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Jewish World Review July 15, 2002 / 6 Menachem-Av, 5762

Nat Hentoff

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The necklaces of hatred | The question beyond when a Palestinian state will exist is what kind of people will live there. Recent polls indicate that a majority of Palestinians not only deeply desire an independent state, but also would desire the eradication of the state of Israel.

"The occupation" is a curse word, and the hatred of the Israeli people, not only their armed forces, is fully shared by many Palestinian children. In classrooms, there are posters of suicide bombers who have successfully accomplished their missions, and there have long been textbooks with no maps of Israel at all.

In a June 23 New York Times article, Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York spoke of how this degree of rage is passed from generation to generation. This is particularly enduring when populations, in prolonged bitter conflict, live involuntarily side-by-side.

The result, Mead says, is that "being who you are means hating these other people." It is this way of defining yourself that characterizes many of the children of the Balata Refugee Camp on the West Bank. In a June 18 report by Sandro Contenta in the Toronto Star, 14-year-old Saleh Attiti "proudly displays ... on a plastic coffee table in his cinder-block home ... part of his growing collection of necklaces with pictures of 'martyrs' of the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation."

We have become familiar with Palestinian parents, on television or in newspapers, celebrating the "martyrdom," in their words, of their sons and daughters. And neighbors come by to congratulate them. One can relate these beatifications, in part, to Yasser Arafat, who until recently had also glorified the suicide bombers as martyrs.

This fusion of the lethal Islamic worldwide religious jihad with nationalism will very likely have long-lasting and widespread effects on children in such places as Balata, where, according to the Toronto Star's report, "it's difficult to find a child in this teeming camp of 20,000 people who isn't wearing at least one necklace with a picture of a shahid, or 'martyr' -- mostly militant gunmen killed or suicide bombers."

Says young Saleh Attiti: "I used to have plenty of Pokemons, my school bag was half full of them. I threw them all away. They're not important now. The pictures of martyrs are important. They're our idols."

Munir Jabal, leader of a Balata teachers association, told the Toronto Star: "These children ... worship these pictures. I think it will lead them in the future to go out and do the same thing." Even when there is a provisional or an actual Palestinian state? And will there be in that state, in legislative or executive positions, members of Hamas or other groups committed to the destruction of Israel as their overriding reason for being?

The kids not only collect but trade necklaces, as our children do baseball cards. Especially desirable these days is "a pendant of Jihad Attiti, the 18-year-old who became the camp's first suicide bomber by blowing himself up and killing two Israelis and an 18-month-old baby and her grandmother in a Tel Aviv suburb."

Contenta notes that the environment in the camp, as elsewhere in what will be Palestine, "has forced teachers to grudgingly allow students to wear their 'martyrs' necklaces in class. When a teacher insisted a student remove his necklace during gym class, the boy's father showed up the next day and 'wanted to fight us,' said the school's principal."

Clearly, there are Palestinian parents who, like Israeli parents, ardently want all the killing to stop; but they are, as of now, in a minority. A final peace treaty -- to have a promise of enduring -- will have to take into account the forms of therapeutic education that can begin to purge the Palestinian youths of such hatred of Israelis -- and indeed, of Jews as Jews -- so that they will no longer feel exalted by deifying suicide bombers and other killers in this holy war.

Recently, many Palestinian intellectuals signed ads in both Israeli and Palestinian newspapers calling for an end to suicide bombings because of their harm to the cause of independence. Will these intellectuals, and other Palestinian adults, organize to teach the young that such murders of the innocent will also poison whatever Palestinian state comes into being?

As Mahatma Ghandi, who created so much worldwide support for Indian independence, said: "If India makes violence her creed, I will not care to live in India. She will fail to evoke any pride in me." Can a new Palestinian state live in peace, or will it nurture hatred for generations?

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JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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