By Paul Larudee
The young wife of Amer Nabulsi (not his real name) had a special way of coping with his death. She decorated their room with pictures of children and young couples, valentine hearts, teddy bears, and other irrepressibly cute images. Some were happy, a few sad, and others in love. Some were cut from magazines; others were posters, cards or stickers. To these images she added her own words and symbols.
I sleep in their room, so her artwork surrounds me every morning and evening. Much of it is in Arabic, which I don?t read very well, but the tears and broken hearts drawn with marking pens speak clearly enough, as do the few English words, ?I love you and miss you.?
The reason I sleep here is that she has fled the house, along with most of the family. Out of a total of ten family members, only Amer?s parents are here, along with me and other members of the International Solidarity Movement from the U.S., Ireland, Italy, the U.K. and other countries. Israeli authorities have threatened to demolish the house, despite the fact that it is a war crime to do so. The Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, outlaws collective punishment of entire families or communities. We want to try to prevent this from happening, or at least put up nonviolent resistance.
No one knows for sure why Amer chose to become a istishhad (one who martyrs him/herself). By Palestinian standards, he had every reason not to. He had a job, a home, a car, a loving wife and daughter. While not wealthy, he did not have to worry about becoming needy.
Furthermore, his mother and father consider suicide bombings to be immoral. They are deeply devout muslims, but are among the vast majority who believe that any form of suicide is against Islam. They spend much of their time reading the Koran and praying. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, they are quite liberal by local standards, and highly tolerant. Their youngest daughter wears jeans and wouldn?t be seen in the hijab, or traditional head covering, and her relation with her fiancי is anything but traditional, with her parents? blessing. Amer's father cannot talk for long about him without tears welling up in his eyes and his face being transformed by grief.
What led Amer to put on a vest of Semtex and cause his flesh to be scattered by its explosive force? Part of the reason might be the anger that he must have felt when his father suffered brain damage from a beating administered by Israeli forces. Mr. Nabulsi?s left side was left partly paralyzed and he now speaks with difficulty, as if he had had a stroke. Still, that was seven years ago. More recently, a friend was killed in a
car that was destroyed by Israeli gunfire. His family also reports that he
was strongly moved by both the news and personal reports of the Israeli invasion of Ramallah in early March, 2002, and especially the siege of the presidential compound.
However, such experiences are common to most Palestinians, and do not necessarily make them suicide bombers. What was the difference in Amer?s case? I can only speculate, but it may have been the strong sense of moral right and wrong, of justice and injustice, that his parents instilled in him. It permeates the family, and can be seen as they drop by for meals and conversation with their parents, in which I am invited to share. The small children get plenty of love and patience, but no indulgence. Even the slightest disciplinary action comes with a moral dictum, however brief.
It may be that Amer simply grew impatient with the injustice he saw around him. Perhaps it was the daily humiliation at the ubiquitous checkpoints, where Palestinians pass only with the permission of the soldiers on duty. Perhaps it was the increasing sight of Israeli settlements, built on confiscated Palestinian land, on the hilltops surrounding the city. Perhaps it was the arbitrary arrest and/or assassination of thousands of ?suspects? by Israeli security forces, the use of torture, now considered legal in Israel, and the unlimited detention without charges. Perhaps it was the refusal to allow him and 3.3 million others in Gaza and the West Bank to worship in Jerusalem, the holiest city in the country to all religions. Perhaps it was the diversion of water resources, the deaths of ambulance patients at checkpoints, the bulldozing of olive and fruit orchards, or the construction of settler roads, which Palestinians are permitted neither to use nor cross.
I have been with the family for two weeks now, and it is time to go, although our group will continue to maintain a presence at this and other homes, as the situation warrants. When the Israeli occupation forces choose to commit war crimes, they prefer to do so away from the eyes of international observers. I would have stayed even if the family had been a misanthropic group of wild-eyed fanatics, because a war crime is a war crime. However, they are kind, generous, and courageous, and we have bonded during my stay. We kiss each other on the cheeks and exchange contact information. They invite me to come to their daughter?s wedding. I promise to call.
Suicide attacks against innocent noncombatants are also a war crime, and Amer?s family is right to condemn them. However, I do not see wild-eyed religious fanaticism as the reason for the attacks. I see instead a
resilient people without other means of resistance, pushed to desperation by the increasing pressures of ethnic cleansing, while their cries for help are ignored. Is there a proud people anywhere that might not be driven to such measures to defend themselves?