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November 05, 1993 - Image 57

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-11-05

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Can Arafat Stave Off
A Palestinian Bloodbath?

The PLO leader faces a host of deadly enemies. What will
happen once Palestinian autonomy is a reality?



n Sept. 22, Asaad Saftawi
made his way to al-Shams Uni-
visited the family of
versity in Cairo where he met
Gaza's Mohammed Abu
Yassir Arafat, who also had
Shaaban to extend his
strong links in Gaza.
condolences on the death of the
Together, they joined the
prominent Palestinian who had
Muslim Brotherhood and to-
been assassinated the previous
gether they became disen-
chanted with the Muslim
The visit by Mr. Saftawi,
fundamentalism it preached,
himself a member of Gaza's
breaking away to form the
Palestinian elite and principal
Palestinian Students' Union,
of the U.N. school in the Bureij
which owed more to nationalist
refugee camp, was regarded as
than religious zeal.
a special honor by the mourn-
Returning to Gaza, Mr.
ers. He was, after all, a close
Saftawi got a job as a teacher
personal friend of PLO leader
and, for a while, was jailed by
Yassir Arafat and a founding
the Muslim Brotherhood for his
member of Mr. Arafat's Fatah
supposed "treachery" to the Is-
lamic cause.
For several hours, Mr. Saf-
Reunited with Mr. Arafat, he
tawi sat with the family, com-
founded Fatah, which was to
forting them, sharing their fears
become the dominant compo-
about intra-Palestinian violence
nent of the PLO. In the late
and the prospect of a Palestin-
1950s, he was a key organizer
ian civil war.
of the movement's first military
On Oct. 17, Mr. Saftawi suf-
fered another blow when he
When he abandoned military
learned that
his close aide,
Maher K'hail,
had been shot
to death in the
barber shop he
owned in Gaza.
Once again,
the talk turned
to the potential
for civil war,
but now the
question was
Who's next?
On Oct. 21,
that question
was answered.
While Asaad
Saftawi sat in Arafat, Mubarak and Rabin in Cairo: Will the Palestinians follow?
his car waiting
to collect his 9-year-old son from
activity to concentrate on polit-
school, masked gunmen drew
ical organization, he maintained
up alongside him and emptied
close links with the PLO, earn-
the contents of their guns into
ing his "credentials" in 1973
his head. In many ways, the life
when he was jailed for four
and death of Asaad Saftawi is
years by Israel for handling
a metaphor of the Palestinian
PLO funds. In 1988, shortly af-
world in the final quarter of
ter the start of the intifada, he
1993. It is a world in which hope
was detained again.
and despair, triumph and
Unlike many of the early
tragedy, dream and reality com-
Palestinian nationalists, how-
pete for dominance in a vicious,
ever, Mr. Saftawi was not
relentless, seemingly endless
locked into the revolutionary
time-warp that demanded the
Born in Ashkelon 58 years
total destruction of Israel. Like
ago, the young Saftawi fled with
it or not, Israel was a fait ac-
his family to Gaza as a refugee
compli and any hope of realiz-
during the 1948 Israeli War of
ing Palestinian nationalist
Independence. From there, he
aspirations lay in an acceptance


of that reality.
Last April, Mr. Saftawi gave
expression to his belief in co- ex-
istence when the co-founder of
Fatah and former security pris-
oner welcomed Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin into his
home in a televised ceremony
that was transmitted to in-
credulous Israeli viewers.
Mr. Saftawi knew his politi-
cal vision was not universally
accepted within the deeply frac-
tionalized Palestinian world.
His two older sons live in Dam-
ascus and both are members of
the extremist Islamic Jihad
movement, implacable oppo-
nents of any settlement with Is-
Ironically, tragically, Mr.
Saftawi — like Mr. Shaaban
and Mr. K'hail — was not the
victim of one of the myriad re-
jectionists groups, but of the Fa-
tah Hawks, a militant faction
within the Fatah wing that has
mounted an
bloody power
It is a phe-
nomenon that
should pro-
foundly disturb
Yassir Arafat
as he prepares
to relocate in
Jericho, where
he will be
plunged into a
cauldron of
steaming polit-
e ical and reli-
gious rivalries.
Not least, he
g will have to con-
tend with the
suspicions and resentments be-
tween the "internals," who have
sat it out in the territories, and
"externals," who have watched
the drama from Amman, Beirut
and, most recently, Tunis.
Chairman Arafat has sur-
vived the wrath (and the as-
sassination attempts) of the
Jordanians, the Syrians and the
Israelis. Can he, unlike his old
friend Asaad Saftawi, survive
in the heart of a violent politi-
cal culture that he himself has
helped to forge?
It is a question that is pas-
sionately debated by Israelis no
less than by Palestinians, both

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