In the western media analysis on “suicide” bombings, few words bewilder and frightened as much as the word “martyr.”
Newspapers and TV specials tell of Palestinian children singing songs of praise of martyrs. Arafat invoked the concept of martyrdom when trapped in his compound, he declared, “I will be a martyr, a martyr, a martyr.” President Bush also called special attention to the martyr issue in his speech April 4. Ordering the Palestinian Authority to stop referring to suicide bombers as martyrs, he warned, “they’re not martyrs, they’re murderers.”
The recurrent reference to the word “martyr”, divorced from any real explanation of Palestinians suffering under Israel’s military occupation, paints a picture of Palestinians as a people eager to die and kill in a holy war against Israel. For most people the thought of a “martyr” conjures up an image of a young man strapped with explosives on a quest to slaughter innocent people in cafés and discos. What is completely illusory from this jaundiced view is the fact that all Palestinians killed by Israelis – and not only so-called suicide bombers – are considered to be martyrs.
The Palestinian child shot on his way home from school, the father killed when a missile strikes his house, and the woman who dies when the ambulance is prevented from reaching her, are all martyrs. As Sharon’s war on Palestinian cities and refugee camps attests, any Palestinian can be made a martyr because Israeli terrorist actions do not discriminate.
The current intifada began with all martyrs and no “suicide” bombers, the first “suicide” bomber of the current intifada was actually its 126th martyr: It was only after Israeli soldiers and settlers killed 125 Palestinians in the first 4 weeks of October 2000 that a young Palestinian strapped himself with dynamite and rode his bicycle into an Israeli army post in the Gaza Strip. He blew himself up and lightly wounded an Israeli soldier.
The 21st martyr of the current intifada was a 15-year-old Boy Scout named Mohamed Hamad Daoud. He was shot in the head with a live bullet at the Israeli check-point not far from his house. The shocking stories about Palestinian admiration for martyrs makes for good sensationalism, but it misses the real agony of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Palestinians who mourn those killed in their people’s struggle for freedom.
Every Palestinian family has had a member killed or injured by the Israeli army or settlers. Every Palestinian knows that he or she could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and wind up a martyr. The sooner Israel complies with the UN resolutions and dismantle settlements and withdraws from the occupied territories, the sooner Palestinian children will be able to imagine a future that offers opportunities for something other than an early death.