By 1975, Yasser Arafat, had a big problem with his plausible deniability. The Palestinian cause and the Palestine Liberation organization {PLO} had become a world acknowledged issue, the U.N. had given them special observer status, but the people who had got them this recognition and credibility were now a dangerous liability. This was Black September, the terrorist strike wing of the cause, and they had created an image of determination and ruthlessness that was vital for the PLO to be taken seriously. The killing of Jordan’s Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tal in Cairo in 1971 was retaliation for the brutal expulsion of Palestinians from Jordan in the September of the previous year and gave them their name. The taking hostage of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972 at Munich made sure their cause became top priority for the world.

Yet the very success of Black September was now ruining Arafat. He could not duck the accusations of terrorism and be taken seriously as a negotiator for peace. {Israel was seeking revenge and that is always a stimulus to clear thinking. The film Munich shows the fallout of the Olympic venture} Arafat could not risk disbanding Black September either: they were motivated, determined and perhaps too dangerous to provoke. One of the assassins actually lapped up the blood of the slain Prime Minister from the floor, just to demonstrate implacable resolve. More strangely they were perfectly willing to die without any assurances of paradise. Arafat and one of his closest advisors formulated an ingenious plan to… melt away, I suppose, would be the appropriate phrase, this potentially catastrophic group. It is one of the strangest uses of creative thinking.

The moral and ethical implications of starting up such a group before shutting them down remain, but that is another story.

 The solution devised by Abu Iyad, one of Arafat’s closest people was weirdly brilliant. Since they couldn’t kill off these young men why not get them married? It sounds bizarre, but they basically opened up a matrimonial agency. They travelled all over the world, in every country where Palestinians had taken refuge, identifying the most beautiful young girls, and making them a patriotic offer they couldn’t refuse. “Chairman Arafat has a vital mission that he wants to personally communicate to you in Beirut, something which will benefit our people” Who could refuse? One hundred of these girls turned up in Beirut and were introduced at ‘events’ to the young men of Black September, also coincidentally numbering about a hundred. Nature, it was devoutly hoped, would do the rest.

Just to nudge things along so that matters went beyond flings, they threw some cash into the mix. Even today it sounds like a very good deal indeed. Anybody who got married would get a cash down payment of 3000 dollars – 1975 dollars!- along with an apartment in Beirut that would have a gas stove, a fridge and a television. Anybody who had a baby in the first year after marriage would get an extra 5000 dollars bonus. It sounded enormously stupid and amazingly it worked on each and every one of the former killers. All of them settled down and most of them made babies and got on with their lives. One should never underestimate the power of a good bribe.

To be certain that they had actually pulled off this impossible stunt, turning suicidal killers into family men, the PLO would try to send them on missions, non-violent ones, with legitimate passports to genuine PLO organizations in Geneva or Paris. Not one of the men agreed; even the remote chance of arrest was not worth risking. They had wives and children now, and that was that for the once fearsome Black September.

It is doubtful if anybody in the PLO has read the philosopher Roger Bacon, but in his essay Of Marriage and the Single Life, a good three hundred years before Black September, he had this insightful preview of the process.

“He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune, for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”[Emphasis mine.]

It also seems to confirm a hypothesis of mine that most violent crusaders, in any age or clime, are usually young men who couldn’t get laid.

A few points of interest. Perhaps this peculiar solution worked because it was an internal enterprise within the organization. Trying to arrange dates for terrorists may not be the way forward in all cases. In Ireland however the authorities found that sending convicted IRA home on weekend parole gave them a keen appreciation of all they were losing out on – children with absent fathers, ageing parents. Once the superhuman self-confidence and belief in personal invulnerability of youth start fading, family and ordinary life hold more appeal than glorious causes. The parole prisoners never lapsed back into violence, so the germ of the idea is sound.

It is also worth noting that Arafat realized the dangers of success and shut it down. Extreme measures had got them international recognition, legitimacy and influence. Continuing on that path would only lead to revulsion and rejection from the world and he dealt with it firmly. The solution was completely odd; that they considered it instead of some more macho alternative is very much to their credit.