Break the Head


Many years ago I got interested in a field of military activity called Psychological Warfare, in which all the armies in the world invest considerable resources.

Psychological warfare is the opposite of propaganda. Propaganda tries to convince the other side that we are right. Psychological warfare does not try to convince anybody, it is an instrument of war like the air-force or the armored corps. Its aim is to break the enemy and compel him to submit to our will. If propaganda is honey, psychological warfare is prussic acid.

To achieve this aim, this field uses psychological means in order to break the enemy apart and sow suspicion and distrust between its parts. The main objective is to destroy the person leading the enemy, i.e. break the head: to undermine the trust in him and to get his fighters, followers and the world at large to hate him.

How does one do this? The manuals describe the methods:

The leader of the enemy is corrupt. He sends his fighters to their death while he himself enjoys life. He steals the people’s money and hides it in foreign bank accounts. His henchmen are a gang of thieves, who lead a life of luxury in hotels around the world, while the ordinary people go hungry. The leader is a contemptible, loathsome, brutal, effeminate, tyrannical, ridiculous figure.

These stories are repeated thousands of time, they are planted in “neutral” foreign media, so that they come back from “objective” sources.

Does this sound familiar?

Of course. For several years, already, almost all Israeli media and spokesmen are engaged in demonizing one person: Yasser Arafat. All the classic tricks of psychological warfare, as well as some authentic Israeli inventions, are used to achieve this central aim. Not against the Palestinian people, not even against the Palestinian leadership, but against Arafat personally.

The conductors of this campaign do not care a damn whether Arafat is nice or mean, handsome or ugly, a peace-lover or a war-monger, super-honest or a highway robber. Quite possibly, Sharon himself admires him in secret. (In 1976 he asked me to arrange a meeting with him, in order to propose that Arafat become the president of a Palestinian state east of the Jordan river.) That did not prevent him last week from declaring that he regrets that he did not succeed in killing him in Beirut.

Arafat is targeted for one sole reason: he is the head of the Palestinian people fighting against the occupation. Breaking the head means breaking the whole structure of the Palestinian fight. In the course of war, especially a war of liberation, trust in the leader is essential for steadfast resistance against overwhelming forces. Without it, the movement will splinter into thousand pieces. No amount of missiles can compete with that.

In the Israeli and international arenas, this campaign has achieved considerable success. The story about the corrupt Arafat, heading a “corrupt authority” and surrounded by a gang of thieves has been spread throughout the world with relentless effort, until the very words “Palestinian Authority”, “Arafat” and “corrupt” have become synonymous. These days, the success can be measured: If Atafat had been imprisoned in Ramallah ten years ago, there would have been riotous demonstrations in all European capitals, with the pictures of Arafat being carried side by side with those of Che Gevara and Mandela. Where are they now?

In Israel itself the success is even greater. The hatred of Arafat unites all parts of the public, from the extreme right to the established left. Research shows that out of 300 articles published by “leftists” about the Palestinian problem, 284 contained abusive remarks about Arafat. Like Christians crossing themselves when entering a church, an Israeli “leftist” has to say something like “I am for peace with the Palestinians, but I cannot stand the corrupt Arafat”, or “I am against the occupation, but Arafat’s corrupt gang has to be removed”, as a sop to public opinion. The people who write this are not aware, of course, that they are serving the psychological warfare campaign aimed at breaking the Palestinian people at the decisive point.

One can view Arafat positively or negatively. He can be criticized from many directions. He is not a romantic figure like Che Gevara (who died in a stupid campaign) or Nelson Mandela (whose task was incomparably easier than Arafat’s), neither is he a television star. He is only the leader of the Palestinian people, elected by an immense majority in democratic elections (under the supervision of Jimmy Carter). The corruption in the Palestinian Authority is no worse than in Egypt or Jordan, and there is less there than in the United States (the Enron affair), France (the Elf-Aquitaine affairs), Germany (the Kohl affair) or Israel (Shass). In the middle of a life-or-death national liberation fight, the treatment of this disease can certainly be postponed.

The Palestinians themselves understand this well. In this arena – the main target of Israeli psychological warfare é the campaign, it now turns out, has completely failed. Sharon believed that by shutting Arafat up in Ramallah he would expose him to ridicule and show that he is not “relevant” anymore, in order to install a gang of collaborators in his place. The very opposite has happened, of course: from Sheikh Yassin of the fundamentalist Hamas to the left-wing Popular Front, the Palestinian people has closed ranks behind Arafat at this moment of supreme danger to their very existence. Even the rumbling of criticism from some Palestinian intellectuals é who where also unwittingly exploited by Israeli psychological warfare é has fallen silent.

These methods were used against Churchill, as well as against Castro. To no avail. They will, probably, not succeed against Arafat either.

[The author has closely followed the career of Sharon for four decades. Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation.]