Saudi writer: Palestinian Authority no longer credible

February 27, 2002

[Note by Tom Gross]

In an extremely rare admission, a Saudi columnist not only says Palestinian Authority officials are liars, but writes that "The [guiding] principle [among journalists in the Arab world] is not to treat the public with candor and transparency, but to conceal information [from it]."


Saudi writer: PA no longer credible
Palestinian Authority 'bestowed upon us lies'
February 26, 2002

A columnist for the London-based Saudi daily newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat has apologized to his readers for reporting the Palestinian Authority's version of the Karine A weapons ship affair.

Columnist Ahmad Al-Rab'i called on his readers not to believe the Palestinian Authority's declarations any longer.

In early January, Israeli commandos seized a 4,000-ton Palestinian arms freighter, the Karine A, in the Red Sea. More than 50 tons of weapons in 83 crates turned up long-and short-range Katyusha rockets, with a maximum 20-km range, anti-tank Lao and Sagger missiles, 120-mm mortars and an abundance of heavy machine guns, rifles, mines, explosives and ammunition. Most of the hardware originated in Iran.

Here, as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, are excerpts of Al-Rab'i's column:

"When Israel announced that it had seized the [Karine A] weapons ship, I doubted the Israeli account and espoused the PA's claim that the whole thing was a fabrication. I did this out of a sense of obligation to support our Palestinian brothers, and out of trust in the veracity of their account. But it seems that the [Palestinian] leadership deceived us with its account, and we, in turn, unintentionally deceived our readers.

"I remember when my colleague Abd al Rahman Al-Rashed, editor [of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat] criticized the Palestinian version [of the incident]. All the conspiracy theory 'bulldozers' rose up against him; they charged him with 'serving' the enemy

"Now, not only is Arafat confessing to the [Israeli] account, but he goes further still, and has sent [a letter] to the American secretary of state [from] which it can be interpreted that he takes responsibility for this incident.

"Therefore, I take responsibility before my readers; I and my readers were victims of our obligation to and trust in the Palestinian leadership. I assure the readers that since Arafat has confessed his responsibility to Colin Powell, I will no longer take the Palestinian leadership's declarations seriously.

"A journalist in our Arab world is confused, [caught] between his respect for himself and his readers and the Arab attitude towards the news. Fearing that he will be denied, the journalist misses the opportunity to analyze important news. If he writes about it [anyway], he is stricken with anxiety, lest his commentary be published in the same issue that carries the denial of what he reports.

"The [guiding] principle [in the Arab world] is not to treat the public with candor and transparency, but to conceal information [from it], such that if [the news] is picked up by the foreign press, we can deny it. Sometimes we are forced to confirm an item after we have denied it, because it has turned out to be a proven fact.

"When we defended the [Palestinian] National Authority in the weapons ship incident, we faced two problems:

"First, some commentators and Palestinian leaders denied the story, claiming that it was a fabrication, a show, and an attempt to divert public opinion from the peace issue.

"Second, smuggling weapons in this way is [in itself] a naive act attesting to ignorance primarily because these weapons will not shift the military balance in favor of the Palestinians. Likewise, smuggling weapons on a route controlled by the Israeli navy is an escapade no reasonable person would attempt.

"[However,] what matters here is that the PA 'bestowed' upon us lies, and we, on our part, pressed our readers to support the PA. We, and our readers, were victims of our commitment [to the Palestinians] and of the trust we placed in it which is now lost."

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.