Israel chooses restraint.jpg

Israel chooses restraint

A DEVASTATING suicide bomb in Tel Aviv has killed nine people and effectively ended any chance of resolving the stalemate between the new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert.

Israel decided not to ‘reply’ to the bombing, perhaps not wishing to jeopardise its recent upsurge in international goodwill. Several factors have contributed to this change: the removal of the old warhorse Sharon from the scene, the mad pronouncements of Iran’s nuclear-minded President and the election of an extremist Palestinian government.

International aid to the PA is drying up and, tragically, it is the already hard-hit man in the street who will suffer the most. Europe and America have made cuts of 37 million and 240 million dollars in protest at Hamas’ refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

Japan, which has given 840 million dollars to the PA since 1993, has also halted new aid payments, saying it wanted to see Hamas adopt a peaceful policy. The PA is now so short of cash that it cannot afford to pay its government employees – even large donations from Iran and Qatar, 50 million and 80 million dollars respectively, will do little to offset the cuts.

Suicide bombers spread

long-term fear

Suicide bombings have become one of the hallmarks of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although their frequency has fallen sharply since an unofficial ceasefire by some militant Palestinian groups last year. Polls show that up to 60 per cent of Palestinians support the suicide bombers, a staggering statistic given the carnage such bombers wreak.

We are often told that we should not be surprised that suicide bombers flourish given the desperate conditions Palestinians face in the Occupied Territories. Is it not understandable, leftist commentators ask, that some Palestinians see suicide bombings as their only option against Israel’s overwhelming military muscle?

In a way, it’s true that such attacks are the only weapons left in their armoury. Street and bus bombings in Israeli cities are impossible to prevent completely. They are also chillingly effective because they sow long-term fear and depression among the enemy population. Yahya Ayyash, a leading Hamas bomb maker, assassinated by Israel in 1996, was quoted as saying that the use of human bombs was a way to “make the (Israeli) occupation that much more expensive in human lives, that much more unbearable”.

The bombers, usually unmarried men aged between 20 and 30, record their murderous intentions on video and justify the attacks as revenge against “the Zionist Occupation”. Israeli forces used to then routinely demolish the home of the suicide bomber’s family as retaliation. However, this policy effectively ended last year after an army committee said it had little deterrent effect and merely inflamed Palestinian hatred.

Arab press fail to

condemn bomber

The day after the latest suicide bombing, Iranian, Lebanese and Jordanian newspapers all pointedly refused to condemn the attack. Take this quote from Lebanon’s al-Safir newspaper. “Who has the right to blame this youth from Jenin? The Israeli occupation gave him no rights except the right of martyrdom. It took away all his human rights, even those that allow a decent life in the 21st century.”

But this is twisted logic – nothing can justify the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians. The Jews in Hitler’s Germany, in the face of overwhelming persecution from the Nazi authorities, refrained from indulging in suicide bombings. The disenfranchised and dispossessed black population in South Africa never indulged in suicide bombings. Neither did the IRA extend its campaign of violence to suicide bombings, nor did it really seek to maximise civilian casualties (although innocent civilians were undoubtedly killed).

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an enduring tragedy in which the Palestinians pay a terrible toll for their own failed leadership. But the way out of the quagmire was not to elect a Hamas-led government whose avowed declaration is to destroy Israel. The baby-faced teenage bomber, whose face stared out from last Tuesday’s front pages, had been horribly misled and brainwashed. Until the Palestinians elect responsible representatives who can engage the Israelis, their suffering is likely to continue. And so, too, will the awful cycle of suicide bombings and revenge attacks.

By Gabriel Hershman