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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Reality of Terror

Israel gets enormous amounts of criticism for its border checkpoints, not least from Christian Aid. One of the most damning charges has been: they even stop ambulances and search patients on the way to hospital. If you think that's a scandal, please read the linked article from the BBC.

It would be all too easy to make a "Palestinians bad, Israelis good" debating point out of this. That would simply be turning Christian Aid's bias on its head. I don't think there are too many excuses for the terrorist leaders who organize such attacks, and must be suspected of actively hoping that the Israelis will react by making it harder for Palestinians to get treated in Israeli hospitals, and that they will be able to capitalize on the resultant Palestinian anger. But it is perfectly legitimate to ask what leads a 21-year-old woman to want to blow herself up in a hospital ward.

What is deeply problematic is the response that simply says "because she has been treated so badly under the Israeli occupation". This is unsatisfactory on at least three counts:-

  1. The whole phenomenon of suicide bombing demands a far more sophisticated explanation. When, for instance, a bomber targets a Shia mosque in Iraq, it is hard to see what that has to do with Israel. And why do non-Muslim populations endure terrible oppression without resorting to this method of resistance?
  2. It ignores the plain fact that her action exploited and abused a gesture of humanitarian generosity on the part of the Israelis. Incidentally, the fact that Palestinians can get treated in Israeli hospitals makes a nonsense of the anti-Israel campaigners' favourite refrain that is that Israel is an "apartheid state". Under South African apartheid there were whites-only hospitals and blacks-only hospitals, and it would have been unthinkable for a black person to be admitted to one of the former.
  3. If one side's actions are going to be contextualized, the other side's have to be as well. It really does worry me when people claim to "understand" what drives Palestinians to terrorism but have no interest in understanding what motivates Israelis to be uncompromising about their security and give short shrift to those who threaten it.

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