How al-Qaeda Exploits Palestine Cause

Exclusive: When U.S. Special Forces raided Osama bin Laden’s compound last year, they grabbed al-Qaeda documents describing internal debates, including how the terror group should continue exploiting Israel’s abuse of Palestinians as a crucial recruitment pitch, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The documents captured in last year’s raid that killed Osama bin Laden reveal al-Qaeda’s intent to keep its propaganda focus on Western double standards and Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. One internal document, criticizing mistakes made in al-Qaeda’s public messaging, stated simply: “It was necessary to discuss Palestine first.”

This emphasis on the plight of the Palestinians to rally support for an extreme Islamist agenda recurs throughout the documents, which were translated by West Point’s Center on Combating Terrorism and released this month.

Osama bin Laden in a video made at his Abbottabad compound and later seized by U.S. Special Forces. (Photo credit: U.S. Federal Government)

The U.S. press highlighted bin Laden’s desire to strike again at the United States and his troubles controlling his decimated band of terrorists. And it’s true that you will find bin Laden’s U.S. obsession in the documents along with many references to slain militants who now need “God’s mercy.”

But the documents also reflect al-Qaeda’s determination to exploit old propaganda themes against the U.S. and Israel while working in some new angles from the Arab Spring.

For instance, “A Letter of Hope and Good News to Our People in Egypt” credits al-Qaeda’s “blessed attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania” with forcing the United States to alter its interventionist policies and pull its support from some of the Mideast’s “oppressors and the tyrants.”

Yet, while boasting about al-Qaeda’s supposed role in the West’s abandonment of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, the letter also warns of the West’s new tactics for containing the Islamic revolutionary cause. The letter cites the West’s new “attempt to deal with the Muslim people through the policy of softness, deception, and soft power.”

The letter describes the West’s gentler tone as just new trappings for the old policy of subjugating Muslims, extracting Mideast oil and continuing military occupations. “They want our countries to have a democracy that will allow the continuation of their [Western countries’] occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and will allow their armies and fleets to continue to control the sources of oil,” the letter said.

Then, trying to exploit both Western double standards and Israel’s military threat to the region, the letter added: “They want a democracy that will accept the Israeli military supremacy with nuclear weapons, which [former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed] ElBaradei did not dare to demand that they be inspected or impose any sanction against Israel because of them.”

The letter continued: “They [Western nations] want a democracy that accepts the confiscation of most of Palestine and giving it to the Zionist entity. They want a democracy that will continue the siege on Gaza and the suffocation of the resistance against Israel.  This deceit by the Western governments goes beyond democracy and applies to their complaints about freedom of press and the bad treatment of journalists in Egypt, while they are the ones who bombed Al Jazeera’s offices in Baghdad and Kabul.”

Al-Qaeda’s propagandists clearly understand the anger of many Muslims over the West’s sanctimonious pronouncements about human rights and the rule of law, while ignoring those principles when they’re not convenient.

Packaging 9/11

Another document urges al-Qaeda operatives to package the 9/11 attacks as a victory for Muslims over the West.

“The tenth anniversary to the attack 9/11 is coming and due to the importance of this date, attention should be paid to start preparing for now,” the message read. “We need to benefit from this event and get our messages to the Muslims and celebrate the victory that they achieved. We need to restore their confidence in their [Islamic] nation and motivate them.

“We should shed light on the fact that in some past documentaries on al-Jazeera, some specialists confirmed that the events of 9/11 are the main reasons for the financial crisis that America suffers from.”

Another document recommended that “our work and messages concentrate on exhausting and straining the Americans, especially after September 11. We will continue to pressure the Americans until there is a balance in terror, where the expense of war, occupation, and influence on our countries becomes a disadvantage for them [the Americans] and they become tired of it, and finally withdraw from our countries and stop supporting the Jews.”

Bin Laden and his high command also seemed aware of the harmful impact to the United States from President George W. Bush’s decision to prosecute two wars while also cutting taxes, creating a huge budget deficit and then presiding over an economic collapse. “I would like to remind you that America will have to withdraw during the next few years because of many reasons, the most important of which is America’s high deficit,” the document said.

