Sunday, January 16, 2005


Naim Ateek: Suicide Bombing from a Palestinian Christian Perspective

Enrico from Al-Awda Italia forwarded me some very interesting Italian sites on Palestinian Christians. I will visit them one by one as soon as I can, for I found the content of consistently high quality.

Following a link to Sabeel, I found this outstanding article by Naim Ateek about Suicide Bombing from a Palestinian Christian perspective, although he addresses the Jewish and Muslim perspective very well. I most earnestly suggest for all interested to read the entire document, for it is quite long, yet amazingly informative. I excerpt only a few salient passages.

What is theologically and morally wrong with suicide bombings? A Palestinian Christian perspective
Naim Ateek

The Revend Dr. Naim Ateek is the director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

Iit is important to help the readers, whether Palestinians or expatriates, to understand the phenomenon of suicide bombings that tragically arises from the deep misery and torment of many Palestinians. For how else can one explain it? When healthy, beautiful, and intelligent young men and women set out to kill and be killed, something is basically wrong in a world that has not heard their anguished cry for justice. These young people deserve to live along with all those whom they have caused to die. This article is, therefore, addressed to all people of conscience urging them to work for a speedy termination of the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. Such an act will, most certainly, bring this tragic phenomenon of suicide bombing to an end and ensure security for both Israel as well as Palestine.

These young people were not born "terrorists". No one is born a terrorist. They were born in the image and likeness of God. They were born human beings with love of life and freedom. All of them, with no exception, were born under the Israeli military occupation. The only Jews they knew were Israeli soldiers carrying guns and dehumanizing them. It was in the crucible of the occupation that they were shaped and formed. And if Israel labels them as terrorists, they are, after all the product of its own making.

Moreover, these young Palestinians did not blow themselves up because they simply wanted to commit suicide. Before 1993, they were resisting the occupation of their country through the traditional methods available to them. All they wanted was the end of the occupation and the establishment of their own state along side the state of Israel. However, with increasing Israeli oppressive and punitive measures against them -- the use of helicopter gun ships to assassinate Palestinian leaders, F-16 fighter planes to kill people and destroy homes, the mushrooming of military checkpoints to control and humiliate people, closures and siege of Palestinian cities and towns, army incursions into Palestinian areas, and much more -- suicide bombings came to be perceived as a more potent tool of resistance that can reciprocate the pain and hurt they were experiencing. And as they were driven deeper into despair, their desire to hit back in any way possible grew in intensity. From a Palestinian perspective, therefore, the real sequence of the cycle of resistance has been this: Israeli occupation, Palestinian resistance, greater Israeli oppressive measures, and greater attempts on the Palestinian side to increase the resistance, and the vicious circle goes on.

Besides the basic political injustice and the oppressiveness of the occupation, there are four major areas that constitute the breeding ground for suicide bombers. To begin with, many young men have become permanently unemployed. Even when other older men were able to find employment within the pre-1967 borders in Israel, most young men were barred from entering because Israel considered them a security risk. During the second intifada, the unemployment rate soared to an alarming 75% in some quarters. This led to the fact that approximately 65% of the Palestinian population was living below the poverty line. It has been extremely difficult for many people to find any form of work. Unemployment creates frustration and despair, and could lead to extreme action.

Moreover, it is the young men more than others who are humiliated, harassed, and provoked by the Israeli soldiers. Some of the worst humiliation takes place at checkpoints. The occupied areas have become infested with them. Some reports have mentioned more than 180. Many of them have become permanently fixed, others are arbitrarily mounted at whim. The occupied territories have been literally segmented into numerous small cantons where it is impossible to move from one area to another without running into military checkpoints. It takes hours to pass through areas that normally take a few minutes. Humiliation is perhaps one of the worst methods used by Israel to dehumanize the Palestinians. It is clearly a policy that strips people of their self worth and dignity. It is directed at all echelons and age groups of Palestinian society.
Furthermore, there is hardly any Palestinian family in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that has not experienced some kind of pain or injury. Many families have lost their loved ones – a spouse, a sibling, a child, a relative, or a close friend. The level of bitterness and hatred keeps rising daily. Almost every aspect of Palestinian life is controlled by the Israeli army and many people have lost the ability to dream of a better future or envisage a better life. Therefore, the desire to avenge their wasted life, take revenge against the occupation, and at the same time take away with them as many Israeli lives as possible becomes an objective.

There is another group of young Palestinian men and women that must be mentioned. Many of these have been arrested and tortured in Israeli prisons and "concentration" camps. In fact, Israeli prisons have become the "factories" for creating and "manufacturing" collaborators. Young men are detained for indefinite periods of time and are pressured into becoming spies and collaborators. They are simply trapped and some of them do not know how to shake it off. This phenomenon causes some of them to exist in constant self-contempt and scorn for having betrayed their own people. Forced collaboration has stripped them of their self worth. They are ready to become suicide bombers in order to purify and redeem themselves and express their utmost loyalty and patriotism for their country and people.

