Alarming illnesses are in the news these days. West Nile Virus has returned for the third consecutive summer and the threat of smallpox looms larger as the prospect of war with Iraq grows imminent.

But there is another insidious ailment that concerns me even more. Many Israelis are already afflicted and have been wantonly spreading it far and wide. I?m referring to the Stockholm Syndrome, first recognized 29 years ago. In August 1973, two ex-convicts, armed with sub-machine guns, attacked a bank and held the six employees in an eleven by 47 foot bank-vault for six days. At the end of the face-off, the hostages astonished the authorities by declining to be rescued. Some testified on behalf of their captors at the subsequent trial, and even raised money for their legal defense. The bewildering finale came with the engagement of two of the female hostages to the robbers.

Mental health experts who later studied the incident concluded that, far from being a fluke, it demonstrated behavior quite common among a wide range of hostages and prisoners. Battered wives, abused children, pimp-procured prostitutes, and prisoners of war have all exhibited symptoms of the Stockholm Syndrome.

And so have some Israelis.

Mental health experts have been intrigued for some time by our reactions to life while surrounded by Arab enemies. Some of them maintain that Israelis who blame themselves for Palestinian terror attacks are reacting in a predictable fashion. Like the original Stockholm hostages they; (i) perceive their very survival as being threatened by people capable of killing them; (ii) receive small kindnesses from those people; (iii) are isolated from outsiders so that only the oppressor?s perspective is available; and (iv) hold no hope of escape.

In 1997, Dr. Kenneth Levin, an historian and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, expressed the following thought. ?What is heard [in Israel] is widespread repetition by Israelis of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli indictments as well as utopian assertions of the good things that will come of Israeli reform? delusions about the wonderful things that will flow from penance and reform [which] require distorting or denying realities of the present [and]... ignoring or distorting the past.?

Within the general Stockholm-infected Israeli population, there is a sub-group: bereaved parents who have lost children in terror attacks. Members of this sub-group have been traveling the world as representatives of an organization called ?Parents Circle?. At rallies and in interviews, they have declared forgiveness of their children?s murderers and empathy with their barbaric conduct. What are we to make of this?

Forgiveness fervor has been surfacing to some degree among parents of murdered children in other societies as well. Those whom I have encountered have cited two motives: the conviction that Christianity exhorts them to do so, and the hope that this might relieve some of their pain by helping them to achieve (forgive the catchy pop-psychology babble) ?closure?.

Forgiveness, for some of those parents, is expressed by visiting their children?s murderers in jail or lobbying on their behalf for improved living conditions. When the murderers become eligible for parole, these parents generally refrain from objecting before parole boards. Their conduct has often incurred shunning by their own appalled families and friends.

The urge to forgive murderers sometimes grips parties who are not themselves directly affected, as it did in the following case. In 1997, Michael Carneal, a Kentucky teenager, shot and killed three fellow students and wounded five others during a prayer group meeting in their high school lobby. Days later, with the school administration?s support, several students hung up the following message in the school corridor: ?We forgive you, Mike!? In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece entitled, ?When Forgiveness is a Sin?, the Jewish educator, Dennis Prager, responded to that sign: ?The bodies of the girls? were not yet cold before some of their schoolmates hung (the) sign? this feel-good doctrine of automatic forgiveness advances the amoral notion that no matter how much you hurt others, millions of your fellow citizens will forgive you?.

But the Parents? Circle activists have surpassed these forgiveness faddists. In their eyes, no ruthless crime was ever even committed. The Palestinian murderers of their children were justifiably driven to their acts ? thus there is no need to forgive. They insist, as Dr. Levin put it, ?that bad things have happened to them because they have been ?bad?? a response widely noted and studied in children subjected to early abuse and other traumas.?

One member of that group, Nurit Peled-Elchanan, refers to the suicide bomber who ended her daughter?s life as ?a young man who was humiliated and desperate to the point of killing her and himself?. She holds that ?their blood was mingled in death.?

Yitzhak Frankenthal, the founder of Parents Circle, takes issue with those who label his sons? killers as ?ruthless Palestinian murderers?. He prefers to describe to them as ?Palestinian fighters who believed in the ethical basis of their struggle against the occupation.? In quintessential Stockholm Syndrome form, he assures us: ?Had I myself been born into the political and ethical chaos that is the Palestinians? daily reality, I would certainly have tried to kill and hurt the occupier? and would have killed as many on the other side as I possibly could? had I not, I would have betrayed my essence as a free man.?

