Rites of Death and Killing

It's disingenuous to claim that Yasser Arafat, imprisoned in the Muqata in Ramallah, to somehow stop the bombings. What he and his ministers and the aides around him lack is the moral-ideological presence that could create the social-moral pressure and atmosphere against attacks on civilians.

Terrible failures are highlighted by the suicide bombings in the Neve Sha'anan quarter of Tel Aviv this week.

The failure of the official Palestinian leadership is clear. But as opposed to what is presented in Israel, it's not an operational failure, proving a lack of motivation to prevent attacks on Israeli civilians. It's disingenuous to claim that Yasser Arafat, imprisoned in the Muqata in Ramallah - and needing oxygen tanks to air out his room - could, even if he wanted to, order the security apparatus that he no longer has, the security officers who have been arrested, killed, or are at home, and the street spies who have been killed or wounded, to make their way through the checkpoints and trenches that surround the cities, to find potential suicide bombers.

What he and his ministers and the aides around him do lack is the moral-ideological presence that could create the social-moral pressure and atmosphere against attacks on civilians, pressure that could work on the organizations and on the individuals. Nowadays, there's not a single member of the Palestinian leadership who doesn't understand how Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians sabotage the Palestinian cause and their own personal interests and that of their colleagues, let alone when the murders are committed by those who declare themselves to be the armed wing of the Fatah. Many are genuinely shocked by the scenes of bloodshed.

But none (if there ever were any) are left who have the charisma and authority that inspires respect - not even Arafat. That is the result of their rule before the intifada, when their government was perceived as making a mockery of its duty to take care of the welfare of the people.

The failure is also that of the more sympathetic, natural Fatah leaders on the ground. In the best case, some of them express opposition to the bombings, but in vague terms qualified with buts, in interviews in esoteric journals or distant newspapers. In other cases, they speak out against the attacks from behind closed doors or in meetings with foreign diplomats. But they don't dare come out in the open in a planned campaign against what the conventional wisdom says is the popular view - that is, the attacks inside Israel are an appropriate response to the killing and destruction perpetrated by the IDF.

True, under conditions of closures and curfews, it is difficult to organize an educational campaign. But the logistical problem is not the main obstacle. Maybe they are afraid they'll be perceived as betraying those who have been arrested, as disassociating themselves from those who were killed or wounded. Maybe they fear they'll be reminded with contempt that they enjoyed governmental privileges and now enjoy the crumbs of what remains of those privileges. Maybe they believe that by blurring the message they'll prevent their rivals in the Hamas from gaining political strength. Maybe they fear for their personal safety. And presumably, there are still some who believe that harming Israeli civilians ultimately weakens Israel socially and economically.

To the ranks of those who have failed must be added the activists from the "civil society," those Palestinian non-government organizations that operate in the fields of civil rights, health, welfare and education. They are in constant contact with widening circles of European and American activists who come to the territories and go back to their home countries with harsh and accurate reports about the Israeli occupation - the abuse by the soldiers, the soldiers who have killed women and children, the horrifying poverty created by the closures, the hundreds of houses that have been demolished, the olive trees uprooted. Those international activists emphasize that they support nonviolent civil disobedience. Their connection with Palestinian activists is based on believe in universal, trans-nationalist values, the solidarity of the oppressed.

But those same Palestinian social and civil activists, including academics and others identified with the Palestinian intellectual elite, don't dare go to their publics and start an educational campaign against the rite of death and killing. Many of them say in private conversations that not only must the attacks be condemned on pragmatic grounds, since because of the attacks the shocked international community forgets the Israeli occupation and its horrors, but on moral grounds, the universal grounds of humanity.

Quite a few of them can be heard saying "we must not deteriorate to the moral level of the Israeli occupiers," but they don't dare to do so openly and systematically, except for the rare signature on this or that petition. Maybe some of them are afraid they will be accused of being alienated intellectuals, for whom it's easy to preach "between overseas trips," because they don't suffer like the ordinary people. Perhaps they are afraid that in an ever more Muslim society that is becoming more and more orthodox - according to the most vulgar and ignorant interpretations of Muslim orthodoxy - they will be depicted as blasphemers. Maybe they are afraid of being delegitimized or of physical harm.

The failure of the people who form these three layers of leadership also shows that they failed over the years to work together to form a joint strategy and working plan against the Israeli occupiers. Apparently, they don't trust each other and each other's intentions.