By Thomas L. Friedman - New York Times
March 31, 2002
The outcome of the war now under way between the Israelis and Palestinians is vital to
the security of every American, and indeed, I believe, to all of civilization. Why? Quite
simply because Palestinians are testing out a whole new form of warfare, using suicide
bombers strapped with dynamite and dressed as Israelis â to achieve their
political aims. And it is working.
Israelis are terrified. And Palestinians, although this strategy has wrecked their
society, feel a rising sense of empowerment. They feel they finally have a weapon that
creates a balance of power with Israel, and maybe, in their fantasies, can defeat Israel.
As Ismail Haniya, a Hamas leader, said in The Washington Post, Palestinians have Israelis
on the run now because they have found their weak spot. Jews, he said, "love life
more than any other people, and they prefer not to die." So Palestinian suicide
bombers are ideal for dealing with them. That is really sick.
The world must understand that the Palestinians have not chosen suicide bombing out of
"desperation" stemming from the Israeli occupation. That is a huge lie. Why? To
begin with, a lot of other people in the world are desperate, yet they have not gone
around strapping dynamite to themselves. More important, President Clinton offered the
Palestinians a peace plan that could have ended their "desperate" occupation,
and Yasir Arafat walked away. Still more important, the Palestinians have long had a
tactical alternative to suicide: nonviolent resistance, Ã la Gandhi. A nonviolent
Palestinian movement appealing to the conscience of the Israeli silent majority would have
delivered a Palestinian state 30 years ago, but they have rejected that strategy, too.
The reason the Palestinians have not adopted these alternatives is because they
actually want to win their independence in blood and fire. All they can agree on as a
community is what they want to destroy, not what they want to build. Have you ever heard
Mr. Arafat talk about what sort of education system or economy he would prefer, what sort
of constitution he wants? No, because Mr. Arafat is not interested in the content of a
Palestinian state, only the contours.
Let's be very clear: Palestinians have adopted suicide bombing as a strategic choice,
not out of desperation. This threatens all civilization because if suicide bombing is
allowed to work in Israel, then, like hijacking and airplane bombing, it will be copied
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.
But how? This kind of terrorism can be curbed only by self-restraint and repudiation by
the community itself. No foreign army can stop small groups ready to kill themselves. How
do we produce that deterrence among Palestinians? First, Israel needs to deliver a
military blow that clearly shows terror will not pay. Second, America needs to make clear
that suicide bombing is not Israel's problem alone. To that end, the U.S. should declare
that while it respects the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism, it will have no dealings
with the Palestinian leadership as long as it tolerates suicide bombings. Further, we
should make clear that Arab leaders whose media call suicide bombers "martyrs"
aren't welcome in the U.S.
Third, Israel must tell the Palestinian people that it is ready to resume talks where
they left off with Mr. Clinton, before this intifada. Those talks were 90 percent of the
way toward ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state. Fourth, U.S. or NATO
troops must guarantee any Israeli-Palestinian border.
"The Spanish Civil War was the place where the major powers all tested out their
new weapons before World War II," said the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi.
"Well, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today is the Spanish Civil War for the 21st
century. A big test is taking place of whether suicide terrorism can succeed as a strategy
for liberation. It must be defeated, but that requires more than a military
The Palestinians are so blinded by their narcissistic rage that they have lost sight of
the basic truth civilization is built on: the sacredness of every human life, starting
with your own. If America, the only reality check left, doesn't use every ounce of energy
to halt this madness and call it by its real name, then it will spread. The Devil is
dancing in the Middle East, and he's dancing our way.