In an August 7, 2002, op-ed, Michael Oren explores one of the key obstacles to peace — a Palestinian culture so adrift from civilized norms that it celebrates the brutal murder of civilians.
[ In the original alert, there were several action items.]
The op-ed appears below.
The Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2002
Palestinians Cheer Carnage
by Michael Oren
In Gaza last week, crowds of children reveled and sang while adults showered them with candies. The cause for celebration: the cold-blooded murder of at least seven people — five of them Americans — and the maiming of 80 more by a terrorist bomb on the campus of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. The joyful response of so many to the death, suffering, and mutilation of students and university workers raises pointed questions about the health of Palestinian society, both mental and moral. It makes many Israelis ask whether, even if a cease-fire is reached and negotiations someday resume, peace with the Palestinians is possible.
There is, of course, nothing new about Palestinians applauding terror. During the Gulf War in 1991, they danced on rooftops in praise of Iraqi Scud missiles raining on Israeli neighborhoods. Again, in the mid-1990s, after bus bombs in Israel killed dozens — one of them was my sister-in-law — an estimated 70,000 Palestinians filled a Gaza stadium to cheer a reenactment of the massacre. The deaths of over 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11 was another cause for dancing in Palestinian streets, though Arafat’s men suppressed foreign coverage of the fete.
The terrorist acts and their gruesome effects are celebrated as inspiration for the next generation. Most recently, a West Bank university held an exhibition in honor of the suicide bomber who killed 14 Israelis at a Jerusalem pizzeria in 2001; the props included painted puddles of blood and scattered body parts. Palestinian parades regularly feature columns of masked and hooded youths girded with cardboard explosives, proclaiming their frenzy to kill. Palestinian babies have also been photographed — proudly — in suicide bomber’s garb.
Such festivities contrast radically with the reaction of Israelis to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in a recent attack on a Hamas terrorist leader in Gaza. Though “collateral damage” is virtually unavoidable in battle, though the army apologized for its mistake, and though the terrorist himself bore some responsibility for the tragedy by hiding out in a densely populated area, Israelis were deeply disturbed. Many engaged in introspection over anti-terrorist tactics; some took to the street in protest. There was no gloating, no cheering, certainly, but rather nationwide expressions of remorse, even shame.
For all its anomalies, Israel is at base a healthy society. The reaction of Israelis to civilian casualties, even among their mortal enemies, is similar to that shown by Americans after the accidental bombing of villagers in Afghanistan. But the Palestinians are different. Though Palestinian spokesmen often seek to justify terror in terms of popular frustration and despair, there is no rational explanation for the outbursts of joy bordering on ecstasy at the dismemberment of innocent children, women, and men. Beyond the controversy over settlements and territory, beyond the bitter conflict over Jerusalem, there is something else at work in the delight displayed by Palestinians over slaughter — something sick and perhaps even evil.
Readers of Richard Rhodes’s recently published book, “Masters of Death,” learn that, after a day of shooting thousands of Jews, members of the SS Einsatzgruppen often repaired for a celebratory drink and banquet. The Nazis’ behavior is readily identified as barbaric and insane. Surely those same adjectives apply, then, to Palestinians who rejoice not only when great numbers of Jewish civilians are butchered, but when their own children are blown up in the process.
For all the kudos discretely given SS killers by the regime, Nazi Germany never publicly lionized them, never plastered their pictures on the streets, or openly encouraged children to emulate them. That kind of adoration for mass murderers can only be found, in abundance, among the Palestinians.
The majority of Israelis, myself included, are willing to make far-reaching sacrifices for peace and to embark on a process of genuine reconciliation with the Palestinians. Yet that same majority will have immense difficulty forgetting the horrific scenes of carnage and the spectacle of Palestinians extolling them. For us, the issue is no longer merely borders and topography nor even the terms of a cease-fire, but whether a fundamentally sound society can trust one that has lost its mental and moral bearings.
The damage to peace efforts has been massive, and the chances for repairing it are slim. Still, a sane and responsible Palestinian leadership might yet arise and put an end to the bombings and their public glorification. The alternative is the elimination of all hope for a peaceful settlement in this or even future generations. For the Palestinians, who are now paying a staggering price for their ruinous resort to terror, that is reason enough not to celebrate.
Mr. Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, is author of “Six Days of War” (Oxford, 2002).