Palestinian suicide attacks have been singled out, overemphasised and isolated from their context in Israel’s 35-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, the proper infrastructure of Palestinian terrories.
Professional demonisers like Thomas Friedman work hard to persuade us of suicidal lies like the one claiming suicide bombers are “a whole new form of warfare” unique to Palestinians. I truly doubt whether the term “Kamikaze” is of Palestinian origin. There were no Palestinian suicide bombers around back in 1991, when Rajib Ghandi was assassinated by a suicide bomber; in fact, the person accused of launching more suicide attacks than anyone else is not Yassir Arafat (his direct involvement in such attacks may be an outright Israeli fabrication) but Velupillai Prabhakaran, who heads the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The Talmud reminds us that people often accuse others of their own faults. Is this the case with Israel as well? Can Israel be seen as a suicide bomber? Well, the latter part of the term obviously holds true: reports of Israeli bulldozers digging mass graves in Jenin have not been confirmed yet, but the enormous scale of Israeli bombing in occupied territories hardly needs this evidence. During the British Mandate in Palestine (1917-1948), the Royal Army considered bombing Jenin from the air, but dropped the idea for humanitarian reasons; the Israeli army has now used F-16 jets, helicopters and airborne missiles against this city, while destroying dozens of houses as well as the entire water, sewage and electricity infrastructure by tanks and bulldozers.
But has Israel itself suicidal elements? We’ll have to take a short survey of Palestinian suicide bombing to get to that.
Suicide Bombers Analysed
Demonisation successfully coats the suicide bombers with a satanic aura of ultimate evil, disabling any rational discussion of the subject. Suicide bombers are represented as a doomsday weapon, as a threat to world security, to civilisation itself (see, again, Thomas Friedman’s column). It’s high time to lift this aura.
In my previous column I argued that suicide itself is not considered a crime by most people. The major ideology of modern times, Nationalism, often praises sacrificing one’s life for one’s nation. Israel loves to praise itself for everything positive in Palestinian society (“we brought them prosperity” etc.) and to blame some “Arab spirit” for everything negative. But Palestinians suicidal tendencies maybe have their roots not only in Islamic fundamentalism but also in Zionism. Israeli school children are raised on the myth of the Zionist officer Joseph Trumpeldor, whose last words were: “It is good to die for our country”. Similarly, the first association Israeli soldiers had in mind for the Palestinians fighting to death in Jenin was the Zionist Masada myth, where besieged ancient Jews swore to die rather than surrender to the Romans.
Suicide bombers, as I argued before, are not different from any other weapon. They can be used against three kinds of targets: soldiers, settlers, and civilians inside Israel. Let’s consider each of these cases.
Bombing Occupation Soldiers is LAWFUL
When acting against soldiers, the suicide bomber has international law on his side. Yes: international legislation acknowledges the right of occupied people to use force against their oppressors, both inside the occupied territories and outside them. Based upon the principles of the Hague International Convention of 1907 and confirmed in the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II, this determination was essential to forestall Nazi claims that partisans, Ghetto fighters, and other underground resistance forces in the territories occupied by Germany had allegedly been “terrorists”. In the Nuremberg Tribunal it was unequivocally set down that resistance fighters, including those who had struggled within Germany itself, acted in accordance with the regulations of international law.
A fact actually unheard of in the media.
Bombing Settlers in the Occupied Territories
Bombing civilians, however, is a crime. If Palestinians do it inside the occupied territories, the great question is what those civilians, also known as settlers, are doing there. Their presence in the occupied territories may not justify killing them, but it raises serious doubts as for who is responsible for it. Is it the Palestinians legitimately fighting occupation é or is it rather Israel, that moves civilians into occupied territory contrary to international law, exposing them to Palestinian attacks? Israel now claims to be deporting Palestinian civilians from battle zones in order to protect them. Why does it let its own civilians live in these territories, which are one big battlefield?
In fact, extremist settlers like those in Hebron é 500 settlers among 120.000 Palestinians in the heart of the city é often refuse to be protected. When the army offers to install bullet-proof glass in their windows, they reject it, claiming the army should ensure their houses are not shot at instead of stopping the bullets at their windows. Is this not suicidal?
Bombing Civilians Inside Israel
Okay, this of course is totally illegal and immoral. But have you ever wondered how suicide bombers get into Israel? Not in a satanic rain like the frogs in Magnolia. In fact, they walk into Israel.
Walk??? é Yes. They cross the imaginary Green Line between Israel and the occupied West Bank simply on foot, and then they take a lift, or a bus, or a taxi, to wherever they want to explode.
This may sound incredible, but it is true. There is no visible border between Israel and the West Bank.
Now the problem of intruders has been bothering humanity for quite a few millennia, from China to Berlin; the usual solution is expressed by the English term “fence”. If Israel had wanted to stop suicide bombers, all it had to do is put a fence. This is Israel’s weak spot the Palestinians have found. It’s a very revealing weak spot.
Why does Israel not put a fence? The construction itself is not a problem. There are quite sophisticated hi-tech fences nowadays. The Gaza Strip is surrounded by one, reducing intrusions to a zero level. A few weeks after the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon, a fence along the border was completed there too. So why not in the West Bank?
There are three reasons why Israel does not put a fence along the Green Line:
(A) First and foremost, as even Israeli politicians admit, it’s “a political problem”. A fence might be interpreted as a border. Israel is unwilling to give up the West Bank. Therefore, it rather lets its citizens die in suicide attacks. It’s as simple as that.
(B) More specifically, the numerous Israeli settlements spread throughout the entire West Bank are a problem for such a fence. If the settlements are taken in, you have to take the surrounding Palestinian population too, and then what’s the point. If you leave the settlements out, you solve only part of the problem.
The smaller part of the problem, actually. Israel cares much more about its 200.000 settlers in the West Bank than about its 6 million citizens inside the Green Line (indeed, most settlements are surrounded by a fence). Take this financial evidence: in the 1990s, the Israeli Government spent on every settler an average of 5,428 NIS a year. The national average per citizen was just 3,807 NIS. Israeli Arab citizens were worth much less: 2,402 NIS. The cheaper the citizen, the cheaper his life.
(C) One cannot ignore the propaganda profits. Israel uses terror attack on its citizens, especially on civilians inside the Green Line, to justify its ever more violent occupation and to endlessly expand its illegal settlements. Why build a simple fence, if you can occasionally sacrifice a few civilians in return for a huge propaganda benefit for the occupation and the settlements?
Looking at the Mirror
So Thomas Friedman is right to argue that by using suicide bombers the Palestinians have found Israel’s weak spot. This weak spot is the policy of occupation and settlements. Had Israel agreed to end occupation and dismantle the settlements, as international decisions demand, it could simply put a fence along the Green Line and stop suicide bombers. But a fence would harm Israel’s settlements policy, and this is why Israel does not build one. This behaviour, on a national level, is suicidal: the State of Israel knowingly sacrifices its own civilians for the Molech called settlements. The Palestinian suicide bombers are thus but a mirror image of the Israeli policy, a policy which is both “suicidal” (sacrificing one’s own civilians) and murderously bombing.
Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and has grown up in Israel. He has B.A. in Computer Science, M.A. in Comparative Literature and he presently works on his PhD thesis. He lives in Tel-Aviv, teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature in Tel-Aviv University. He also works as literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. His work has been published widely in Israel. His column appears monthly at Antiwar.com.