Gil Troy: Palestinians are becoming the biggest victims of Palestinian violence

Roundup: Historians' Take

Thursday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv triggered the usual media coverage - and journalistic scuffles. Once again we saw pictures of civilian life violated violently, with what looked like unfurled metal banners hanging limply from the top of the bombed out, blood-spattered shwarma stand.

Once again we heard the speculations about whether Islamic Jihad, Hamas or some al Fatah group claimed "credit." Once again we held our breaths hoping that "casualties" meant wounded not dead, and if dead, it was older people not younger people, as if that somehow lessens the trauma.

On a certain sick level, reporters seemed reassured running the usual photographs and returning to the usual questions about whether you call someone who blows up an eatery serving poor commuters a suicide bomber or a militant, a maniac or a martyr. There was something familiar about all that "cycles of violence" talk - testimony to the sick conditioning we have undergone these first few years of the 21st century, wherein terrorism has become ritualized, standardized, and thus, in an odd way normalized.

Yet in this ritualized reporting, journalists once again missed the real story, which is much messier, confusing, harder to photograph and difficult to report. The real headlines should inform readers that the Palestinian Authority is disintegrating, Palestinian political culture is imploding, Palestinians are turning on one another. While the struggle among suicide bombers, Israeli soldiers, and the civilians caught in the crossfire has a clear script, the multi-dimensional civil war among rival Palestinian factions has no clear story line.

Imagine the reaction had Israeli mobs murdered two Egyptian soldiers on the Gaza border, murdered Yasser Arafat's cousin in his own home, or trashed the house of the Palestinian interior minister. Try to envision what would happen if there existed a group of Israeli terrorists with a long track record of bloody attacks, ideologically committed to negating Palestinian rights and addicted to anti-Islamic rhetoric, running for the Israeli parliament, let alone poised to win a serious share of the vote.

Headlines would blare. CNN, BBC, and CBC would file special reports with fancy graphics. The United Nations, the European Union, and most of the nations around the world would condemn Israel for its anti-Palestinian brutality. Jews themselves would wring their hands, pound their hearts, and slap their foreheads worrying about what their people had wrought.

Instead, the power of Hamas, despite its lethal ideology, is growing in the Palestinian territories. People barely remember that Palestinian gunmen in Gaza shot and killed 65-year-old Moussa Arafat after storming his home in September, and a sustained internet search did not uncover the names of the two Egyptian soldiers killed and the 30 others wounded when hundreds of Palestinians mobbed the Rafah crossing, egged on by about 30 armed men from the supposedly mainstream al-Aksa Brigade.

According to Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly On Line, some Egyptians did mutter about the double standard. Abbas El-Tarabily, editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Al-Wafd wrote that, "if the two Egyptian victims had been killed by the Israelis, strikes would have taken place across Egypt and the whole issue might have been taken up with the UN Security Council."

"This did not happen," the opposition newspaper which the official organ was happily quoting continued, "because the killers were Palestinian.... That Palestinians were the ones who fired does not mean Egypt should remain silent...what happened was brutal, premeditated and without justification."

Now, especially in Gaza but in the West Bank as well, Palestinians are proving how self-defeating their strategy has been. Violence metastasizes, terror is rarely channeled scientifically. A culture that deifies violence against the other produces violence against the many, including its own. Raising children on a steady diet of martyrdom and mayhem produces aggressive adults yearning to become martyrs by producing mayhem over issues both big and small. Palestinians are emerging as the biggest victims of Palestinian violence, not only because they could have achieved much more with words than with swords, but because now the violence is being turned inward.

The many fellow travelers who have rationalized and legitimized the Palestinian reliance on terror as a strategy must now make amends, not to the Israeli victims but to the Palestinian ones. Having earned credibility by supporting the Palestinians no matter how wrong or immoral the tactics were, the world community now needs to help push the Palestinians toward a more peaceful, constructive, and healthy political culture - for their own sakes.

This kind of a change will not take place overnight. But if the Japanese and the Germans could wean themselves from the cult of militarism that fed the Second World War, Palestinians can purge themselves of the Arafatism that is threatening their future.

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