Tel Aviv Bomber's Family Shunned
and other stories

Pamela Olson
25 March 2005

"England invaded us fifty years ago [in the Suez War], and I don't hate you. Why should I hate the Israelis?"

~An Egyptian Bedouin to a young British guy Dan, who's volunteering in Palestine, while on holiday in Dahab, Sinai, Egypt

Dan and I and a Dutch anthropology student named Anna just got back from a week's vacation in the Sinai. We had a brilliant time, Dan getting his open water diver license (mabrook!) and me and Anna picking up our Rescue Diver certification. We learned CPR from a French guy, rescued a tall Dutch divemaster over and over again, and spent cool nights around the fire in the back garden of a beachside cafe.

The most fun part of the Rescue Diver course was a search and recovery drill among some beautiful corals. The most ridiculous part was when I threw my regulator out of my mouth 35 feet underwater to complain about being kicked by a flipper. D'oh. Diving and early mornings don't mix so well with me.

In other exciting news, my parents are coming out to visit me in June! I'll have a chance to show them my adopted home town of Ramallah as well as all the holy sites we can squeeze in. I look forward to telling more "Okies in the Holy Land" stories and bestowing upon my parents the ability to laugh at your average mainstream media coverage of the Middle East as much as I do.

Mom said the people in my real home town of Stigler, Oklahoma, keep asking them, "But what will you DO in Pakistan?"

In sadder news, the Christian Palm Sunday procession from the site of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem to Jerusalem, mostly on foot but some riding donkeys, was of course stopped short at the Apartheid Wall that now separates the two holy cities. The abortive procession was a powerful symbol of the depravity and disgrace of the Israeli government's Wall project that's carving up the Holy Land with no regard for Christians, Muslims, Palestinians, law, justice, or humanistic values.

Those tragically hip Bethlehemites have started a weblog called Voices from the Bethlehem Ghetto.

* * *

This is just a collection of a few random stories and then an article about the Tel Aviv suicide bomber who pointlessly killed five Israelis and himself in a night club on 25 February. His home town and family and even the militant group to which he belonged are distancing themselves from his actions as much as possible.

According to Haaretz of Israel, Palestinian popular support for the bombing was at 29%, compared to 77% for a similar bombing six months ago. (In a vacuum, public support for such a bombing would be near 0%, but in light of the ongoing state-sponsored theft and brutality that Palestinians are otherwise pretty helpless to defend themselves against, you know the story.)

It was quite a spectacle in Ramallah when some Al-Aqsa Brigades guys showed up in the town square to shoot guns in the air (they do this sometimes when they want to get a message across along with a thuggish display of power), and in between gunshots proclaim, "We didn't do it!" POW POW POW. "It wasn't us!" BAM BAM. "We took no part in this gratuitous violence!" KERBLAM.

I'm exaggerating, but whether the guy who blew up the club was acting under their instructions or not, the fact that they and the village in which it happened are disavowing the whole thing (and Abbas officially called the guy a "terrorist") is good to see. It had nothing to do with how effective Israel's response was. In fact, for once, Israel showed relative restraint.

It's good to see because it's a measure of the fact that Palestinians have more hope now than they have in ages for an end to violence and a hope for justice. They're still living in a desperate and deteriorating situation, but even with it only deteriorating *less rapidly*, they're making enthusiastic overtures for peaceful coexistence.

You could say that this is a sign of the success of Israel's policy of systematically brutalizing a civilian population for political ends. You could say the Palestinians are finally capitulating under the unbearable onslaught. But we should be careful not to reward (state) terrorism.

I prefer to think of it as courage on the part of Palestinians for having faith in international concepts of justice and coexistence even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Israeli government (and many others in the international arena) is simply not interested in such things.

