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Vol. XVII, No.1 Fall, 2002



Terrorist or Freedom Fighter? The Impact of Trauma and Injustice

Lessons From John Bull's Troubled Island

Rebuilding A Damaged Palestine

Not All Is Lost

Sri Lanka Stops War To Talk Peace


by Yitzhak Frankenthal

Director General of the Parents Circle and Chairman of the Families' Forum,
Bereaved families promoting reconciliation and peace, July 2002.
Permission has been obtained for publication by Common Ground News Service

The situation in Israel and Palestine at the moment seems to be beyond despair. Every few days of quiet are immediately followed by more suicide bombings. The situation looks desperate, but it is not. Things are difficult, not all is lost. We must examine things thoroughly and realize our mistakes. We must face the toughest questions in order to try and find solutions. President Bush made an address to the world, but how will it impact this region? Arafat is not fighting terror but aiding it; would it not be best to remove him? The situation in the Palestinian Authority is catastrophic.

Unemployment is rampant and the Palestinians were never more indigent. How is it that although in private circles people talk about the need to replace Arafat, in the upcoming elections he is likely to win? More than 500 Israelis were killed since Sharon was elected prime minister. How is it that although security has never been worse and the economy is in recession, public support for Sharon is unprecedented? Why is the Israeli peace camp in ruins, now that it is needed more than ever? No country before has ever been subjected to so many suicide bombings; how did it come to this?

To answer these questions and to understand the answers, we first have to put ourselves in the shoes of the players in this game. President Bush made a well-calculated speech, tailored to the needs of the United States and to his own. In order to fight the Iraqi tyrant and the terrorist Bin Laden, America needs quiet. The trauma of September 11 still dominates America. The parallel that was drawn between Bin Laden and Arafat, between Bin Laden's ideological terrorism and terrorism that is used as a tool to fight occupation, was adopted in the U.S., and Americans today find merit in President Bush's decision that the Palestinian leadership must be replaced and Sharon's policy supported. It is important to the U.S. administration to be perceived in the Arab world as striving to find a solution for the Middle East that would bring calm to the region. The administration is in no rush. Israelis and Palestinians can go on killing each other, provided that no Americans get hit in the process and that the Arabs provide support, albeit tacit, for the President's moves against Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden. President Bush already has a second term in mind, and his address was directed primarily toward his potential voters. The President's address will clearly create no progress in the Middle East.

The first thing to understand in the context of Arafat's support for terror is that the Palestinians do not see suicide bombers as terrorists but as freedom fighters. Granted, in Western terms a freedom fighter that slays women and children is nothing more than a terrorist. But it is not the Western World with which we need to make peace but with the Palestinians. As long as they consider suicide bombers to be gallant freedom fighters and, most importantly, as long as their motivation for fighting Israel "the occupation" still stands, Israelis cannot hold that they are the innocent victims of Palestinian derangement.

Before we can do that, the cause of the Palestinian grievance must first be removed and their claim for self determination acknowledged. Arafat was never a collaborator with Israel, let alone a Zionist. He was, however, the first Palestinian leader who was ready to recognize Israel and make peace with it, although not at all costs. He was prepared to compromise on the borders of the Palestinian state and on the issue of refugees, but not on Temple Mount – Haram al Sharif. Disillusioned with Barak once he realized he would not get sovereignty over Haram al Sharif, he was no longer motivated to fight the Palestinian Hamas movement. Arafat is still the only leader who has the power to change things around. It would take several months, but he can do it. The question is, why should he make the effort? In order to succeed he has to have hope. Why should he fight the Hamas and other terror organizations without any light in the end of the tunnel?

