema to Israel.

Findley recalled his contacts with Arafat on the day Arafat  died.

“While in Congress, I met personally with Arafat twice, both times in his quarters in Damascus. The first was in January 1978 while I was a member of a congressional group on a tour of the Middle East. After I promised never to mention their names, two other members of Congress joined my wife and I on the unscheduled, unofficial side trip to meet the controversial PLO leader. Both to and from his quarters, our cars were escorted by heavily armed escorts. After a discussion of more than two hours with Arafat, we joined him for a late meal.

“I returned alone in November for a long follow-up discussion, during which Arafat authorized me to report to the White House his terms for living at peace with Israel: As chairman of the PLO executive committee, he pledged that the new Palestine would live at peace, have de facto political relations with Israel and renounce all violent efforts to enlarge the country, provided that Israel accept an independent Palestine consisting of the West Bank and Gaza district, with a connecting corridor.”

It was a concise pledge which still stands as a reasonable and just outline for peace.

Yasser Arafat continues to be honored in the land he sought to lead toward future statehood.

The Palestinian news agency WAFA, reported that the 13th anniversary of Arafat’s death, November 9, was recalled by thousands of Palestinians on a march through the streets of Ramallah.

They  carried portraits of Arafat, waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans celebrating Arafat’s life.

The rally started from Ramallah Secondary Boys School, moved through the main street of the city, and ended at the presidential headquarters (Muqata’a), where senior officials laid wreaths at Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum.

Speaking on behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas, Deputy Fatah Chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul told the marchers: “Not only was Yasser Arafat the leader who inspired the Palestinian revolution, but also the one who inspired liberation movements worldwide.”

How did Paul Findley feel about the man he befriended, and who cost him his seat in Congress? The former congressman answered that question in the Daily Star.

“Did I regret being Arafat’s ‘best friend in Congress?’ Never, not for a fleeting moment, even though this association clearly was a major factor in my defeat in 1982.” 

– To read more articles by James Wall visit: http://wallwritings.me.

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