Haaretz columnist Meron Benvenisti wrote today about the dismal prospects for peace offered by the crafty and unscrupulous Israeli government, the uncritical American administration "for whom the illusion of the 'political process' is much more important than the facts on the ground", and Israel's complacent population:

The real story is probably that Palestinians are just tired of violence and realizing they have no choice but to give up some of their rights unilaterally (most prominently the UN-mandated right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and villages in what is now Israel) in the hope that the international community will pressure Israel not to violently take even more. Plus, most have Israeli friends and acquaintances they have no wish to be arbitrarily separated from. Palestinians are doing everything according to Western demands, hoping that the world will give them the minimum deal: Full sovereignty in Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, which Abu Mazen has even said might be shared.

It's a thin hope, punctured daily by Israeli actions on the ground, especially the theft, destruction, isolation, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian East Jerusalem. There are plans to build 3,500 new Jewish-only housing units on occupied East Jerusalem land. It's a move designed to take East Jerusalem, the cultural, spiritual, and economic capital of Palestine, off the negotiating table. Dozens of other settlements are also being created and/or expanded all over the territories, in complete disregard for the Road Map to which Israel is supposedly bound, and it's not clear how much longer Palestinians will tolerate this existential threat.

Hope is bolstered by sputtering international moves toward pressuring Israel to comply with international laws and norms of justice, including the UN's recent decision to carefully document the claims of all victims of Israel's illegal Apartheid Wall.

But even the UN has been a huge disappointment lately. It's been employing shameful double standards that often make it seem like little more than a tool of legitimization for powerful Western interests. Kofi Annan, when he made a recent visit to Israel and Palestine, refused heartfelt appeals to tour and observe the Apartheid Wall that his own organization has declared illegal.

Also, Annan presented Syria with an ultimatum of punitive sanctions if Syria doesn't rapidly comply with UN resolution 1559 and withdraw from Lebanon. Of course, no such ultimatum was delivered to Israel to withdraw from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza as stipulated by UN resolution 242. Nor even to quit building new settlements as stipulated by the Road Map or stop building and start dismantling the Apartheid Wall as stipulated by the ICJ resolutions of June 2004.

Sharon also refuses to negotiate any of the final status issues, acting in remarkably bad faith by talking peace while simultaneously imposing his own ideas on the ground every day. And as usual, the world is pretty much standing by and letting it happen.

But, at least it's hope, and hope has a wonderful positive feedback effect.

Still, the onslaught continues and threatens the otherwise solid wish for peace in the Territories. Israeli settlers in the West Bank have recently embarked on a series of what the Israeli newspaper Haaretz called "pogroms" (and the Israeli army described as "attempted lynchings") against innocent Palestinian civilians, but which the Israeli army did virtually nothing about, paving the way for it to happen again and again. Such attacks (and Israeli tolerance of such attacks) are nothing new, but now they appear to be attempts to derail the Gaza 'disengagement'.

Settlers in the Hebron area have also poisoned the fields of Palestinian shepherds, and possibly their water supplies as well. They've done it before. On Friday of last week, a Palestinian mother of four attempting to pray in Jerusalem was turned back at a checkpoint, and when she argued, Israeli soldiers threw a stun grenade at her, severely disfiguring her face.

New reports about illegal settlements and outposts conducted by Israeli investigators have revealed corruption, misappropriation, and other illegal activities at the highest levels of the Israeli government. The settlers and the government have their fingers squarely in each other pies, flaunting both international and Israeli law at the expense of Israeli taxpayers, Palestinians, and the rule of law itself. But nobody is doing much about it, either.

A Haaretz piece called "Occupation as Incitement" was recently written about the tremendous chutzpah involved in Sharon and other calling on Palestinians to end their incitement against Israel when the occupation itself involves daily, hourly, minutely acts of vicious incitement:

* * *

There's a right-wing weblog called InstaPundit that had a cute piece about the outbreak of "Lebanese hotties" on magazine covers following the popular protests over the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. I don't know who killed Hariri, or why, but I do know it's nice to see Middle Eastern people show up in the mainstream press as hip and attractive instead of, you know, how Arabs are usually portrayed in the Western media.

Also, of course, it's nice to see the people's will for democracy expressed. In all fairness, some debatable amount of credit must go to Bush and his people for finally deciding to open up a crack for democracy to get a toe-hold in the region. I mean, all they had to do was just stop supporting all those despots so uncritically. It's nice to see Washington's interests briefly coincide with that of the Arab street, at least in some places, at least on paper.

