Newsweek, August 18, 1969, p. 41

Mideast: „My Country, My Country“
Arab commandos: New Left heroes

Perhaps as part of their repudiation of any cause dear to middle-aged liberals, the young zealots of the New Left take a dim view of Israel. In the U.S., members of the Students for a Democratic Society have joined such black militants as Stokely Carmichael in denouncing Israel as an insidious outpost of Western influence in the Third World. In Stockholm and London youthful radicals have established organizations dedicated to propagandizing for the Arab cause, while students in Paris hold teach-ins featuring anti-Israeli speakers and the sale of one-franc “war bonds” to support Al Fatah, the best known of the Palestinian commando groups. And lately, the New Left’s support for Al Fatah has taken an even more active turn. From Jordan last week, Milan J. Kubic, Newsweek’s Middle Eastern bureau chief, cabled this report:

When 140 radical Western students arrived in Jordan late in July and were quickly hustled off to an Al Fatah training camp, diplomatic rumor mills in Amman ground overtime. Al Fatah, it was rumored, was about to create an anti-Zionist foreign legion that would soon participate in guerrilla raids on Israel. The groans that these reports evoked in the vine-covered Western embassies of Amman were painful to hear. “We had the most awful visions of nasty cables from politicians, stacks of inquiries from frantic parents and worst of all tragic casualties,” confided one overwrought consul in the Jordanian capital. “I don’t want to sound cynical, but you’ve no idea how much paperwork it takes to send home just one national in trouble – let alone he’s dead.”

Discipline: Diplomatic fears, however, were somewhat calmed last week by assurances from Al Fatah spokesmen that the sole purpose of the five-week “summer camp” was to acquaint foreign students with the Arab cause. The students – predominantly British, French and Scandinavian, but reportedly including four Americans – visit Palestinian refugee camps in the morning and listen to lectures on Middle Eastern history and politics in the late afternoon. In between, they are more occupied with Marx than marksmanship, for Al Fatah does not seem at all interested in instructing them in guerrilla techniques. “We already have more Arab volunteers than we can use,” explained an aide to Yasir Arafat, the Al Fatah commander. “And, besides, there’s the problem of discipline and communication. You tell these kids something and they give you backtalk in five languages.”

Indeed, while the New Left as a whole is determined to elevate the Palestinian guerrillas to the “hero status” it previously accorded only to the Viet Cong, it is clear that firsthand exposure to the commando movement has embittered some of the students now in Jordan. Defying Al Fatah orders to stay out of sight, they roamed through Amman’s fetid, fly-infested souk last week in search of the commando camouflage caps that have become their favorite souvenir – and openly criticized their hosts. “Arafat has all the inclinations of a petty bourgeois,” said one bespectacled youngster. “He knows the worldwide revolution like I know Arabic.” Despite their disillusionment, however, the students will remain through the summer and then return home to propagandize for the Arabs. “Our movement would wither without a “liberation war,” one of them explained. “With Che Guevara dead and Vietnam almost over, we need the Palestinians to carry the flag of our cause.”

Ideology: The question was whether the commandos would let the students carry the Palestinian flag. While Arafat has called on Arab governments to become “Hanois” for his commandos, Al Fatah can scarcely qualify as a model liberation movement by New Left standards. To begin with, its remarkable growth has been in part due to its policy of accepting Palestinians of all political hues as members, including followers of the right-wing Muslim Brotherhood. Then, too, Al Fatah defrays much of its $40 million annual budget with contributions from such conservative Arab leaders as King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and the Sheik of Kuweit. “I use Saudi money to buy weapons from Red China,” Arafat recently exploded at a newsman who badgered him with political questions. “Now what kind of ideology is that?”

But the biggest disappointment to the students must have been the attitude of the rank and file of Palestinians. Fundamentally religious and distrustful of foreigners, the Palestinians yearn only to avenge past Arab defeats and reconquer the land they believe was wrongfully taken away from them by the Israelis. And they are not really prepared to grant full participation in their holy war to other Arabs, much less Westerners. In one refugee camp the students visited, several Jewish members of the group tried to explain to the Palestinians that their leftist ideology allowed them to view the Mideast situation “correctly” despite their ethnic background. Unconvinced, the refugees angrily insisted that they leave and had to be restrained by the Al Fatah tour guides. And an idealistic ex-Yale student, who came to Jordan a year ago with the intention of joining the fight against Israel, admits that whenever he tried to discuss the matter with the guerrillas, “all they would say was baladi, baladi – my country, my country. Finally I got the message. In their eyes, this was not my fight.”