When my son Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ish-Ran were murdered by Palestinian terrorists eight months ago, my family and I were sucked into the vortex of the tragic Middle East conflict. After a group of men used boulders to crush to death and mutilate our 13-year-old son and his 14-year-old friend, I began to pay attention to what the Palestinians and particularly my counterparts, Palestinian mothers, were saying about the conflict.
When a newspaper runs the story of my family's tragedy, they often parallel it with the story of a Palestinian woman who has lost her child. In the most recent article in the Denver Post, the Arab mother said that she would be happy to send her other children to be killed.
In the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong English-language daily, the newspaper paralleled our story with the story of the Al Dura family whose son, Muhammad, was killed in the crossfire between Palestinians and the Israeli army.
The boy is being celebrated as the premier Palestinian martyr. His death is screened and rescreened on Palestinian national television. A commercial on the official Palestinian Authority television shows an actor playing Muhammad in heaven flying a kite in a lush meadow, frolicking on the beach and riding a Ferris wheel in an amusement park. He then calls on the Palestinian children, saying: “I am waving goodbye, I am waving to tell you to follow in my footsteps.” His parents are quoted in the newspaper article as saying they have learned to hate as a result of their son's death.
My family, on the other hand, refused to release any footage showing my son's battering. We want to remember our son alive, not as a victim. We refuse to live on a diet of hate. We would never send our son as a sacrifice. We would never choose death.
Where are the Palestinian mothers who refuse to live in hate?
Where are the Palestinian mothers who refuse to live in hate? Where are the mothers who are speaking out against martyrdom? Where are the Palestinian mothers who are saying -- no longer will we purposefully sacrifice our children for our ideology?
The problem is laced through Palestinian society. Not just the mothers and the media are teaching hate. The schools are also sanctifying death.
On January 2, 2002, in the International Herald Tribune, Hanna Rosin interviewed the head of the Hamas school in Ramallah, a highly reputable school with high salaries for its teachers, and small classes where pupils learn English, Koran, computers, and where death as a martyr is encouraged.
The principal asked a five-year-old boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy answered, “Just like my father.” His father was a terrorist who had been killed. The principal hugged and kissed him. The boy is a good student. He has learned the language and practice of martyrdom.
If there are Palestinian parents speaking out against the practice of martyrdom, we don't know about it. The Palestinian entity is not a democracy and, therefore, doesn't allow a multitude of opinions. Instead it exploits the fundamentalist ideology of martyrdom that asserts that each child killed will rise to heaven and be rewarded with paradise; each child killed will move the Palestinians forward in their political struggle with Israel.
What happens to the mothers' and fathers' grief? What happens to the society? Palestinian political and religious leaders encourage parents to deny their natural feelings.
If grief is unexpressed, it stays in the body and hardens there, turning parents into stone.
But if grief is unexpressed, it stays in the body and hardens there. As a result, these parents may not allow themselves to acknowledge their deepest feelings -- loss and betrayal.
As a result, they can turn to stone. They turn to a salt pillar, like Lot's wife who is always looking back. They are frozen where they are, looking at their dead children, frozen with hate for what they perceive to be their enemy, the Israelis.
But what if the enemy is really themselves? The fact that they won't say enough, no more sending their children to be martyrs.
Arafat and the Palestinians must renounce terrorism, not because after September 11, it is no longer an expedient strategy now that the democratic world is speaking out against terrorism, but because terrorism is wrong, morally wrong, and anyone who supports it is morally wrong.
I call on Palestinian mothers to stop the sanctification of their children's death. I call on Palestinian mothers to refuse to allow their leadership to exploit and reward the deaths of their children.
Most Israelis are willing to sacrifice to attain peace. But peace has to mean something. Peace with people who encourage their children's suicide missions is no peace at all. Until the majority of Palestinians learn to value compromise as much as they value martyrdom, there can be no peace.
Compromise comes with democracy, with the ability to hear other points of view, the ability to allow other voices, no just the voice of martyrdom. When the mothers admit that their children's death is too high a price to pay, then perhaps the salt of Lot's wife can be melted into tears that flow freely. Maybe then the grief will emerge and unlock the frozen posture of these women, their educational institutions, their leaders and media. When they acknowledge their losses, maybe then Lot's wife can look ahead to a better future instead of being locked into a past of anger, vengeance, hatred and cruelty.