Washington is only doing it to mend fences and increase Western influence however they can in light of their otherwise spectacular policy failures in the Middle East. And they're still winning no friends with their continued one-sidedness in the Israel/Palestine conflict.[1] But it's something marginally positive. At least, we all hope it works out that way.

And of course America's arming of Saddam, empowerment of the Taliban, overthrow of the Iranian democracy in 1953, and ongoing support of the stone-age regime of Saudi Arabia must also be put in their proper perspective. We're no knights on white horses, and we currently have no credibility as champions of human rights. But hopefully we can realize it's in our best interests to ameliorate some of our mistakes of the past.

And Bush has no interest in real democracy in Iraq, as the first thing Iraq would do if given sovereignty would be to kick America out and ally itself with Iran. America and Israel telling Syria to obey UN resolutions and quit occupying Lebanon is pretty hilarious considering Israel and America are both veteran UN resolution violators and illegal foreign occupiers themselves.

And it's highly doubtful Bush would even have bothered with Iraqi elections if not for the insurgents. And it was the Palestinians themselves who demanded proper elections after the death of Arafat more than anyone.

So maybe Bush deserves credit for nothing more than awkwardly stirring shit up and then losing control of it. If only he'll wake up and pressure Sharon to quit violating international law and the Road Map, clip the wings of the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld, genuinely start cooperating with Europe and the Arab world, and get out of Iraq. It ain't likely, but if the man suddenly develops an interest in even marginally redeeming himself and our great nation...

An Electronic Intifada article about the "Lebanese Spring" said:

"Despite conspiracy theories and grim assessments to the contrary, something new, amazing, and precious is indeed being born in Lebanon: an indigenous, responsive, truly plural form of democracy that is not Made in the USA, but forged out of a long and difficult Arab experience. Apparently, many thought this would be a Caesarian delivery under strong anaesthia. Wrong: it will be a painful, protracted, and loud labor and birth. Although considerable debate is now heard inside and outside Lebanon about this baby's parentage, ideological DNA tests do not indicate that George W. Bush is the father."

Others have more cynical interpretations of events.

But whatever the reason, democracy's at least being spoken of more seriously in a region desperately in need of accountability and a popular voice. It will take time and a lot of hard work to develop it successfully and genuinely. Here's hoping it doesn't get co-opted by Arab or Western power interests and turned into a sham, or worse.

* * *

On 5 March I had lunch here in Ramallah with a Palestinian Jerusalemite who is doing work and research about self-reflection, meditation, alternative medicine, etc. He and a guru-type named John Wilkinson (from Canada I think) will be heading up a week-long seminar near Bethlehem this summer with the following (partial) description:

Fishing For Truth

Because we live in a world that is full of lies and dissembling based on materialism, when Truth appears, and thank goodness it does in spite of us, it is often shocking, revealing and it makes us feel very vulnerable. All our defence mechanisms become mobilised at these times and The Truth is quickly suppressed.

The Truth, when it appears, can come in many guises - a chance phrase from a song, a young child asking a direct question, an unexpected event, etc. However, when it appears we need to learn to recognise it for what it is, give thanks for that insight and act on it.

OK, so that didn't really describe anything. But in any case it was definitely a surprise to meet a Palestinian New Age Philosopher. I'll probably check out his seminar. A week of navel-gazing in Bethlehem should be interesting to say the least.

The day before that, I had breakfast with an Israeli who is a professor of physical chemistry at the Hebrew University. She was quite cool and Lithuanian, and very much against the occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people (although back in her "young, blindly patriotic days", she did serve in the Israeli army).

She was the first person I've gotten to know whose Hebrew seemed completely natural, native, and beautiful. And the waiters at the breakfast place she chose were lovely -- charming, polite, and attractive. They didn't talk down to me or demand my documents. And the building, unlike most old, historic, and attractive buildings in Israel, was not of Arab but of Jewish origin, so it felt OK to be there. I would have felt quite queasy if the place had been in the house of a dispossessed Arab family, as so many Israeli restaurants and clubs are.

