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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

January 22, 2003

Palestinian leaders killing roots of own society

A professor and local guy [close to my home] makes sense
The recent massacre of 23 people in central Tel Aviv marks a continuation of the barbarism that now is embraced by all major groups across the Palestinian political spectrum. This includes the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat.
In fact, on the morning of the Tel Aviv bus station bombing, the Jerusalem Post carried an interview with Farouk Kaddoumi, a leading figure associated with Arafat, who stated openly that there is no difference in the agenda and tactics employed by the PLO, Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

These horrific acts are obviously designed to randomly kill as many people as possible, and in so doing to wreak chaos and fear. Of the 25,000 acts of terror inflicted on Israelis during this intifada, more then 85 percent of the victims have been civilians. Yet despite the appalling toll Israeli society has paid in the numbers of killed, wounded and traumatized, the greatest victims of these unspeakable deeds have been the Palestinians and their society.

It is Palestinian culture and civilization that is being murdered. Notions of right and wrong are being murdered. By resorting to and even celebrating the actions of the suicide bombers, Palestinians are rejecting an inherent element in humanity that insists upon self-respect and the moral and ethical need to respect others who do not share their culture, views or beliefs.

Even during times of war, these ideals must govern human behavior. All philosophies and religions contain such a social contract: it is the glue that holds societies together and maintains order over chaos. The Palestinian leadership is responsible for setting aside the best of their culture for the worst form of human action.

Many intellectuals and politicians who ought to know better, particularly in Europe, do not condemn the political and moral cul de sac that the Palestinian leadership has entered. Rather, they invoke relativist understandings of what is right and wrong and make up excuses for these horrible acts of murdering innocents.

It is true that during the colonial period the peoples of the Middle East were debased as being primitive and barbaric and that perhaps explains in part the inability of the West to hold the Palestinian leadership to high standards. Throw a little anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism into the mix, and the recipe for a continuing disaster is complete.

Imagine if the Palestinian political organizations rather than expending their energies on planning mass killings were to take that energy and build homes, schools, universities and hospitals and other institutions critical to creating a strong society. Or, imagine if a social democratic, nonviolent people's movement would emerge to vigorously fight for Palestinian rights through moral and ethical means. Imagine how much support Palestinians would receive from around the world, even from Israelis themselves.

Yet events have gotten so out of hand that when a Jew is murdered, when a person commits suicide in order to kill innocent people, thousands dance and pass out sweets in the streets. The murderer is celebrated as a hero, the family is honored with reverence and economic support. Even when the Nazis were engaged in the extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust, the architects attempted to keep the project hidden.

Yet in Palestinian society, political organizations speak openly about their goal of cleansing Jews from part if not all of the region. These twisted views and actions have significant support, due largely to the lack of leadership. In Islam, the killing or harming of civilians is forbidden. Where would we be if other groups involved in conflict engaged in the same actions? It would mark the end of civilization.

Palestinian leaders are taking their people down the path to oblivion. There is a tremendous need for a new Palestinian leadership to pursue their aspirations of statehood in a moral and ethical manner. A leadership that while steadfast in defending Palestinian rights and aspirations is prepared to compromise and make a genuine effort for a peaceful future with Israeli neighbors.

When death and destruction is celebrated, when there is no effort to build and to be creative, it is only a matter of time before this behavior will come back to haunt their own society. History has shown that the end does not justify the means. The manner in which a struggle for freedom is conducted will create the conditions and practices of the new society.

Charles A. Small is the director of the Urban Studies Program at Southern Connecticut State University, Lang House, 101 Farnham Ave., New Haven 06515. He is a member of a research project at Tel Aviv University examining the impact of globalization on cities and culture.