Palestinian "sex + corruption" videotape scandal continues

Some of the reactions are interesting — some Israeli comments on various news stories and blog posts say they are happy to learn that the Palestinian leadership is interested in sex rather than violence… “Let them make love, not war”, one Israeli wrote.

OK.

This only shows how the lack of contact, the media incitement against Palestinians, and the separation of peoples has created such a demonization that it has become impossible to view The Other as really just human.

But, this “he’s only human, and nobody is perfect” business does not adequately deal with what was shown about Rafiq Husseini, Chef de Cabinet of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the Palestinian “sex + corruption” videotape that was aired, repeatedly, on Israeli TV during the past week, and which is also now available globally on the internet via Youtube.

While we have seen, in recent years, images of a number of Palestinian men forced to strip down to their underwear — or more — to fulfill the imperious demands of Israeli mililtary forces, this is the first time we have seen one of the top officials (he couldn’t really be called an operative) in the Palestinian Authority take of all his clothes — all of them — roll into bed, and wait for a woman (who remained off-camera in what was clearly a “sting operation” to entrap him. When he is surprised by a group of four Palestinian men who walk into the bedroom (instead of the woman he was waiting for), Husseini keeps a lid on his anger, and hops out of bed and gets dressed again.

The defense offered by some Palestinian leaders, going now right to the top, is not inspiring.  Ma’an News Agency reported today that Abbas told a Dubai satellite TV channel yesterday that “When Israel wants to defame someone or some party, they launch accusations against him from all directions”.  Ma’an said that “Abbas referred to ‘Israel’s attack’ on him via a media interest in hundreds of leaked document and a sex tape allegedly used in a corruption scandal”.  This Ma’an report is published here.

For full disclosure, it should be noted that Ma’an chief editor Nasser Lahham yesterday wrote an editorial published by his news agency which — among other things — called on Husseini to resign: “No matter what pain it causes him personally, chief of staff Rafik Al-Husseini must resign immediately for the sake of the country and national interest. Bold steps are required to overcome this crisis and quickly – his silence is no longer enough … guilty or not, any competent media advisor would urge someone in his position, the head of the Office of the President, to cede all responsibilities until a commission of inquiry can be established and its results reviewed … [But] The leadership has unfortunately adopted the same tired and evasive tactics, failing to take responsibility”.

Nasser Lahham does see himself, of course, as a media pundit and a media advisor, and was invited to appear on the Palestinian TV show last night on which Rafiq Husseini was supposed to participate as well, but didn’t. Instead (see below) one of the women involved, apparently Husseini’s secretary, called in. On the TV show, Lahham expressed outrage and indignation, said that there was no real, free, journalism in Palestine, called into question the authenticity of the full videotape that was shown on Israeli TV, and said that he was once honored to have a visit from Rafiq Husseini. His editorial can be read in full here.

Also in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Ma’an News Agency last night published a “right of reply” from the disgruntled Palestinian Authority (PA) security officer who was shown on the videotape interrupting what Husseini thought would be a sex session, and who was interviewed non-stop on Israeli TV last week — after Israeli-Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh flogged the story for all it was worth starting in late January in the Jerusalem post. In the “right of reply”, the disgruntled Fahmi Shabaneh wrote, among other things, that “The Rafiq Al-Husseini episode occurred in June 2008. Rafiq misled President Abbas about what happened. I was suspended for 10 days through a decision taken by President Abbas, after he was contacted by [PA official] Ibrahim Al-Masri Tawfiq At-Tirawi, who was abroad … After President Abbas reviewed the facts that I told him, and after I delivered copies of the tapes that revealed the lies and fabrications of Rafiq Al-Husseini, I was back at work on 31 November 2008 at Abbas’ request. I was also promoted as head of intelligence in the West Bank’s northern district on 21 December 2008. That I returned to my post infuriated Rafiq Al-Husseini, so I found myself imprisoned in an Israeli jail for a month and a half, after which they imposed house arrest from 4 January 2009 until just recently. After the Al-Husseini story came to light, Israel demolished part of my house, which is in At-Tur, East Jerusalem. The Palestinian general intelligence and the PA didn’t help me [after I was arrested by Israel – n.b. he writes later that this happened on 12 January 2009] by hiring a lawyer, paying legal fees, or paying expenses related to my house arrest, which resulted in my having to sell my home to cover the costs of the case and the arrest. I wrote President Abbas four letters, two others to the prime minister, another to the Fatah movement’s court [established by Abbas for inter-party matters], three letters to Ahmad Qurei (Abu Ala), a letter to [PA Housing Minister] Muhammad Ishtiyah, and letters to the head of each security department and a plethora of other officials, knocking on doors to no avail. I still have all this correspondence … I will not waver from what I’ve committed to doing, and will host a press conference on 28 February 2010 in the event that no procedures are taken against those whose names I gave to President Abbas”.

