Food for Thought
The motive driving suicide volunteers is revenge. They have stopped fighting to liberate Palestine. They have suspended
the dream of a state. They now dream of killing as many Jews as possible, of revenge, of making life in Israel impossible — and they truly believe they can do it.
Let me, as accurately as I can, describe a conversation I had with a Palestinian peace activist over dinner in a European capital one Friday night in mid-June. We have known each other for quite a few years, and I have always had deep respect for his views, hence the importance I attach to what he said that night, despite the three glasses of wine that went down with his meal.
The Zionist experiment, he told me, is over. The Palestinians have discovered a strategic weapon: suicide bombers. Once anathema, they are now considered heroes. The shahids (martyrs), once seen as religious fanatics, are now nationalist freedom fighters. Moreover, he continued, they are growing in legitimacy all the time. The Arab world understands them and even some Europeans seem to. The Israelis have F-16s; the Palestinians, suicide bombers. The equivalency is obvious to all.
Now, he continued, there are thousands out there waiting in line to kill as many Israelis as they can, to make your lives hell on earth. They belong to no organization, but want revenge and are prepared to die for it. You think you are going to stop them by punishing their parents. You are wrong. You won’t even know who they are or where they came from.
We are going to hit you everywhere we can: gas stations, theaters, parks, wedding halls. It will be one funeral after the next.
And then, while you are reeling, the 1.5 million Palestinian allies, the Israeli Palestinians, our brothers and your enemy, will rise up as well. They are just waiting for a sign from us. They know you better than you know yourselves. They speak your language and know every street in every one of your cities. And they will join at the right time. Make no mistake about it.
And then what does Israel do? Transfer? Can you imagine CNN and the BBC reporting live as the Jews transfer truckload after truckload of Palestinians over the border? Your country will lose all legitimacy. The Arab world will go to war against it. You will be a pariah, worse than South Africa under apartheid. Your generals will be tried for war crimes. The world will impose sanctions. Your F-16s will run dry of fuel.
Your people will leave in droves, especially professionals. The Zionist experiment is over.
That, in essence, was what was said. Was he entirely serious? Who knows? Was he trying to ruin my meal? Perhaps. But there are several harsh truths there and, in tune with the old adage that when wine goes in, secrets come out, I took note of the following: Advertisements in the Palestinian press against suicide bombings signed by several hundred Palestinian intellectuals notwithstanding, suicide bombings have the full support of the Palestinian people, including some intellectuals. It has become almost politically correct. Soldiers die in battle. The suicide bombers are soldiers, their deaths are legitimate and the killing of civilians is legitimate, they say. Israelis do it with tanks all the time.
The strategy is to push Israel into responding in a way that would turn it into another South Africa, a pariah state. The goal is no longer to draw international intervention, which the Palestinians have been trying to do since the outbreak of the current conflict, but to achieve Israel’s international isolation — to strangle the country diplomatically, economically and morally while managing, with great dexterity and skill, to maintain the image of the Palestinians as victims.
If this thinking has indeed penetrated serious Palestinian circles, we are in for a long and hard period. But it will not follow the outlined scenario. Israel will build a fence, increase its vigilance, take security measures, exile the families of suicide bombers, maintain a constant presence in Palestinian-controlled territories if suspected terrorists are there, maintain the stranglehold it has over the cities and the roadblocks that makes it impossible to move from point to point. There are a million steps between suicide bombers and transfer and yes, there will be casualties. But Palestinian suicide bombers are not going to defeat the state of Israel. And, incidentally, there are gas stations on both sides.
Now It’s Jewish Terrorists
The settler movement is in serious denial over last week’s killings of three Palestinians, including 3-month-old Dia Tmeizi. While all settlers publicly condemn the killings, even the most "mainstream" don’t see any connection between the nighttime ambush near Hebron and the incessant cries for "revenge" by settlers at funerals, demonstrations and elsewhere.
"I also shouted ‘revenge’ at demonstrations," says Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, spokesman of the YESHA Council, the lead political action committee of the settler movement. "There’s nothing forbidden about revenge, it’s perfectly legitimate as long as it’s carried out by the state, not by individuals taking the law into their own hands."
