Sa'id Ghazali: Suicide bombers are the appalling but inevitable result of decades of despair

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The Independent Online

Let's get matters clear from the outset: suicide bombings are appalling and unjustifiable, like all lethal attacks on innocent civilians.

Let's get matters clear from the outset: suicide bombings are appalling and unjustifiable, like all lethal attacks on innocent civilians. It is a strange and shocking phenomenon not only for Israel, the US and the West, but for the Palestinians too. But – after three more young Arab men obliterated themselves last week, wiping out another 10 Israeli lives – we have an obligation to ask ourselves why the phenomenon occurs.

The international media focuses its attention on every twist and turn of the US-led ceasefire efforts and on preparations for this week's Arab League summit, where the Saudi peace proposal will be debated. It does not discuss why an unprecedented tide of men is entering Israel, knowing that they will not return home, willing to commit an act of savage brutality in the name of their cause.

The pundits do not ask themselves why General Anthony Zinni and the Saudi plan offer absolutely no hope to these people. Discussing context seems to be forbidden. The reason for this horrible trend is the build up of despair, hopelessness, and depression. The new generation has inherited seven years of fruitless negotiations with Israel, six years of the first intifada, 35 years of occupation, and 54 years of displacement.

These accumulating tragedies have created the suicide bomber. Call him a terrorist, a murderer, a brutal slayer, a vile criminal – it makes no difference to him. He is sick. The whole Palestinian nation has become a sick nation, driven to desperate measures because it sees the world as grossly unfair towards it.

Six Palestinians were killed on Saturday, including a four-year-old child from Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Yet most of the international media barely mentioned it. I wonder how many suicide bombers will come from Rafah to wreak revenge for that child? Why don't people see this? Why don't the American and European diplomats listen to the thousands of people who carried her coffin covered with flowers shouting the awful oath for revenge? They shouted again as her father laid her in her grave with a final kiss on her brow.

I am not part of the Palestinian propaganda machine. I cried from the depth of my heart, when Palestinian activists dragged the body of Muhammad Deifallah through Bethlehem after they killed him because he was accused of collaborating with Israel. They even refused to perform a prayer over him or bury him in a Bethlehem cemetery.

Is politics more important than a human life? The suicide bomber is an explosion of decades of despair. Waiting, complaining, begging, appealing and resisting, for more than 54 years, the Palestinian people have yet to get a homeland. The Saudi peace proposal, if approved by the Arab summit in Beirut, could be a remedy – but only if it is not torpedoed by Israel.

Does anyone seriously believe Israel will accept full withdrawal to the lines of 4 June 1967 in return for full normalisation of relations with the Arab world? The Israelis would say that the Arabs are planning to use the future Palestinian state as a launching pad to destroy Israel. But this is not true. You often see angry Palestinians on the streets telling the television cameras that they want to destroy Israel. Yet mainstream Palestinian society recognises Israel; its members recognise that Jews have national rights in Palestine, granted by international law and UN resolutions and the Balfour Declaration.

Israel should not only withdraw from the occupied territories but should help us create a democratic system in Palestine, to make us good neighbours. I am not saying that only Israel should be blamed. We should blame ourselves for not working hard to have a good rule in Palestine. We should blame the international community – particularly America, Britain and Israel – for not implementing justice on this region.

Yasser Arafat has been forced by the Oslo accords to behave like a dictator. It is illegal to arrest people for their political opinions. The Palestinians feel they are losing in all directions, on all fronts. They are losing their lives at home. They have no dignity at checkpoints. They have no money to buy food. They are suffocated. They have become crazy.

Mainstream Palestinians do not want to destroy Israel. We want to learn about the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust. We want to translate their novels about their torments and agonies in Europe. We want Israel to be part of the Middle East.

We, the Palestinians, are the ones who understand Israel. Even Hamas is ready to have a truce with the Jewish state, if Israel withdraws from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Peace could not be established on the Oslo interim accords. After seven years that gave the Palestinians only 18 per cent of the West Bank and 60 per cent of the Gaza Strip, the landscape is still under Israeli control. And now we have Ariel Sharon as Israel's Prime Minister. He has said a Palestinian state should be established on only 42 per cent of the West Bank.

In this morass of despair, the suicide bombers, men and women, are mushrooming, and not because they are Islamic fanatics – dreaming of being rewarded with 72 virgins in Paradise – but because they have been living under military siege, and because so many of their fellow Palestinians have been maimed and killed. Revenge is what drives them now.

So the solution is not some minor offer from General Zinni. It is not a cease fire, which contains no political components, or an American offer to Mr Arafat to meet Vice-President Dick Cheney. It needs more much more than that. It needs the US to order Israel to lift the closure and freeze the construction of settlements.

At the moment, the US policy – talking about the security of Israel, while pushing Arafat to arrest and crack down on his own people – will only create more suicide atrocities. It is an impossible assignment for Mr Arafat, even if he is willing to carry it out.

He has no power to round up the terrorists, his policemen cannot move between the pockets of Palestinian-controlled land. The Israelis have destroyed the prisons. Some of his own men belong to a group, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, attacking Israel. Unless there is a fundamental change in approach, the Arab summit and all the missions of General Zinni and Mr Cheney will come to nothing.

The writer is a Palestinian journalist