She explained why she was against an academic boycott of Israel, primarily because it would be a boycott against people like her who hadn't done anything wrong or were even actively opposing the occupation. She predicted that isolating Israel would just make it more, well, isolated, in its dealings and in its thought patterns. It would also appear to be racist, to discriminate against a whole nation when not everyone was guilty. How would that help anyone?

Another Israeli professor, Ilan Pappe of Haifa University, supports a full boycott, including an academic one, against Israel. He says Israeli society, like Apartheid South African society, is too far gone to voluntarily give up what they see as theirs. International pressure is the only way to wake up the Israeli public and save the Jewish state as well as the Jewish soul. Besides, he says, he's already been boycotted within Israel for his unpopular humanistic views. An interview with him.

Later I sat down at a sidewalk cafe on Jaffa St. for a cup of coffee, and next to me were two very Orthodox-looking Jewish men and a young hyperactive boy of 9 or so. The boy soon joined me at my table, staring at me with big eyes and nursing a popsicle. I smiled and said, "Shalom." He grinned.

I opened my mouth to say something else, like "How are you?" or "Where are you from?" But I suddenly realized that I only know checkpoint Hebrew: "Come here", "Open your bag", "What's this?", "Give me your ID", "Lift your shirt up over your head and spin around", etc. None of these seemed appropriate.

I said lamely, "Do you speak English?" He grinned and shrugged.

So there we were with questions and curiosity and no way to get it across. The men called him back to his own table before I could spontaneously generate any relevant knowledge of Hebrew.

Later I sat down on a low wall near the Old City to rest and think, and soon a man passed by and asked me for the time. I said, "It's 3:00. Exactly."

He said, "Three o'clock exactly! It always seems like when I ask the time, I get an exact number like that."

I smiled and said, "You must be blessed," without any clear reason why I did so. I think I was attempting to be gently sarcastic in a friendly way.

He said, "Ah, you must be one of those religious Jerusalem people."

I laughed and said, "No, I'm an agnostic American, actually."

He sat down next to me, and thus began a three-hour conversation about his recent four years spent in North Korea, where he taught film studies (I couldn't help but wonder what films they studied in North Korea -- probably several variations on "Biography of Kim Jong Il: Patriot, Genius, God") and attempted to synthesize a union of Judaism with totalitarian Communism. I talked about my recent publication of an article under the name of a Palestinian leader in a progressive New York Jewish newspaper and showed off a campaign poster of my boss still clinging to an Old City wall.

He said he was coming back to Israel for a while to recharge his soul and his Jewishness, but he felt like his destiny was in Asia. He spoke of turning North Korea into a totalitarian Communist Jewish utopia.

When he found out I worked in the Palestinian territories, he said, "So you must be pretty anti-Israel, huh."

I said, "I'm pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace. I'm anti-occupation, and I think ending it will be good for Palestinians and Israelis."

Later I mused, "What does anti-Israel mean anyway? Israel isn't any more monolithic than 'America' or 'Muslims' or 'Arabs' or anything else."

I asked if he'd ever visited the West Bank or Gaza, and he said later today he would visit a friend who lived in a West Bank settlement. He said, "What do you think of those?"

I told him I considered them a blatant and illegal theft of land and livelihood, a way to control and subjugate a civilian population, and a hotbed of dangerous ideological fanatics -- and that on the scale of obscenities, the settlement enterprise lies just to the offensive side of dancing on fresh graves.

I told him a few quick facts about them, among them that a new one was being illegally built as we spoke on the private property of a Palestinian friend of mine, and that their current expansion is rapidly closing the window of opportunity for a workable two-state solution. It appeared to be news to him.

But I said that if he ever wanted to invite me to visit a settlement, I'd be interested to come and see what it was like.

We parted on one note of unequivocal agreement: That we're both still seeking a society humanistic enough to make us want to raise children there.

