The Media and the Missing Abu Jihad

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By Sean Durns

On Feb. 15, a convicted terrorist whose nom de guerre is Abu Jihad (“Father of Jihad”) was appointed deputy to Palestinian Authority president and Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas.

Haven’t heard about Abu Jihad? It’s not your fault. There has been almost no coverage about him in major U.S. news outlets.

His actual name is Mahmoud al-Aloul. In his early years, he participated in numerous terrorist attacks as an operative for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was then a U.S.-designated terrorist group. His mentor was the arch terrorist and Fatah founding father Khalil Al-Wazir, who also went by the name Abu Jihad.

Among other atrocities, Al-Wazir oversaw the assassination of U.S. diplomats in Khartoum, Sudan, in March 1973 and was also responsible for perpetrating numerous terrorist attacks against Israelis, including the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which 38 civilians, including 11 children, were murdered.

Israeli commandos killed al-Wazir on April 16, 1988 in Tunisia. Al-Aloul subsequently became his successor and, as a result of the 1990s Oslo process, entered politics, serving first as governor of the Nablus region and later joining the Palestinian Legislative Council and Fatah’s Central Committee.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, a nonprofit organization that monitors Arab media in eastern Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), al-Aloul continues to praise acts of anti-Jewish violence. Al-Aloul has referred to the establishment of Israel as the “greatest crime” and called Palestinian terrorism a “legal right.” He has met with the families of terrorists and called Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah operative who participated in the Coastal Road massacre, a “legend that will not die.”

Despite serving as deputy to a man, Abbas, who is often described by media outlets as “moderate” and a “peace partner,” three months before his appointment, al-Aloul exhorted, “When we talk about our enemies we talk about the occupation and the United States.” As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has noted, the term “occupation” is frequently used to refer to the presence of the Jewish state of Israel on any land that was, at any point in history, ruled by Muslims.

Eight weeks before he was announced as Abbas’ deputy — the first such appointment in Fatah’s nearly 60-year history — al-Aloul declared on official P.A. TV that the Oslo Accords had “died a long time ago.”

However, Oslo birthed the Palestinian Authority. And both the United States and European Union, among others, give copious aid to the P.A. based off Oslo’s promises, including then-PLO head Yasser Arafat’s claim to work for a “peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides” and “that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved by negotiation,” as he stated in a Sept. 9, 1993 letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Al-Aloul’s superior, Abbas, is an ailing octogenarian autocrat who has suppressed rivals to power — sending some, like security chief Mohammad Dahlan, into exile, and forcing out others, like the one-time finance minister and prime minister, Salem Fayyad, who sought to tackle P.A. corruption. Abbas has refused to hold elections and is in year 12 of a single elected four-year term.

Yet more than six months after the fact, Abbas’ decision to elevate al-Aloul as a possible successor has been widely ignored by major media outlets.

Despite numerous articles and op-eds on the future of the “peace process,” The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and others haven’t reported on al-Aloul since he was appointed. During this time, the Post’s Jerusalem bureau has filed dispatches on Palestinian pigeon ownership, a Palestinian winning an Arab Idol song contest and the Palestinian used car market — along with many reports on Israeli political developments.

And it’s not as if the media is unaware of who Al-Aloul is.

A March 15, 2011 Post dispatch (“Palestinians rally for unity in Gaza, West Bank”) described a gathering in which “Mahmoud al-Aloul, a senior Fatah official, threw his arm around Hussein Abu Kweik, a Hamas leader, in a show of brotherhood.” An Aug. 23, 2013 report by then-Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth even uncritically quoted Abu Jihad’s claims that Israelis “do not want a peace process.” The paper, describing al-Aloul as “the former governor of Nablus district,” omitted his record as a convicted terrorist.

Similarly, The New York Times quoted al-Aloul in a Jan. 6, 2005 report titled “As Abbas Runs, Skeptical Militants Wait and See.” Those “skeptical militants” — the term “terrorist” is more apt — are now rising in Palestinian politics.

As CAMERA detailed on Sept. 5, al-Aloul is a member of the Tanzim faction of Fatah, a cadre of operatives that is a generation removed from the movements’ founders, with whom they hold a fractious history. During the Second Intifada, the Tanzim — at the behest of Palestinian leadership — played a key role in carrying out terrorist attacks.

Grant Rumley, an analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, noted in The American Interest that the three likeliest contenders to replace Abbas are “Marwan Barghouti, Jibril Rajoub and Mahmoud al-Aloul … all represent a significant shift of power back to the Palestinian street. And all three figures have connections to the Tanzim.”

In Palestinian politics, the ground is shifting to a newer caste of leadership. And much of the media is nowhere to be found.

Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.