American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Wounds and Madness: Why We've Become Suicide Bombers
Dr. Eyad El Sarraj directs the progressive Gaza Community Mental Health Program, Gaza City, Palestine, which he helped to found during the first Intifada. From Mazin Qumsiyeh's email list (see p.5)
My sister, a professional and a mother of four, was visibly shaken as we were watching Israeli tanks and soldiers in the streets of a refugee camp. She shocked us all when she declared that she would like to become a martyr. A few hours later a young woman turned herself into a human bomb and exploded in Jerusalem killing more Israelis. In the following weeks more women joined the queue of suicide bombers, as the world stands alarmed and bewildered.
To try to understand why Palestinian men and now women are blowing themselves up in Israeli restaurants and buses is to understand the question of the Israeli- Arab conflict, and the environment that produces human bombs.
This is a country of anger and defiance. The struggle today is how not to be a suicide bomber. I was told that there are long queues of young and willing people to join the road to heaven, and I believe it.
What propels people into such action is a long history of humiliation and a desire to revenge. Since the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the resulting uprooting of Palestinians, a deep-seated feeling of shame has taken roots in the Arab psyche. Shamefulness is the most painful emotion in the Arab culture, producing feelings of unworthiness of living. The honorable Arab is the one who rejects shame or dies in dignity.
Repeated defeat of Arab armies and impotence of their regimes have thrown the masses into a chronic state of helplessness. The 35 years of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has further served as a continuous reminder of Arab weakness. But it was the destruction of the PLO in Lebanon by Sharon which has decisively shifted the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation to the occupied territories and Israel. Helplessness and shame gave way to anger which later poured into the streets of defiance. That was the first Intifada.
Suddenly Palestinians felt that they were restoring their honor by fighting the aggressor, by not being helpless victims. Facing a superior Israeli army with a formidable arsenal they felt morally victorious as the children of the stone became heroes of defiance. While that sense of victory served Arafat as a psychological platform to launch his peace initiative and recognition of Israel, it was the Oslo agreement and the peace process that followed which disillusioned the Palestinians and threw them into a new episode of confrontation. The reluctance of Israeli governments to implement its withdrawal from Palestinian land, and then the catastrophic failure of Camp David talks has prepared fertile soil for new breed of militants and suicide bombers. It was the re-entry of Sharon to the political scene that served to spark the new Intifada. Scores were killed and maimed as Sharon declared his intentions to cause as many casualties as possible. This time round however, Israeli soldiers were not on foot, and not even visible. They were shooting from their tanks. Militants in Palestine were frustrated as their funerals were streaming. Their target was then shifted to the exposed Israeli civilians in restaurants and cafés. For the extremist militant there is no difference between Israelis. They are the enemy, all the same. It is the same paranoid positional logic that prepared Bush and Bin Laden to divide the world between "all of us and all of them."
It is well documented that throughout the vicious cycles of violence, suicide bombing is a phenomenon that is inversely related to the degree of hope. Whenever there is hope, death and dying travel away. Martyrdom as such is a sign of despair.
In every case of martyrdom, there is a personal story of tragedy and trauma. A curious journalist asked me once to show him a potential martyr for an interview. When he asked "Why would you do it?" he was told "Would you fight for your country or not? Of course you would. The difference between you and me is that you would probably die but I will not. You will be respected in your country as a brave man, and I would be remembered as a martyr."
What the young man did not say was that he was burning with a desire to revenge. He was a tearful witness to a scene when his father was beaten by Israeli soldiers twelve years ago. He was six years old. He would never forget his father, being taken away, bleeding from the nose. As he was growing, he was continuously haunted with the image of his father bruised face. Many Palestinian children at that time identified with the Israeli soldier as the model of power with his gun and screams.
As Sharon was taking Arafat hostage and grinding salt of humiliation
into the sour wounds, he was taking us into a new horrific level
of madness. A young Palestinian girl blew herself up in a Jerusalem
shopping centre, killing two Israelis and wounding more. She will
not be the last.