Plight of suffering Palestinians
5/3/2002 12:00:00 AM - Joel Mowbray
Lost in the immense coverage of the Mideast crisis, from the homicide
bombings to Israel's military response, is the very real and tragic
suffering of the Palestinian people. There has undoubtedly been much ink
dedicated to Palestinian victims, but mostly in publications with clear
biases against Israel, such as the Washington Post
and the New
, which makes it admittedly easy to dismiss such stories.
Even when the misery endured by Palestinians is brought up by respected
leaders, however, many staunch defenders of Israel still refuse to listen.
At the recent pro-Israel rally on the steps of the U.S. Capitol,
Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was booed down when he talked about
the suffering of Palestinians.
One need look no further than the horrifying images from the West Bank to
know that Wolfowitz is right, although Palestinian leadership deserves most
of the blame. Palestinians have been dealt an awful hand, and Americans in
particular can never fully understand or appreciate the anguish with which
they must live on a daily basis.
In the recent Israeli military actions, homes have been leveled, and whole
towns have been destroyed. Although Palestinian Authority claims of
hundreds massacred in Jenin range are dramatically overstated, civilians
have been killed throughout the West Bank in the past month.
In the eyes of ordinary Palestinians, this recent devastation is deadly
insult heaped upon psychological injury borne by 35 years of Israeli
occupation. The vast majority of Palestinians have now spent their entire
lives under Israeli rule.
Even now, average Palestinians are forced to endure humiliation every time
they travel inside the West Bank. For example, on the 7-mile trip from
Ramallah to Jerusalem, there are seven checkpoints, several of which serve
no security purpose. At one checkpoint, for example, Israeli guards tell
people they won’t let past the barricade to go over a steep, muddy hill
“like everyone else”.
But this discussion of Palestinian agony is not a foundation for moral
equivalence. Homicide bombers specifically target Israeli citizens, which
is by no means on a par with citizens being killed in the military pursuit
of terrorists. And no amount of humiliation and anguish can justify the
murder of innocent civilians.
Do the Israeli Defense Forces use America’s exacting standards for
minimizing civilian casualties? Given the destruction acknowledged even by
Israeli supporters, that seems unlikely. Then again, America has never been
in a situation where the buildings its soldiers needed to enter were laced
And that's the core of the problem. Palestinians have been victimized by
Israel, with some 1300 Palestinians—-many of them bad guys, to be
sure—-killed at the hands of Israelis since the start of the intifada, but
they have been victimized to a much greater extent by their own leadership.
The leadership that has failed the Palestinian people are groups such as
Islamic Jihad and Hamas, as well as Yasser Arafat and his al Aqsa Martyrs
After walking away from the best land deal Israel was ever going to offer,
Arafat allowed violence to erupt, most notably the spate of suicide bombing
attacks—-over 40 since the inception of the intifada. As a result, more
than twice as many Israeli civilians, over 300 innocents, have been murdered
as IDF soldiers. That bloodthirsty approach was orchestrated to provoke an
Israeli military response, just not one as strong as what actually
What other response to the Passover Massacre could Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon have other than military action? It was readily apparent that that
there is a sophisticated, if loose-knit, infrastructure manufacturing
suicide bombers, through a combination of relentless recruitment and
brainwashing. The military actions were the only logical consequence of the
unrelenting string of increasingly murderous suicide bombings.
Looking back much further than the latest intifada, history reveals that
the Palestinian people have had to endure 35 years of occupation because of
aggression. Since the formation of Israel in 1948, Arab
neighbors wanted nothing less than the elimination of the Jewish state.
Israel controls the West Bank and Gaza Strip because it captured those lands
in the course of defensive
military efforts. After repeated Arab
offensives, Israel realized it could not be secure without annexing those
territories, none of which were part of a “Palestine” to begin with.
Following the Oslo accords, Palestinians thought they had finally attained
autonomous home rule, but freedom proved a fleeting mirage. After
conducting sham elections in 1996 in which Arafat and his minions bullied
some, intimidated others, bribed still others, and dominated the media by
force, the Palestinian Authority became enmeshed with graft and corruption,
failing to provide even basic social services, despite Arafat’s cash
reserves of over $20 billion.
When the dust finally clears from the intifada and Israel’s military
actions, the real losers will be the Palestinian people. Israeli citizens
have undeniably endured extreme tragedy and senseless loss of civilian life,
but at least they have a leadership that at least attempts to serve their
interests. Palestinians have been twice victimized by not only occupation
and the West Bank military sweeps, but by the sadistic and twisted
leadership they did not freely choose. That
is the real tragedy we
must not forget.