Plight of suffering Palestinians

Posted: May 03, 2002 12:00 AM
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 York Times, 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 with explosives. 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 Brigade. 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 materialized. 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
Arab 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.