Prof. Louis René BeresThe writer (Ph.D, Princeton, 1971) is emeritus professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University. He is the author of many books, monographs, and articles dealing with Israeli security matters, nuclear strategy and nuclear war.
Israelis have endured nearly one terror attack every hour of every day for thirty consecutive months. These attacks on a country that is half the size of Lake Michigan have had nothing to do with Palestinian self-determination or freedom-fighting. Rather, they have targeted, almost exclusively, the most vulnerable Israelis. And while Palestinian propaganda, funded heavily from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, always seeks to suggest equivalence between Arab terror and Israeli counter-terror, there is a longstanding and meaningful difference between premeditated murder and the unintentional casualties of essential self-defense.
International law has determinable form and content. It cannot be invented and reinvented by terror groups merely to accommodate their own presumed interests. This is especially the case where terror-violence purposely assaults infants and children, the quintessentially characteristic signature of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their many Palestinian spinoffs.
Nonetheless, the world usually chooses not to notice. At best, public opinion refuses to blame the Palestinians or supporters of Arab/Islamic terror in other countries. At worst, public opinion even supports such terror as "national liberation." American universities, at best, are unmindful. The learned scholars are generally busy with more weighty matters, especially those that do not pertain to real life in any way. In academe, the truly fashionable concern is now for "strategic planning", "preeminence" and "branding." Understandably, there is no time for terror victims' agony, anguish and suffering - especially in Israel.
Who is to blame for cowardly forms of terror? If the Palestinians are to be blamed at all, we hear from almost all educated quarters, responsibility belongs only to Hamas, or to Islamic Jihad, or perhaps to Nobel laureate Yasser Arafat's Fatah. But surely it does not belong to the broader Palestinian community. Surely only the Arab "extremists" and "militants" are blameworthy. Yet, as we learn from all reliable survey research, an enormously disproportionate share of Palestinians fully supports the bombings, the burnings, the lynchings and the shootings of Jewish noncombatants. Enjoying the now open support of al-Qaeda - support often accepted gratefully and without embarrassment - Palestinians in Israel, as well as in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, revel proudly in shedding the blood of Jewish children. And why not? Most nations argue that this "occupied" people may wage their particular armed struggle "by any means necessary."
Even better, Palestinian "martyrs" believe that the killing of Jews always buys them and their families a secure place in Paradise. What could be easier to understand? Of course they could earn such a piece of immortality just as confidently by targeting Israeli military personnel, but they avoid such an option wherever possible. That course, after all, would require courage.
The cowardice of the Palestinian terrorist is unparalleled in the history of insurgent warfare. Although there is no shortage of examples of revolutionary fighters who disregard humanitarian boundaries in battle, the record of fighters who deliberately and consistently seek utterly innocent and fragile targets is actually very small. Several months ago, when a Palestinian terrorist machine gunned two Jewish infants still sucking on pacifiers (after repeatedly stabbing the mother), the image of the murdered children was a source of feverish exaltation throughout the Palestinian communities in Jenin, Ramallah and Gaza. When, a year earlier, a newborn Jewish child was shot deliberately by a sniper, Palestinian celebrants hailed the murder as "yet another military victory against the Zionist occupation." When, several years ago, two Israelis took a wrong turn into Ramallah, they were torn apart - literally - by howling mobs. When, after blinding and disemboweling the two Israelis, several young men in a Palestinian "police station" held up the still-dripping eyes and internal organs for all to see, thousands of ordinary people began to dance and chant wildly. And when, on August 19, 2003, an aspiring "martyr" entered a Jerusalem bus, he waited, patiently, until it was fully loaded with schoolchildren and their mothers. Only then, only then - did he turn his wretchedly defiled body into a bomb.
What kind of people are these? What boundless levels of cowardice are they willing to undertake and sustain? What manner of fear can occasion such an utter lack of human regard for life? What vision of "Jihad" can transform schools, nurseries, ice cream parlors and buses into exploding altars of human sacrifice? Are there no limits, no limits at all, to Palestinian terrorism?
I don't know the complete answers to these questions. I do know, however, that it is not despair. There are many, many other peoples on this planet whose conditions of daily life are much, much worse - indescribably worse - and these people never resort to pure barbarism. I know, also, that Palestinian schools and mosques systematically demonize "The Jew" and emphasize his or her alleged sub-humanity. It is far easier to kill "the sons of pigs and monkeys" than it is to kill a fellow human being.
But this still does not explain the incomparable cowardice of the Palestinian terrorist. I suspect the truest answer has something to do with this murderer's overwhelming fears of death. Let us not forget that the suicide/homicide bomber does not really feel he is giving up his own life in his terrible deed. Rather, he murders defenseless Jews to ensure his absolute freedom from death - and also, according to the latest authoritative rulings of Arab clerics, the immortality of his closest relatives - by "dying" for the will of God.