Arafat can't press a button to turn off the bombers

By Uri Avnery
The International Herald Tribune
Thursday, March 28, 2002

The writer, who heads the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

TEL AVIV.  When a whole people is seething with rage, it becomes a dangerous enemy, because the rage does not obey orders. When it exists in the hearts of millions of people, it cannot be cut off by pushing a button. When this rage overflows, it creates suicide bombers fueled by the power of anger, against whom there is no defense. A person who has given up on life is free to do whatever his disturbed mind dictates.

Some of the suicide bombers are killed before they reach their goal, but when there are hundreds of them, thousands of them, no military means will restore security. The actions of Lieutenant General Shaul Mofaz, the army chief of staff, during the last month have brought this rage to an unprecedented pitch and instilled it into the hearts of every Palestinian, be he a university professor or a street boy, a housewife or a high-school girl, a leftist or a fundamentalist. When tanks run amok in the center of a town, shooting indiscriminately in all directions, causing panic to a whole population, it induces helpless rage. When soldiers crush through a wall into the living room of a family, causing shock to children and adults, ransacking their belongings, destroying the fruits of a life of hard work, and then break the wall to the next apartment to wreak havoc there, it induces helpless rage. When officers order to shoot at ambulances, killing doctors engaged in saving the lives of the wounded, it induces helpless rage. And then it appears that the rage is not helpless after all. The suicide bombers go forward to avenge, with a whole people blessing them and rejoicing at every Israeli killed, soldier or settler, a girl in a bus or a youngster in a discotheque. Israelis are dumbfounded by this terrible phenomenon. They cannot understand it, because they don't know (and perhaps don't want to know) what has happened in the Palestinian towns and villages. Only feeble echoes of what really happened have reached them. The obedient media suppress the information, or water it down.

The generals look helplessly at a struggle they do not understand and make arrogant statements divorced from reality. Pronouncements like "We have taught them a lesson," or "We have destroyed the infrastructure of terrorism," show an infantile lack of understanding of what they are doing. On the contrary they have built a hothouse for rearing suicide bombers. A person whose beloved brother has been killed, whose house has been destroyed in an orgy of vandalism, who has been mortally humiliated before the eyes of his children, goes to the market and buys a rifle. This sort of hatred is now everywhere. Bands of armed men roam all the towns and villages of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. These bands do not belong to any organization. Members of Fatah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad team up to plan attacks, not giving a damn for the established institutions. Anyone who believes that Yasser Arafat can push a button and stop this is living in a dream world. Arafat is the adored leader, now more than ever, but when a people is seething with anger he cannot stop it either. At best, the pressure cooker can cool off slowly, if the majority of the people are persuaded that their honor has been restored and their liberation guaranteed.

Then public support for the "terrorists" will diminish. They will be isolated and wither away. That was what happened in the past. During the Oslo period there were attacks too, but they were conducted by dissidents, fanatics, and the public aversion to them limited the damage they caused. American politicians, like Israeli officers, do not understand what they are doing. When an overbearing vice president dictates humiliating terms for a meeting with Arafat, he pours oil on the flames. A person who lacks empathy for the suffering of the occupied people, who does not understand their condition, would be well advised to shut up. Because every such humiliation kills dozens of Israelis. After all, the suicide bombers are standing in line.

Copyright (c) 2001 The International Herald Tribune

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