Any leader that replaces Arafat will have to prove he is even tougher and fight Israel with even more ferocity. We, therefore, stand to gain nothing by replacing him. The Palestinian public supports Arafat despite the serious crisis into which he has led his people. The reasons, which are obscure to the Western World, are plain and simple: honor and land. In the Muslim world, honor is the cause of acts that to Western eyes are atrocious, including "honor killings" -- murder of female relatives in the name of preserving the "honor" of the family, which is still common practice in Muslim communities outside of the Western World. Land and territory are another major pivot in the Muslim world. Israelis do not understand how Arafat, who was offered so much by Barak, would not budge an inch on Temple Mount Haram al Sharif. People fail to comprehend that the Palestinians would rather die than give up sovereignty over this holy site.

If the elections for which President Bush has called take place, the Palestinians will vote for Arafat, if only to protest any condescending outside dictate. Absurdly, the only other feasible scenario is that they may support the Hamas representative as a form of retaliation against Israel. If this happens, the future for both Israel and the Palestinians will be even more grim than the present.

On the Israeli side, even before he took office it was quite clear what Sharon represents. As his record shows, there is no Israeli leader more cunning than he. Sharon managed to wiggle his way out of a peace plan that spelled a Palestinian state or else he would have lost the support of his right-wing party. He managed to manipulate the Palestinians into such a desperate situation that they are propelled to commit awful acts. Without even asking themselves why or how these heinous terror attacks were brought to pass, Israelis directed their hatred and animosity toward the Palestinians in general and Arafat in particular. Israelis feel that they are at war. Granted, not a war for the country's survival, but nevertheless a war for the safety of their children. As do most nations in times of war, the average Israeli supports his leadership. This is how Sharon keeps gaining such broad support despite the terrible situation or, perhaps, thanks to it.

The hard core of the Israeli peace camp still exists, with individuals who continue to believe that the Palestinians deserved their own state and that occupation corrupts. However, most of those who used to support the politics of this camp because they perceived peace an instrument for a better life, feel now, after Barak's concessions were rejected, that there is no partner for peace. Terror is undermining personal safety and ruining the economy, and the message disseminated by the government as though Arafat and the Palestinians are the only ones to blame, has crushed the peace camp to bits. With a little hope and renewed faith in the Palestinians, the peace camp will once again sweep the nation.

No other country was ever in such a predicament --two nations live here; one within the other. The Palestinians are living in our midst; they see our green fields from their windows, but they have no food on their plates. Separation, a popular slogan in Israel, is just a smoke screen that the government is trying to sell us. No fence can block terrorists. As long as the Palestinians are in such dire straits, Israelis will continue to suffer. A separating fence is a good idea, but only as part of a peace agreement endorsed by the Palestinians. Even then there are places in which a fence would be technically impossible to build.

Israel is fighting a hostile population. There may be many preemptive "successes", but the main motivation for terror, the occupation, is still very much there. As long as 3.5 million people suffer occupation and indigence, Israel will have no security. Israel and the world are foolish to believe that military occupation can work. Global sympathy for Israel in its fight against suicide bombers will be short lived, because the plight of a population living under occupation and daily tragedies on the Palestinian side will only push them to more and more desperate suicide acts. A mother who educates her children to fight the occupation even to the extent of heroic suicide, in effect sacrifices one child for the sake of the others. This mother loves all her children, including the one who kills himself and others, but her desperation is so deep that it borders on insanity. As one Palestinian mother explained the enthusiasm surrounding the actions against Israel: "It is because of the slaughter of the Palestinian people. We have to defend ourselves, our land, and jihad is a duty." We must not see this mother as our enemy. We must understand that it is we who push her toward horrific acts of despair. If we fail to understand this, we shall continue to bury our children. If after the Palestinians get a state of their own they continue to fight us out of fundamentalist ideology, we shall then have no choice but to exile all those who are unwilling to live alongside us in good neighborly relations. I hope and believe that most Palestinians will choose to live beside us in peace. I said that not all is lost.

Israelis and Palestinians must work together to regain the trust and to push our leaders to make peace. The Families Forum is now working on the "Hello-Shalom" program, which will enable Israelis and Palestinians to communicate and build a bridge for peace, and on a media campaign designed to rebuild the faith of both sides in reconciliation and peace.


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