Overlooked Palestinian terror group returns with a vengeance

Click photo to download. Caption: In 1969, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group are pictured flaunting their weapons in the mountains east of the Jordan River. Eclipsed in recent decades by the other Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas, the PFLP returned to the scene with a vengeance on Nov. 18 through its members' bloody attack on a Jerusalem synagogue. Credit: Thomas R. Koeniges via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ben Cohen/JNS.org

The older I get, the more my childhood memories fade, but I still vividly remember the morning of Sunday, July 4, 1976.

I was eight years old at the time, spending Shabbat with my grandparents at their house in London. Early on that Sunday, I woke to the sound of my grandpa, the eminent Sephardic Rabbi Dr. Solomon Gaon, whooping and yelling and generally making a racket in the kitchen—behavior that was most definitely out of character. Thinking something was wrong, I bolted downstairs to discover my elated grandfather listening to the BBC radio news. Locked in his embrace, and in between his joyous shouts of, “They are free! The hostages are free!” I could make out certain words uttered by the announcer—“Israeli forces,” “rescue operation,” “hijacking,” and so on.

The news that made my grandfather’s heart burst with pride was, as those who recognize the date will have figured out, the rescue operation mounted by Israel to free around 100 hostages from an Air France plane that had been hijacked seven days earlier by Palestinian terrorists and diverted to Uganda, then under the boot of the brutal dictator Idi Amin. After a week of sheer hell, during which the German leftist hijackers separated the Jewish from the non-Jewish passengers with the uncompromising determination of concentration camp guards, Israel launched a daring and successful raid to bring them home. Among those killed in the gun battle was the operation’s commander, Yonatan Netanyahu, the brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister. President Ronald Reagan later described the operation as a gift from Israel to mark the United States bicentennial, which fell the same day.

I relate that anecdote because that morning was the first time that I encountered the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Marxist faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) led by the late Dr. George Habash, which planned and executed the Air France hijacking in conjunction with a group of left-wing German terrorists. 

From the late 1960s onwards, the PFLP established itself as the most spectacularly violent of the Palestinian factions, carrying out hijackings and bombings, and working with a range of far left terrorists like the notorious Carlos the Jackal. The PFLP spoke in the barbed, aggressive language of both Marxism and Arab nationalism, but left little doubt as to its real target. If the Entebbe episode failed to convince outside observers of the PFLP’s hard-wired anti-Semitism, then its bombing of the Rue Copernic synagogue in Paris in October 1980 should have set aside any lingering doubts.

Over the last 20 years, the PFLP has been eclipsed by both Fatah, the faction currently led by the forked-tongued Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, the Islamist terrorists who still reign in Gaza. But this week, the PFLP returned to the scene with a vengeance, again by targeting a synagogue, this time in Jerusalem rather than in a Western capital. 

While the PFLP didn’t explicitly claim responsibility for the atrocity at the synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood, it did laud the attack while describing the two assailants, cousins Ghassan and Odai Abu Jamal, as “PFLP comrades.” A statement released in the name of Khalil Maqdesi, a member of the PFLP’s Central Committee, was in essence a call to genocide. “Occupiers and racists do not belong to the land of Palestine; there are, and must be, consequences and repercussions for the theft of our land and our rights,” Maqdesi said. If his meaning here is unclear, look at the bloodstained images from the Har Nof synagogue for clarification. Similarly, anyone tempted to believe that the PFLP is the secular organization that Maqdisi presents it to be, should ask why the terrorists screamed “Allahu Akhbar” as they embarked on their murder spree.

What was most striking about this statement, however, was Maqdesi’s praise of Jewish anti-Zionists: “Thousands of Jews around the world are true and genuine voices for the struggle, leading boycott movements and joining the Palestinian struggle for liberation on a daily basis. We salute each and every one of them.” I think he knew what he was doing here, and it’s smart. Maqdesi understands that by heaping compliments on the tiny minority of Jews who collaborate with anti-Semites, many observers will conclude that the PFLP didn’t kill Jews this week because they are Jews. And once that’s established, the door is open to the moral equivalency and rationalization that has stained so much of the media coverage of the Har Nof attack.

We saw Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett rudely chastised by a BBC presenter for showing a photo of the bloody devastation in the synagogue; this from a broadcaster that went to town with the graphic images generated by this summer's conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza! We saw Alan Dershowitz admirably counter Ashleigh Banfield, the asinine CNN anchor who ventured, “When you have mandatory conscription and service in Israel, effectively the Palestinians will say, ‘it’s war against everyone,’ because everyone is a soldier”—the kind of logic that justifies the murder of children and the elderly. And there were similar examples which I don’t need to go into, because they were geared to making the same point: Palestinian terrorists aren’t motivated by hatred of Jews or the desire to destroy the Jewish state, but are instead following an understandable, if misguided, path that is born of frustration.

Ben Cohen

What happened in Har Nof is a reminder that the Palestinian goal of genocide—most of the time prettified as the “one-state solution”—predates the emergence of Hamas and is subscribed to with similar fervor by ostensibly secular organizations. It is this wretched ambition that has prevented a two-state solution from being achieved, and there are no signs of that changing any time soon. 

Hence the challenge for Jews in America and elsewhere in the Diaspora. We don’t have to live with the daily fear of terrorist attacks, unlike the Israelis, but we are obliged to set the record straight. What occurred this week in Jerusalem was, as the U.N. Security Council deemed it, a “despicable terrorist attack”—as despicable as the terror wrought by Islamic State in Syria and northern Iraq. 

And that is the only fact that matters.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications. 

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Posted on November 20, 2014 and filed under Israel, Opinion.