Question: What is more popular reading in the West Bank than the UNLU’s leaflets? Answer: Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari’s Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising — Israel’s Third Front, now translated into Arabic and serialized in the daily al-Quds this spring.

Like the fake manifestos written by Israel’s intelligence service, the book, published in Hebrew in Israel and just out in English, has sown confusion and discord in the Occupied Territories. The authors, both Israeli journalists, rely heavily on interrogation files (referred to as “exclusive inside documents” on the inside cover flap) and tapped telephone conversations for their analysis of the popular uprising.

Ethical concerns aside, the use of interrogation records raises serious questions of accuracy. What kind of “evidence” can be expected to emerge from the “moderate physical force” sanctioned by the Israeli Knesset? Schiff and Ya’ari take at face value the results from a quick survey conducted among Gaza detainees during the first weeks of the uprising which showed that “hardly any of the detainees were familiar with the clauses of the Palestinian National Covenant or knew of its existence. They were unable to repeat the most common slogans used in the PLO’s routine propaganda, and even the central concept of the Palestinian struggle — the right to self-determination — was completely alien to them.” Hardly a surprising outcome, when the penalty for any form of political expression is beatings and imprisonment!

Messrs. Schiff and Ya’ari are respected journalists, presumably able to distinguish fact from fiction. Certain of their statements, then, read more like political intervention than journalistic reporting. They say, for example: “Neither were the Darwish brothers [accused of having printed the first six of the UNLU’s manifestos] wholly above reproach: Under interrogation they admitted…to charging the Democratic Front an exorbitant price for their services!” Unless Palestinian activists suddenly see Israeli intelligence as the preferred venue for their weekly confessionals, this smells like a rather direct attempt to divide Palestinian from Palestinian. So too does the reference to Palestinian resistance to the UNLU’s “line of action,” in the form of “circulars denouncing [the UNLU’s] threats against strikebreakers and certain well-known figures.” These circulars have been exposed by Palestinians as Israeli intelligence forgeries, as Schiff and Ya’ari (ought to) know.

By casting aspersions and spreading intrigue, Schiff and Ya’ari’s book is now playing a role in the US and Israel, and in the Occupied Territories, similar to that of the fake bayanat.

How to cite this article:

Joost Hiltermann "Aspersion and Intrigue," Middle East Report 164-165 (May/June 1990).

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