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The Bones Of Our Dead

By Jonathan S. Tobin Arutz Sheva February 11, 2004

When it comes to mass murder, it seems that everyone is
a pop psychologist. Everyone
wants to know why some people strive to become killers, even at the cost of
their own lives, as is
the case with Palestinians. For years, the talking heads on television and
those who wrote about
the situation for mainstream publications parroted the same line: The
Palestinians are motivated
by a sense of poverty and hopelessness that has made their lives untenable.
What else would you
expect desperate people to do but explode themselves on Israelis?

But after three and a half years of a Palestinian war of attrition against
Israel, that

argument doesn’t hold up anymore. The majority of those who have committed
such crimes were
not dispossessed or poor. They are just as likely to come from educated
classes — and to have a
great deal to live for.

The Palestinian woman who last month faked an injury, then blew up solicitous
Israeli
soldiers at the Erez checkpoint who tried to help her, came from a wealthy
family and had two
children under the age of three. And last week’s atrocity on a Jerusalem bus
was perpetrated by,
of all things, a member of the Palestinian Authority police.

It’s no good pretending we can understand such people via the rhetoric of
compassion or
the sort of inductive reasoning used by detectives on American television
shows such as “Law &
Order.” Instead, we need to try to begin understanding the society that bred
them. But to even
suggest such a thing opens us up to criticism for generalizing about a people
rather than
discussing individuals. We are told that only racists would even suggest such
a thing.

Yet when it comes to Palestinian terrorists, focusing on the individual over
the group gets
us nowhere. These terrorists are acting in accordance with values that are
lauded in their culture,
and as part of a war that a particular society is conducting against Israel.
The suicide bombers
and other terrorists who kill Israeli men, women and children in cold blood
are doing what their
state schools and religious institutions have been telling them is an
honorable, even saintly, deed.

So we must, albeit reluctantly, ask ourselves what sort of a society would
think it is a
good thing to commit gruesome murders? Are Jews not considered human? Are
Palestinians
truly barbarians, who, as historian Benny Morris recently suggested, need to
be penned up?

In the past, even those who lived in enlightened liberal democracies have not
been
troubled by generalizations about their enemies. Look at any movie made in
Hollywood during
World War II and search in vain for a humanized portrait of a German or
Japanese soldier.

We can snicker at the crude chauvinism of that time, but what else were
Americans to think
about people who had committed untold atrocities in Poland, China and
elsewhere? And the truth
is, the screenwriters and the audiences of those films actually didn’t know a
fraction of the horror
that was committed by the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust, or
in the Far East by
the servants of the Japanese empire.

Americans then assumed that the Japanese and the Nazis, didn’t place the same
value on
human life as we did. But by the time of the Vietnam war, Americans were too
sophisticated to
buy into such reasoning. So, too, when it came to depictions of their Arab
foes, have been most

Israelis. Almost from the start of the modern Zionist movement, Hebrew
popular culture has
done its best to depict Arabs respectfully. Most films and plays produced in
Israel have gone out
of their way to humanize Palestinians, and to anguish over the conflict and
the loss to both sides

The notion of sacrifice for the nation is part of Zionist lore. But even a
work such as
Nathan Alterman’s classic poem “The Silver Platter,” in which the slain
heroes of Israel’s War of
Independence remind the nation that the Jewish state was bought with their
lives, does not glorify
death or dehumanize the enemy; it reminds us of the terrible price of even a
just war.

Even today, at a time when Jewish blood has been spilled so readily, mindless
hatred
against Arabs is still a marginal factor in Israeli society.

Not so among the Arabs. You need only read the translations from the Arab
press and
television that are published by the Middle East Media Research Institute
(MEMRI.org) to
understand that the delegitimization of Israel and the Jews is an integral
part of mainstream Arab
culture.

Some will blame Israel for this, and claim its refusal to give in to
Palestinian demands
and its insistence on fighting back against terror are creating Arab hatred.
But that assertion flies
in the face of the fact that the current war is one the Palestinians chose
when they could have had
a state. The goal of the Palestinian national movement — Israel’s
destruction — remains
unchanged.

Yet even in the middle of this desperate war, we saw last week the
willingness of Israel to
trade hundreds of terrorist prisoners for one Israeli captive, along with the
bodies of three slain
soldiers. Israel was reportedly willing to release even more terrorists if
only Hizbullah or any
other Arab group would hand over the long-sought Israeli prisoner Ron Arad,
or at least his
lifeless bones. Recent reports in the Israeli press revealed that DNA tests
proved that a bone
fragment that was received recently from Hizbullah (a down payment on future
trades?) was not
that of Arad.

Why are Israelis so willing to trade so much for a single life when the
Palestinians are
willing to expend their own so needlessly? I suspect that it may be not so
much a matter of
devaluing life as it is the greater value they place on the ultimate victory
they seek. This is more
than a philosophical question, because if we think that Israel’s foes share
our horror at the
conflict, then we will always try to appease them with concessions. If their
goals are different
from those of the Jews, then a change in long-term strategy may be in order.

We may not understand why Arabs honor murder and Jews don’t, but at this
point in
history, we’re forced to at least pose the question. If, rather than a
dispute about territory,
something darker within Palestinian society is driving this terrible war,
then every debate about
the peace process is ultimately moot. And that is a possibility very few of
us wish to
acknowledge.

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