March 31, 2002
By Thomas L. Friedman
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 - 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
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, à 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 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
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 strategy."
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.