The Human Bombs: The Palestinian Suicide Bomber Has Become a 21st Century Political Phenomenon, Which Divides Public Opinion in the Arab World and beyond. Are These Bombers Martyrs to the Cause or Murderers of Innocent Civilian Targets? (Middle East)

By Blanche, Ed | The Middle East, November 2002 | Go to article overview

The Human Bombs: The Palestinian Suicide Bomber Has Become a 21st Century Political Phenomenon, Which Divides Public Opinion in the Arab World and beyond. Are These Bombers Martyrs to the Cause or Murderers of Innocent Civilian Targets? (Middle East)


Blanche, Ed, The Middle East


Israel's security operations against the Palestinians, unprecedented in scale and firepower in the history of the region, have curbed for the moment, the Palestinians' ability to use their most potent weapon against an increasingly harsh occupation, the suicide bomber.

But the phenomenon of what Israeli analyst Gal Luft calls the "Palestinian H-bomb", that has tormented Israelis and reshaped the military balance of the conflict, is unlikely to be brought to an end.

Indeed, unless moves are made towards finding a political solution--which does not seem likely given Ariel Sharon's determination to grind the Palestinians into the ground at any cost--Palestinians will redouble their efforts to use their most fearsome weapon to humble the region's paramount military power into retreat.

But the sheer ferocity of the Palestinians' "martyrdom operations" and the international opprobrium that such attacks have engendered since the mass slaughter on 11 September, 2001, have triggered a debate among Palestinians and in the wider Arab world about the morality of suicide bombings and whether they are damaging the Palestinian cause.

This would now seem to be the case. There is a strong argument that they have played into the hands of Israeli hawks like Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, who since the Oslo accords of the early 1990s, have struggled mightily to prevent the emergence of an independent Palestinian state.

Most Israelis opposed these hardliners. Two years into the Intifada, with nearly 2,200 dead on both sides, that is no longer true. And, thanks in large measure to the global revulsion to the 11 September, 2001, attacks, and Yasser Arafat's decision to give Palestinian militants' free rein after the Al Aqsa Intifada erupted, Sharon and his ilk have secured US tolerance to crush the Palestinians and their hopes for an independent state.

Arafat's belated decision in recent days to denounce suicide bombings inside Israel, where the majority of the casualties have been civilians, came too late for him to have any realistic expectation of recovering the international support he once enjoyed or stopping his desperate people from fighting on with suicide operations at whatever cost.

For the Palestinians, the debate about suicide bombings began in earnest on 19 June, the day after a bomber blew up 19 people in a Jerusalem bus and hours before another attack killed seven more people at a bus stop in the city. Fifty-five prominent Palestinians took out a full-page advertisement in Al Quds, a leading Palestinian daily, condemning the suicide operations.

"We see no results from such attacks," their appeal read, "but a deepening of the hatred between two peoples and a deepening of the gap between us." The bombings, it went on, only give Sharon a pretext to continue his "war of aggression". The signatories were all well-known moderates and included legislator Hanan Ashrawi, an internationally known spokeswoman for the Palestinian cause; Sari Nusseibeh, the senior Palestinian official in Jerusalem who openly advocates accommodation with Israel; economist Mohammed Ishtaya; newspaper editor Hana Siniora, Abdel Khader Husseini, son of Nusseibeh's predecessor, the late and lamented Faisal Husseini; and Eyad al-Serraj, a noted Gaza human rights activist and psychiatrist who has monitored the suicide bombings and the families of those who carried them out. Although more than 900 Palestinians added their names to the controversial petition in the weeks that followed, it failed to ignite popular debate. Many Palestinians may not like the suicide operations, but they remain silent because they see it as the only effective way to hit back at the military might of the Israelis.

There are hundreds of young people, angry, frustrated and desperate, who are ready to go out and blow themselves up in an Israeli city. That would probably change if the prospect of a political solution appeared on the horizon. …

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