August 21, 2003
Again this week we find ourselves glued to the TV, viewing a scene which has become all too familiar - the remains of a bus, its side sheered off, stands as the backdrop in the darkening night. In the foreground are medical technicians wearing orange vests and white gloves, many with long beards and side locks blown back as they rush around. Some are carrying the injured - men, women, children. Others are holding back the camera crews for their own safety. Blood is everywhere, flashing red lights punctuate the panic of the scene.
It's Jerusalem this time, but it could as easily be Tel Aviv, or Netanya, or Afula, or Haifa. The news programs usually have about two minutes of this gory footage, continually looped as this or that spokesperson is roped in to add their commentary. Often the horrific scene becomes a platform for apologetics for whatever policy or strategy is currently being publicized: the "War Against Terror", the "Hudna", the "Road Map", the "Wall", the "Occupation", the "Intifada"; all have soaked their public relations' roots in the pools that gather around shattered glass and twisted metal.
For a moment, let us push aside these political opportunists and take in the scene that they are busy spinning and manipulating. Let us be honest about its humanity, about what we see, about what it is, about how we feel.
But our gaze can't hold very long, because we are disgusted. We are deeply sickened. We are morally, theologically, physically ill. A night ride on a bus has become a nightmare. It cannot be justified, it cannot be defended, and it must not be celebrated or imitated. It is evil. It can be nothing else. Evil is opposed to God, and God creates. This is utter destruction - of people, of property, of lives, of hope.
There are those who are quick to justify: "Think of the young man (or woman) who blew himself up. What hopelessness would drive a person to such desperation? We cannot blame him, because it is the strangulation and siege of the Occupation, with its brutalities and collective punishments that feeds such desperation." It is probably true that if young people had before them lives of security and hope and promise, few of them would choose murderous suicide. But these attacks are not designed by helpless, depressed youth; they are not random acts of hopelessness. This is a strategy for which Palestinian political parties take credit. Its aim is to cause fear and pain among Israelis: "They will only change when they hurt badly enough." It is a strategy of revenge: "As long as we are not safe, they will never be safe." It is a strategy to build political power at home, where people increasingly want revenge, want to see "strong" leadership. It is sending youth to the slaughter in order to increase their petty share of the Palestinian political pie. It is a morally bankrupt strategy which puts no value on the lives of either Palestinians or Israelis.
It is also strategically bankrupt. Leaders are supposed to lead, to create policies which will ultimately benefit those whom they lead - it could be liberation, democracy, victory in war. If the strategy fails, it must be abandoned, and the leaders who continue to give it voice must be cast aside.
As a political strategy, suicide attacks have failed. They have dramatically increased the numbers of Palestinian dead - not just the bombers themselves, but more the civilians killed in nearly every Israeli military reprisal and "targeted" killing. The Israeli response to this strategy has left Palestinian people mourning, injured, homeless, jobless, and besieged, too, often unable to go to work, school, hospital, church, mosque, even to go home. This strategy has brought Palestinians the scorn of the Western World, their just cause for liberation forced to wear the Scarlet Letter "T" for Terrorism. And this strategy breeds anger and hopelessness, which can be manipulated into further "strategy," which breeds more anger and hopelessness, which...you get the picture. It is a stupid, evil strategy. It, and its strategists, must be cast aside.
For the time being, however, it looks like we are in for a lot more of the same, bloody scenes, footage on continual loop. May God have mercy on us all.