Beyond Images Challenging myths and presenting facts about Israel 


By Prof Shlomo Avineri -
… A response to Cherie Blair and others who
seek to explain the suicide bombers…

London - published on 6 May 2003
Beyond Images Ref: 41

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In June 2002 Jerusalem and Northern Israel were struck by several large suicide bombings, killing 50 people. Immediately after one of the attacks (a Jerusalem bus bombing which took the lives of many students and schoolchildren), Cherie Blair, the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, stated (in an off-the-cuff comment) that when people [i.e. Palestinians] have no hope, what is left for them to do but blow themselves up?

That comment prompted the following article in The Jerusalem Post newspaper, dated 21 June 2002, by Prof Shlomo Avineri, former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, noted historian, and Professor of Political Science at Hebrew University.

Cherie Blair, the wife of Britain’s Prime Minister is only the latest of many well-intentioned but morally obtuse individuals to indirectly “understand” Palestinian suicide murderers by suggesting – as she apparently did – that when young people have no hope, what is left for them but to blow themselves up in an act of mass carnage, taking with them the lives of dozens of innocents?

Those who make such statements – and they include practically all the Arab political elite – then go on to condemn suicide murderers, but…..

This is a kind of moral bankruptcy, and needs to be condemned as such. Yes, many Palestinian youths feel at a dead end, and many are desperate. But, and this is the crux of the matter, are they the only desperate young people in the world?

Are there not millions – nay, tens and hundreds of millions – of young people all over the world who have no economic or social hope, let alone “a political horizon” [the expression used by the international community to describe a renewed peace process – Beyond Images] ? Are Jenin and Nablus refugee camps the only places where abject poverty and destitution rule supreme?

And if young, and not so young, people from these legions of the Damned of the Earth started, out of despair, blowing themselves up in the streets of London, Paris, Rome or Berlin, would well-meaning Western intellectuals express the same lame empathy – if not indirect apology – for their murderous rage ?

Moreover, there have been, in recent memory, other young people who might have felt desperate – who could be more desperate than the Jewish people after the Holocaust?

And yet these young people did not go about killing innocent European children on buses in ravished post-1945 Europe because they felt desperate.

Nor were they encouraged by their leaders to do this: on the contrary. When there were individual cases of Jews taking revenge on suspected German war criminals (not innocent civilians, mind you) Jewish public opinion went against it.

Nor did Indian patriots or Egyptian nationalists go around blowing themselves up on the streets of London. And when the Irgun [Jewish underground group, pre-1948 – Beyond Images] hanged two British sergeants in retaliation for the hanging of Jewish terrorists, the majority of the Jewish community in Palestine viewed it as a despicable murder.

Yes, Palestinian youth may be desperate. But don’t they have an alternative, like turning their despair into a constructive force instead of a fascist-like fascination with death?

Young Palestinians could – like young Indians or young Jews in British Palestine – try to help their people by alleviating their suffering, by building houses for refugees, by offering to help out in schools and hospitals.

This is what the Greek Cypriots did after the Turkish invasion of the island, what people in Bosnia and Kosovo are doing now.

Some might even think to ask why none of these desperate Palestinian youths has seriously questioned the catastrophic leadership of Yasser Arafat, who missed a historic opportunity at Camp David in 2000 of coming back from the negotiations with a Palestinian state.

But for some strange reason that social scientists, historians and theologians fail to explain, only among Palestinian youth – and among the relatively well-of Egyptians and Saudis who committed the September 11 massacres – have justified feelings of frustration, anger and alienation transformed themselves into a murderous rage.

Why? Some serious questioning is in order, in place of the moral blindness that talks about despair leading to terrorism.

Anyone who uses such language is, whether he or she realises it or not, complicit in murder. By understanding, one condones.