Last resort of the desperate
17 January 2003
The desperation born of the sufferings Palestinians have experienced since 1948 leads a few to become suicide bombers, particularly as oppression by the Israeli military does not diminish when attacks in Israel cease for a time. Suicide bombers have been likened to Samson. One man said to me: "They are our tanks, our helicopter gunships and our F16s."
I visited the very depressed mother of a young man who died when he entered a settlement and killed eight Israelis with explosives he had strapped to himself. From an early age he hated Jews because he saw on television how Palestinians are abused and wounded and killed in the occupied territories. Many of his friends were killed during the first Intifada. Thoughts of him have dominated his motherís life since he died and she frequently dreams about him. Between visits to a counsellor, she phones the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme to talk to one of the staff.
I was shown the house the family lived in until it was shelled. The soldiers responsible stole four computers and then told the families to get out without allowing them to remove any possessions. The Israeli military, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, regularly destroys houses belonging to families of people who have attacked their oppressors. But every day, houses of people not linked to attacks against Israeli military or civilians are also being destroyed.
I accompanied a psychologist from the Programme to visit a bedridden lady. During the first Intifada she was severely beaten by Israeli troops because she allowed militiamen to stay in her house. Her spine was fractured and she was left paraplegic. Later her house was raided and she was shot in the thigh while sitting in a wheel chair. The house was then blown up.
After seeing how his mother had been treated, her son, who was then aged ten, vowed to kill Israelis. During the second Intifada, at the age of 26, he took his revenge. At a rifle range used by Israeli civilians, he blew up four of them and himself. The mother fears that the house she is now living in will also be demolished. The family cannot make ends meet now that they have neither the sonís income nor that of his brother who has been dismissed from his job in Israel.
The psychologist also took me to visit the wife of a man who had suffered over many years at the hands of Israeli soldiers. She told me that he had to endure much humiliation and the perennial provocation of delays at check points which all Palestinians experience. Once he was bitten by dogs which the army set on him. Another time he was made to stand in the nude in the cold. He was often subjected to racist verbal abuse. Because of what had seen other Palestinians suffer and had suffered himself, he set off an explosion which killed and wounded a number of Israeli soldiers.
After this Ďoperation,í Ahmedís mother suffered a mental breakdown. She stopped communicating with anyone and no longer appeared to be able to see or hear. She did not respond to psychological treatment. Ahmedís wife also suffered mental trauma. She was depressed and anxious and used to wake up feeling she was being strangled. She became isolated, sitting by herself, obsessed with thinking of her husband, and for a time was unable to look after her five children. Her 14-year-old son has become very patriotic, saying: "When I am a man I will do an operation, but if we have our freedom there will be no need." The psychologist was thrilled to see how much better the mother is after four monthsí treatment.
During the first Intafada (1987-93) some 57,000 Palestinians were arrested. Many were imprisoned for a number of years. Physical and psychological torture were used routinely, so I met many men who had been imprisoned and tortured. In spite of their experiences, most deplored suicide bombing or other attacks on ordinary people in Israel. Many, particularly the older men, are opposed to further violence by either side.