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Of Murder and Suicide

 November 15, 2002

 Ami Isseroff

This week, a Palestinian terrorist of the Al-Aqsa brigades infiltrated Kibbutz Metzer, inside "green line" Israel, and murdered five innocent people, including two children of the Ohayun family, their mother who tried to shield them, a visitor and the secretary of the kibbutz.

Metzer has extended a neighborly hand to nearby Israeli and Palestinian Arab villages, and these ties have survived the violence of the Intifada. The neighbors participate in each other's family events and hold joint activities for youth. The murders were not committed by these neighbors, and Arabs from neighboring Meisir came to mourn the dead along with the Jews.

Metzer is covered with "End the Occupation" banners and sentiment, and lobbied the Defense Ministry to move the planned security fence, so that it would not cut through the olive groves of their neighbors in the West Bank village of Qafin.. Just previously, a car carrying Islamic Jihad terrorists on the way to a suicide bombing exploded at a checkpoint near Metzer.

Murder most foul, against innocent people who worked for peace and coexistence, and in a sense, murder of the very cause of coexistence. What was the logic that led to the deaths of two children, aged four and five, and three innocent adults?

The motives for the murders, which were apparently not sanctioned by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), were political rivalry and money. An Al Aqsa spokesman identified as Abu Mujahid. explained, "The Fatah leadership ignored us and left us on the street, but what we did Sunday, we turned the tables on Fatah. We carried out this attack to let every one of them hear our voice and satisfy our needs."

Mohamed Abu Rub of the Islamic Jihad suicide squads, boasted that his group financed the murders. He said that Al-Aqsa brigade recruits earn "stipends" of $200- $300 per month.

"We have faith that this will attract more people to join us," noted Abu Rub. "We have a policy to be open to all the factions, to deal with them, to see what they need and satisfy  those needs."

Fatah operatives said there are no conditions for taking the money from Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad members say their group has no money problems  because the group receives support from Iran, funneled to the West Bank mainly through groups  in Lebanon, apparently referring to the Iranian financed Hizbolla.

These murderers, and the people who finance them, do not represent the Palestinian people, and the murders are not motivated by the very real suffering that the Palestinians have undergone since their leadership instigated the Intifada in September 2000. Palestinians are not in control of their personal or national destiny, and have not been for quite a while. The murders are an inevitable result of the chaos and gangsterism that govern Palestinian society, and indicate the urgent necessity for reform. This reform must prepare Palestinian society to assume its responsibilities in negotiating for peace, and to take up the normal life of a state, not, as many seem to advocate, to produce a more efficient and less corrupt machine for continuing the "armed struggle."

However, real reform, as former PNA Minister of the Interior Abdel Razek Al-Yihyeh explained this week in an exclusive interview to the Globe and Mail, is blocked at the top by Yasser Arafat himself. Yihyeh explained that the PNA security apparatus is studded with people who are organizing terror attacks rather than fighting them, and that he did not succeed in ousting them. "The ones I did succeed in moving are now back in their jobs," he explained.

When he negotiated a scheme for Israel to hand over security control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the militants launched attacks on settlements and Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. "The factions in the Gaza Strip that were opposed to my strategy launched attacks that provoked the Israeli Defense Minister to cancel negotiations," he said.

The murders at Kibbutz Metzer struck at the heart of the struggle for coexistence. They should have been a wake up call to the Israeli peace movements. However, for many," it was business as usual." Brief notices mentioned the murders, and then went on to analyze the "real reasons" for them using amateur social psychology, citing the poor conditions, curfew and misery in Palestine. This sort of reasoning was once applied to suicide bombers too, but it became less popular after the horror of the World Trade Center attacks, performed by wealthy and comfortable fanatics, robbed them of their charm. But as the gunman got away, this attack was somehow considered more moral it seems.

Gush Shalom and other groups have demonstrated for olive harvesters molested by settlers and for olive trees destroyed by the IDF. But there were no demonstrations for the dead of Kibbutz Metzer. More ink was spilled by some groups on dead olive trees than on dead people.

Decent Palestinians are appalled at the murders and at the exploitation of their society by terror groups and fanatics. Palestinian legislator Husam Khader, who lives in the Balata camp said, "All the Palestinian factions are using our kids in suicide attacks for their own interests." But what are they to do if voices of moderation receive no encouragement at all from those who are supposed to be opposed to violence, murders such as those at Metzer are explained away and excused using dubious amateur social psychology, and attempts to stop the murderers are branded "retaliation" that is part of a "cycle of violence."

