Why do Palestinian children become human bombs, willingly strapping on suicide belts and slipping into Israel to kill as many Jews as possible? That's the key question which the New York Times has once again failed to answer, this time in an otherwise informative story by Greg Myre ("Israel Says Children Enlist Children as Suicide Bombers", June 13, 2004).
While Myre pulls no punches when it comes to telling readers how Palestinian children are now recruiting their classmates and cousins to become suicide bombers, he shies away from telling readers why Palestinian kids have taken up this grisly task.
In Myre's rendition the child recruitment is a mystery -- he reports only that "some Palestinian leaders have condemned the use of teenagers, and opposition to the practice is widespread among ordinary Palestinians ..." Could the Palestinian kids have been indoctrinated in their schools? Myre casts doubt on this, reporting at face value the claims of one Palestinian school official that he tries to keep politics out of the classroom, "This place is for education and we don't want to talk about politics."
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Far from being opposed to child suicide bombers, Palestinian society and Palestinian leaders revel in child "martyrdom," and the Palestinian media and schools do all they can to encourage a cult of death among children. The paramount Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, for example, stated in an interview on Palestinian TV that:
... this child who is grasping the stone, facing the tank, is it not the greatest message to the world when that hero becomes a shahid [martyr]? We are proud of them ... (PATV, Jan. 15, 2002 cited in Ask for Death, Palestinian Media Watch.)
While Arafat's words certainly carry weight among Palestinian children, perhaps the most effective recruitment tool has been music videos which are broadcast for hours on end by official Palestinian television (there is no independent television under Arafat's rule). The videos are a call to death and martyrdom for Palestinian children, promising the glories and pleasures of heaven to the young "warriors for Allah":
How sweet is the fragrance of the shahids, how sweet is the scent of the earth, its thirst quenched by the gush of blood flowing from the youthful body. (Quoted by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook in the Jerusalem Post, January 29, 2004)
Another music video also aimed at children and broadcast repeatedly told young viewers that:
Oh, young ones: Shake the earth, raise the stones.
You will not be saved, O Zionist, from the volcano of my country's stones.
You are the target of my eyes, I will even willingly fall as a shahid [martyr for Allah].
Allahu akbar [god is great]! Oh, young ones!
(Quoted by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook in the Jerusalem Post, June 2, 2004)
Yet another music video shown repeatedly on Palestinian TV centered on a Palestinian child who had been killed at the start of the present violence in October 2000. A young actor portrays the child in paradise, flying a kite and running on the beach, and encouraging other Palestinian children to follow him in martyrdom, "I am waving to you not in parting, but to say, 'Follow me.' " (Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook in the National Post, April 8, 2004)
As for the claim that Palestinian parents oppose such suicide bombings, news reports, including in the Times, indicate the opposite. For example, a few months ago Myre's colleague James Bennet reported that "Many Palestinian parents have praised their sons and daughters for carrying out suicide attacks, hailing them as heroes and martyrs." (New York Times, March 25, 2004)
Palestinian support and encouragement for child suicide bombers is an ugly reality. The Times' reluctance to deal with this ugly reality will help only to perpetuate it.