In the Chicago Tribune's fascinating February 6 article, "Palestinian families wonder: Were suicide attacks worth the loss of our children?" veteran journalist Christine Spolar returns to the families of terrorists and asks how they're feeling now, as the intifada is supposedly ending, about their children's deeds.
Despite initial proclamations of pride in their martyrdom, the eight families she interviewed admitted feeling sad, angry and unfairly disadvantaged. Several were disgruntled that the decision of their family member to serve as a human bomb had been less than efficacious, considering the increased incursions by Israel and the building of the fence. Others felt inconvenienced and literally put out -- their homes were destroyed, business was bad and family members were stopped at checkpoints when they wanted to enter Israel.
None of her interviewees expressed guilt or remorse, neither for their children's violence nor over their part in it.
One parent blamed terrorist leaders for inciting and recruiting the children of others, but never their own. But most knew whom to blame. You guessed it -- Israel.
It was our fault that their children strapped on those nail-studded explosive belts and headed off to blow us apart.
None of her interviewees expressed guilt or remorse, neither for their children's violence nor over their part in it. Not one parent owned up -- not in the article and not, according to Spolar, in interviews that didn't make it into the piece -- to contributing to a culture in which suicide bombers were teen idols. They wouldn't admit that photographing their children in studio portraits dressed up as suicide bombers and exposing them to the death chants popular on TV shows and in summer camp had contributed to their children's decisions. The Palestinian parents didn't suffer nightmares over the people their children had murdered or disabled, nor did they lose sleep over the sowing of destructive seeds within the next generation of Palestinian children.
Take, for example, the family of Abdel Bassat Odeh, the mass murderer who blew up the Park Hotel on Pessah eve 2002, killing 30 and maiming 160. Odeh, 25, had worked in his family grocery business, as a waiter in Netanya, and as a car salesman. He lived in a recently repainted room in his family's four-story house in Nur Shams, near Tulkarm.
Reports Spolar: "Odeh's mother, Nawal, and father, Mohammed, waved off questions about the bloody consequences of Abdel Bassat's action. They wanted to talk instead about what led Abdel Bassat to kill himself. They didn't blame him. They didn't blame any Palestinian. They blamed Israel.
"Israeli security forces, months before the bombing, had named their son a wanted man based on suspicions that he funneled money into Hamas militant activities. Their son viewed the arrest warrant as a death sentence, the parents said, and he went underground... 'We knew the Israelis were after him,' Nawal said. 'What is better -- to just be killed or to be a martyr? They did this to him. I think it was better to be a martyr.'"
Wasn't Nawal pained that her son killed people gathered for a cherished religious event, Spolar asked. "'I assume the Jews feel the same pain I feel,' the 58-year-old woman said. 'There is pain on one side and there is pain on the other.'"
Other family members took this a step further. "Issam Odeh, the Park Hotel bomber's brother, shrugged at the idea that he might have known some of the Israeli dead. 'Compassion,' he said, 'cannot blur loyalties.'
"His first-grader asked him if an Israeli soldier 'is a human being like us?' 'I couldn't figure out how to answer,' Issam Odeh said. 'I knew if I did, after one question, he'd ask another difficult question. And how do I keep answering the questions? Because the last question leads where? Who is a human being?'"
Spolar came away from the article optimistic, seeing "movement" from the positions that Palestinians held two years ago. I hope she's right, but I don't feel reassured. I'm worried that we're in such a hurry for reconciliation, ready to consign all evil to the category of "bygones," that we'll blur the moral issue of the unacceptability of terrorism. If we do, the strategy of suicide bombing won't be defeated.
Let's keep the facts straight. The majority of Israelis were willing to go ahead with former prime minister Ehud Barak's radical peace plan before the intifada. We were not pummeled into making peace because of terror. On the contrary, we stood our ground -- but found we had lost our common ground with the Palestinians. Even the peace camp was shocked by the gleeful frenzy at the lynch in Ramallah and after every bombed bus, and the 100,000 Palestinians dancing at the downing of the Twin Towers.
Palestinian parents weren't helpless. They stopped teachers from taking their kids to dangerous demonstrations, but they didn't act against the genocide bombers. Instead, they served their children breakfast in kitchens decorated with murderers' photos and named babies and school soccer teams after Abdel Bassat Odeh and Muhammad Atta. And yes, they should feel guilty for that.
Expecting heshbon nefesh, accountability, isn't unreasonable. If there's to be hope for a long-lasting peace, Palestinian children had better learn quickly from mom and dad that Israelis are indeed human beings.
This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.