The cult of death spreading among Palestinians remains mysterious to much of the world outside the Middle East, and no doubt to many Arabs as well. As a pathology that threatens world peace, it needs investigation by the UN. Palestinians drive their children mad with rage, send them off to die, then celebrate. The comparison with sexual abuse is impossible to avoid. We now know that adolescents and young adults around the world have suffered terribly from sexual abuse; but as a crime, is that as vile as persuading young people to kill themselves and others for politics?
A UN "fact-finding" team (its facts confidently anticipated by the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan) is about to investigate the actions of Israeli soldiers who attacked Jenin in pursuit of terrorists. A well-known source of human bombs, Jenin became briefly notorious last August when the people celebrated in the streets the accomplishment of the 22-year-old Hamas suicide bomber who murdered 15 Israelis in a Jerusalem pizzeria.
Israeli soldiers went to Jenin to root out those who have tried to shatter the nerves of the Israelis and destroy their society. It follows that civilians in Jenin suffered. If Palestinian terrorists hide among civilians, as they consistently do, then the casualties will include civilians.
If the Jenin attack deserves an inquiry, suicide bombing is a more pressing subject. It has apparently become not only heroic but almost normal, the way that more old-fashioned forms of terrorism became broadly acceptable a generation ago. (I expect eventually to read in sympathetic Western newspapers about "moderate" suicide bombers, who deserve our support, as opposed to "extremist" suicide bombers.) Those who manage Palestinian bombers have turned morality upside down. They seek, on principle, the same outcome that most combatants try to avoid in armed conflict, the killing of innocents. In other words, they set out in the beginning to do what the Israelis are only accused of doing (and which they deny).
Over five decades, the Palestinians have failed at every project they have undertaken, lurching from crisis to crisis, always under incompetent leadership. They succeed only in their own eyes -- and, strangely, in the media of the West. At the moment they are regarded with great sympathy by many journalists, while the Israelis are depicted as bullies. Melanie Phillips of the London Daily Mail wrote last week that newspapers in Europe have directed "a torrent of lies, distortions, libels" toward Israel.
Journalists, like all writers, reveal their thoughts in their choice of words. They often speak of "the collapse of peace talks at Camp David" in the summer of 2000. But the peace talks didn't collapse. They were knocked down, by Yasser Arafat. The Israelis, the Americans and the Palestinian negotiators were sure they had an arrangement that would deliver just about all of the disputed land to the Palestinians. At the last moment, after having been given every possible concession (including the partition of Jerusalem, something Israelis often swore they would never grant), Chairman Arafat turned it all down. He made it clear he didn't want peace. The current intifada began shortly after.
A recent article in The New York Times said, "even people of good will argue for the morality of suicide bombings, saying that suicide bombers are a natural product of humiliation and despair." Time magazine recently published an article by a Palestinian psychiatrist, Eyad Sarraj, who also depicted the killers as victims of humiliation: "Shame is the most painful emotion in the Arab culture, producing the feeling that one is unworthy to live. The honourable Arab is the one who refuses to suffer shame and dies in dignity."
But a large part of humanity feels humiliated at any given moment, and most of those enduring this state do not wrap themselves in explosives and push the detonator in a restaurant. As even a superficial study by the UN would show, suicide bombing is no hasty act of desperation. It needs organization and encouragement. Each successful murder occurs at the end of a long line of agents who select and train the killer and plan the atrocity in detail. They recruit their living bombs from among extreme patriots, those who feel themselves to be victims, those who are consumed by hate -- and, of course, the ultra-religious. And behind the participants stand organizers who provide money, a rationale, and posthumous honour, often including large cheques to compensate the killers' families.
Religion has a place in all this, but no one knows what it means anymore. Certainly the Palestinians have become uncoupled from religious tradition. How else could they violate any conceivable Koranic teaching by using women and girls as bombs? Muslims should in theory consider that idea blasphemous, and no doubt many do, in private. One would expect a wave of revulsion, but it hasn't been expressed. When Ayat al-Akhras, a teenager from the girls' division of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, killed herself and two Israelis while injuring 28 others in a Jerusalem supermarket, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to London wrote a poem calling her "the bride of heaven." Apparently Palestinian terrorism has become so popular that it transcends even the rules of Islam. All this deserves, as much as any event in recent years, a detailed inquiry. The UN, of course, has few shreds of credibility left, but in matters of this kind the UN, sad to say, is all that we have.