Though the authorship of the documents is often unclear, many appear to represent the words and opinions of bin Laden, possibly dictated to his wives while he hid out in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The trove of documents also included some criticism of bin Laden. One letter chastised him for attacking the United States prematurely and thus provoking a counterattack that drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.

“Before the state was able to stand on its feet and complete its control of the entire country, you started to operate externally targeting the head of the snake. You were moved [by young jihadists who were] eager, ready for sacrifice. Then came [the 2000 attack on the USS] Cole, and then 9/11, which ended the Taliban (the Islamic Emirate) on which many hopes” rested.

The Palestinian Cause

One of the captured documents bristled at criticism of al-Qaeda for not truly caring about the Palestinians. “Several ill-informed scholars and state men [said] the mujahedeen are not interested in the Palestinian cause, and the blockade of our brothers in Gaza – rather that their concern is to fight, corrupt and argue with the security men and not with the usurper Jews,” the document said.

Dismissing this criticism as “driven by jealousy,” the document reaffirmed that a key argument for the jihadist cause was that “there were one and half million Muslims [in Gaza] under siege, and most of them were women and children. They have more than 10,000 prisoners with the Jews, many of whom are sisters and children in tragic circumstances.

“This [criticism] is contrary to our reality and our general policy, as it weakens our stance when we say that we are an international organization fighting for the liberation of Palestine and all of the Muslim countries to erect an Islamic caliphate that would rule according to the Shari’ah of Allah.”

But al-Qaeda’s strategy also remains focused on weakening American “hegemony” in the Middle East, according to the Abbottabad documents. As one document explained, “The plague that exists in the nations of Muslims has two causes: The first is the presence of American hegemony and the second is the presence of rulers that have abandoned Islamic law and who identify with the hegemony, serving its interests in exchange for securing their own interests.

“The way to remove this hegemony is to continue our direct attrition against the American enemy until it is broken and is too weak to interfere in the matters of the Islamic world.  The focus must be on actions that contribute to the intent of bleeding the American enemy. As for actions that do not contribute to the intent of bleeding the great enemy, many of them dilute our efforts and take from our energy.”

Though many of the commentaries are rambling and littered with petty bickering, the overriding messages are that the United States must remain the organization’s top target and that Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians must remain a key propaganda theme, illustrating what Muslims widely view as a stark example of Western hypocrisy.

Avoiding Blame

However, American officials and the U.S. press continue to tiptoe around the second point, apparently to avoid being accused of criticizing Israel. Neocons are especially quick to denounce anyone who cites the plight of the Palestinians as motivation for Islamic terrorism.

As former CIA analyst Ray McGovern has noted, the U.S. news media behaves as if it has an allergic reaction to any linkage between Palestine and al-Qaeda terrorism. In an article after an al-Qaeda operative tried to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, McGovern observed that 89-year-old Helen Thomas was the only reporter who pressed the question of motive. [See’s “Not Explaining the Why of Terrorism.”

At a press briefing about the attack by a young, well-to-do Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Thomas asked White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al-Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al-Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al-Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a, long issue, but al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

As McGovern wrote about the exchange: “All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men. There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks.

“Why isn’t there a frank discussion by America’s leaders and media about the real motivation of Muslim anger toward the United States? Why was Helen Thomas the only journalist to raise the touchy but central question of motive?”

McGovern noted that only occasionally does a key part of that motivation slip out, Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians, what al-Qaeda views as a ready-made and easy-to-use propaganda theme. McGovern cited, for instance, “an unusually candid view of the dangers accruing from the U.S. identification with Israel’s policies” in an unclassified study published by the Pentagon-appointed U.S. Defense Science Board on Sept. 23, 2004.

Taking on President George W. Bush’s favorite canard for explaining anti-Americanism in the Middle East, the board stated: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.

“Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”

McGovern also spotted a brief reference to this reality in the 9/11 Commission Report, which states: “America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.” (p. 376)

There was also a notation in the report about why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed claimed to have “masterminded” the attacks on 9/11: “By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

Various suicide-bombers, like the failed underwear-bomber Abdulmutallab, have conveyed to associates that they also were radicalized because of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, especially the brutal assault on Gaza in 2008-2009.

