Understanding the suicide bombers
By GILBERT BLYTHE
According to Israelis and their supporters in the American media, Palestinian suicide bombings are an unfathomable evil, the work of deranged men. Only savages, we are led to believe, could kill women and children by blowing themselves up. If American commentators even attempt to explain the attacks it is to remind us that the Muslim paradise is populated with beautiful virgins, and to suggest that the bombers may be sex maniacs.
In fact, it is not hard to understand the suicide bombers. First, they have a burning desire to kill Israelis, and second, they have no other way to do it. They want to kill Israelis because they believe Israelis have taken their land. Israelis have built hundreds of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians think belongs to them. Israelis have bulldozed their houses, uprooted their olive groves, killed their men, and humiliated their women and children. The United Nations has condemned Israeli actions again and again, but Israel thanks to the support of the United States flouts world opinion. Palestinians believe they have suffered every form of dispossession and degradation short of extermination.
Any people with a grievance as deep as that wants nothing so passionately as to kill the oppressor. The desire to kill, to take revenge, becomes stronger than the desire for life itself. Palestinians do not have the tanks, attack helicopters, and fighter-bombers America has given Israel, so they fight with the only weapon they have: their bodies.
The depth of Palestinian bitterness is measured by the number of women who are now counted among the suicide bombers. Women almost never volunteer for front-line combat. For women to attack an enemy at the cost of certain death for themselves is practically without historical precedent.
Israel's apologists would have us believe suicide bombing is sick and incomprehensible. In fact, suicide attacks (and defenses) are the traditional tactics of desperate men facing overwhelming odds, and the Palestinians are clearly part of that tradition. Leonidas and his Spartans knew they would die at Thermopylae, and were determined to take as many Persians with them as they could. Perhaps Xerxes thought they were sick or incomprehensible, but to the Greeks to the entire West they are heroes. They gave their lives for their homeland, and we honor their sacrifice. The men who died at the Alamo could have run away, but they stayed and fought to the death so that the republic of Texas could be born. Like Jim Bowie and Will Travis, Palestinians believe their deaths will give birth to a new nation for their people. Blood and soil those are what men have willingly fought and died for throughout history.
The Japanese kamikaze pilots were the suicide bombers of the Second World War. They were volunteers, ready to sacrifice their lives for emperor and country. They were not afraid to die if they could sink an enemy ship and perhaps turn back the American advance. All soldiers in battle face the possibility of death, and some soldiers accept certain death if they believe there is no other way to defeat a stronger enemy. The families of the kamikaze pilots were proud their sons showed such devotion to Japan, just as the families of Palestinian suicide bombers are proud of their children.
Why, though, must the Palestinians kill civilians? Because they cannot hope to take on the Israeli army. They cannot reach the men in the tanks and fighter-bombers, so they kill their fathers, wives, and children instead. It is an ugly and immoral way to fight, but that is how the Allies fought the Second World War. When Britain and America could not kill enemy soldiers on the battlefield they killed their families from the air. The Germans and Russians did the same. For desperate people, the distinction between a soldier and his family means very little. To the Palestinians, who see Jewish settlers of every age and sex as thieves and occupiers, the distinction is virtually meaningless.
The Palestinians are fighting what all the world but Israel and America consider to be a war of national liberation. They believe with all their heart that they are fighting for their homeland, for their survival as a people. It would be surprising if they did not use every means at their disposal, no matter how sickening or violent, to free their land from what is to them a brutal and alien tyranny. It is blindness to dismiss them as incomprehensible madmen or to sneer at their motives. For people who claim to admire Will Travis and Leonidas, it is dishonesty to scorn the sacrifices of the Palestinians or deny their love for what they believe to be their country.
Israel and its apologists want to turn the world against the Palestinians by telling us they are barbarians, impervious to reason, who must be crushed. In effect, they want us to believe Palestinians are not fully human, for thus do the Israelis justify to themselves and to the world their own behavior.
Gilbert Blythe is the pen name of a Washington-area journalist.
Posted April 17, 2002
© 2002 WTM Enterprises
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