Murder can never be a cause for celebration

By Sharon Segel, December 20, 2010
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Osama bin Laden, Carlos the Jackal and Abu Nidal are just some of the names in the terrorist pantheon who have been feted as "glorious heroes". Fortunately, however, western governments do not in general subscribe to the notion that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter".

In western democracies, the phenomenon - recently manifested on the streets of Stockholm - of a person carrying a bomb or strapping on a suicide belt in order to murder innocent civilians, or ordering others to do so - is not merely alien, it is repellent.

It is certainly difficult for us to fathom how such individuals are regarded as martyrs and idolised by hundreds of thousands of people.

In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one notorious name that stands out is that of Dalal Al-Mughrabi. She was a Palestinian terrorist who, in 1978, launched an attack on the coastal road in Israel in which 37 civilians, including 12 children, were killed. Now, three decades after this infamous massacre, her name is widely praised following a decision by the Palestinian Authority - not Hamas - to name a Palestinian square after her. While Israel recalls her as a terrorist, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza revere her. Such is her appeal that Al-Mughrabi in death enjoys greater popularity than PA President Mahmoud Abbas and even more than Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Al-Mughrabi dead is more popular than the living PA President

A recent survey commissioned by The Israel Project, and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in the West Bank and Gaza, found that 76 per cent of Palestinians gave Al-Mughrabi an extremely warm approval rating. She was not the only one. Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), who planned attacks on Israelis when commander of the armed organisation al-Assifa in the 1980s, had a positive rating of 77 per cent.

Sadly, these figures should surprise no one. They stem from decades of hate propaganda, during which various Palestinian leaders, both religious and secular, glorified Al-Mughrabi's "martyrdom" and held her up as a role model.

There are many theories about what breeds terrorism - poverty, ignorance, war. But it certainly is sustained by popular support from thousands of people who are far removed from the planning of atrocities. Here, the "moderate" Palestinian Authority bears a significant responsibility. Over and over, the names of "heroes" - terrorists who deliberately murdered innocent civilians - decorate squares, streets and public buildings. The honouring of terrorists like Al-Mughrabi form a backdrop to the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian leaders.

And since the Palestinians clearly seem to adhere to a culture that extols terrorists, how can there ever be real and lasting peace? What hope is there for future generations?

Well, strangely enough, The Israel Project's research shows that the heightened commemoration of terrorist tactics is not necessarily the insurmountable barrier to peace that it appears to be.

According to the survey, 56 per cent in the West Bank and 58 per cent in Gaza are in favour of ending the practice of naming streets after "martyrs" who killed civilians. An additional 51 per cent in the West Bank support printing Israel's presence on maps of the region in school-books and official documents. And 57 per cent of those questioned in the West Bank (although only 37 per cent in Gaza) are in favour of the Palestinian Authority officially recognising Israel as a Jewish state as part of a two-state solution.

There are always choices. The current Israeli government has expressed its support for a two-state solution. With economic co-operation and the bottom-up approach to economic stability and institution-building, despite the negative currents, the momentum does exist for Palestinians to realise their national aspirations.

The response to the recent tragic fire in the north of Israel demonstrated co-operation and co-existence at its best. President Abbas called Prime Minister Netanyahu to express condolences and sent fire-fighters and fire-engines to help douse the flames.

The PA is at a crossroads: it could deny the aspirations of the majority of its population and have to answer to future generations for failure, or it could choose peace. To continue sitting at the negotiation table to bring about an independent Palestine. To recognise the peaceful potential of the two-state solution - a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state.

Recognise, too, how destructive for future generations it is to instil in them the idea that terrorism is glorious and terrorists heroic martyrs. Offer them instead the prospect of a prosperous and peaceful life --- something that pretending that barbaric slaughter is somehow noble can never do.

Sharon Segel is a communications associate at The Israel Project, a non-profit organisation providing factual information about Israel and the Middle East (www.theisraelproject.org)

    Last updated: 11:11am, December 20 2010