Pyongyang has fewer foreign embassies than many other capitals, but the DPRK’s showcase city is home to one that even Washington lacks: Palestine.
Since the early 1960s, North Korea has staunchly supported the establishment of a Palestinian state. From training Palestinian militants in the 1970s, to helping Hezbollah build underground tunnels into Israel in the mid-2000s, North Korea has maintained an active presence in the Middle East.
“North Korea has a history of providing support to countries and groups with common enemies and especially those which are particularly leftist or revolutionary in their ideologies,” military analyst John Grisafi tells NK News. “Pyongyang has used such support to undermine the Western powers, strengthen alliances, and for the opportunity to fight against nations and groups supported by the West and using Western military tactics and equipment.”
In 1970, Kim Il Sung provided weapons and financial support to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP then recruited three Japanese Red Army members — as they would not attract the same attention as Arabs in an Israeli airport — to carry out an attack at Tel Aviv’s Lod Airport. The attack, which took place on May 30, 1972, killed 26 people, primarily Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico.
“It is now proven in Federal Court that the North Koreans supplied the Palestinians with both weapons and training prior to their attack,” Bruce Bechtol Jr., professor of political science at Angelo State University, tells NK News.
“It is now proven in Federal Court that the North Koreans supplied the Palestinians with both weapons and training prior to their attack”
The eight surviving children of Carmelo Calderon Molina sued the DPRK government in 2008 for their involvement in the Lod Airport massacre. Professor Bechtol served as the expert witness in the case. Predictably, the North Koreans have not paid the $378 million, as ordered by the U.S. Federal Court in 2010, to the families who lost loved ones in the attack.
After the Lod Airport massacre, North Korea continued to be a thorn in the side for the United States and Israel in the Middle East as they provided military training and support to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Khalil al-Wazir (also known as Abu Jihad), one of the three founders of the Palestinian political faction Fatah, received military training in the DPRK in 1963, according to North Korea military analyst Joseph Bermudez. Pyongyang gradually increased their support of the PLO as over 200 members received military training in three locations near Pyongyang from 1970-1972. Muhammad Da’ud Awda (also known as Abu Da’ud), one of the commanders of the attack upon the Israeli Olympic team during the 1972 Munich Olympics, received training in the DPRK during this period.
Yasser Arafat, the first president of the Palestinian National Authority and head of the PLO, was also a frequent visitor to Pyongyang, and visited Kim Il Sung six times. In 1993, Arafat awarded Kim Il Sung the “Star of Palestine.”
The Palestinian fight for self-determination may hit especially close to home for North Koreans, who view the Palestinians as, like them, trying to peacefully resolve their conflict.
In 1993, Arafat awarded Kim Il Sung the “Star of Palestine.”
“Reading some news about the Palestinian vs. Israeli conflict [in North Korea’s state-run media], I found similarities in the North vs. South Korean conflict,” North Korean propaganda expert and President of the Czech-Korea Society Jana Hajzlerova tells NK News. “Palestine is portrayed as trying to peacefully reconcile with Israel, the same as North Korea is with South Korea, and Israel and South Korea is to be blamed for the failure of this debate.”
On the Southern side of the Demilitarized Zone, North Korean-made tunnels into South Korea have become a tourist attraction. Thousands of miles away, Israeli armed forces saw firsthand North Korea’s expertise in underground facility construction during the 2006 war with Hezbollah. In the early 2000s, North Korean military specialists traveled to Lebanon and trained members of Hezbollah in building underground bunkers for food, medical supplies, and weapons storage. Paris Intelligence Online, a French internet publication which specializes in political and economic intelligence, said that this training “significantly improved Hezbollah’s ability to fight the Israelis.”
Families of dual U.S.-Israeli citizens who were killed or injured by Hezbollah attacks during the 2006 war also filed a lawsuit against the North Korean government. Like the 2010 Lod Airport massacre case in Federal Court, Pyongyang did not represent itself and no compensation has been paid out.
ISRAEL AND THE JEWS
North Korea has hostile relations with Israel, as the North Korean perceive Israel as an “imperialist satellite” of Washington. According to Paul White, a British citizen living in Beijing who assists the North Korean government with English translations of its propaganda, Pyongyang perceives U.S. foreign policy as being dictated by Jews and have seen talks with Israeli officials as a bridge to discussions with U.S. policymakers.
“About three years ago some guy in Israel formed an Israel-DPRK friendship association,” White tells NK News. “Pyongyang showered him with info, lauded him to the skies and gave him a grand tour of the DPRK. The reason was obvious. They wanted to use Israel as a stepping-stone to U.S. Jewry, which they thought controlled U.S. foreign policy.”
“They wanted to use Israel as a stepping-stone to U.S. Jewry, which they thought controlled U.S. foreign policy.”
North Korean state media’s recent racist, misogynistic, and homophobic rhetoric provided further evidence that the DPRK does not abide by the same political correctness as the rest of the world. However, blatantly anti-Semitic remarks are noticeably absent in the Korean Central News Agency’s (KCNA) archives.
“I don’t remember ‘Zionists’ being a particular, regular target of any North Korean propaganda,” Michael Harrold, who spent seven years in Pyongyang polishing English language propaganda for the Kim family regime, tells NK News. “There were occasional negative references to ‘Zionists’ in relation to the Palestinian struggle, for example when a Palestinian delegation was visiting, given that North Korea firmly supported the Palestinian cause, or the Middle East was in some other way in the news.”
The little ink spent on “Zionists” in North Korean propaganda may have to do with Korea’s lack of historical contact with a sizable Jewish population.
“In Korean history, there was very little interaction with Jews,” Andrei Lankov, Professor of Korean Studies at Kookmin University, tells NK News. “The North Korean view on the matter have been fueled by few sources: contacts with Western (and Russian) anti-Semitism and politically motivated support for the left-leaning and/or anti-American forces in the Middle East which were overwhelmingly hostile towards Jewish state and, frequently, Jews as such.
“To simplify things a bit, for the North Koreans, Jews are a strange people living far away, with whom they have had little direct contact, but of whom they have occasionally heard some nasty things from friends and allies.”
While anti-Semitism is not a common trope in North Korean propaganda, caricatures of the “American imperialists” and “Japanese colonialists” are striking similar to Nazi Germany’s depiction of Jews.
“In North Korean children’s culture, as in North Korean arts in general, there is an unapologetic racialism in depictions of the enemy, American soldiers and Japanese imperialists reduced to the stalking monsters of revolutionary demonology,” Christopher Richardson, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney in North Korean culture, tells NK News.
According to Richardson, the hooked noses, unkempt facial hair, and bulging lips of the Japanese and American enemies, as depicted in North Korean propaganda, are in line with traditionally anti-Semitic visual tropes.
The future of Israel-North Korea relations looks dim. After North Korean weapons bound for Hezbollah and Hamas were seized in Bangkok in December 2009, Israel’s foreign minister said that North Korea joins Syria and Iran as part of a new axis of evil. So why does North Korea continue to meddle in the Middle East?
It comes down to money. North Korea’s dreams of fomenting an international proletarian revolution have long been over. Now, North Korea’s foreign policy emphasizes pragmatism rather than ideological fervor. Cash-strapped Pyongyang earns foreign currency by selling weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah. The North Korean leadership’s sole focus on survival virtually ensures North Korean weapons will continue to be found in the hands of those bent on Israel’s destruction.
Main picture: De Pyongyang a La Habana