Despite rave reviews in the US, Paul McGeough’s book about a failed Mossad assassination attempt has been ignored by British media
By Phillip Knightley
LAST UPDATED 3:10 PM, JULY 21, 2009
In April this year Quartet Books published Kill Khalid: The Failed Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas. It was written by an Australian war correspondent, Paul McGeough, an expert on the Middle East.
The book had come out in the United States to ecstatic reviews. I had heard of McGeough and although I did not know him, when asked to provide a quote for the book’s dust-jacket, I read the manuscript and was happy to do so.
I found it a rare and most exciting book – a serious political history that the author had made into a fast-paced thriller. At its core is the story of how, in 1997, the Israeli intelligence service Mossad tried to assassinate the Hamas leader, Khalid Mishal, in broad daylight on the streets of Amman, Jordan. Under the cover of opening a can of Coca Cola, the assassins sprayed a deadly poison into his ear.
Israel handed over the antidote when Jordan threatened to hang their agentsBut the Mossad agents bungled their escape, Khalid’s bodyguards managed to capture two of them and the others had to hide in the Israeli embassy. As Khalid slipped into a coma, Jordanian troops surrounded the Israeli embassy and after a complaint from a furious King Hussein of Jordan, Bill Clinton pressured the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to try to right matters.
At first Netanyahu pleaded that it was too late to reverse the effects of the poison. But when Hussein added the threat that if Khalid died, the Mossad agents who were being held by Jordan would all be hanged, the antidote was quickly produced. Khalid survived, just, and the stage was set for his phenomenal political ascendancy.
Containing interviews with all the leading players, including unprecedented access to Khalid himself, McGeough’s book recounts the history of Hamas through a decade of suicide bombing attacks, political infighting and increasing public support, culminating in the battle for Gaza in 2007 and the present day political stalemate.
This is a serious book with an important message about one of the world’s most
turbulent trouble spots. But it received a strange reception in Britain. After two excellent reviews – in the London Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement – it has been virtually ignored.
The chairman of Quartet Books, Naim Attallah, was so concerned about this that he contacted the literary editors of all the major publications. Most told him that they did not plan to review the book. Further, his sales force informed him that some bookshops were reluctant even to stock it.
Attallah then issued a press release accusing the literary establishment of “an unspoken tactic to limit the book’s public circulation” because of a decision to “dismiss Hamas within the box of ‘terrorist organisation’ without granting a serious consideration to its valid aspects as a voice in the debate”.
He added: “Anyone who hopes for peace in the Middle East must surely recognise that Hamas is an integral part of any move towards a peace settlement. No progress can be achieved without their involvement.”
Khalid Mishal, ill after being poisoned by Mossad agents, is transferred to hospital
It is difficult to attribute motives to organisations for their non-action in any controversy. But it does seem to me that in this case the British literary establishment has a case to answer. I believe it has developed a mind-set that is adverse to controversy. Hamas has been designated a ‘terrorist organisation’. Therefore to review a book about a ‘terrorist organisation’ would leave a book editor open to criticism.
Further, it might provoke a complaint from one of the many organisations that supports Israel. This would require a response.
Memos would have to be exchanged and letters written.
At a time of reduced budgets and staff cuts, many a literary editor would be tempted to decide that to review a controversial book like Kill Khalid is simply not worth the trouble.