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Suicide Bombers Vs. Suicide Settlers

Are Israeli settlers more of a threat to the peace process than Palestinian suicide bombers?

June 6, 2002

Are Israeli settlers more of a threat to the peace process than Palestinian suicide bombers?

Palestinian extremists and their hatred of Israel are very loud and easy to spot. Witness all the “Death to Israel, Death to America” rallies, suicide bombings, etc. On the other hand, Israeli extremists and their hatred of Arabs are more subtle. And they are much more effective.

You see, Israeli extremists are just as fanatical about their cause as are Palestinian suicide bombers. But they understand that in order to maintain the proverbial “moral high ground,” they must refrain from retaliatory killings.

While they are as affected by Palestinian violence as other Israelis, they also recognize the benefits of Palestinian attacks on civilians. For every Israeli killed by a Palestinian, international support for the state of Israel is strengthened.

Here’s where Israeli rationality begins to undermine Palestinian passion: If Israeli extremists can provoke Palestinians into violence and killing without committing such acts themselves — so their rationale goes — the Israeli government and the international community will support their cause.

Coincidentally, the cause of Israeli extremists and the means to achieve it go hand in hand. Radical Israelis originally sought a “Greater Israel” that included the West Bank and Gaza Strip — and beyond that.

Even today, they continue to fight to include as much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as possible for the state of Israel. That leads them to the incredible position of opposing a security fence on the “green line” — the June 4, 1967 border. The existence of such a fence, the radicals believe, would concede most of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians.

But settlements are more than just a means of grabbing territory. They are also a means of provoking Palestinians to violence — and gaining international support.

If you don’t think Israeli settlements are being used to provoke Palestinians, think again. In the West Bank city of Hebron, around 500 Israeli settlers live amongst nearly 150,000 Palestinians.

While many other settlers choose barren West Bank hilltops — which are more easily defended — Hebron settlers go about their daily lives right under the noses of their Palestinian neighbors.

Such boldness is the virtual equivalent of suicide — and does, in fact, wind up getting many of these settlers killed.

In April 2001, for example, a ten-month-old Jewish girl was killed in an attack near the settlements in Hebron. The settlers in Hebron then called on the Israeli government to allow more settlers into the city as a means of avenging the death.

But even Israelis asked whether the parents of this baby girl were not at least irresponsible for raising their child in what is, in effect, a war zone. Yet, to criticize such settlers when Palestinian extremists are literally killing babies in these settlements is near impossible for the Israeli government.

If a martyr is someone who dies to actually serve a cause, Israeli settlers have created far more martyrs than the Palestinian suicide bombers.

When an Israeli settler dies at the hand of a Palestinian, the Israeli government moves to support settlements — and international opinion turns against the Palestinians.

When a Palestinian suicide bomber blows him- or herself up, the case for any type of Palestinian state is severely damaged. Ultimately, Palestinian suicide bombers serve no cause by their deaths — and therefore make very poor martyrs.

But sometimes even Israeli extremists fall victim to passion and commit acts of violence. And just like Palestinian suicide bombers, they too fall out of favor with both the international community and the Israeli government.

In 1994, for example, Baruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn-born Israeli physician shot and killed 29 Palestinians praying in the Abraham Mosque in Hebron before he was overpowered and killed.

In the aftermath of the massacre, U.S. President Bill Clinton called for increased efforts in peace negotiations — undermining Mr. Goldstein’s aim of keeping the West Bank for Israel.

But nothing can compare to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin. On November 4, 1995, an Israeli law student with connections to an Israeli extremist group shot and killed Rabin at a peace rally in King’s Square (now Rabin Square) in Tel Aviv.

While Mr. Rabin’s assassination was a major blow to the highly-successful peace efforts of the early 1990s, it ruined any credibility that Israeli extremists might have had in the mind of the Israeli public for quite some time.

In fact, when a memorial for Yitzak Rabin was constructed, the designers refused to put the name of Rabin’s assassin (Yigal Amir) on the inscription — referring to him only as “a Jew who wore a kippa.”

However, continued bus bombings in Tel Aviv and other acts of violence resurrected the power of extremist views toward the Palestinians. Then the suicide bombings of the second intifada killed any remaining popular Israeli support for the peace process.

These Palestinian bombers — like their Israeli cousins — wanted to stop the peace process. They did not want to give up the idea of a “Greater Palestine.”

What they did not realize then — and have yet to realize now — is that to “get rid” of Israel requires international support. As hopeless as such a cause may be, Palestinian extremists do even further damage to their aim by blowing things up.

What does this mean for the proponents of genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians? Perhaps their greatest adversaries are not the suicide bombers — at least as far as political strategy is concerned. The suicide settlers have been much more successful with manipulating public opinion in their favor.

After all, the strategy of Israeli extremists uses perfect Machiavellian logic: Provoking Palestinians to violence without committing any themselves are the political means to keeping the occupied territories in the end.

Suicide bombings, on the other hand, lack such political logic. Each bombing pushes off the day of Palestinian independence. Their cause certainly does not justify — nor is it served by — their means. The bombers’ attacks are simply a means to their own end.