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Who cares about Arafat?

Op-ed: Al-Jazeera’s failed attempt to revive Arafat agenda highlights Arab apathy about Israel

Published: 07.06.12, 15:03 / Israel Opinion

Over the years, the Qatar-based al-Jazeera has become a self-declared spearhead in the Palestinian struggle against Israel, thereby making itself more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves. This channel turned the death of Mohammad al-Dura, for example, into a clip aired every 15 minutes during the last Intifada, thereby inciting the Arab street and turning this Intifada into a pan-Arab and global affair.

 

However, over the past two years the network has had trouble accepting reality, whereby the Arab world is engaged in what truly threatens it: Poverty, unemployment, short life expectancy, the lowly quality of education for the next generation and the feeling of helplessness.

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Hence, al-Jazeera started to artificially promote reports on the Palestinian issue in order to bring it back to the agenda. For example, it attempted to turn the issue of Palestinian prisoners into a provocative affair, by promoting a different detainee every time, yet to no avail.

 

The Arab world’s attention is no longer directed at the imagined reality promoted by al-Jazeera, that is, against Israel, but rather, at the truly burning issues. Therefore, the network decided to embark on a major campaign to change this.

 

The channel announced that for months its people have been working on an investigative report about Yasser Arafat’s death; this week, their sensational headlines revealed: Al-Jazeera discovered a radioactive substance, polonium, in Arafat’s clothing.

 

The report was prominently displayed on al-Jazeera’s television channel and website (the whole front page featured a huge photo.) Arafat’s widow, Suha, was rushed to the studios, and follow-up stories were prepared. For example, the life of Arafat, other people who died of polonium, remarks by Arafat’s daughter, and so on. Facebook and Twitter pages were also updated.

 

Outdated agenda  

Al-Jazeera officials smiled with satisfaction: They shall be shaking up the Middle East and restoring the old agenda. They did not blame Israel explicitly, but noted that only a state with a nuclear reactor can provide such a substance.

 

The result was embarrassing. News stories about Syria prompt hundreds of talkbacks on al-Jazeera’s website yet Arafat, despite the huge headlines, only elicited dozens of cool reactions. His widow received 10 responses, some of them insulting. Ahmed from Canada wrote: “Assad is burning Syria and slaughtering its people, and al-Jazeera prepares an investigative report about the death of Arafat 10 years ago? Please cover the distress of Syria’s citizens 24 hours a day.”

 

“I’m a Kurd from Kurdistan and I think that a Palestinian hand murdered Arafat,” another commentator wrote. “Is all of this done out of love for Arafat, or in order to topple someone else?” yet another reader wrote, hinting that al-Jazeera is planning to topple Mahmoud Abbas, who isn’t popular with network officials.

 

Even the responses to Suha Arafat were disparaging and venomous. One reader wrote: “Before demanding to exhume Arafat’s body, return the donation money you took.” Ouch. That’s not quite what al-Jazeera expected.

 

Another point of interest is the attitude of competing a television network, the Saudi al-Arabiya, to the report. In a brief story on its website (“Arafat doubts remain”) that was quickly removed, the network disparaged al-Jazeera’s report and hinted that this is old news. “Many Palestinians believe that he was poisoned,” al-Arabiya noted, quoting one official at the Swiss lab that did the tests for al-Jazeera saying that there is no decisive proof that Arafat was murdered.

 

Al-Jazeera, which aimed to restore the old Arab agenda, merely proved that it was an invented agenda to a large extend; an outdated agenda. This network, which wanted to lay a trap for Israel, fell in it itself and revealed its intentions. Instead of promoting agendas, al-Jazeera would do well to engage in the issues that truly bother and threaten Arab citizens. To its regret, these issues do not involve Israel.

 

 

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