Need to know

Need to know

Stop the presses! We have some late-breaking news:

Christina Aguilera’s just-born baby boy has joined the tribe! The little Bratman’s brit (the proud papa is Jordan Bratman) came off on schedule and his name is Max Liron. Liron, for those not in the know, means "the song is mine." No, not in Spanish; in Hebrew. No self-respecting Ecuadorian-Irish singer from Staten Island would give her kid a Spanish name at his brit. (Who, by the way, who is Jordan Bratman and why should I care?)

On the breaking news front, too: Daniel Day-Lewis just copped the actor award at the SAG ceremony for "There Will Be Blood," which is not a movie about the Bratman brit. (I assume, of course, that Day-Lewis knows that he is Jewish; Jewish newspapers obviously do.)

Oh yes. George Habash died. Unfortunately, with all the important things that Jewish newspapers need to report on these days, there is no room left for more than a passing mention, if that.

Seriously, though, who cares that George Habash died? He was a Greek-Orthodox Christian and none of his best friends were Jewish. He never had a hit single (do they even have singles anymore?); he never starred in a film or television series (although others have played him on screens large and small); and he never dated Britney Spears.

In fact, about his only noteworthy achievement since earning a medical degree at the American University of Beirut in 1951 was to hijack the skyjack from the Cubans for the Palestinians to use as political tool. Until Habash came along, kidnapping planes and their passengers was done only to embarrass Fidel Castro. Habash changed that on July ‘3, 1968, when three armed members of his recently created Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine seized control of an El Al jet liner bound for Tel Aviv from Rome. That alone would have rated him a few column inches in a bygone era.

According to the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, "Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the PFLP [under Habash’s leadership] conducted a series of high-profile terrorist attacks around the world, pioneering the use of airplane hijackings to bring attention to the Palestinian cause. In [September] 1970, the group hijacked four commercial airliners [three on the same day; the fourth three days later], forcing them to land in Jordan, and eventually blowing them up after evacuating the hostages. This attack led to the ‘Black September’ of 1970 in which King Hussein expelled all Palestinian organizations from Jordan."

For the record, the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism has nothing to do with Jews or the Middle East, so its descriptions are not colored by our politics. MIPT was created "out of the experiences of the bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building," as the organization puts it. It acts both as a think tank and a clearing-house for information on terrorism.

MIPT’s descriptions are also somewhat understated. (For those who draw a blank at the 1970 reference in the above description, I recommend David Raab’s "Terror in Black September.") In brief, the hijackings were the final straw for Jordan’s King Hussein, who declared martial law and literally went to war against the Palestinian terror cells then openly operating in his country. In 10 days of vicious fighting, 3,500 people were killed on both sides, according to official figures; as many as 8,000 died, according to unofficial counts.

In other words, Habash’s order to seize those four planes ended in a huge bloodbath. In a bygone era, the death of a person responsible for something so devastating would rate more notice.

That was not the end of Habash’s career, however. Again, to cite the MIPT:

"In 1976…, PFLP operatives and German Baader-Meinhof terrorists [under Habash’s orders and actually under his long-distance command] hijacked an airliner that was famously rescued by Israeli commandos in Entebbe, Uganda."

Yes, that Entebbe, the one that entered history on July 4, 1976. In a bygone era, the death of someone who set into motion events that led to one of the greatest rescues of all time — and an event so spectacular that it actually upstaged America’s celebration of its bicentennial — would rate more notice.

Because of illness, Habash, also known as Abu Hakim, was forced to retire from active duty in the PFLP in ‘000. However, the terror organization he founded remains active. It was responsible, among other things, for the murder of Rechavam Ze’evi, a/k/a Ghandi, an hour before his resignation as Israel’s tourism minister was to take effect (October ‘001); a suicide bombing in the village of Karnei Shomron (February ’00’), in which three Israelis were murdered and ‘5 wounded; and a suicide bus attack in Tel Aviv (December ‘003), in which three more Israelis were murdered.

You would think that someone who set 40 years of death and destruction in motion might rate more news coverage, if not in the general media, then certainly in the Jewish media. Habash, however, died on Jan. ‘6, only four days after Heath Ledger, and editors of Jewish newspapers were still working on finding the Jewish angle to that tragedy. (With tongue firmly embedded in cheek — or at least I hope that is true — the managing editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency expressed relief, on his blog, when a Jewish organization came to the rescue with a press release condemning a planned anti-gay demonstration at the actor’s funeral.)

There is a great deal wrong in the Jewish world today. Jewish newspapers have a role to play in shedding light on our problems and even on possible solutions. In an era when sectarianism has made it virtually — thank God not completely — impossible for one group to talk with another, Jewish newspapers have a role to play in being the honest broker, by putting all sides on the same page and giving them all a chance to read what the other is saying. At a time when Israel is faced with challenges as serious as any it has ever faced — perhaps even more serious — Jewish newspapers have a role to play in setting out all the issues and the ramifications of every proposal to resolve them.

If Jewish newspapers waste precious space on Madonna’s latest Kabbalah Kapers, however, they do so only because that is what their readers want to read.

Besides, most people probably never even heard of George Habash.