After a recent suicide bombing that was reported on television, my twelve-year-old asked me the above question. I must admit, I did not know how to answer him. He has never experienced what living under Occupation means. Living in suburban Illinois and alternately fishing and playing with the latest X-box video game, what frame of reference or context could he possibly relate to in grasping whatever answer I could give?
I put him off saying that it was complicated and he walked away less than satisfied. This is an attempt to explain to my son why someone would become a human bomb and kill himself along with innocent people in a crowded market. In trying to find my words, the answer began to assume a rather simple truth. The American physicist and teacher Richard Feynman once said, “The truth always turns out to be simpler than you thought.”
This is what I wish I could have told him then.
When a people have been stripped of everything they have, are denied the expression of who they are, humiliated by those occupying their land, homes destroyed, schools closed, children not being allowed to play, put in jail without trials, executed without being tried…life becomes intolerable.
In fact, the notion of simple earthly pleasures becomes out of reach. The Israelis control every facet of Palestinian life. Suicide bombings are a reaction to this oppressive control of life. These people are telling Israelis, “You can starve us, beat us, humiliate us, but you will never control our spirit. We will choose the day of our death, and in the process make you feel a bit of the pain you, our occupiers, inflict on our entire society.”
Palestinians exist in an environment so dire that the prospects of death overshadow their prospects for life. Imagine your mother spat upon by a nineteen-year-old Israeli soldier simply because she was your mother…imagine our neighborhood being bombed by powerful planes and helicopters and we had no way to protect ourselves. Suicide bombings are acts of desperation and mean that a people have been pushed to the brink. There is not one incident that leads to one of these actions. Rather it is a systematic matrix of actions by Israeli occupation that terrorizes an entire population. Palestinians have been pushed so hard that they no longer fear death nor the enemy.
The “rightness or wrongness” of these suicide bombings can be debated by everyone, but failure to understand why these happen will make certain that they will continue. Without understanding the causes that lead to the bombings, one will never eliminate them. This simple truth seems to evade most commentators, pundits, politicians, and of course seems to be missed by most Israelis and those that support them.
I wish I could have said this to my son when he asked. I had not yet truly understood that the answer was simple. In another time, at another place…but for the grace of God, I too might have become desperate enough to become part of such horrific events.