A Challenge to the Palestinian People

June 19, 2002

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D. *

I know hundreds of Palestinians on a personal basis. Many of them I have known for many years. Not one of them supports terrorism.  All of them deplore the acts of suicide bombers and condemn those acts with real sincerity. After each such suicide attack I receive tens of phone calls from Palestinians expressing their condemnation, horror, sadness and even apologies. I believe that each person expressing those emotions and beliefs are sincere and true to their honest beliefs, worldview and value system that terrorism is wrong.

I know many Palestinians who feel the need to explain, not to justify, but to provide reasons behind the suicide bombers actions. I know others who condemn the suicide attacks from tactical positions of damaging Palestinian interests. But there are also many Palestinians who condemn them from a purely moral point of view as well.

Many, in fact,  most of the people I am referring to above, are Palestinian societal leaders, public figures, academics, members of elites, governmental people, political leaders, and teachers. They represent the kind of people who should be leading Palestinian society. After having many long and frequent discussions with these people, I am always dismayed when I receive the weekly public opinion polls of the West Bank and Gaza. For many months now there has been a strong majority of Palestinians who continue to support suicide bombers. When I raise this issue with many of the people I am in contact with, they almost all feel a need to explain – as if I needed to hear their explanation.  They say “end the occupation and the suicide bombers will end”.  That may be true, but what I would like to see and hear is an unequivocal denouncement and a public campaign against suicide bombings because it is morally wrong to kill innocent defenseless  people.

Palestinians must make a decision, it is a difficult one, I recognize – it is the classic dilemma about whether or not the end justifies the means. It is true that the Palestinians have no real army to fight with against the occupation.  It is true that Israel does has an army and makes use of its might in its fight against the Palestinians. There is no way that the Palestinians can win a military war against Israel. The suicide bombers extract great pain from Israel and I suppose one could be pleased when one’s enemy is suffering so deeply. (I cannot celebrate in the suffering of other, but I can see how some people could). The Palestinians feel weak and therefore resort to the weapon of the weak – terrorism.

In today’s Al Quds Newspaper in Arabic a full page advert appeared calling for an end to suicide bombers was published and signed by tens of academics and public figures. This initiative was led by Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, the President of Al Quds University in Jerusalem. I applaud this effort and hope to see it gain a lot of support.  But I am quite concerned because I understand that many Palestinians on the streets of Ramallah and elsewhere are very critical of this public campaign against terrorism. I fear that those who initiated the campaign will be physically threatened or worse from within their own society.  I applaud the courage of Sari Nusseibeh and the others who signed onto this campaign.

Palestinians have had determining effects of Israeli elections over the past years.  Many Israelis believe that the Palestinians are primarily responsible for the election of Sharon as Prime Minister. Palestinians can and probably will have an impact on future elections in Israel as well.  The next elections are scheduled for Autumn 2003. If the Palestinians wish to have a positive impact on those elections and to help assure that a peace government will be elected in Israel, they should take up the challenge that Sari Nusseibeh has once again placed squarely in the center of the Palestinian agenda (the last initiative regarded recognizing that there could be no right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel – another initiative that I applaud). A loud and clear voice – a moral voice and not solely a tactical one against terrorism, against suicide bombers should ring loudly throughout the land.

The opinion polls in Israel demonstrate that on the substantive issues related to peace, Israelis are more ready than ever before – on sharing Jerusalem, on borders, against settlements.  Even someone like Yaacov Peri, the former head of the Shin Bet came out today with a public statement calling for a return to the June 1967 borders. It should be noted that Israelis are more firmly against any refugee return to Israel proper than ever before as well.  This too is a result of the intifada.  The main reason why the Israeli public also overwhelmingly supports Ariel Sharon is because they don’t believe that the Palestinians want peace and, therefore, do not believe that peace is possible.  The main reason why Israelis don’t believe that Palestinians want peace is because a large majority of them support suicide bombers and continue to celebrate them as martyrs and heroes. This must stop. Palestinian leaders, public figures, academics, politicians, religious and spiritual leaders and others must put an end to tolerating a  society that celebrates the death and the wounding of innocent people – even if they are enemy.

If Palestinians truly wish to make peace with their Israeli neighbors, who seem on their part, under the right conditions, willing to end the occupation (according to the polls), they must first put an end to terrorism and suicide bombers. I know, Palestinians will say that Israel is the stronger party and therefore, it should make the first move.  That may be so, but it will not happen.  There will be no Israeli move towards peace and the Israeli pubic will continue to support the political leaders that convince them that they will hit the Palestinians the hardest until the cycle is broken. Terrorism is morally wrong.  Terrorism damages and spoils Palestinian society by corrupting its morals and value system.  Terrorism is evil and it must end.  It is also in the direct interest of Palestinians to put an end to it.

This is the challenge to all of my many Palestinian friends and to many more who are not yet my friends: Stand up tall and proud and root out the support for terrorism from within your midst.

* Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information