It's disingenuous to claim that Yasser Arafat, imprisoned in the Muqata in
Ramallah - and needing oxygen tanks to air out his room - could, even if he
wanted to, order the security apparatus that he no longer has, the security
officers who have been arrested, killed, or are at home, and the street spies
who have been killed or wounded, to make their way through the checkpoints
and trenches that surround the cities, to find potential suicide bombers.
Rites of death and killing
By Amira Hass
Ha'aretz - January 8, 2003
Terrible failures are highlighted by the suicide bombings in the Neve
Sha'anan quarter of Tel Aviv this week.
The failure of the official Palestinian leadership is clear. But as opposed
to what is presented in Israel, it's not an operational failure, proving a
lack of motivation to prevent attacks on Israeli civilians. It's disingenuous
to claim that Yasser Arafat, imprisoned in the Muqata in Ramallah - and
needing oxygen tanks to air out his room - could, even if he wanted to, order
the security apparatus that he no longer has, the security officers who have
been arrested, killed, or are at home, and the street spies who have been
killed or wounded, to make their way through the checkpoints and trenches
that surround the cities, to find potential suicide bombers.
What he and his ministers and the aides around him do lack is the
moral-ideological presence that could create the social-moral pressure and
atmosphere against attacks on civilians, pressure that could work on the
organizations and on the individuals. Nowadays, there's not a single member
of the Palestinian leadership who doesn't understand how Palestinian attacks
on Israeli civilians sabotage the Palestinian cause and their own personal
interests and that of their colleagues, let alone when the murders are
committed by those who declare themselves to be the armed wing of the Fatah.
Many are genuinely shocked by the scenes of bloodshed.
But none (if there ever were any) are left who have the charisma and
authority that inspires respect - not even Arafat. That is the result of
their rule before the intifada, when their government was perceived as making
a mockery of its duty to take care of the welfare of the people.
The failure is also that of the more sympathetic, natural Fatah leaders on
the ground. In the best case, some of them express opposition to the
bombings, but in vague terms qualified with buts, in interviews in esoteric
journals or distant newspapers. In other cases, they speak out against the
attacks from behind closed doors or in meetings with foreign diplomats. But
they don't dare come out in the open in a planned campaign against what the
conventional wisdom says is the popular view - that is, the attacks inside
Israel are an appropriate response to the killing and destruction perpetrated
by the IDF.
True, under conditions of closures and curfews, it is difficult to organize
an educational campaign. But the logistical problem is not the main obstacle.
Maybe they are afraid they'll be perceived as betraying those who have been
arrested, as disassociating themselves from those who were killed or wounded.
Maybe they fear they'll be reminded with contempt that they enjoyed
governmental privileges and now enjoy the crumbs of what remains of those
privileges. Maybe they believe that by blurring the message they'll prevent
their rivals in the Hamas from gaining political strength. Maybe they fear
for their personal safety. And presumably, there are still some who believe
that harming Israeli civilians ultimately weakens Israel socially and
To the ranks of those who have failed must be added the activists from the
"civil society," those Palestinian non-government organizations that operate
in the fields of civil rights, health, welfare and education. They are in
constant contact with widening circles of European and American activists who
come to the territories and go back to their home countries with harsh and
accurate reports about the Israeli occupation - the abuse by the soldiers,
the soldiers who have killed women and children, the horrifying poverty
created by the closures, the hundreds of houses that have been demolished,
the olive trees uprooted. Those international activists emphasize that they
support nonviolent civil disobedience. Their connection with Palestinian
activists is based on believe in universal, trans-nationalist values, the
solidarity of the oppressed.
But those same Palestinian social and civil activists, including academics
and others identified with the Palestinian intellectual elite, don't dare go
to their publics and start an educational campaign against the rite of death
and killing. Many of them say in private conversations that not only must the
attacks be condemned on pragmatic grounds, since because of the attacks the
shocked international community forgets the Israeli occupation and its
horrors, but on moral grounds, the universal grounds of humanity.
Quite a few of them can be heard saying "we must not deteriorate to the moral
level of the Israeli occupiers," but they don't dare to do so openly and
systematically, except for the rare signature on this or that petition. Maybe
some of them are afraid they will be accused of being alienated
intellectuals, for whom it's easy to preach "between overseas trips," because
they don't suffer like the ordinary people. Perhaps they are afraid that in
an ever more Muslim society that is becoming more and more orthodox -
according to the most vulgar and ignorant interpretations of Muslim orthodoxy
- they will be depicted as blasphemers. Maybe they are afraid of being
delegitimized or of physical harm.
The failure of the people who form these three layers of leadership also
shows that they failed over the years to work together to form a joint
strategy and working plan against the Israeli occupiers. Apparently, they
don't trust each other and each other's intentions.