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Did Shuqayri Call for "Throwing the Jews into the Sea" ?

From: Israel Studies
Volume 8, Number 2, Summer 2003
pp. 70-81 | 10.1353/is.2003.0025

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Israel Studies 8.2 (2003) 70-81

AHMAD AL-SHUQAYRI FOUNDED THE PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) toward the end of the first Palestinian National Council that was held in East Jerusalem in May1964. Establishing the PLO was the high-point of Shuqayri's political career, and he served as its head until he was forced to resign on December 24, 1967. He was harshly criticized for his management of the Organization and, since January 1965, was blamed for the increased influence in the Arab and Palestinian arena of the fidaiyun organizations (especially Fatah). The military defeat of the Arab armies in the Six-Day War further strengthened the fidaiyun position.

Shuqayri, who was noted for his rhetorical skill and vociferous attacks against Israel in international, Arab, and Palestinian forums, reached the nadir of his status after the Six-Day War. The Arab world accused him of contributing to its defeat with his radical declarations against Israel before the war, which had resulted in the world favoring Israel. Shuqayri thus served as a scapegoat for the Arab defeat in the war, a position eagerly seized upon by his enemies and opponents.

Sa'ad Jum'a, Jordanian prime minister during the Six-Day War wrote:

My opinion of Shuqayri—objectively—is that he is one of the direct causes for the catastrophe [the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War]. He had the appearance and bearings to play a role perfectly suited to him in the catastrophe of the Arab world and in Arab disputes, and unfortunately he fulfilled this function with alacrity and expertise. When the Arab nation and Arab leaders stood before the bitter facts, after the campaign of humiliation and shame . . . [and] when a new period dawned. . . Shuqayri no longer had a place [in it], and he vanished from the stage. Some people can be likened to a drum—when you strike it, it produces a clamor and din because of its emptiness.

Shuqayri became famous for supposedly calling on the Arabs "to throw the Jews into the sea" on the eve of the Six-Day War. According to Shuqayri, Israel's "spin doctors" exploited this proclamation in order to prove the threat to Israel's existence and to expose the Arabs' aggressive intentions. Israel hoped in this way to justify to international circles that the war it had launched was one of defense or no-choice.

The claim that on the eve of the Six-Day War Shuqayri called for throwing the Jews into the sea was picked up not only in the West, but also by Arab and Palestinian elements that used it against him. With Arab "confirmation" of this claim, researchers in the West also began referring to it. According to Mark Tessler, "The PLO's Ahmad Shuqayri coined a famous phrase asserting that the Arabs would throw the Jews into the sea."

In Helena Cobban's words:

For his part Shuqayri was remembered in later years, even by many Palestinians, as 'the man who gave the Palestinians a bad name by threatening to throw the Jews into the sea.' He himself always strongly denied that this was, in fact, what he had said on the eve of the 1967 War. But in many ways, the most significant thing is that this is the way he was remembered by his constituency.

As Jordanian historian Samir A. Mutawi wrote:

Nasser's closure of the straits [the Straits of Tiran, on May 22, 1967] and Shuqayri's bellicose statement—that the time had come to annihilate the State of Israel and that the Arabs would throw the Jews into the sea—had alienated world opinion to such an extent that military activity by Israel would be regarded with positive favor.

On the other hand, Randolph S. Churchill and Winston S. Churchill emphasized shortly after the war that Shuqayri's statement regarding the destruction of those Jews remaining after the war made no mention of throwing them into the sea:

Meanwhile, in Amman, Ahmed Shuqayri, the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was saying that it was 'possible and even most likely' that his Palestinian Liberation Army would fire the first shot. If the Arabs took Israel, he...

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