A similar motive was attributed to Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, a 32-year-old Jordanian physician from a family of Palestinian origin, who killed seven American CIA operatives and a Jordanian intelligence officer in Afghanistan on Dec. 30, 2009, when al-Balawi detonated a suicide bomb.

Al-Balawi’s widow, Defne Bayrak, said her husband “started to change” after the U.S. -led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His brother said al-Balawi “changed” during the three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians.

At that time, Al-Balawi volunteered to treat injured Palestinians in Gaza, but was arrested by Jordanian authorities, according to his brother. Al-Balawi was then apparently coerced into becoming a spy to penetrate al-Qaeda’s leadership, but instead decided to kill himself and his “handlers.”

Today, the situation in Palestine (and especially Gaza) remains a festering wound, infecting U.S. efforts to improve relations with the Muslim world and open to exploitation by al-Qaeda and other violent extremists.

Ultimately, if peace in the region is ever to come and if the scourge of terrorism is ever to be minimized, the Palestinian issue must be resolved. Yet, Israel’s right-wing government shows little inclination to make meaningful concessions and the U.S. press appears more eager to gloss over the problem than to explain how it remains a key al-Qaeda recruiting tool.

[To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]  

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

17 comments for “How al-Qaeda Exploits Palestine Cause

  1. Ron
    June 4, 2012 at 16:56

    Forgot to say


  2. Ron
    June 4, 2012 at 16:51

    Muslims need to understand this man doesn’t care about them- how many AL QAEDA attacks have been in Israel? Hamas and Fatah yes-you could say they’re the same entity BUT Qutbism (the ideology of Al Qaeda) says that through force ANY secular (INCLUDING Muslim) country must be dealt with with force for they are ignorant of the teachings of Mohammed and Sharia

    Look up Al Qaeda ideology and Qutbism

    If he and his group truly cared for you do you think he’d attack Saudis, Emiratis,Kuwaitis and call for the destruction of the existing governments.

    P.S. He had a LIVE IN DOCTOR and CARER to treat his kidney disease

    Also-before the conspiracists come out, the Towers fell from the FIRE, NOT ‘controlled demolition’ and Al Qaeda was responsible for the ’98 Bombings and Luxor Massacre

  3. P. Ami
    May 28, 2012 at 12:40

    The reason Helen Thomas’ views of the conflict with Islamism are practically ignored by the rest of the press is because Helen Thomas has lunatic opinions. Helen Thomas wishes for Jews to go back to Poland and Germany where she supposes Jews came from. I suppose we might further deduce that Jews should also return to Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and the various other countries around the world where the Jewish nation and her strengths may be dispersed, diffused and once again be subject to the laws of other peoples. Let the Jews again be subject to the whims of the Egyptians, the Germans, the French, the Spanish, the Iraqi, the Persian etc… It is a foolish and unjust solution to a problem that is more propaganda then a real issue.

    One can find better reason and cause to argue that Palestinian Arabs should simply return to Syria, Turkey, and Egypt from which a great number once came, that Arabs should return to the Arabian Peninsula from which they more originally came then Jews did from Germany, and that Palestinian “refugees” should simply be absorbed into Jordan where they already enjoy a 3/4 majority in population. Instead, Helen Thomas pretends that an international effort to revoke Jewish nationality to Jews is a fair response to the demand that Arabs and other Muslims make in desiring another Arab state when there are already enough to make an Arab League, and another Muslim state, where there are enough to produce a powerful block in the UN. Only a bigot cannot see that there are Arab-Muslim states enough, and that the Jews should keep the one they have?

    Jews rightfully and legally purchased land in Ottoman Palestine. They then continued to follow this policy, legally and fairly under the British. The fact that Arabs attacked Jewish settlements because they did not like the law, is not an example of Jewish-Zionist theft. It is an example of Zionists following the law and Arab militias breaking it. The defense that Zionists made is not an example of murder but of self-defense. Arab bands first initiated violence in response to the creation of a Jewish state in lands that Jews legally held. When the Arabs made it clear they intended to massacre the Jews and would never accept a Jewish State (even today, the Palestinians elected into power a party that refuses to recognize Jewish rights to Israel) the Israelis captured important roads, settlements that were under siege from Arab militias, and important defensive landmarks so a defensible country could be established. One can argue that innocents on both sides suffered, but this is a case where the party with the better argument, and more just principles actually won a war. The resultant refugee problem is a result of bad policy on the part of the Jordanians, Egyptians and Lebanese had in response to the population that ran to them expecting that their allies would protect them, nurture them, and support their requirements. Instead they were abandoned to be used in the same manner as Bin Ladin wished for them to be used, as propaganda.

