How the Terrorists Stopped Terrorism
“Do you want to know how to eliminate terrorism? I’ll tell you. In fact, I’ll tell you about something that no one else knows. Something that has never been written about. You will be amazed, but it is true. Listen.”
by Bruce Hoffman
The Atlantic Monthly
The speaker knew what he was talking about. Just a few years before, he had been a terrorist — a senior commander of al-Fatah, the largest constituent element of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The speaker was now a brigadier general in one of the Palestine Authority’s myriad security and intelligence services.
Ironically, the general’s job was hunting down and rooting out terrorists.
His nemeses were neither the Jews nor their Zionist benefactors but his brother Palestinians: men who, unlike him, had refused to swear allegiance to Arafat and the governing Palestine Authority. These men, moreover, were imbued with religious fervor and the unswerving belief that armed struggle was decreed by Allah and justified by the Koran.
“Arafat and the PLO,” the general said, “had a big problem in the 1970s. We had a group called the Black September Organization. It was the most elite unit we had. The members were suicidal —not in the sense of religious terrorists who surrender their lives to ascend to heaven but in the sense that we could send them anywhere to do anything, and they were prepared to lay down their lives to do it. No question. No hesitation. They were absolutely dedicated and absolutely ruthless.”
Black September was at the time among the most feared terrorist organizations in the world.
In September of 1972, Black September perpetrated one of the most audacious acts of terrorism in history: the seizure of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games. The operation’s purpose was to capture the world’s attention by striking at a target of inestimable value (in this case, a country’s star athletes) in a setting calculated to provide the terrorists with unparalleled exposure and publicity. The problem, however, was that Black September had served its purpose. The PLO and its chairman had the recognition and acceptance they craved.
Indeed, any continuation of these terrorist activities, ironically, now threatened to undermine all that had been achieved. In short, Black September was suddenly not a deniable asset but a potential liability.
Thus, according to my host, Arafat ordered Abu Iyad “to turn Black September off.” My host was charged with devising a solution. For months, both men thought of various ways to solve the Black September problem, discussing and debating what they could possibly do, short of killing all these young men, to stop them from committing further acts of terror.
Finally they hit upon an idea. Why not simply marry them off? Why not find a way to give these men a reason to live rather than to die? Having failed to come up with any viable alternatives, the two men put their plan in motion.
They traveled to Palestinian refugee camps, to PLO offices, and to the capitals of all Middle Eastern countries with large Palestinian communities. Systematically identifying the most attractive young Palestinian women they could find, they put before these women what they hoped would be an irresistible proposition: Your fatherland needs you. Will you come to Beirut, for a reason to be disclosed upon your arrival, but one decreed by no higher authority than Chairman Arafat himself? How could a true patriot refuse?
So approximately a hundred of these beautiful young women were brought to Beirut. There, in a sort of PLO
version of a college mixer, boy met girl, boy fell in love with girl, boy would, it was hoped, marry girl. There was an additional incentive, designed to facilitate not just amorous connections but long lasting relationships. The hundred or so Black Septemberists were told that if they married these women, they would be paid $3,000; given an apartment in Beirut with a gas stove, a refrigerator, and a television; and employed by the PLO in some nonviolent capacity. Any of these couples that had a baby within a year would be rewarded with an additional $5,000.
Both Abu Iyad and the future general worried that their scheme would never work. But, as the general recounted, without exception the Black Septem-berists fell in love, got married, settled down, and, in most cases, started a
To make sure that none ever strayed, the two men devised a test. Periodically, the former terrorists would be handed legitimate passports and asked to go to the organization’s offices in Geneva or Paris or some other city on genuine nonviolent PLO business. But, the general explained, not one of them would agree to travel abroad, for fear of being arrested and losing all they had — that is, being deprived of their wives and children. “And so,” my host told me, “that is how we shut down Black September and eliminated terrorism. It is the only successful case that I know