The gunman or gunmen, who opened fire on the car driven by the Tmeizi family, fled in the direction of "Israel proper," not towards a Jewish settlement or Palestinian Authority territory inside. It’s possible the gunmen were not settlers. But the more radical settlers insist that Arabs might well have been the killers.
This was the argument Adir Zik, a tremendously popular commentator on the settler radio station Arutz 7, made on his program the morning after the killings. "It’s being taken for granted that this was done by Jews, but it’s very doubtful," Zik said in an interview, recalling a 1995 murder of Halhoul Arabs at first thought to have been committed by settler extremists, when it turned out to have been done by Palestinians.
Reminded that there have been instances of settlers killing innocent Palestinians, the most grievous case being the massacre of 29 Palestinians by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron, Zik replied, "I have many doubts whether he killed the people there. He might have been pulled into [Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, where the Arab victims were shot during prayer]. It might have really been a feud between Arab clans."
That Goldstein was seen going into the tomb with his Army rifle; his dead body was found in the tomb afterward; his rifle and his spent bullets were recovered from the tomb; and scores of Palestinian survivors testified that it was Goldstein who opened fire, evidently hasn’t made an impression on Zik. Soon after the killings, Women in Green sent out an e-mail headlined, "Don’t Blame the Jews!" "The fact that Arab survivors testified that the attackers looked Jewish doesn’t mean anything," said Women in Green, noting that Efrat settler Sarah Blaustein was shot to death by Palestinians wearing a kippah. There is no known case of Arabs disguising themselves as religious Jews and killing Arabs for the purpose of discrediting settlers, but this doesn’t deter the Women in Green. With Arab pressure mounting to bring international observers to the territories, there is a "clear Arab interest in portraying themselves as victims," went the statement.
A few days before the assault on the Tmeizi family — all told, three of them were killed and four wounded, including Dia’s mother — Shin Bet head Avi Dichter told a Knesset committee that at least one Jewish terror cell was operating in the West Bank. In June, a Palestinian was killed in a drive-by shooting by unknown gunmen calling themselves the Shalhevet-Zar Brigade, named for two Jewish settler victims of the intifada, the infant girl Shalhevet Pass and security officer Gilad Zar. At the time of Dichter’s warning, explosives were found in the car of the wife of Noam Federman, a Kach leader and Hebron settler arrested and convicted numerous times for hate crimes.
Yet while even moderate settlers say the guilt for the Tmeizi killings are confined to the gunmen who carried them out, the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem says that all told during the current intifada, eight Palestinians have been killed by Israeli civilians in what could be called murders. In some cases the killers were never found, in other cases the police arrested settlers but freed them for lack of evidence — over the testimony of Palestinian who said they witnessed the killings. Beyond these killings, B’tselem points out, settler vigilantism is a continuous phenomenon, and has been especially grievous during this intifada.
"In recent months, settlers have shot at Palestinians, stoned their cars, damaged property, uprooted trees, burned a mosque, harmed Palestinian medical teams, attacked journalists, prevented farmers from going to their fields and blocked Palestinian cars from traveling on roads. Although some of the shooting was in self-defense, the vast majority of violence was premeditated," B’tselem stated.
Asked to respond to this statement, Mor-Yosef interrupted the reading of it and said, "I believe a B’tselem as much as I believe a Hamas report. I don’t believe a word they say."
Palestinians have killed scores of West Bank and Gaza settlers in this intifada, and hundreds have been wounded. The roads the Palestinians drive to and from home have become killing zones. But settlers have not only been victims during the current fighting, they have also been victimizers. Their claims of innocence in the killing of the Tmeizis are hollow when their cry of "Revenge!" has become so common.
The View from
On Salah a-Din Street, the main street on the Arab side of thecapital, the spirit was very different. People kept their heads down,aware that they were being watched, aware that the Jews weren’t toofond of them these days. But if they were expected to feel remorsefulabout Mahane Yehuda, some did, while others felt roughly theopposite.
“Most Palestinians are not sad about these things,” said Ibrahim,a 26-year-old electrician, sitting outside a cafe. “On a personallevel, they’re afraid it will hurt them, make their lives harder,make it harder for them to work in Israel.”
