Turning the tables on Arafat

Yoav Blum recalls the story behind a ‘Post’ front-page photo 28 years ago.

Yoav Blum 311 (photo credit: Jerusalem Post archives)
Yoav Blum 311
(photo credit: Jerusalem Post archives)
his calendar that Friday, June 11 was approaching, it triggered a dormant memory.
Exactly 28 years ago, on Friday, June 11, 1982, The Jerusalem Post published a front-page photograph of Blum when he was a 21- year-old IDF soldier at the start of Operation Peace for Galilee, turning over a portrait of then PLO leader Yasser Arafat taken from his headquarters in southern Lebanon.
“It was the first week of combat,” Blum told the Post in a telephone call he initiated earlier this week.
“Arafat’s famous symbol was a ‘V’ for victory, and we put his picture upside down to turn his victory upside down, which means something like, ‘We got you, Arafat!’” An English-speaking aunt had seen the photograph in the paper and alerted his parents, who were relieved to see their soldier son smiling.
“There were no mobile phones in those days, so this was the first sign that I was alive,” Blum remembered, laughing. “My aunt saw the photo and told my parents.” “Without insulting the media,” he said, “my first comment is that the picture was not taken in Tyre [as reported in the original Post caption] but outside Arafat’s headquarters in Rashadiye. I was part of a unit called the Segev force under the command of Col.
Yitzhak Segev, which was then part of the Nahal Brigade. I was a combat medic by training, and the person standing next to me with a moustache was a member of the Christian forces.”
Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee on June 5, 1982 against the PLO and other hostile forces after the assassination attempt on its ambassador to the UK, Shlomo Argov.
After his military service in Lebanon, Blum served as an emissary to South Africa for the Betar Zionist youth movement. He later became world chairman of Betar and deputy chairman of World Likud. He is now a private-sector businessman and serves as vice chairman of the World Jewish Congress.
Today, the Post photograph is infused with meaning for Blum, who said its message continues to resonate on both personal and political levels.
“For me personally, it represents the closure of a circle of our fighting for our existence,” he said. “My late father, Chaim Blum, was the only wounded person who made it from the massacre of the Yehiam convoy in 1948. [Forty-seven soldiers were killed.] He had three bullets in his body and ran for his life to Nahariya. He passed away two years ago.
“Since then, I was privileged to send three children to the army, two in the air force and one in intelligence.
And this is the story of our nation. Sixty to 70 years of fighting for independence and there’s no end in sight.
“I have no doubt that my children’s children will also have to fight and do their share.”
From a political perspective, Blum said he believed his decision as a young soldier to turn the portrait of Arafat, who died six years ago, on its head had been vindicated.
“For a few years, during the Oslo process, people embarrassed me with this photo because they said it was an insult to Arafat ‘the peacemaker,’” he said. “I believe it took a few more years for me to be proven right, so the picture can now be put back on the wall.”