I saw people lying on the floor. Some had no legs, no arms. —Alex Brodsky, 19, a witness at the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, Daily News, June 2
This kind of operation is the right of the Palestinian people to terrorize the enemies. —Hamas, New York Post, June 2
Palestinians have long memories. The occupation; the collective punishments by the Israeli government, which destroyed homes and evicted families; the torture of imprisoned Palestinians, as documented by Israeli and Palestinian civil liberties organizations.
Jews have long memories. Israeli settlers and their children shot to death on the road; the collective memory of Jews everywhere. When I heard of the bombing in Tel Aviv, what first came to mind was the night of November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when the Nazis ruthlessly coordinated attacks on Jews that presaged the Holocaust and the long, hard road to the Jewish state.
I was in Israel for the Voice in 1986, not long after Israeli colonels—most of whom had fought in every war against the Arabs—started the Peace Now movement. I talked with a number of them; and for years, I have strongly supported not only that movement but also the campaign for an independent Palestinian state.
When Ariel Sharon invaded Lebanon, I exposed the horrifying results of that invasion in the Voice—including the children left without legs and arms. After I also wrote of Sharon’s passive complicity in the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon, death threats were sent to me at the Voice.
On a two-hour late-night radio program at the time, Jewish callers offered continuous suggestions for how I could most painfully and slowly end my life as a self-hating Jew.
Nonetheless, I went to Washington to accept an award from an Arab American organization for giving both sides in my reporting on the Middle East. During a debate at the Central Synagogue in New York, I was roundly booed.
When in Israel for the Voice, I spent time in East Jerusalem, interviewing Palestinian journalists. One editor, whose newspaper was one of the fiercest critics of Israeli actions, told me of his vision of a time when Israelis and Palestinians could cooperate economically and technologically to create a model, a peaceful flowering of the Middle East.
Later, I spoke with Faisal Husseini, who on May 31 of this year died suddenly of a heart attack. Back then, he was Yasir Arafat’s main man in Jerusalem, and I quickly understood why he was so respected by both Palestinians and Israelis in the peace movement. He spent much of the 1980s in Israeli prisons, but as the June 1 New York Times reported after Husseini’s death, he became a leading advocate of making Jerusalem an open city, the capital of both Palestinians and Israelis.
And the Times quoted Husseini’s frequent description of his first visit to West Jerusalem in 1967, when he saw Israelis “as people and not only as soldiers.” He spoke of seeing “weak people, strong people, intelligent people, stupid people, children, and even an old man and an old woman sitting together holding hands.” Why, Husseini asked himself, couldn’t both peoples live together without killing each other?
But do Hamas, Palestinian Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad see Israelis as people? They send the suicide bombers, who look into the eyes of the men, women, and children they murder.
I have spoken to some Israeli settlers who also do not see Palestinians as people, but others I’ve visited do believe Palestinians are as human and vulnerable as Israelis. These settlers want desperately not to have to carry guns wherever they go. And there are soldiers on both sides who do not want to kill, except in self-defense.
The killings will not end until terrorism ends. There are a few murderous Israeli zealots—Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, the doctor who shot to death Palestinians at prayer—but organized terrorism is committed against Israel by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Palestinian Hezbollah. During Israel’s 10-day unilateral cease-fire, there were 150 violent incidents by terrorists.
After the Tel Aviv atrocity, Arafat condemned it and called for a cease-fire by his side. But meeting in Gaza, 14 Palestinian factions, including Hamas, rejected that call. I have seen no response to that from Arafat.
In any case, there can be no durable, enforceable mutual cease-fire unless and until Arafat can disband these terrorists. A basic question is whether his Palestinian authority can exercise its authority. If it can’t, what is its role in negotiations?
In 1989, Faisal Husseini, leaving an Israeli prison, said, “We are fighting to build our state, not to destroy another state.”
The strategy of the terrorists, on the other hand, is to make fear of death or mutilation so much a part of everyday Israeli life that there will be massive retaliations. War will follow. The terrorists’ vision is that some of the Arab states will join in. Massive destruction of Palestinians will then make Israel a pariah to the rest of the world, certainly to Europe, so that eventually, the Jewish state will erode into the sea. This has been Arafat’s intermittent fallback strategy from the beginning, especially when he sees no other alternative for getting what he wants.
As always, the terrorists hugely underestimate the will of Israel to survive. But as Dennis Ross, Clinton’s longtime Middle East negotiator, told The New York Times: “The hole may become so deep, the atmosphere so sour, the mistrust so profound, that the task of stabilization later on may be impossible.”
It will not be easy for Arafat to stop the terrorists, if that is now his actual intent. There are Palestinian mothers who celebrate the deaths of their sons—suicide bombers—in the fervent belief they will ascend to paradise because their cause is so just. And after the carnage in Tel Aviv, Palestinians danced in the streets in Ramallah.