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Jewish World Review August 7, 2001 / 18 Menachem-Av, 5761

Nat Hentoff

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Targets of terrorism: Two reactions -- SINCE last September, despite attempted cease-fires, drive-by shootings by Palestinians have murdered more than 24 Israeli settlers. There have been similar vigilante attacks on Palestinians by settlers.

On July 19, in an act of terrorism that shocked both Israelis and Palestinians, a taxi was fired on killing three Palestinians -- including a 3-month-old baby boy -- and wounding other passengers. The Palestinians were going home on the West Bank after a visit with relatives.

Claiming responsibility for these deaths was the Committee for Security on the Roads, a band of revenge-driven settlers.

As the Web site, Gamla: News and Views from Israel, reported from Jerusalem, the killings of the Palestinians "were roundly denounced by all elements of the Israeli public" -- from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Yesha Council, which represents the Jewish settlers. Across the political and ideological divisions among Israelis, there was a universal demand that the murderers be taken into custody.

The Yesha Council, speaking for the settlers, condemned this "criminal deed" by the "foul murderers." The New York Times quoted Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who is on the right of the political spectrum, urging the settlers' leaders "to act firmly to prevent such horrific deeds. No one has the right to take the law into his own hands." And Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer: "Murder is murder and terror is terror."

Palestinians have legitimate grievances. Both in Israel and the United States, I have interviewed Palestinians who have detailed severe abuses by Israeli authorities -- not only the torture of prisoners but also collective punishment by the Israeli government, destroying homes and evicting families. For years I have supported the Peace Now movement by Israelis, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. In these months of mutual acts of violence, however, there has been a distinct difference in the reactions of many -- not all -- Palestinians to the loss of lives, as contrasted with the attitudes of most Israelis.

Three days after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 people in Tel Aviv, including himself, a Palestinian poll -- reported on National Public Radio -- disclosed that 76 percent of the Palestinians surveyed supported suicide bombings. And Hassan Hotari, the father of the 22-year-old suicide bomber, told Reuters news service:

"I was extremely happy when I heard that my son is the one who did this operation. I hope I have many sons to carry out the same act. And I wish myself I had done it."

Since September, there have been other news reports of Palestinian mothers who celebrated -- actually celebrated -- the deaths of their suicide-bomber sons in the conviction that their sons will ascend to paradise because their cause is so undeniably just.

Clearly, there is deep mutual hatred among Palestinians and Israelis. Again, not all of those on either side. But there is reason to wonder how many generations it will take before they can live in the same area, even if they are separated into two states.

And while there have been murderous attacks by some Israelis -- notoriously, settler Baruch Goldstein's 1994 killing of 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs -- I cannot recall a massive Israeli approval of a horrific act against Palestinians by Israelis, similar to the enthusiastic reactions of many Palestinians after the murder of Jewish youngsters in Tel Aviv. After that carnage, Palestinians danced in the streets of Ramallah.

Again, while there are vigilantes on both sides -- and leaders on both sides have directed killings -- Yasir Arafat, while occasionally asking that all the violence be stopped, has seldom condemned specific, strategic waves of violence by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Hezbollah and his own Fatah forces.

The wave of revulsion across Israel after the drive-in murders of the Palestinian family on July 19 has yet to be matched by Arafat or by many Palestinians when similar horrors are directed at Israelis.

I keep remembering what a Palestinian journalist told me in East Jerusalem 25 years ago: "Together, we and the Israelis could create a flowering of the Middle East."

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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