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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Kill Khalid: The Failed Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas
By Paul McGeough
The Israeli Secret Services & the Struggle Against Terrorism
By Ami Pedahzur
Columbia University Press
On September 25, 1997, two Mossad agents attempted to kill Khaled Mashaal, now the overall leader of Hamas, in Amman. The failed assassination attempt became a minor scandal for the first Netanyahu administration and may have helped propel Mashaal to new heights of prestige. This assassination is the subject of a new book, Kill Khalid, by Australian journalist Paul McGeough.
Kill Khalid had a lot of potential to be an important and interesting read. Mashaal's Hamas is probably a more important and influential organization than Yasser Arafat's (who died in 2004) Fatah which lost control of Gaza in 2007 and whose power may be challenged in the West Bank in years to come. Either way the ideology of Mashaal, Islamism, is important and reading a biography of Mashaal gives a glimpse into an entire generation of Arabs and Muslims who became Islamists and who have been responsible for terrorism from Argentina to Bali and New York.
Unfortunately McGeough is not the person to write this biography. From the first to the last page Kill Khalid is full of incendiary comments, caustic musings, biased one-sided accounts and silly mistakes. To begin with the book is full of fanciful romance about the life of the "Palestinian peasant." McGeough relates that Mashaal's birthplace, Silwad was "nestled in chalky high country... the end of a track to nowhere... eight thousand people... hillside pastoral... it was their relationship to the land, not their numbers that defined them... in front of its villagers lay a spectacular bird's eye view of what, after the calamity of 1948, were the lost lands of Palestine - the coastal plains from Jaffa to Haifa."
None of this true. There were only 1,900 people in the village in 1945, today it has only 6,000 residents. It's not at the end of a track to nowhere but rather one that ends at the village. From Silwad one cannot see to Jaffa and Haifa, one can barely see past the surrounding villages of Bir Zeit and Yabrud.
The fabrications and romance don't end with Mashaal's birth in 1956. McGeough speaks of the "bloodiness and brutality [by Israelis] that shrunk the land of Palestine." He claims that when Mashaal's family willingly left the West Bank for Jordan after the Six Day War, they were "driven from their land." McGeough contrasts the Holocaust with the Zionists going "for broke in  for a homeland of their own, demanding all of historical Palestine." However, the Zionist leadership was in fact accepting partition plans.
McGeough speaks about "resistance against the Jews" and claims the Palestinian refugees of 1948 represented one of "the biggest forced migrations in modern history." In fact 14.4 million became refugees in the 1948 partition of India; in contrast there were 700,000 or fewer Palestinian refugees of 1948. McGeough speaks of Israel "exploiting to its own strategic advantage" King Hussein of Jordan and an "American plot to co-opt Arab leaders to protect Western oil supplies" in the 1950s.
The author might be mistaken for a spokesman for Hamas and traditional Islam when claiming that Mashaal's mother "fulfilled her marital duty for providing Abd al-Qadir a male heir" and when he claims that Israel wanted to "make them [Palestinians] disappear from the new-look Israel" and the condemns the "Israel lobby in Washington."
While there are good parts describing the growth of Hamas and how money was funneled to it from Muslim charities and the US and elsewhere, there is little acknowledgement of Hamas's murderous campaign of terror. McGeough speaks of the massacre by Baruch Goldstein in 1994 in which 30 Arabs were murdered, but in describing the murder of 22 Jews in a bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv in October 1994, the same word "massacre" is not used. Such a one-sided text, whatever its merits in describing the likes of Mashaal, cannot be accepted, and the reading public will have to await another.
IN CONTRAST, Ami Pedahzur, who holds a PhD from the University of Haifa, offers readers a brilliant description of Israel's fight against terrorism from 1948 to the present. In a book complete with charts and time lines that guide the reader through the various stages of terror and efforts to fight it, an insight into the development of the country's attempts to stop attacks against its military and civilians is provided. The text suffers from a little bit of scholarly jargon such as terrorists not "assimilating" certain "models."
Pedahzur's greatest interest is to discover what the best method of fighting terror is and whether or not the numerous special units, such as the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit and the police Antiterrorism Unit, have been employed effectively.
In describing the policy of abducting senior Hizbullah members in 1988 in retaliation for its unwillingness to return missing IAF navigator Ron Arad, he concludes that "these complicated military operations... endangered the lives of large numbers of soldiers." The book is particularly strong on giving accounts of antiterrorist operations and the history of special units. A wealth of information is packed into the slight volume.
The book's conclusion is that high profile assassinations and abductions and attacks on terrorists, such as Operation Wrath of God, are not as helpful as good police and intelligence work. He recommends using special units less and on providing the Kfir infantry brigade with more training and support from undercover units (Duvdevan and Yamas) and, along with the Border Police, unleashing them on terrorists. Unfortunately the Kfir brigade has not proved immune from accusations of unprofessional behavior in the West Bank and may not live up to Pedahzur's high hopes for it.
The writer is a PhD student in Geography at the Hebrew University and runs the Terra Incognita Journal blog.