The whole day was like a shot in the arm, a boost to my attempts to humanize all sides and understand what I otherwise saw on a daily basis as a rude, twitchy, ignorant but condescending, young and thoroughly insecure but dangerous, brainwashed enemy.

But then leaving West Jerusalem and driving through vast parts of the East Jerusalem municipality which Israel has annexed and built on and strangled in an illegal and disgustingly discriminatory manner, not to mention the indescribably vicious Wall, none of which could ever have taken place without a systematic process of dehumanization... it put that ache back in the pit of my stomach. There's no easy way to reconcile it all. Until there's peace and justice, that is.

* * *

Just before that I got back from a quick teaser of a weekend in a Bedouin camp in the Sinai, hiking in the mountains, swimming in the lagoon, walking on the beach at night under a full moon, and enjoying smooth desert herb with some great people. And those Bedouin are amazing cooks. At least, that's how it seems after a few puffs and a four-hour wait for your dinner.

We were there less than 48 hours, but it felt like a week. Lots of bad energy had a chance to float away on the small gulf waves crashing a few feet from our grass huts.

A British Israeli woman named Angela organized the weekend and invited some European diplomats, journalists, and UN workers. Diplomats, journalists, and UN workers sound a lot like adults, so I had an image of spending time with serious, professional, older people. But they were all pretty much my age, mostly mid-late 20's, and pretty chilled out. 'Serious' is a four-letter word in the Sinai.

It was a perfect weekend until I got back to the Israeli border, where they held me longer than anyone. ("For the thousandth time, I was only a tourist in Syria, and they didn't ask me to bring any mysterious packages to Israel.")

They finally gave me a visa on a separate sheet of paper, which was my gate pass. But then the next guard took my gate pass.

I said, "Wait a minute, that's my visa, I need that."

She said, "But I have to take your gate pass."

"But I need to have a visa."

"But I have to take your gate pass."

This went on for a while, and finally she rolled her eyes and made a face and called back to the main office. They told her it was in the computer, so there was no problem.

As I learned the hard way in Russia, it's easy for one person to say, "Your little visa issue is no problem," and for the next person to say, "Your little visa issue will be costing you either $60 or $700 plus five extra days in the frozen Far East depending on how insistent you are, how squeamish you are about bribing government officials, and whether you have any cash on you right now."

I walked back to the main office and asked if they couldn't possibly stamp one more paper for me.

They said they were out of paper. Right.

I said, "But I need a visa, don't I?"

A permed teenaged guard told me, "It's in the computer, and so you will have no problems. And if you don't trust me, I have nothing to say to you."

So. I walked around for two weeks without a visa knowing that if they lied and failed to put it in the computer... There's no end to the petty crap they put us through. At least there was no gratuitous anal probe, like the World Bank guy from India who got so freaked out he ran into the Ben-Gurion airport terminal naked. (Don't worry, Mom and Bill. You're white.)

When I left the same border two weeks later to go to the Sinai again, my lack of a visa was, of course, a major problem. It wasn't in the computer. The border biznatches had lied through their teeth. I had no proof of legal entry into Israel. I was basically an illegal immigrant.

They detained me quite a while, asked many questions and made several phone calls. They said they were sorry for all this, but I might be Osama bin Laden after all, you never know these days.

Finally they agreed to file a report and let me pass. But it could easily have gone the other way if I looked even slightly more sinister.

* * *

The following article illustrates how giving people hope is the best way to delegitimize and destroy the deplorable guerrilla tactic of targeting civilians for political ends. If the state of Israel is actually interested in an end to terrorism, the path is clear. If they prefer real estate over human life, freedom, and peace, civilians on both sides will continue to suffer.

Israel is having a harder and harder time justifying its policies in light of mounting evidence that overwhelming brutality only exacerbates the problem of resistance to overwhelming brutality. They've even put an end to punitive home demolitions, admitting it was detrimental to security in addition to being cruel and illegal.

Of course, the much wider-scale practice of home demolitions for the purpose of ethnic cleansing goes on and on. Which, among many other things, makes it all the more remarkable that Palestinians are still for the most part interested in peaceful coexistence.


