When Death Is Normal

Israeli successes do not indicate there is any intention to change the continuing rule over the Palestinians. Their failure to put an end to the occupation and the settlements that didn't stop during a decade of peace negotiations does not mean they will agree to surrender.

A'adi - Normal. That was the word that was repeated over and over again in conversations that security prisoner Walid Daka held with young Palestinians who failed in their efforts to become suicide bombers in Israel. It's totally normal to die.

Because it's normal that all the time people are getting killed. It's normal to prefer an explosives belt over a rifle. You need to train to use a rifle, and there's a reasonable chance that if you're caught, they'll break your bones in a beating. It's normal that death is preferable to a beating. And it's normal that after failing a suicide attempt in a prison that will become home for the rest of his life, the young prisoner will joke like a normal person with both the Jewish guards and fellow prisoners, use his technical skills to fix the TV in the cell, and wonder if the prison canteen will start carrying hair gel. One of the fathers was even happy to hope that maybe in prison, finally, the older prisoners, the teachers, will succeed where he failed, and under their influence, the boy will stop worrying about his hair all the time.

Daka tries to decipher the "fashion" of blowing oneself up amid a crowd of Jews as a form of revenge, with his departure point being the belief that it is wrong, morally and practically. In Israeli political terms, Daka is an "Israeli Arab." In his own language, he is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. The failed suicide bombers are his people, and he can see them in all their childishness. He is convinced that Palestinian society, on both sides of the Green Line, must conduct an open, ongoing debate about the phenomenon, the fashion. That's why, for example, he passed over to Haaretz the transcripts of conversations he held with the three failed suicide bombers.

Can he, as a secularist, fully understand the views of people who define themselves as religious at a time when Palestinian society is far more Orthodox than it was when he was arrested 18 years ago? Daka thinks so. It's living with "these children" that confirms his view that religiosity is not their main motive. The talk about heaven, meeting the "master of the universe," and the "martyrs' death" are recited as taught commandments, a form of imitation or mimicry intensified in front of the TV cameras and in formal conversations.

By his diagnosis, all the Palestinian political organizations simply "consume" the sense of non-life felt by these "children" that he meets in prison. They aren't building a "man;" they aren't building a strategy. That is a very severe verdict.

Are these organizations and their leaders able to discuss this verdict? People say that there is an atmosphere of intolerance and suppression of talk in society in general that deters those who are close to Daka's view from openly discussing the fashion of suicide. The suicide bombers are perceived as people who sacrifice themselves as "martyrs." They are a symbol. They represent the entire society not only with their readiness for personal sacrifice but also with their declaration of non-life. Now, in light of the fact that the number of suicide attacks in Israel has recently dropped, it's possible that the Palestinian organizations will feel they don't need to discuss the phenomenon at all.

The conventional wisdom among those diplomats whose responsibility includes keeping track of developments in the Palestinian Authority is that "if there aren't any attacks, it means Hamas is not interested in attacks right now." In other words, if Hamas wants, it can conduct attacks even when the separation wall is finished. That might be an aggrandizement of Hamas' capabilities or a result of the talks between Hamas and Fatah about a cease-fire. This conclusion strangely minimizes Israeli military and intelligence successes: the enlistment of collaborators, the wiretapping technologies.

But the Israeli successes do not change the primal situation that Palestinian society is full of young people who see no point in living. Daka notes that the personal background of the three young people he talked with was not particularly distressed. They did not come from broken homes, and their economic situation was not particularly desperate. Their sense of there being no point to life was not personal, but existential, representing the entirety of the society. Their lack of interest in life and the sense that their future is totally blocked are shared by all (except for a tiny sliver of the political-economic elite).

As Daka insists on stating, that's where the Israeli occupation comes into play. Thirty-five years of foreign occupation, sophisticated and undefeated, has not made the people living under it used to it, nor has it brought them to accept the ever narrower horizons the occupation dictates to its subjects.

Israeli successes do not indicate there is any intention to change the continuing rule over the Palestinians. Their failure to put an end to the occupation and the settlements that didn't stop during a decade of peace negotiations does not mean they will agree to surrender. Therefore, chances are Palestinian society will continue producing youngsters who see no point in living. The fact that a separation wall might prevent them from blowing themselves up in Israel does not spell the end of the problem and won't free Israel from the ramifications of its behavior.