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Jewish World Review April 8, 2002 /27 Nisan, 5762

Nat Hentoff

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Global suicide bombers? | The most persistently accurate analyst of the minefields of the Middle East has been Fouad Ajami, professor at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

In the March 29 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Ajami -- who has also been somewhat of a prophet -- noted that when Abdel-Basset Odeh, a young man from the West Bank town of Tulkarm, ignited the "Passover massacre" in Netanya, "he walked straight out of the culture of incitement let loose on the land."

This has been Yasser Arafat's most unforgivable crime against Israelis, Palestinians, and humanity. The Passover bomber, and all others, says Ajami, took part in the culture all around them -- "the glee that greets those brutal deeds of terror, the cult that rises among the martyrs and their families."

Arafat glorifies these "holy martyrs," while hypocritically and ritualistically "condemning" violence against innocent civilians. Yes, there is desperation among Palestinians, especially among some of the young. But, as Thomas Friedman points out in the March 31 edition of The New York Times, "a lot of other people in the world are desperate, yet they have not gone around strapping dynamite to themselves."

There are Palestinian nationalists who are appalled at this poisonous cult of martyrdom that has been inculcated in people with very legitimate grievances; and they may realize, as Friedman writes, "a state brought about by suicide bombers will forever be deformed." While these Palestinian critics of suicide bombing seldom speak out, one has. In a remarkable article, "Where We Went Wrong," in the February issue of The Progressive, Hanan Ashwari, a prominent official of the Palestinian Authority -- and usually a ubiquitous defender of Arafat on American television -- wrote:

"Why and when did we allow a few from our midst to interpret Israeli military attacks on innocent Palestinian lives as license to do the same to their civilians? ... When and why did our elected (Palestinian) legislative council become a political instrument for the few, or a self-negating powerless body for the many?"

She has not been talking like that like that ever since, having apparently become an apparatchik once more, joining Arafat's other apologists, in and out of the Mideast.

They ignore that, as Fouad Ajami emphasizes, "Yasser Arafat," is "the figure at the center of this cruel whirlwind," this cult of terror. "Blood is a terrible affliction, and a national movement that succumbs to its intoxication will drown in its own radicalism."

But Professor Ajami underestimates how infectious this strategic decision to use suicide bombing to gain independence can be.

Thomas Friedman does see -- if I, though non-religious, can quote from The Book of Revelation -- "The lake of fire and sulfur," where "the false prophet" is, "when fire will come down from heaven."

What Arafat has chosen as a key instrument of liberation, says Friedman, "threatens all civilization because if suicide bombing is allowed to work in Israel, then like hijacking and airplane bombing, it will be copied and will eventually lead to a bomber strapped with a nuclear device threatening entire nations. That is why the whole world must see this Palestinian suicide strategy defeated."

I have written in support of an independent Palestinian state for years, and have often disagreed with Ariel Sharon's strategic decisions, wishing that Abba Eban was in charge. But Sharon was right in his address to his nation on Dec. 31: "You cannot compromise with suicide bombers." To which foreign policy adviser, Dore Gold, added that Arafat, "having brainwashed an entire generation of young people to become suicide bombers," has committed not only a crime against Israel, but against humanity. And against Palestinians.

Arafat should be tried before the Israeli Supreme Court, in fully televised proceedings, and directly open to the world press, including the Arab press, for this crime of terrorism. But that will not bring about an end to the terror. Of course, there have to be negotiations, during which Sharon must realize -- as many Israelis already do -- that there must be an end to the settlements, and to the daily humiliations of the Palestinian people.

But if Arafat were truly dedicated to a free and just Palestinian state, he would relinquish power. As Friedman asks: "Have you ever heard Arafat talk about what sort of education system or economy he would prefer, what sort of constitution he wants?" He has imprisoned Palestinians for objecting to the corruption of his Palestinian Authority. If the Palestinians can liberate themselves from Arafat, and the cult of martyrdom, they will be able to liberate themselves from Israel.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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