By Conal Urquhart
Guardian (UK)
March 1, 2005

Deir al Ghusun - Scores of chairs lined the rooms and corridors, and jugs of coffee and water and trays of figs were ready to welcome men paying their respects.

But the family of Abdullah Badran, the 21-year-old who blew himself up at the entrance to a Tel Aviv nightclub on Friday, killing five Israelis, were left alone in their grief.

For seven days after a burial a Palestinian family receives mourners, normally a big social event involving colourful banners and patriotic music.

But yesterday seven members of the family occupied the otherwise empty chairs, and when asked if Abdullah's death had achieved anything, they all shook their heads, and one said no in English.

Abdullah's brother Ibrahim said they were mystified and angered by his death.

"I really do not know what was on his mind. Maybe he was thinking about the killing of Palestinians in recent weeks, the building of the wall, the lack of goodwill from the Israelis in the political process.

"He wanted to be a teacher, to get married and get a home. He seemed optimistic in spite of everything. It never occurred to any of us that he would blow himself up."

Deir al Ghusun is a hill town of 8,000 inhabitants. The flags of Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the leftwing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine fly from many buildings, but there are none near the house of mourning.

Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for the bombing, was keeping a low profile.

Sami Qadan said the whole town was shocked and angered by the bombing and in protest no one was paying respects to the family.

"Things were getting better and then no sooner do we have money coming in again then it is stopped by this suicide bombing. This intifada has killed us and the wall has destroyed us. We cannot even leave our homes and we want it to stop," he said.

Six of his sons were working as builders in Israel but when they tried to cross the checkpoint on Sunday they were told: "No one from Deir al Ghusun is coming into Israel."

Abdullah, a student of Arabic literature at a branch of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) University in Tulkarem, was last seen at breakfast on Friday. "We didn't ask where he was going because it wasn't our normal practice. There was nothing in him to suggest that he had no plans to return," his brother said.

The family realised that something was wrong only when Israeli soldiers arrived at 5am on Saturday morning and told them that he had killed himself and four Israelis - a fifth died of injuries yesterday.

Abdullah's father, Said Badran, refused to believe them, insisting that his son was still in bed. The army arrested the two brothers in the house and later the local imam and five of Abdullah's friends.

The family had not suffered any particular grievance at the hands of the Israelis, Ibrahim said, although he was detained in 1989 and held for 18 months without trial.

The town has lost a large part of its livelihood because the separation barrier has cut it off from its 825 acres (334 hectares) of farmland.

In theory they can reach it through a gate, but it is rarely open, and the Israelis have begun chopping down some of the trees.

Ibrahim said that the family was extremely angry with the people who had chosen and prepared Abdullah for his suicide mission.

"I don't know who they are but we want them to stop this and reach out their hands for peace. That is the only way the situation will improve."


[1] The Daily Star of Lebanon's Rami Khoury wrote:

"Some 280 million Arabs, and - give or take a billion - 3 billion other people around the world who monitor American policy will ask this very logical question: how can we take seriously the Israeli claim of being democratic and wanting peace in this region, or the American claim of promoting freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law, while an American-backed Israel so blatantly tramples on the rule of law as embodied in the Geneva Conventions and UN Security Council resolutions that explicitly forbid such colonial-style settlements in occupied Palestinian lands?

"Israeli settlement expansion maintains the hot conflict with Palestinians, but also corrodes American credibility throughout the Arab world. Israeli actions ultimately weaken American political influence in a manner that cannot always be compensated for by American military force. A core lesson of both the Palestinian and Lebanese intifadas is precisely that: degraded people ultimately will stand up to the tanks and warplanes that demean or threaten them, and will fearlessly demand to share in the single global standard of law, freedom and human dignity.

"Israel's continued colonization of Palestinian lands shreds the American argument that Arabs and Iranians must adhere to "the will of the international community" - because Israel and the U.S. routinely ignore the will of the international community when it comes to the rights of the Palestinians."

Why should anyone listen to us when we act like this? I think we're good people, and we have a lot to contribute to the world. Why not act like it?

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