To sum up, these young people’s daily life has become an experience of death. It is vividly symbolized in the daily funerals of their colleagues that they have to attend. Indeed, many of them feel that Israel has practically pronounced a death sentence on them. It is only a matter of time. Death is surely coming to them whether through a slow economic strangulation, or harsh political negation, or daily personal dehumanization. Since they have been stripped of their human dignity, their only possibility for existence is to exist as slaves under an Israeli apartheid system of domination. They feel they have no options and very little to lose. Consequently, they are willing to give themselves up for the cause of God and the homeland (watan) believing that with God there is so much to gain.

From the perspective of those who believe in and carry out these suicide operations, there is a simple and plain logic. As Israeli soldiers shell and kill Palestinians indiscriminately, Palestinian suicide bombers strap themselves with explosives and kill Israelis indiscriminately. They perceive every Israeli as the enemy who has robbed them of their land and is responsible for their misery. If Israel can carry its incursions with the most sophisticated American-made war machinery, the Palestinians carry out their resistance with even the most elementary crude homemade explosives. If Israel drives its tanks to destroy and devastate Palestinian areas, the suicide bombers use their own bodies as tanks and shells to destroy and devastate Israeli areas. If the oppressors have the heart (or should one say lose the heart) to kill women and children and to make the life of Palestinians miserable, the suicide bombers are not going to spare Israeli lives as well.

Moreover, Sharon has insisted repeatedly that Israel is involved in a war with the Palestinians. In war, soldiers give themselves up on behalf of their country whether their country is the aggressor or fending aggression. Officially speaking, some countries argue that the Palestinian suicide bombers are not proper soldiers that belong to an internationally recognized state and their resistance, therefore, cannot be considered legitimate. Some Palestinians would, however, argue that if what is going on is a war as Israel claims it is, then in war the whole nation is mobilized and different militia groups become engaged in resisting the occupation of their country as happened in France during the 2WW. Furthermore, in war, most armies and militias do not always comply with codes of war ethics and many civilians as well as military are killed. Some have argued that the suicide bombers are also fighting a war and killing as many of the enemy as they can so that the psychological warfare can create panic and fear as well as contribute to weakening and capitulation. In this same vein, how does one view the US atomic bombing of two major cities in Japan during the 2WW and the killing of over 170,000 most of them civilians?

The militants go on to argue that what they are doing is precisely like a soldier in battle who carries a heroic act by storming a club within a military camp and blowing himself up killing soldiers as well as women and children who happen to be enjoying a party. If one looks at it in this context of warfare, then it happens all the time. No war has been free from such acts and its actors were labeled heroes and were awarded medals posthumously. They were not called terrorists. In the West such acts are deemed heroic, but in Islam, due to the close ties between God and country, they are given a religious character and the people involved are considered "shuhada" (martyrs); their act is martyrdom and its prize is paradise rather than a human military medal. When one considers it from this angle, then being engaged in war and the defense of one’s homeland, these militants would argue, the suicide bombings could be a legitimate way of resistance.

Shamai Leibowitz on June 27, 2002 wrote a letter entitled, "An Israeli Officer’s Response To President Bush". He introduced himself in the following way, "I am an Orthodox Jew and a criminal defense attorney in Tel Aviv. I am also a tank gunner in reserve duty, and part of a group of 1000 soldiers who have refused to serve in the occupied territories. Many of them were imprisoned in military jails in the past few months." Then he added the words, "Now that President Bush has enlightened us with his new ‘Plan’ for the Middle East, we can only wonder how long it will take him to realize that his plan is useless and meaningless….". "His [Bush’s] failure to understand that no progress can be made while a whole nation [Palestinian] is being brutally occupied is the basic flaw in this policy…. Bush fails to comprehend that the suicide bombings are a product of mass starvation and humiliation of the Palestinian people. Bush’s aides are doing us so much harm by refusing to acknowledge that only an immediate end to the Israeli occupation will bring an immediate end to the Palestinian uprising."

"We are now witnessing a situation in which 3.5 million people have no future, no hope, no vision, other than to become terrorists and avenge the continued harassment and shelling by the Israeli army’s helicopters, tanks and artillery. While Bush has never set foot in this region, we have been living here, watching how the Palestinians were trampled and denied basic rights on a daily basis, besieged and occupied in every possible way. Our Jewish sources teach us that where there is no justice, there is no peace…. Most Israelis know deep in their hearts that once we stop humiliating and oppressing this nation, we will return to become a safe and secure democratic Israel living next to a viable Palestinian State…".

Although some people in our Palestinian community admire the sacrifice of the suicide bombers and view it as the penultimate in the offering of oneself for the sake of the homeland and the liberation of the people; and although we understand its deeper motivation and background, we condemn it from both our position of faith as well as a legitimate method for resisting the occupation.

Ultimately, there cannot be room for hate if we want to live together. And live together we must. The sooner we put an end to the occupation the better our life will be. Ending the occupation will certainly end the suicide bombings. All peace-loving people, whether people of faith or not, must exert greater concerted effort to work for the ending of the occupation. Ultimately, justice will prevail, the occupation will be over, and the Palestinians, as well as the Israelis, will enjoy freedom and independence.


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