Justifying the murders and the lack of reform, or explaining them away as due to the occupation, does not help the Palestinian people, who are prisoners of a bad leadership and a chaotic society at the mercy of evil forces in the Arab world. Real friends of peace and friends of the Palestinian people, who are not blinded by unrealistic ideologies, understand that an end to the closures and incursions, and the beginning of hope can only come after order and sanity are restored in Palestine, and the Palestinians have a government that can undertake to make and keep agreements.

Israel is facing a flash election in slightly over two months. In all likelihood, a dovish Labor party candidate, Amram Mitzna, will face current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In all likelihood, according to the polls, Ariel Sharon will win. However, Mitzna is a candidate with a history of "come from behind" miracle victories. This is how he became mayor of Haifa, and in the same way, he is now likely to repeat the same magic in the Labor primaries.

Let us suppose, and hope that Mitzna will win. He will try to negotiate with the Palestinian leaders. The "window of opportunity" will again be open perhaps, after the resolution of the Iraqi issue, just as it was after the 1991 Desert Storm Gulf War. Ariel Sharon has also promised to negotiate with the Palestinians, as indeed any Israeli head of government will have to, in view of the road map of the quartet, and the inevitable pressure that will be brought to bear by the USA to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

The question for Palestinian society, is whether they will be ready, when the time comes, with a leadership that has put its house in order, and is resolved to make an honest and equitable peace. That is the only real hope for both peoples. The Palestinians must wrest control of their future from these lawless gangsters in the pay of foreigners, and from cynical and corrupt politicos and religious fakirs plying for popularity by competing in murder. It will only happen if we help to empower  moderate and sane voices, if the international community, as well as the Israeli peace movement make it clear to the Palestinians that "resistance," or more correctly senseless murder, will no longer be tolerated or excuse. 

For Israeli society, the question is, whether or not we will be ready to make the concessions needed for an honest peace. We must wrest back control of our society and of the Zionist idea  from the settler lobbies, and from those who still have delusions about wholesale expulsion of Palestinians and greater Israel. If Israeli society fails to set its house in order, we may face an imposed solution and an unpleasant future. If Palestinians fail to set their house in order, they face an indefinite continuation of the occupation, in all its misery.

For those who favor the cause of peace in Israel, the question is how best to popularize the cause of peace, and to catalyze peace in both Palestine and Israel. We cannot do it by continuing to chant "the occupation is killing us all." Palestinian moderates need our support against the advocates of perpetual armed struggle, and the moderate Israeli public has to hear our voice on the side of peace. It is absurd that those who claim to advocate nonviolence and peace often justify the slaughter of five year old children as "resistance."

The victims of Metzer were not killed by the occupation. They were not killed by the hapless Palestinian people. They were killed by gangsters in the pay of fanatics. The rhetoric of the peace groups often blames the murders on the misery of the Palestinians. But the misery began because of the violence. The Iranian Mullahs who paid for the murders don't live under closure, and don't care if there is closure in Palestine, or if Palestinian children have food or medical care, or if Israelis want peace or don't want peace. They have their own agenda of armed Jihad to advance the cause of radical Islam. Peace activists must understand that justifying the "resistance" is hurting the cause of peace, and that excusing violence is moral bankruptcy.

Presented with these arguments, many say "So, you are for Ariel Sharon, right?" No I am not for Ariel Sharon. I am for empowering moderate Palestinians, and giving the Israeli peace movement a chance. Those who continue to excuse murder as resistance are acting for the benefit of both Sharon and the extremists in Iran and elsewhere. They are ignoring the real needs and desires of the Palestinian people, as well as the misery and death visited by the Intifada on Palestinians and Israelis alike. The Intifada is killing the hope of peace. The Intifada is killing us all.

The Israeli public will not listen to us if we spend more effort and shedl more tears over dead olive trees than over dead people. There is still a segment of the Israeli public that has faith in peace, that understands the necessity of stopping the settler movement and of allowing a reasonable future for the Palestinian people, rather than expulsion or perpetual enslavement. Speak to them with logic and they will listen. Show them a realistic way to peace and they will follow, and others will follow after. However, if all they hear from us are unrealistic slogans and amateur social psychology, they will abandon the cause of peace in despair. If we show more concern for dead olive trees than for dead people, the peace movement itself will be dead. The peace movement will be dead by its own hand: suicide, not murder.

Ami Isseroff,



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