Courtesy Reuters

The Palestinian Quest

In an editorial published in Paris the day after Robert Kennedy's assassination by Sirhan Sirhan, Le Monde wrote that this "criminal gesture by a Palestinian nationalist on this 5th of June 1968-anniversary of the Six-Day War-takes on a symbolic value. . . . Never have despair and hatred been so intense in a people who consider themselves deprived of their homeland."

This appraisal, which would today appear both just and commonplace, provoked an explosion of indignation at the time. Many readers, although not at all implicated in the Israeli-Arab conflict, wrote to the editors of the paper to protest the use of the word "Palestinian." Where was Palestine? Had it ever existed? A Paris Zionist weekly accused Le Monde of having resorted to expressions whose only objective was to "justify a murder." A number of editorials in the Israeli press, and the ambassador of the Jewish state in Paris in a letter to Le Monde, pointed out that "this Arab from Jerusalem" was not even a refugee, but only an "emigrant." In an unprecedented gesture, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs at that time, Abba Eban, circulated an official statement about the "incident" in which he stated: "This editorial belongs to the most shocking literature of incitement. . . . There are attempts in certain quarters to praise the murder and the murderer, and to defend bloodshed as a means of expressing a political opinion. . . ." And yet the editorial in Le Monde had not only called the assassination a "criminal gesture" but had condemned the Palestinians' "thirst for revenge."

These reactions illustrate very well the sensitivity of a certain segment of public opinion less than seven years ago when confronted with the Palestinian question. The anger it generated was understandable: many people could not conceive that one could speak of the aspirations or nationalist feelings-justified or not-of a people that did not exist, unless one was inspired by dark ulterior motives of a political nature. Seven months before Robert Kennedy's assassination, the United Nations Security Council had

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