The Making of a Potential Suicide Bomber

Since last Sunday, a question has been running around in my head and troubling my sleep: What induced the young Palestinian, who broke into Kibbutz Metzer, to aim his weapon at a mother and her two little children and kill them?

In war, one does not kill children. That is a fundamental human instinct common to all peoples and all cultures. Even a Palestinian who wants to take revenge for the hundreds of children killed by the Israeli army should not take revenge on children. No moral commandment says, "A child for a child."

The people who do these things are not known as crazy killers, blood-thirsty from birth. In almost all interviews with relatives and neighbors, they are described as quite ordinary, nonviolent individuals. Many of them are not religious fanatics. Indeed, Sirkhan Sirkhan, the man who committed the deed in Metzer, belonged to Fatah, a secular movement.

These persons belong to all social classes; some come from poor families who have reached the threshold of hunger, but others come from middle-class families, university students, educated people. Their genes are not different from ours.

So what makes them do these things? What makes other Palestinians justify them?

In order to cope, one has to understand, and that does not mean to justify. Nothing in the world can justify a Palestinian who shoots at a child in his mother’s embrace, just as nothing can justify an Israeli who drops a bomb on a house in which a child is sleeping in his bed.

As the Hebrew poet Bialik wrote a 100 years ago, after the Kishinev pogrom: "Even Satan has not yet invented the revenge for the blood of a little child."

But without understanding, it is impossible to cope. The chiefs of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have a simple solution: hit, hit, hit. Kill the attackers. Kill their commanders. Kill the leaders of their organizations. Demolish the homes of their families and exile their relatives.

But, wonder of wonders, these methods achieve the opposite. After the huge IDF bulldozer flattens the "terrorist infrastructure," destroying, killing, uprooting everything in its way, within days, a new "infrastructure" comes into being. According to the announcements of the IDF, itself, since operation "Protective Shield," there have been some 50 warnings of imminent attacks every day.

The reason for this can be summed up in one word: rage.

Terrible rage that fills the soul of a human being, leaving no space for anything else. Rage that dominates the person’s whole life, making life itself unimportant.

Rage that wipes out all limitations, eclipses all values, breaks the chains of family and responsibility. Rage that a person wakes up with in the morning, goes to sleep with in the evening, dreams about at night. Rage that tells a person: get up, take a weapon or an explosive belt, go to their homes and kill, kill, kill, no matter what the consequences.

An ordinary Israeli, who has never been in the Palestinian territories, cannot even imagine the reasons for this rage. Our media totally ignore the events there or describe them in small, sweetened doses.

The average Israeli knows somehow that the Palestinians suffer (it’s their own fault, of course), but he has no idea what’s really happening there. It doesn’t concern him, anyhow.

Homes are demolished. A merchant/lawyer/ordinary craftsman, respected in his community, turns overnight into a "homeless person," he, his children and grandchildren. Each one a potential suicide bomber.

Fruit trees are being uprooted by the thousands. For the officer, it’s just a tree, an obstacle. For the owners, it’s the blood of his heart, the heritage of his forefathers, years of toil, the livelihood of his family. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.

On a hill between the villages, a gang of thugs has put up an "outpost." The army arrives to defend them. When the villagers come to till their fields, they are shot at. They are forbidden to work in all fields and groves within a one- or two-kilometer range, so that the security of the outpost will not be endangered.

With longing eyes, the peasants see from afar how their fruit is rotting on the trees, how their fields are being covered by thorns and thistles waist high, while their children have nothing to eat. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.

People are killed. Their torn bodies lie in the streets for everyone to see. Some of them are "martyrs" who chose their lot. But many othersare killed: "by mistake," "accidentally," "trying to escape," "were close to the source of fire" and all the 101 pretexts of professional spokesmen.

The IDF does not apologize; officers and soldiers are never convicted, because "that’s how things are in war." But each of the people killed has parents, brothers, sons, cousins. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.

Beyond these are the families living on the fringes of hunger, suffering from severe malnutrition. Fathers who cannot bring food to their children feel despair. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.Hundreds of thousands are kept under curfew for weeks and months on end, eight persons cooped up in two or three rooms, a living hell difficult to imagine, while outside, the settlers have a ball, protected by the soldiers. A vicious circle: yesterday’s bombers caused the curfew, the curfew creates the bombers of tomorrow.

And beyond all these, there is the total humiliation that every Palestinian, without distinction of age, gender or social standing, experiences every moment of his life.

An Israeli who has not seen it cannot imagine such a life, a situation of "every bastard a king" and "the slave who has becomes master," a situation of curses and pushes at best, threats with weapons in many cases, actual shooting in some — not to mention the sick on the way to dialysis, pregnant women on the way to the hospital, students who don’t get to their classes, children who can’t reach their schools. The youngsters who see their venerable grandfather publicly humiliated by some boy in uniform with a runny nose. Each one a potential suicide bomber.

