Two weeks ago, a Palestinian mother of two young children approached the Erez crossing in northern Gaza. Feigning a limp and shedding tears, she pleaded to enter the checkpoint for medical assistance. Capitalizing on a sympathetic guard’s grant of mercy, she detonated the explosives attached to her body moments after being permitted entry, killing four Israeli soldiers.
The Erez crossing is the one point at which Palestinians can enter and exit Gaza. Four thousand Gazans pass through this terminal every day to reach their jobs at Erez Industrial Park. This park, as well as several similar parks currently under construction in areas along the West Bank and Gaza, was built for the sole purpose of providing Palestinians with a means of supporting their families — a noted physical manifestation of the Israeli government’s attempts to remedy the suffering of Palestinians and coexist peacefully.
Further efforts to alleviate the Palestinian condition have been made by providing nondiscriminatory medical treatment to Palestinians in Israeli hospitals, supplying Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops with “birthing kits” to be used in assisting Palestinian women in labor, and distributing truckloads of food in Palestinian villages. On a larger scale, the general closure imposed on the Gaza strip has been lifted, culminating months of Israel’s continued easing of Palestinian travel restrictions. The IDF has withdrawn its presence from Bethlehem and other cities and begun actively dismantling Jewish settlements in the West Bank, causing many of its own citizens great pain in hopes of a lasting peace with Palestinians.
The humanitarian gestures of the Israeli government present a stark contrast to the actions taken by the Palestinian leadership. Due to the Hamas-sponsored explosion at Erez crossing, Gaza residents had been unable to get to work for a period of time, their economic plight completely ignored by the “political” organizations presuming to defend their interests. But this is not new to Palestinians. Ever since Yasser Arafat turned down Barak’s peace offer in October 2000, an act decried by Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar as “a crime against the Palestinians,” it was clear that their political leadership did not truly care about their welfare. Even today, billions of European Union (EU) dollars donated to bolster the Palestinian economy accrue in the Swiss bank accounts of Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders, never reaching those it was meant to help. As Arafat sits comfortably on the Forbes 500 list withholding international aid, the Palestinian population remains considerably dependent on Israeli humanitarian and financial aid for its survival.
The failures and corruption of the PA give rise to the growing popularity of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as they are the ones who successfully deliver the basic social services that the PA neglects to provide, such as child care, food pantries, and health clinics. It is no wonder, then, that terrorism has become so rampant — it is the terrorist groups that run Palestinian society. Yet by hiding in densely populated civilian centers, these terrorist cells willfully encourage the murder of the innocent Palestinian civilians they claim to be fighting for. As the political leadership and terrorist organizations contend for power, Palestinians continue to suffer.
As this fact becomes increasingly clear, a voice of protest is slowly becoming audible from various segments of the Palestinian population — some, surprisingly, from the families of the actual terrorists. The family of the Erez crossing suicide bomber Reem al-Rayashi refused to set up a “mourning tent” and receive condolences for her. They insist that she would never have perpetrated such a ruthless deed; in fact, she was forced to execute the attack after being exposed by her husband as an adulteress.
Similarly, the death of 17-year-old Iyad al-Masri, an Islamic militant who died alone early this month when he set off his explosives prematurely, was condemned by his own family, which has demanded a probe by the PA against his recruiters.
Hopefully, this rejection of the culture of violence and death spawned by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad reflects a growing trend among the Palestinian public, who in recent polls showed a strong majority in favor of continued terrorist attacks.
I eagerly await the day when more Palestinians adopt the position of the Rayashi and Masri families — that Reem al-Rayashi’s declared ambition in her pre-suicide testimony “to turn [her] body into deadly shrapnel against the Zionists and to knock on the doors of heaven with the skulls of Zionists” is not only inhumane, but ineffective as well. They must know that when they shoot at soldiers in Tulkarm, as they did this past Sunday, they are shooting the future protectors of the nearly complete industrial zone that will put food on their own tables. They are fighting the same army that evacuated the flooded homes of Palestinian families in a terrorist-infested area of Gaza only hours before the Erez crossing suicide bombing, bringing them to safety at great personal risk.
If the situation in the Middle East is ever to be remedied, Palestinians must understand that the enemy is not dressed in IDF uniforms; their true enemies are the political leaders that play them as pawns in the arena of international politics and the terrorist organizations that promote a culture of death that does not get anyone anywhere.
Yet given the complexity of the situation, it is impossible to place sole blame on one party. Israel can always do more to ease the burdens of the Palestinians, and there have been some limited improvements by Palestinian officials. The general trends, however, are undeniable. Israel has shown time and again that it is willing and eager to ease tensions and end the conflict. Yet a true and lasting peace can only exist when Palestinians adopt a new view of Israel, not as an adversary, but as a partner.
Amanda Elbogen is a freshman in Calhoun College.