Their bereaved status renders such activists almost untouchable. The journalist Avi Davis, who violated the taboo, nevertheless felt obliged to preface his critical article thus: ?While it is difficult to criticize a man who has lost his son, the words spoken by (Yitzhak) Frankenthal are a pitiful reminder that there are still those who fail to understand that the moral high ground they so proudly occupy is rapidly being dwarfed by the pile of Jewish corpses the Palestinians have collected??

I owe Mr. Frankenthal no such apology. One of those corpses is my own 15-year-old daughter, Malki. Like the child of Nurit Peled-Elchanan, a suicide bomber thirsty for the blood of Jewish children murdered my Malki. He found many of them in Sbarro?s Pizzeria one hot August afternoon last year. Fifteen innocents, eight of them children, perished there at his hands.

Unlike Ms. Peled-Elchanan, I do not blame myself or my own people for my child?s death. She says: ?Our children die because the Jewish mother has disappeared, and her place has been taken by mothers who send their children voluntarily to kill and to be killed.?

I completely disagree. It is one thing for a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome to excuse and identify with his own oppressors. It is quite another to drag along unwilling third parties. She and her colleagues at Parents? Circle are not only self-blaming. They indict other bereaved parents like me for our own children?s murders.

That they suffer from severe Stockhom symptoms does not diminish the harm they cause the rest of us. In awarding their coveted ?bereaved-parents? stamp-of-approval? to various pro-Palestinian entities, they play into the hands of our enemies.

Pro-Palestinians restrain their own censure of Israel, lest they be branded rabid anti-Semites. But they welcome Israeli parents who are ready to do their dirty work. They encourage such assistance with various awards. Nurit Peled-Elchanan received the Sacharov Peace Prize from the European Parliament while Yitzchak Frankenthal was given the International Activist Award of the Gleitsman Foundation.

But do Parents Circle?s ?friends? appreciate their efforts? Do international ?peace activists? share the pain of their loss? Consider the evidence. An organization called the Global Ministries mentioned Ms. Peled-Elchanan in its Middle East and Europe Newsletter. In urging readers to pray for her and others who work for peace in Israel and Palestine they wrote: ?Dr. Nurit Peled-Elchanan ? Israeli. Her daughter was killed in 1997 by a bomb.?

?By a bomb?. Did this bomb fall from the clear blue sky? Didn?t anybody detonate it? Was there no hatred involved? No terrorists? Evidently not. ?Her daughter was killed?. History has been sanitized.

It is a puerile fantasy world in which this history unfolds. A world purged of nasty words. A world in which peace is won by the mere act of wishing for it. As Zvi Shahak, whose daughter was murdered by a Gazan while she celebrated Purim in Tel Aviv, has mused: ?If the killer had read her poems, perhaps she?d be alive today.?

Last month, the New York Times saw fit to include the following quote of Frankenthal in its editorial: ?It is unethical to kill innocent Israeli or Palestinian women or children. It is also unethical to control another nation and to lead it to lose its humaneness.?

It is likely that, before long, other, far more inflammatory quotes will find their way into respectable publications. And I?ll wager that this choice nugget of Ms. Peled-Elchanan?s is snapped up first: ?Our children die,? she writes ?because they are brought up to believe that serving as killers in a murderous army means to serve the good of the nation.?

With the High Holyday season just behind us, it is worthwhile to note that Judaism does not only encourage forgiveness, it is absolutely mandated ? provided the transgressor has begged us for it. In fact, if he does so three times and we steadfastly refuse, the sinner?s slate of wrongs toward us is wiped clean. We, the victims, bear the guilt in his stead.

Israelis have not sensed the slightest hint of remorse from the Palestinians. The latter remain a people who, according to the latest polls, still fail entirely to acknowledge the immorality of murdering innocent civilians. The relatively small percentage that does oppose suicide bombings today limit their objection to attacks taking place over the Green Line. They base it on the failure of bombings ?within Israel? to further their cause.

Clearly, begging forgiveness of their Jewish victims is not a mission they are about to undertake. But when and if they ever do, I?d like to see the members of Parents Circle lined up with them, remorseful as well ? because the pain they have caused their own people is almost as profound.


Frimet Roth is a writer living in Jerusalem