    • F. G. Sanford
      May 28, 2012 at 15:01

      I bet people like David Irving jump for joy when they read stuff like your comment. It makes “historical revisionism” fair game. I think Helen was referring to Khazars, or according to Israeli revisionists, a “lost tribe”. I’m glad you cleared all this up. Now, I realize that Israelis have been bulldozing Palestinian homes and uprooting Palestinian olive orchards because that was land they purchased legally from Ottoman Palestine. Yes, you certainly give revisionists a good name. Your “whoppers” are way bigger than their “whoppers”. So don’t whine when somebody points it out. Helen just told the truth, and the truth stings.

      • Hammersmith
        May 29, 2012 at 08:59

        Israel is an artifact of european colonialism.

      • dahoit
        May 29, 2012 at 10:33

        Why,because it makes Irving look right?
        And its alCIAda,BTW,and of course its all about Zion,created the same year,BTW.
        Syrial liars lie serially,and have been doing so since the 1930s,when they took over the media of America,Britain and France,and after the war in Germany,to our bitter demise of voiceless falling trees in the forest.
        And notice the internet of freedom is their next target.
        I guess its bend over and kiss our ass goodbye,as the black hole of modern man,Zionism,sucks US into its vortex of hate death and war,with no escape except Dr.Ron Paul,eschewed by alleged intelligent people for fraternal twins of moronity,Obomba and Willard.

      • P. Ami
        May 29, 2012 at 21:33

        Regarding Helen Thomas, all you need is to type her name into Google with the word Israel and you’ll see the horse and her mouth. I’ll make it easy for you.

        Clearly the woman was talking about the Jews, not Khazars. Her view is not the truth. It is simply her bigotted view. She hates the Jewish state and wishes Jews to go back to being minorities in other peoples’ countries. Its what BDS wants. Perhaps this is what you would like.

        You pretend the Thomas was talking about Khazars just as much as this article’s criticism of Israeli policy begins and ends with olive trees and homes. Muslim anger over Israel goes back before 1967 and actually caused 1967, all based on the idea that any Jewish sovereignty is unacceptable, that any Jewish ownership is illegitimate, and any Jewish self-defense is an attack against Arabs.

        The truth that hurts is that bigots, like yourself, like to use half-thruths and convince the nincompoops to parrot these distortions. It hurts, but this is the world you help to make.

        • Roger Thomas
          May 30, 2012 at 07:03

          Helen Thomas did not intend any interpretation of her remarks other than that the Zionists should get out of the land which had been misappropriated and which was manifestly acquired contrary to every law known to man or god.

          P. Ami is either totally brainwashed by the lies and distortions of the Zionists or a fanatical propagandist for their evil cause.

          Let’s deal in facts rather than fiction. Of course, the Palestinians objected to the mass influx of Jews, knowing of the long term Zionist plan to usurp their country. They were not aware of the brutal intent to ethnically cleanse their land by the use of some of he most horrific terrorist atrocities ever committed by a so-called civilised people. At the end of the war a mere 4% of Palestine was owned by the Jews who formed less than 30% of the population. In December, 1947, Plan Dalet was launched by the Zionists. The Irgun and Hagannah began the terrorisation of the Palestinians, mostly defenceless peasantry, launching vicious attacks against their villages. Survivors of the onslaught were brutalised and males from the age of 12 to 60 were either massacred in front of their families or led away to slaughter. The remainder were forced out to face similar atrocities in other villages. In just over a year, more than 200 villages were destroyed – the total now is over 570. The Zionists are a bunch of heartless murdering thugs whose fanatical supporters have corrupted every western government to betray the real interests of their countries.

