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Since last Sunday, a question has been running around in my head and troubling my sleep: What induced the young Palestinian, who broke into Kibbutz Metzer, to aim his weapon at a mother and her two little children and kill them?
In war one does not kill children. That is a fundamental human instinct, common to all peoples and all cultures. Even a Palestinian who wants to take revenge for the hundreds of children killed by the Israeli army should not take revenge on children. No moral commandment says “a child for a child”.
The persons who do these things are not known as crazy killers, blood-thirsty from birth. In almost all interviews with relatives and neighbors they are described as quite ordinary, non-violent individuals. Many of them are not religious fanatics. Indeed, Sirkhan Sirkhan, the man who committed the deed in Metzer, belonged to Fatah, a secular movement.
These persons belong to all social classes; some come from poor families who have reached the threshold of hunger, but others come from middle class families, university students, educated people. Their genes are not different from ours.
So what makes them do these things? What makes other Palestinians justify them?
In order to cope, one has to understand, and that does not mean to justify. Nothing in the world can justify a Palestinian who shoots at a child in his mother’s embrace, just as nothing can justify an Israeli who drops a bomb on a house in which a child is sleeping in his bed. As the Hebrew poet Bialik wrote a hundred years ago, after the Kishinev pogrom: “Even Satan has not yet invented the revenge for the blood of a little child.”
But without understanding, it is impossible to cope. The chiefs of the IDF have a simple solution: hit, hit, hit. Kill the attackers. Kill their commanders. Kill the leaders of their organizations. Demolish the homes of their families and exile their relatives. But, wonder of wonders, these methods achieve the opposite. After the huge IDF bulldozer flattens the “terrorist infrastructure”, destroying-killing-uprooting everything on its way, within days a new “infrastructure” comes into being. According to the announcements of the IDF itself, since operation “Protective Shield” there have been some fifty warnings of imminent attacks every day.
The reason for this can be summed up in one word: rage.
Terrible rage, that fills the soul of a human being, leaving no space for anything else. Rage that dominates the person’s whole life, making life itself unimportant. Rage that wipes out all limitations, eclipses all values, breaks the chains of family and responsibility. Rage that a person wakes up with in the morning, goes to sleep with in the evening, dreams about at night. Rage that tells a person: get up, take a weapon or an explosive belt, go to their homes and kill, kill, kill, no matter what the consequences.
An ordinary Israeli, who has never been in the Palestinian territories, cannot even imagine the reasons for this rage. Our media totally ignore the events there, or describe them in small, sweetened doses. The average Israeli knows somehow that the Palestinians suffer (it’s their own fault, of course), but he has no idea what’s really happening there. It doesn’t concern him, anyhow.
Homes are demolished. A merchant, lawyer, ordinary craftsman, respected in his community, turns overnight into a “homeless”, he and his children and grandchildren. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.
Fruit-trees are being uprooted in their thousands. For the officer, it’s just a tree, an obstacle. For the owners, it’s the blood of his heart, the heritage of his forefathers, years of toil, the livelihood of his family. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.
On a hill between the villages a gang of thugs has put up an “outpost”. The army arrives to defend them. When the villagers come to till their fields, they are shot at. They are forbidden to work in all fields and groves within a one or two kilometers range, so that the security of the outpost will not be endangered. The peasants see from afar, with longing eyes, how their fruit is rotting on the trees, how their fields are being covered by thorns and thistles waist high, while their children have nothing to eat. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.
People are killed. Their torn bodies lie in the streets, for everyone to see. Some of them are “martyrs” who chose their lot. But many others – men, women, children – are killed “by mistake”, “accidentally”, “trying to escape”, “were close to the source of fire” – and all the hundred and one pretexts of professional spokesmen. The IDF does not apologize, officers and soldiers are never convicted, because “that’s how things are in war”. But each of the people killed has parents, brothers, sons, cousins. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.
Beyond these are the families living on the fringes of hunger, suffering from severe malnutrition. Fathers who cannot bring food to their children feel despair. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.
Hundred of thousands are kept under curfew for weeks and months on end, eight persons cooped up in two or three rooms, a living hell difficult to imagine, while outside the settlers have a ball, protected by the soldiers. A vicious circle: yesterday’s bombers caused the curfew, the curfew creates the bombers of tomorrow.
And beyond all these, the total humiliation which every Palestinian, without distinction of age, gender or social standing, experiences every moment of his life. Not an abstract humiliation, but an altogether concrete one. To be dependent for life and death on the whim of an 18-year old boy in the street and at one of the innumerable checkpoints that a Palestinian has to pass wherever he goes, while gangs of settlers pass freely and “visit” their villages, damage property, pick the olives in their groves, set fire to the trees.
An Israeli who has not seen it cannot imagine such a life, a situation of “every bastard a king” and “the slave who has becomes master”, a situation of curses and pushes at best, threats with weapons in many cases, actual shooting in some. Not to mention the sick on the way to dialysis, the pregnant women on the way to hospital, students who don’t get to their classes, children who can’t reach their schools. The youngsters who see their venerable grandfather publicly humiliated by some boy in uniform with a runny nose. Each one of them a potential suicide bomber.
A normal Israeli cannot imagine all this. After all, the soldiers are nice boys, the sons of all of us, only yesterday they were schoolboys. But when one takes these nice boys and puts them in uniforms, pushes them through the military machine and puts them into a situation of occupation, something happens to them. Many try to keep their human face in impossible circumstances, many others become order-fulfilling robots. And always, in every company, there are some disturbed people who flourish in this situation and do repulsive things, knowing that their officers will turn a blind eye or wink approvingly.
All this does not justify the killing of children in the arms of their mother. But it helps to grasp why this is happening, and why this will go on happening as long as the occupation lasts.
URI AVNERY has closely followed the career of Sharon for four decades. Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation. Avnery is featured in the new book, The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent.