Newspaper editor feels the wrath of Mrs Arafat

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The Independent Online
HELL hath no fury like Suha Arafat scorned. Or so Abdulberi Attwan found out when he wrote an editorial which criticised - ever so mildly - the wife of the Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman. Her sin, according to Mr Attwan's article in the London-based Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi, had been to send medicine to Iraq with her name plastered all over the boxes; why, he asked his readers, could the medical supplies not have been sent by "the Palestinian people"?

Anywhere else, the remarks might have been of small moment. Indeed, Mr Attwan had already written a leader in his paper - printed on an inside page - praising the Palestinian gift of medicines. Mr Attwan wishes to say nothing about the subsequent dispute, but another member of his staff is less reticent. "We were in our editorial meeting, waiting for a picture to use on our front page of the medicines being put aboard a flight to Baghdad," he says. "We were very proud that our besieged Palestinian people would want to show their sympathy in this way for the poor Iraqis."

Then the photograph arrived which showed the medicine boxes, all of which had Suha Arafat's name printed on the side in large letters - "larger than the boxes themselves!" as another member of staff put it. Mr Attwan was so outraged that he immediately wrote a second editorial for the front page of the paper, condemning the "hypocrisy" of using the name of Yasser Arafat's wife when the Palestinian people were themselves the donors.

Within hours of the paper's appearance, Suha Arafat was on the phone. "She was screaming at Abdulberi, asking him why he had criticised her and telling him she had sent the medicines in the name of the Palestinian people," the Al-Quds al-Arabi staff member says. "She claimed she had put her name on the boxes of medicines for Iraq to "protect the Palestinian people - because Abu Amar [Arafat] and his colleagues were frightened that [Israeli prime minister] Netanyahu would be angry if he saw the medicines came from all Palestinians".

The Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Hayat defended Mrs Arafat, who later gave an indignant interview to the magazine Al Majella - also Saudi-owned - saying she would repeat her medical shipments to Iraq. "She said that those who didn't like it could drink sea water," Mr Attwan's colleague explained.

When Mr Arafat arrived for last week's doomed "peace" talks in London, the luckless Mr Attwan tried to make amends by visiting the PLO chairman at Claridges. He got short shrift. "Arafat saw him after a delay but was very cold," the editor's colleague says. "Clearly, he had not been forgiven."

All of which proves that a Palestinian editor's duty is not a happy one. Two days ago, this salient fact was demonstrated yet again. After criticising the Jordanian government, Mr Attwan received a letter from the Ministry of Information in Amman, telling him that his paper was permanently banned in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Al-Quds al-Arabi was hitherto regarded as something of a mouthpiece for the PLO. So what happened? Where is its money coming from to fund the paper and its nine staff? The editor laughs bitterly. "You may well ask," Mr Attwan says. "Now we are not getting on with our landlord in London. And yesterday, the bailiffs came to call on us..."

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