A normal Israeli cannot imagine all this. After all, the soldiers are nice boys, the sons of all of us, only yesterday they were schoolboys. But when one takes these nice boys and puts them in uniforms, pushes them through the military machine and puts them into a situation of occupation, something happens to them.

Many try to keep their human face in impossible circumstances, many others become order-fulfilling robots. And always, in every company, there are some disturbed people who flourish in this situation and do repulsive things, knowing that their officers will turn a blind eye or wink approvingly.

All this does not justify the killing of children in the arms of their mother. But it helps to grasp why this is happening, and why this will go on happening as long as the occupation lasts.

Uri Avnery is a columnist for the Israel daily Maariv, a founding member of Gush Shalom and a former Knesset member.

Road Rage

Let’s say it’s Friday night and I want to see the guy I’ve been dating for four months or so. Let’s call him Romeo.

I leave Koreatown full of romantic anticipation. I’m listening to some old-school disco on the car radio. I turn it up. I’m thinking maybe we’ll see a movie, grab a burrito, sit on his couch drinking Scotch and making up stupid nicknames for each other.

La Brea is a little clogged. I see road construction lights ahead and a closed lane. Four lights go by, and I’m still on the same street. I turn down the radio.

They say women forget the pain of childbirth so they’ll want to have another child. Similarly, I forget just how long it takes to get to the 10 West from Hollywood. I forget just how awful Friday night traffic is so I can leave my house again the next Friday night. Road amnesia protects me from becoming the type of shut-in that gets into fights with some guy named Sassytrousers14 on an Internet message board dedicated to world cheeses.

It all comes back to me as I sit in my car on the freeway, trapped like a hostage. The festive music is jarring now. I switch to NPR and take to sighing.

I get off the freeway only to find the streets of Santa Monica bustling. Marauding gangs seem to be wandering by foot all around the Third Street Promenade.

I look for parking, circling and circling until the sound of NPR becomes like a knife in my brain, and I turn it off. Finally, I decide to park in a nearby hotel lot, risking a tow.

I’m meeting a friend the next morning for Pilates in Laurel Canyon, and I suddenly realize I’ve forgotten my workout clothes. Life is a complicated fiasco, and it’s all Romeo’s fault.

By the time I get to his door, I’m not happy, and I’m not even neutral. I’m starting the evening in a goodwill deficit. One wrong move and the resentment bomb I’ve built over months of this crazy commute will detonate.

Location is a huge relationship issue in this vast city with no feasible public transportation. It must be taken into account. Can a couple separated by freeways and 45 minutes survive? Allow me to submit that urban sprawl isn’t just bad for the environment, it’s brutal on dating.

Take Romeo and me. We’re star-crossed lovers from two different area codes, perhaps doomed. He can’t just cruise by on foot and scale my balcony in the moonlight. He’s got to sit in traffic just like I do, mumbling, "It is the 10 East, and Juliet is the sun."

Every date brings questions: Whose apartment will it be? (My friend Anne says it should always be the one with the nicest sheets.) How often do you see each other when the convenience barriers are so plentiful? Is someone keeping score of who commutes the most?

What’s more, the dating timeline is thrown off by distance. You end up spending entire weekends together just to avoid a few extra trips across town. The whole thing intensifies unnaturally.

And don’t be seduced by the fantasy of the midpoint. You say, "Let’s meet in the middle," and it sounds like a good idea, but there’s never anything in the middle. Beware the sort of compromise that leads to nights driving around Culver City looking for signs of life.

It seems petty, the problem of a few extra miles and some traffic, but believe me, the issue becomes epic. If I start slacking on my Santa Monica duty, Romeo is convinced the relationship means nothing to me.

It’s not just a drive anymore. It’s a vehicle for proving I’m not his selfish ex-girlfriend who couldn’t be bothered to spend the night at his place. It’s a battleground where feelings get hurt and parking tickets multiply. It’s coming home to a surly cat who has registered his disapproval of my absence by leaving me the gift of feline waste on my pillow.

If it’s meant to be, all of this shouldn’t matter, right? It’s just difficult to gauge whether someone is your destiny in a fog of nuisance-filled voyages.

There’s a Yiddish saying, "If a man is destined to drown, he will drown even in a spoonful of water." I guess the converse of that axiom would be, "If a couple is meant to swim, they will do so even in a bucket full of bother." I believe that.

If you’re trying to have a relationship across the 405 or the 101, maybe waking up to rush hour is a sort of love crucible. If you can walk through that and not blame each other, you might be on to something.