Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Suicide Bombers Not the Only Martyrs-Israel Creates Many More

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Suicide Bombers Not the Only Martyrs-Israel Creates Many More

Article excerpt

Wendy Pearlman is a Ph.D. student in government at Harvard University. She has lived in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and is currently preparing a book of interviews with Palestinians about their experiences during the second intifada.

In the media analysis on suicide bombings, few words bewilder and frighten us as much as the word "martyr." Newspapers and TV specials tell of Palestinian children singing songs in praise of martyrs and families cashing in when one member achieves martyrdom. Yasser Arafat invoked the concept of martyrdom when, trapped in his compound, he declared, "I will be a martyr, a martyr, a martyr." President Bush also called special attention to the martyr issue in his speech April 4. Ordering the Palestinian Authority to stop referring to suicide bombers as martyrs, he warned, "They're not martyrs. They're murderers."

The recurrent reference to the word "martyr," divorced from any real explanation of Palestinians' suffering under Israel's military occupation, paints a frightening portrait of the Palestinians as a people eager to die and kill in a holy war against Israel. For most Americans, the thought of a Palestinian "martyr" conjures up an image of a young man strapped with explosives on a quest to slaughter innocent people in cafes and discotheques. What is completely missing from this skewed view, however, is the fact that all Palestinians killed by Israelis--and not just suicide bombers--are considered to be martyrs. The Palestinian child shot on his way home from school, the father killed when a missile strikes his house, and the woman who dies when an ambulance is prevented from reaching her are all martyrs, no less than are suicide bombers.

As Sharon's current war on Palestinian cities and refugee camps attests, any Palestinian can be made a martyr because Israeli violence does not discriminate. In the course of the latest offensive, the Israeli army has killed children and old ladies; it has shot medics and journalists; it has bulldozed houses with whole families still inside. The Palestinian Red Crescent estimates that 125 people have been killed since the start of Sharon's latest onslaught on March 29. They are all mourned as martyrs, but not one was a suicide bomber.

In fact, the current intifada began with all martyrs and no suicide bombers. The first suicide bomber of the current intifada was actually its 126th martyr: it was only after Israeli soldiers and settlers killed 125 Palestinians in the first four weeks of October 2000 that a young Palestinian strapped himself with dynamite and rode his bicycle into an Israeli army post in the Gaza Strip. …

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