There are plenty of questions out there about whether or not sections of the tape may have been doctored, whether or not the dialogue was electronically altered by sophisticated means, and whether some of the sequences may have been shot at different times, there are some facts that stand up:
(1) Rafiq Husseini is shown sitting in a small living room with two women whose faces are blurred on the Israeli TV video, apparently to hide their identities, but whose voices were apparently not altered. (Both the living room, and the bedroom which is shown later, do not look as though they are places where someone normally lives. The two rooms are quite small, and have the anonymous crisp look of a temporarily-rented furnished apartment. Nasser Lahham noted on last night’s Palestinian television program that Husseini appeared to be wearing a different shirt in the living room and in the bedroom which was shown later…)
(2) In any case, one of these women is apparently either his secretary, or a secretary working in another office in the Ramallah Muqata’a Presidential headquarters where Yasser Arafat was beseiged under constant threat of death for the last years of his life, and where Yasser Arafat’s tomb now stands.
(3) The other woman is a friend of the secretary, and was apparently sseeking something that Rafiq Husseini was in a position to arrange.
(4) One or both of these women were apparently aware that a unit of the Palestinian security services was seeking to get Rafiq Husseini in a compromised and ridiculous position on videotape; and cooperated with this operation.
(5) The conversation between Husseini and the two women in the living room did not have the tone of a normal social interaction. Husseini appeared arrogant, and bantered in a suggestive way.
(6) Though it is clearly suggested, it is not absolutely certain either (a) that the bedroom was in the same apartment as the living room shown on the videotape, or (b) whether or not the presence of Husseini in both rooms happened in sequence on the same day.
(7) What is clear is that Husseini in the living room was being asked for something … and Husseini in the bedroom was clearly expecting a sexual encounter from a woman to whom he called out, but remained off camera.
(8) At least some of the men who entered the bedroom and surprised the naked Husseini waiting expectantly between the sheets were recognized by Husseini as Palestinian.
(9) One of these women who was in the living room — who identified herself in a phone call into last night’s Palestinian TV program as one of the two women, and whose voice seemed very similar if not identical to the voice of one of the women who was pictured on the videotape with Rafiq Husseini, and who apparently is either his secretary, or a secretary working in another office of the Presidency — said that almost everything that was being said was a lie (but neither of these women appeared undressed or in the bedroom with the visibly naked Rafiq Husseini). The explanation that this woman offered in her phone call last night was illogical, unsatisfactory, and implausible.

Many here are remembering Bill Clinton’s unforgettable testimony: “I did. not. have. sex. with. that. woman”.

(I should note here that neither the host of the program nor Nasser Lahham asked her any probing questions — they seemed embarrassed. Nasser Lahham wrote in his editorial published before the TV show that “Adults and children alike were left speechless when they saw what aired on Israel’s Channel 10 last night. How could parents explain to their kids, with any credibility, what they were witnessing? The shock was enormous”.)

It has been written in other news reports about this sex + corruption scandal that Palestinian society is “deeply conservative”. Well, yes and no. There is enormous social pressure to appear deeply conservative. But from what I have seen, observed, heard and experienced, I can state that everything that goes on everyplace else in the world also happens here. It’s just that here, it’s important to pretend that it doesn’t happen, and to save face publicly. Some people would call this hypocrisy. Palestinians would say it’s simply smart — and it would be not only utterly insensitive, but would show a complete lack of culture, delicatesse and good manners, and would also be incredibly stupid to behave otherwise, here.

Just this is enough to set aside all the other possible questions and discrepancies about the videotape (and about the motivations of the person who made the accusations, about the motivations of the Israeli media and the Israeli leadership and the Israeli secret services) and to show that something is very wrong inside the Muqata’a, and inside at least a certain segment of the leadership.

The episode(s) shown in the videotape aired on Israeli TV are reported to have happened in June 2008. And nothing was done, until now?

The crisis has been brewing since Khaled Abu Toameh published in the Jerusalem Post on 29 January his first article in this recent series. And nothing was done, until now.

The fact that the leadership appears to be tone-deaf, and prefers to lash out at all its possible opponents rather than acting as it should and must act, shows that this is just a repeat of the scandal concerning the lightly-taken decision to put off the first Human Rights Commission vote the Goldstone report … and it further erodes the political viability of the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian Authority.

Another indication that something is wrong is the defiant reaction that there is no corruption so long as “the PA maintains transparency with donor countries and operates a strict oversight mechanism on their payments”, as one PA official reportedly told YNet, here — as if donor money is the only thing that is important, the only thing that needs to be handled correctly.

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