A debate was staged on Qatar television recently. The question was whether Zionism differs from Nazism. Several noted Arab scholars took part. Their conclusion: There are no relevant differences.
In Palestinian and Egyptian circles, a debate has been waged for the last 10 months or so concerning the morality of suicide bombings. The question was not whether it is morally correct to target innocent men, women and children -- nearly everyone in Palestinian and Arab circles agrees that any Israeli and any Jew is fair game. The debate is only about whether a Muslim endangers his soul by committing suicide.
On this, there is some dispute. The would-be martyr must meet certain criteria. But most Arab Muslims seem to believe that the suicide bombers who scattered the remains of Israeli teen-agers dancing at a disco in Tel Aviv and Israeli children eating pizza in a Jerusalem restaurant are heroes and martyrs.
A week before the latest Tel Aviv suicide bombing, Palestinian Mufti Sheik Ikrima Sabri spoke of suicide bombers in his Friday sermon. "The Muslim loves death and martyrdom just as you (Jews) love life. There is a great difference between he who loves the hereafter and he who loves this world."
As for what a true martyr can expect, Chief Mufti of the Palestinian Authority police, Sheik Abd Al-Salam Skheidm, spelled it out in 1999: "From the moment his first drop of blood spills, he feels no pain and he is absolved of all his sins; he sees his seat in heaven; he is spared the tortures of the grave; he is spared the horrors of the Day of Judgment; he is married to 70 black-eyed women; he can vouch for 70 of his family members to enter paradise; he earns the crown of glory, whose precious stone is worth all of this world."
Before the latest bombings, Israeli authorities had presented a list of those they believed were plotting the murders to Yasser Arafat. Arafat is obliged, it seems pathetically futile to point out, under the terms of the Oslo Agreements to arrest those who commit or plan violence against Israel. Renouncing violence and seeking a political settlement was the whole point of Oslo. He did nothing, as he has done from the beginning. The names of the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv bombers were on the list.
Here, there is as little real debate as in the Arab world. With robotic predictability -- and this includes Secretary of State Colin Powell -- the U.S. State Department and members of the press respond to each new act of grotesque violence against Israeli civilians with calls for "both sides to stop the cycle of violence."
What cycle? Israeli retaliation has been surgical, and when two Palestinian children were accidentally killed because they were standing near a house in which terrorists were struck, the Israelis offered an immediate apology and compensation. Just imagine world reaction if Israeli media hailed the officer who targeted the rocket as a hero and if Israeli religious figures praised this as the work of God?
The New York Times cannot see any difference in the two sides. Clyde Haberman filed a story saying that "Israelis and Palestinians have each turned to making targets of each other's important symbols." He cites Palestinian suicide bomber attacks at shopping malls, noting, "On one level, those sites are practical targets; the chances of taking many lives there are reasonably high (note the neutral tone as if taking civilian lives were a reasonable goal). But those places also represent a Western way of life that most Israelis seem to have embraced. ..."
Haberman continues: "Hours after the Jerusalem bombing, Israel retaliated with a
devastating, symbolic act of its own. Early Friday, its army and police force took over nine Palestinian offices in and around eastern Jerusalem." Not a single person was killed or injured by Israel's "devastating" retaliation.
No nation should be asked tamely to submit to violence of the kind being aimed at Israel. No proper ally should demand that. The Palestinians, through a mix of poverty, religious fanaticism and bottomless hatred stoked by their corrupt leadership, seem bent on destruction of their own hopes as well as Israel's. They want war. The United States looks foolish to continue responding as if the fault lies on both sides.