He added that Palestinians are also afraid of revenge attacks byJewish terrorists. (A Palestinian man was shot to death on Sundaynear a settlement south of Hebron. A Palestinian eyewitness said thatthe killer was wearing a yarmulke.)
“But, on the other hand,” Ibrahim said, “Palestinians think thisis the only way to fight against the Netanyahu government. They feellike they have nothing to lose. So, in the end, they support thiskind of action.”
Ibrahim himself didn’t think it was right to blow up civilians,saying, “If you want to fight, you should fight soldiers.” But hesaid that most of his friends supported the bombing of Mahane Yehuda.
Standing near the Old City’s Damascus Gate, William, 32, ahospital employee, said: “This is not the right way to build ourstate. These were innocent people — they have nothing to do with thegovernment’s actions. It wasn’t right, and this is not the way toachieve peace.”
A couple of high school students, who didn’t give their names,voiced the same opinion.
Mohammed, the owner of a hummus restaurant on Salah a-Din, said:”It was right and wrong at the same time. I’m against bloodshed ingeneral, but the Palestinians are still under occupation, and theyhave the right to fight against it anyway they see fit.”
Danny Rubinstein, perhaps Israel’s leading journalist onPalestinian affairs, wrote in Ha’aretz: “It’s doubtful that any otherterror attack has brought out such feelings of sympathy among peoplein the territories. The reason for this is undoubtedly the buildup ofbitterness and rage among all sectors of the Palestinian populationtoward what they see as the Netanyahu government’s destruction of anyhope in the peace process.”
Rubinstein wrote that a few hours after the bombing, “onlyexpressions of satisfaction” were heard on the streets of Arab EastJerusalem. The local newspaper, Al Kuds, printed condemnations andexpressions of sympathy from Yasser Arafat, Hanan Ashrawi and otherPalestinian leaders, but Al Kuds editors privately derided theseremarks as “false, put-on, lip service,” he wrote.
Yet Dr. Khalil Shkaki, widely considered the most reliable trackerof Palestinian public opinion, said that he believes mostPalestinians are uncomfortable with the Mahane Yehuda attack, even ifit expressed the political disillusionment they feel.
“It’s one thing to say you ‘understand’ the act, that youunderstand people’s frustration and despair, but it’s another thingto say you actually support that act,” said Shkaki, director of theCenter for Palestine Research and Studies in Nablus.
When the center conducts its next survey of Palestinian publicopinion next week, Shkaki said that he expects to find that theMahane Yehuda bombing has reversed a rise in popular support forterror.
It went down to about 20 percent when Netanyahu took office, butclimbed up to about 40 percent after the Hasmonean tunnel riots latelast year and stayed at that level after construction began on HarHoma.
“It’s easier for people to say they support violence in theorythan it is for them to say it after they see the faces, the blood,the death,” he said.
Asked how he reacted when he saw such images from Mahane Yehuda,Ibrahim said: “It’s difficult. It’s difficult to see such painfulthings. But if you see pictures from the intifada, it is moredifficult. Israelis did things to us that were even worse. I had afriend who was killed in the intifada. We Palestinians have adifficult past too, and we don’t forget it.”
Shkaki went on to predict that the bombing would not translateinto political gains for Hamas or Islamic Jihad. “Despite the factthat people are frustrated, Hamas can’t mobilize popular support;they can’t capture people’s imagination,” he said.
Palestinians are primarily concerned with improving their economicwelfare and with ending the corruption and abuse of their humanrights by the Palestinian Authority, but “Hamas isn’t dealing withany of these issues,” he said.
The impression from Palestinians on Salah a-Din Street was offluidity of opinion, of contradiction. Ibrahim, who said that “itwasn’t right to carry out such an explosion among people,” also saidthat when he first heard of the bombing, he was “happy.”
“Yes, I was happy,” he said, “because it showed that while thegovernment of Israel is doing everything it can to stop such actions,it cannot succeed.”
Mohammed, who insisted on the Palestinians’ right to fight theoccupation “anyway they see fit,” also said that when he first heardof the Mahane Yehuda attack, he felt “very bad. It showed that thingsare starting up all over again. It ought to stop. There should besome peace so that we can all just try to live.”
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