Arab World Celebrates the First Female Palestinian Suicide Bomber
The Arabic press lavished huge praise on for Wafa Idris, the Palestinian woman who blew herself up on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem.
The Palestinian newspaper “Al-Ayyam” quoted a eulogy at her symbolic funeral: "Wafa's martyrdom restored honor to the national role of the Palestinian woman, who sketched the most wonderful pictures of heroism in the long battle for national liberation. Wafa came today to complete the path of the martyr...”
While the Iraqi media hastened to report that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had ordered a memorial erected in Baghdad to honor Idris, Egyptian television producer Dr. Amira Abu-Fatuh saw Idris memorialized in another way. In her article "An Oscar-Winning Film," which appeared in the Egyptian opposition daily Al-Wafd, she wrote: "This is not a film like all other films. The heroine... is the beautiful, pure Palestinian woman, Wafa Idris, full of faith and willpower. I could find no one better than she, and I could find no film more wonderful than this, that shocked Israel's heart... From Paradise where she is now, she shouts with all her strength: Enough glorification of the dead; enough glorification of the victories of your forefathers. They have played their part, and now it is your turn." (Al-Wafd [Egypt], February 7, 2002, as cited in Al-Quds Al-Arabi [London], February 8, 2002)
Egypt’s Al-Wafd columnist Sa'id Sadeq wrote: "Suddenly, out of the darkness, came a spark of light and hope, in the person of a Palestinian girl, courageous in deeds, not words..."
Salah Muntasir wrote in the leading Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram: "Wafa Idris has not faded from my [mind] since I saw her picture for the first time... Her dreamy eyes and the mysterious smile on her lips, that competes with the famous smile some artist drew on the lips of Mona Lisa - Wafa's smile is more beautiful. All of her is more beautiful than any picture of a woman painted by any artist...”
Jordanian Islamist, Yasser Za'atrah, wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour: "...Wafa carried her suitcase [of explosives], which is... the most beautiful prize any woman can possibly win. Her spirit was raging, her heart filled with anger and her mind unconvinced by the calls for peace and coexistence... Peace be upon Wafa and the martyrs, men and women, before and after her..."
Also in Al-Wafd, Wagdi Zein Al-Din stressed Idris's uniqueness among women: "The most beautiful of the Palestinian beauties, a wonderful model of sacrifice, did what the strong, proud men do. Wafa Idris, who had just finished university, did not think like other members of her sex; she donned the garments of the martyrs and carried out an operation that was a response to the blood-shedder Sharon. Like her name ['loyalty' in Arabic], in her sacrifice she was loyal to the Palestinian nation. The bride of Heaven preferred death to the pleasures of life, so as to convey a powerful message to the Arab nation..."
Al-Ahram columnist, Ahmad Bahgat, wrote: "Wafa revealed the meaning of the Palestinian personality; she revealed the heroism of the Palestinian woman and turned from a living creature walking on the Earth to a symbol that went down in history, the trace of which cannot be eradicated. As a nurse, her work was like that of the merciful angels. She cared for the sick and injured, and rescued the wounded. And behold, she expanded the sphere of her work from saving individuals to saving the Palestinian nation."
'Adel Hammuda, editor of the Egyptian opposition weekly Saut Al-Umma, wrote: "The most beautiful and proud picture I saw this week is the picture of the bride of Heaven, Wafa Idris...”
In the Egyptian Nasserite weekly Al-Arabi, Ahmad Abu Al-Ma'ati, wrote, "Wafa Idris did not sit in the coffee shops of rage to which our intellectuals are addicted, becoming procurers, and the writers who sell themselves for a shekel or a dollar. She did not go out to demonstrations... She did not sign petitions aimed at the international community. All she did was don a belt of explosives and talk to Israel, America, and the world in the only language they understand."
And, in an article in the Egyptian opposition weekly Al-Usbu', Nagwa Tantawi compared Idris favorably with President George W. Bush's daughters: "Bush, who leads an oppressive campaign to educate the world, cannot even educate his own daughters!! Note the difference between Wafa, the daughter of Arabism and Islam, and Bush's daughters. The difference is the same as the difference between our culture, based on beautiful and noble values and on the values of homeland and martyrdom, and the materialistic [Western] culture. This proves that whatever developments may be, victory will be ours - because we have culture and values."