When death becomes the best option

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by Kathryn Shihadah

I ran across an article from 2017, written by a Jewish author (not that it matters – you know what? Let’s just call him an author) named Stanley Cohen. The article, “Palestinians have a legal right to armed struggle,” mostly chronicles early Zionist murders of British police who were carrying out their mandate in Palestine. But it is framed in the then-current event of 2 Israeli Druze police officers who were stabbed to death by 3 Palestinians in Jerusalem. The author’s words struck me deeply:

The three young men, cousins, who willingly sacrificed their lives in the attack on the two Israeli officers in Jerusalem, did so not as an empty gesture born of desperation, but rather a personal statement of national pride that follows a long line of others…young Palestinian women and men who, tragically, found greater dignity and freedom in martyrdom than they did in obedient, passive living controlled by those who dared to dictate the parameters of their lives.

It occurred to me that it is a privilege to be able to hold tightly to life. I can afford to – I will likely never have to choose between living a hellish life and sacrificing myself for a better future (that I won’t be around to enjoy).

But these young men did precisely that.

Two of the attackers. Nice kids.

Two of the attackers. Nice kids.

I’ve often wondered about suicide attackers. I’ve heard them trash-talked by Israel supporters, heard them blamed for Palestinian violence that prolongs the occupation (now in its 53rd year), heard their parents blamed for raising them with no other aspiration than to kill, heard their government blamed for putting Jew-hatred in every textbook.

But no – the occupation came first, with its checkpoints and curfews and roadblocks and walls. The smug settlers cutting down centuries-old olive trees, the Israeli soldiers conducting live-fire drills in populated places – literally practicing to kill Palestinians right in front of the Palestinians.

It’s not the young men who are prolonging the occupation. Israel is making the choice to squeeze the life out of Palestinians, and then punish them for resisting the chokehold.

The occupation came first, and the broken promises of Oslo that sparked the First Intifada, and the provocation of Ariel Sharon that sparked the Second Intifada, and the suffocating oppression that keeps Palestinians angry enough to fight back.

It’s not the parents’ faults. Palestinian parents want what every other parent wants: happy, prosperous children and grandchildren.

The Palestinian government has created a social safety net for widows and orphans and families of the thousands of Palestinian men who are arrested each year because they are Palestinian men. Israel calls it a pay-to-slay program to imply that every Palestinian is a suicide bomber waiting to detonate.

Funeral for the three young martyrs.

Funeral for the three young martyrs.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to have so few options that death becomes a good idea. This is not an escape from a hellish life, but a struggle against it. It’s not so different from American men who volunteer for the army during a war: to them, the cause is worth the cost. “Freedom isn’t free.”

Palestinians are not permitted to have an army – that’s Israel’s idea, the occupier. But that won’t keep Palestinians from fighting to “shake off” (the meaning of Intifada) the occupier. These three young men were soldiers, and the entrance to the al-Aqsa mosque compound was their battleground (it still is).

The actual context of this incident – and if we’re honest, pretty much all such incidents in that land – is profound oppression. Period. These men had been born under occupation. Their parents had been born under occupation. Brutal occupation. Demeaning, infuriating occupation. Their lives were a hell, not because of anything they did, but because of who they were.

Who needs to be “taught” to hate under those circumstances?

The hate is not centuries-old, but a new phenomenon, maybe one hundred years old. It is not Jew-hatred – though the population it is directed towards are mostly Jewish. It is contempt for the colonial regime, the Zionism that created a refugee crisis and perpetuates occupation. The struggle is against the occupation and the occupiers, sometimes a struggle to the death.

Israel should be ashamed for making death a good option.

It should be noted (because mainstream media studiously avoids this point) that the Israeli occupation kills and maims and shatters Palestinian bodies, hearts, and minds every single day. Occasionally an Israeli dies (note that in this incident, two Israeli police died, but so did three Palestinians), and that’s what we hear about. It’s almost as if Palestinian lives don’t matter. It’s exactly as if Palestinian lives don’t matter.

The news article also made this statement:

To the families of the two Israeli Druze policemen who lost their lives while trying to control a place that was not theirs to command, I extend my condolences. These young men were…willingly sacrificed by an evil occupation that bears no legitimacy whatsoever.

It’s hard to read. But Israel and its supporters need to grapple with the fact: the system of occupation is putting Israelis at risk. The most conspicuous occupiers – the military guards of the al-Aqsa mosque – are the face of the hated establishment.

The military are assigned to their work by an occupier that knows it has bred hate in the occupied. Israel counts on Palestinian hate and violence to keep military aid flowing, to maintain the “victim” narrative, and to excuse expansion. Israel knows that some of its military minions will die in the service, not of their country, but of the illegal occupation. Israel is more than willing to sacrifice these lives. “Occupation isn’t free.”

The occupation machine is killing its own – using Palestinians as the firing squad.

Is it ok for a Palestinian to kill an agent of the occupation? That’s the wrong question.

Is it ok for Israel to brutally occupy a population for 50 years, and not expect reckoning?