        • F. G. Sanford
          May 30, 2012 at 21:59

          From Wikepedia:
          “Khazars became increasingly interested in replacing their Tengriism with a state religion that would give them equal religious standing with their Abrahamic neighbors. During the 8th century, the Khazar royalty and much of the aristocracy converted to a form of Judaism.[17] Yitzhak ha-Sangari is the name of the rabbi who converted the Khazars to Judaism according to Jewish sources.”

          These are the ancestors of Jews living in Eastern Europe who were recruited by Israel in order to maintain population parity with the Palestinians. As a supposedly democratic nation, Israel couldn’t afford to be outnumbered by Palestinians. So, Jews from Russia, Poland, Ukraine and various other Eastern European nations were imported by Israel and in many cases, settled on land stolen from the Palestinians in 1967. When Helen Thomas said they should go back to Russia and Poland, that’s who she was referring to. Apparently, you don’t know much about Jewish history. Maybe your Rabbi could explain some of these things you don’t understand.

  4. Hillary
    May 28, 2012 at 11:19

    “Why isn’t there a frank discussion by America’s leaders and media about the real motivation of Muslim anger toward the United States?
    Robert Parry

    The usual reflex same response to all such questions is that “the matter is currently under investigation” and so it is inappropriate to comment at this time.

    Alas the American Main Stream media does not serve the truth. It serves the government and the interest groups that empower the government

    America’s fate was sealed when the public and the anti-war movement bought the official U.S.administration’s 9/11 conspiracy theory.

    A theory contradicted by so much evidence and yet this defining event of our time, which has launched the US on interminable wars of aggression and a domestic police state, is a taboo topic for investigation in the media.

  5. Roger Thomas
    May 28, 2012 at 11:16

    The holocaust wreaked on the Palestinians by the Zionists dishonours any remembrance of the Nazi holocaust against Jews and brings shame to World Jewry which, forethemostpart, supports the evil ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the fearful, horrific oppression of the Palestinians. I understand, though, that it was the dreadful massacre of civilians, mostly women and children, at Qana that determined Osama Bin Laden to set up AlQaeda.

    Apparently, most redneck, numb-brain American so-called Christians believe that killing and coveting thy neighbours ox and ass and land and water are permissible in their god’s eyes if done by Zionists. How many commandments are in their bibles, I wonder?

  6. gary
    May 28, 2012 at 05:38

    Michael Newmann also considers the case against Israel:

    “My parents were German Jews, and my family on both sides suffered
    greatly under the Nazis.

    “I find that Israel and Zionism were unequivocally in the wrong
    throughout its history. I find the faults of the Palestinians minor
    by comparison.

    “To suppose that my conclusions themselves constitute proof of, or
    even strong evidence for bias would be moronic. If you’ve robbed my
    house, and the judge correctly finds that you did so, his judgment may
    or may not be biased, but the finding itself is no evidence of bias at
    all. Maybe the judge was simply right. Maybe Israel is simply

    “This book presents the case against Israel, not Israelis. Some
    Israelis are responsible for the present situation; some are not.
    Just as the existence of many decent Israelis does nothing to justify
    Israel’s policies, so the wrongness of those policies cannot condemn
    its entire population.”

    Michael Neumann, The Case against Israel. (Petrolia, California,
    CounterPunch Press, 2005).

  7. rosemerry
    May 28, 2012 at 01:14

    How can anyone look at the phot of “bin laden” with his broad shoulders and healthy appearance and pretend that was the man nearly dead of kidney trouble ten years before? As for the documents and their US interpretation; who benefits?
    Mr Blumberg, why not read ANY of the MSM, and find how Israel is treated?

  8. David Blumberg
    May 27, 2012 at 19:58

    Have never seen where you haven’t taken the opportunity to knock Israel. Whereis your objectivity and balance in your reporting?

    • Maryam
      May 27, 2012 at 22:13

      He is just telling the truth.

      • F. G. Sanford
        May 27, 2012 at 22:44

        Mr. Blumberg sounds like the kind of guy who could watch the Rodney King beating and wonder how anybody could possibly accuse those fine officers of police brutality.

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