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When the president’s hero is a terrorist: a tale of two societies

From left: First lady Michelle Obama, U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.
From left: First lady Michelle Obama, U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.

The president of a normal, civilized country naturally is anxious to distance himself from any suspicion of ever having had a connection to a terrorist. That’s how President Barack Obama reacted when the Bill Ayers controversy erupted. But the recent decision by the Palestinian Authority’s president to give awards to three Arab terrorists reminded us that some governments are neither normal nor civilized.

Ayers, the co-founder of the 1960s Weather Underground terrorist group, was involved in planting bombs at New York City police headquarters, the United States Capitol building, and the Pentagon in 1970-1972. It was just by pure chance that nobody was injured in those attacks, which caused extensive damage.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, journalists revealed that Ayers had hosted, in his home, the first-ever fundraiser for Obama, then a candidate for the Illinois state senate. Obama quickly distanced himself from Ayers, whom he described as “just some guy in our neighborhood.” Ayers subsequently said that he never had any contact with Obama, either during the campaign or after his election as president.

Whatever the details of the Ayers-Obama connection, candidate Obama wanted to make it crystal clear that he had no admiration for Ayers’s views or deeds, and did not want to be associated with a terrorist in any way. In American society, terrorism is regarded as evil and a connection with a terrorist spells the end of any politician’s career.

Not so in Palestinian society. There even the most heinous terrorists are considered heroes, and the president rushes to heap honors upon the killers and their families.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas celebrated “Palestinian Prisoners Day” on April 17 by bestowing medals upon three notorious terrorists—the first female and male Fatah terrorists jailed by Israel, and the first Fatah terrorist killed while trying to murder Israelis. Abbas is also chairman of Fatah, which is the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The first female Fatah terrorist captured by the Israelis was Fatima Bernawi. In October 1967, Bernawi placed a bomb in the Zion Cinema in Jerusalem. Note, by the way, that the attack did not take place in “occupied territory,” except in the sense that Fatah considers even pre-1967 Israel to be “occupied Palestine.”

By sheer chance, the bomb did not explode. Bernawi was captured and sentenced to life in prison for attempted mass murder. Unfortunately, she was released after 10 years as a “gesture” in honor of the visit to Israel of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. That was a terrible mistake by the Israelis. It helped create an expectation about releasing terrorists when, in fact, Israel should have always maintained that Arab leaders who are against terrorism surely would not want terrorists to be set free.

Shortly after the establishment of the PA in 1994, Bernawi was rewarded with the position of chief of the women’s section of the PA police. That, too, was an outrage. The PA should have been told in no uncertain terms, by both Israel and the U.S., that no terrorists should be rewarded with government jobs. Such rewards send a message that terrorists are heroes and should be emulated—exactly the wrong message to send to young Palestinians.

The fact that the U.S. helped train the PA police makes the situation even more outrageous. American government personnel were training a convicted bomber. Imagine if Bill Ayers were to apply for a position in his local police department. Would anyone in his right mind say he should be hired?

Bernawi, like Ayers, never expressed any regret for her terrorism. To this day, she regards planting a bomb in a movie theater as an act of heroism.

Fatah’s official web site, announcing Abbas’s decision to present Bernawi with a medal, hailed her as “one of the first Palestinian women to adopt armed self-sacrifice operations after the start of the modern Palestinian revolution.” (Translation courtesy of the Middle East Media and Research Institute.)

So there you have it. An American president who distances himself from a terrorist, and an American society that utterly rejects terrorism. A Palestinian president who embraces terrorists, and a Palestinian society that treats mass murderers as heroes.

Two societies, two different sets of values, two different ways of life. Perhaps there is nothing Americans can do to change the PA. But why must $500 million in U.S. aid continue to be sent to the PA each year? American taxpayers would not want to subsidize Bill Ayers; so, why is their money being used to subsidize Fatima Bernawi?

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. 

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